Tag Archive | "Media"

How to be a Reliable ‘Mainstream’ Journalist


NOVANEWS
 

There are certain rules you need to follow as a journalist if you are going to demonstrate to your editors, and the media owners who employ you, that you can be trusted.

For example, if you write about US-Iran relations, you need to ensure that your history book starts in 1979. That was the year Iranian students started a 444-day occupation of the US embassy in Tehran. This was the event that ‘led to four decades of mutual hostility’, according to BBC News. On no account should you dwell on the CIA-led coup in 1953 that overthrew the democratically-elected Iranian leader, Mohammad Mossadegh. Even better if you just omit any mention of this.

You should definitely not quote Noam Chomsky who said in 2013 that:

‘the crucial fact about Iran, which we should begin with, is that for the past 60 years, not a day has passed in which the U.S. has not been torturing Iranians.’ (Our emphasis)

As Chomsky notes, the US (with UK support) installed the Shah, a brutal dictator, described by Amnesty International as one of the worst, most extreme torturers in the world, year after year. That ordinary Iranians might harbour some kind of grievance towards Uncle Sam as a result should not be prominent in ‘responsible’ journalism. Nor should you note, as Chomsky does, that:

‘When he [the Shah] was overthrown in 1979, the U.S. almost immediately turned to supporting Saddam Hussein in an assault against Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians, used extensive use of chemical weapons. Of course, at the same time, Saddam attacked his Kurdish population with horrible chemical weapons attacks. The U.S. supported all of that.’

As a ‘good’ journalist, you should refrain from referring to the US as the world’s most dangerous rogue state, or by making any Chomskyan comparison between the US and the Mafia:

‘We’re back to the Mafia principle. In 1979, Iranians carried out an illegitimate act: They overthrew a tyrant that the United States had imposed and supported, and moved on an independent path, not following U.S. orders. That conflicts with the Mafia doctrine, by which the world is pretty much ruled. Credibility must be maintained. The godfather cannot permit independence and successful defiances, in the case of Cuba. So, Iran has to be punished for that.’

As a reliable journalist, there is also no need to dwell on the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Persian Gulf by the US warship Vincennes on July 3, 1988. All 290 people on board the plane were killed, including 66 children. President Ronald Reagan excused the mass killing as ‘a proper defensive action’. Vice-President George H.W. Bush said: ‘I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are. … I’m not an apologize-for America kind of guy.’

The US has never forgiven Iran for its endless ‘defiance’ in trying to shirk off Washington’s impositions. Harsh and punitive sanctions on Iran, that had been removed under the 2015 nuclear deal, have now been restored by President Donald Trump. Trump has also decided to pull out of the INF, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, with Russia. This is the landmark nuclear arms pact signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

But ‘balanced’ journalism need not focus on the enhanced threat of nuclear war, or the diplomatic options that the US has ignored or trampled upon. Instead, journalism is to be shaped by the narrative framework that it is the US that is behaving responsibly, and that Iran is the gravest threat to world peace. Thus, BBC News reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has:

‘warned that the US will exert “relentless” pressure on Iran unless it changes its “revolutionary course”.’

BBC News adds:

‘Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani earlier struck a defiant tone, saying the country will “continue selling oil”.

‘”We will proudly break the sanctions,” he told economic officials.’

Good reporters know that Official Enemies resisting US imperialism must always be described as ‘defiant’. But the term is rarely, if ever, applied to the imperial power implementing oppressive measures.

BBC News dutifully reported Pompeo’s comments:

‘The Iranian regime has a choice: it can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.’

A good reporter knows not to critically appraise, far less ridicule, the idea that the US is an exemplar of ‘a normal country’, rather than being an outlaw state that outrageously threatens to make another country’s economy ‘crumble’ for refusing to obey US orders.

Don’t Talk About The Israel Lobby

Another rule of corporate journalism is to downplay the influence of the Israel lobby in British politics; or just pretend it doesn’t exist. Moreover, you can boost your credentials by reporting from within the skewed, pro-Israel narrative that Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong campaigner against racism, has succumbed to antisemitism. Even better if you can somehow link him to a horrific event, such as the recent murder of eleven worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a far-right white supremacist. That’s what Christina Patterson, a newspaper columnist, did on Sky News. She said:

‘I have to say in our own country, the Labour party has had a very heavy shadow of antisemitism hanging over it for much of this year… I know that Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues have tried to say that it’s not a problem.’

This was a blatant smear.

If you work for BBC News, it is especially important that stories have an appropriate headline and narrative framework: namely, one that promotes Israel’s perspective and also obscures the agency involved when Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. Thus, a story about three young Palestinians, aged 13 and 14, killed in an Israeli air attack should be titled:

‘Gaza youths “killed planting bomb”‘

And definitely not:

‘Israel kills three Palestinian children’

Otherwise, you – or more likely your superiors – are likely to receive a phone call from the Israeli embassy in London. As a senior BBC News producer once told Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group:

‘We wait in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis’.

This helps keep journalists in line.

It is also important not to watch, far less report, one recent film the Israel lobby doesn’t want the public to see. Titled, ‘The Lobby – USA’, it is a four-part undercover investigation by Al Jazeera into Israel’s covert influence in the United States. The film was completed in October 2017. However, it was not shown after Qatar, the gas-rich Gulf emirate that funds Al Jazeera, ‘came under intense Israel lobby pressure not to air the film.’ The Electronic Intifada website has obtained a copy of the film and has now published the episodes.

In Britain, an Al Jazeera undercover sting operation on key members of the Israel lobby last year revealed a £1 million plot by the Israeli government to undermine Corbyn. It’s best to look the other way, however, if you are an aspiring journalist in the ‘mainstream’. In particular, if you work for BBC News or the Guardian, you certainly do not wish to draw attention to a recent report by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) about inaccuracies and distortions in media coverage of antisemitism and the Labour Party. The BBC and the Guardian were among the worst offenders.

Over one month after the damning report was published, Guardian editor Katharine Viner has still said nothing in public about it (as far as we are aware), despite being prompted by us, and many others, more than once. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not a single person at the Guardian has so much as mentioned it; including those columnists, notably Owen Jones and George Monbiot, the public is encouraged to regard as fearless radicals. Justin Schlosberg, the lead author of the report, has now published an open letter to the Guardian readers’ editor on behalf of the MRC. He wrote:

‘Both before and since publishing our research, which raised serious concerns about the Guardian‘s coverage of antisemitism within the Labour Party, we have made strident efforts to engage in constructive dialogue with both editorial and public affairs staff. Unfortunately, these efforts do not appear to have born any fruit to date. There has also been no reporting or commenting on our research, despite the significant public debate and controversy that it sparked. We nevertheless continue to hope and expect that a reflexive and considered response to the evidence will be forthcoming.’

Respected media academics – including Robert McChesney, Greg Philo, James Curran, David Miller and many others – are clear that the MRC report on coverage of antisemitism and Labour is serious and requires addressing:

‘It is imperative that news institutions — especially the BBC and those newspapers who pride themselves on fair and accurate reporting — answer to these findings. It is not enough to simply dismiss the research on the basis of presumed bias without engaging constructively with the research, including the notably cautious approach adopted by the researchers.’

The statement continued:

‘Silence or blanket dismissal will only speak volumes about the widely sensed malaise in our free press and public service media. A functioning democracy depends on a functioning fourth estate.’

The academics’ statement went unheeded by the ‘mainstream’ media; thus highlighting the dearth of a functioning fourth estate, and the grievous lack of a functioning democracy.

Attack Julian Assange

As a ‘mainstream’ journalist, you also need to ensure that you treat WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange with the requisite amount of contempt and ridicule. Thus, ‘impartial’ BBC News featured a story on its website titled, ‘Julian Assange given feline ultimatum by Ecuador’. Assange, the BBC said, had:

‘been given a set of house rules at the Ecuadorean embassy in London that include cleaning his bathroom and taking better care of his cat.’

The original version of the article even included a fake quote, ‘Save water, don’t shower’, from a parody Julian Assange Twitter account; possibly a symptom of an over-eager BBC reporter trying to make Assange look as ridiculous as possible.

In similar vein, The Times ran a piece titled, ‘Clean up after your cat or else, Ecuadorian embassy tells Julian Assange’, followed later by another article with the flippant headline, ‘Ecuadorian Embassy tires of Julian Assange’s kickabouts and skateboarding’. The Express went with ‘Feline fine? Assange’s cat needs Embassy assistance’ (October 17, 2018; article not found online). The Guardian, which benefited from an earlier collaboration with WikiLeaks and Assange, published a flippant piece titled, ‘How to get rid of an unwanted housemate’ which chuckled:

‘The Ecuadorians are fed up with their longtime lodger, Julian Assange. But many of us have had a nightmare flatmate. Here’s how to get them to leave.’

By contrast, Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, doing actual journalism, wrote:

‘While the media focused on Julian Assange’s cat rather than his continuing arbitrary detention, evidence shows that Britain worked hard to force his extradition to Sweden where Assange feared he could then be turned over to the U.S.’

Maurizi pointed out that Sweden dropped its investigation in May 2017, after Swedish prosecutors had questioned Assange in London, as he had always asked. She added:

‘Although the Swedish probe was ultimately terminated, Assange remains confined. No matter that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention established that the WikiLeaks founder has been arbitrarily detained since 2010, and that he should be freed and compensated. The UK, which encourages other states to respect international law, doesn’t care about the decision by this UN body whose opinions are respected by the European Court of Human Rights. After trying to appeal the UN decision and losing the appeal, Britain is simply ignoring it. There is no end in sight to Assange’s arbitrary detention.’

Real journalists would be hugely concerned by the implications of someone publishing details of war crimes and corruption being targeted by a state and threatened with extradition and long-term imprisonment. But, as the Canadian writer Joe Emersberger says, the ‘Assange case shows support for free speech depends on who’s talking’.

Independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone notes that what ’empire loyalists’ in corporate media ‘are really saying when they bash Julian Assange’ is that they can be trusted to protect establishment interests. Of course, it is all the easier to attack Assange knowing that he has essentially been silenced in the Ecuadorean embassy. He is also at serious risk of deteriorating health if he is unable to leave the embassy soon without the risk of being extradited to the US.

At the time of writing, he still apparently has no access to the internet. His mother, Christine Assange, has just issued an urgent and impassioned plea to raise awareness of his plight:

‘This is not a drill. This is an emergency. The life of my son…is in immediate and critical danger.’

She adds that:

‘A new, impossible, inhumane set of rules and protocols was implemented at the embassy to torture him to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave.’

She warns that if her son leaves the embassy, he will be extradited to the US, given a ‘show trial’, face detention ‘in Guantanamo Bay, 45 years in a maximum-security prison, or even the death penalty.’

Meanwhile, as Johnstone adds, the message sent out by would-be careerists smearing and laughing at Assange is:

‘Hey! Look at me! You can count on me to advance whatever narratives get passed down from on high! I’ll cheer on all the wars! I’ll play up the misdeeds of our great nation’s rivals and ignore the misdeeds of our allies! […] I will be a reliable mouthpiece of the ruling class regardless of who is elected in our fake elections to our fake official government. […] I understand what you want me to do without your explicitly telling me to do it. […] Look, I’m even joining in the dog pile against a political prisoner who can’t defend himself.’

Soft-Pedal Fascism

Another rule to abide by as a corporate journalist is to worship the global economy, excusing or even acclaiming the rise of extreme right-wing politicians because that leads to possible gains for big business. As Alan MacLeod, of the Glasgow University Media Group, observed in a recent piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, the financial press cheered the election of a fascist president in Brazil:

‘Jair Bolsonaro was an army officer during Brazil’s fascist military dictatorship (1964–85), which he defends, maintaining that its only error was not killing enough people.’

He is set to apply ‘shock therapy’ to Brazil, initiating ‘a fire sale of state assets and an opening up of the country’s vast natural resources for foreign exploitation’, including the Amazon. Moreover, he has threatened to unleash a wave of violence on the working class, minorities and the left.

Bolsonaro stood against the centre-left Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad. International markets, and therefore the financial press, clearly wanted Bolsonaro to win, observes MacLeod. Socialism is never popular with business and financial elites, after all.

MacLeod notes that Bolsonaro was elected with just 55.5 per cent of the vote after former leftist President Lula da Silva, by far the most popular candidate, had been jailed and barred from running on highly questionable charges. After being elected, Bolsonaro brazenly appointed the prosecutor who jailed Lula as Justice Minister in the new Brazilian government.

The Financial Times reported that the markets were ‘cheering’ Bolsonaro’s lead in the presidential race. The FT also noted surging stocks in weapons companies and a boost to the general economy as Bolsonaro’s performance ‘heartened investors.’

MacLeod concluded:

‘When it comes to opportunities for profits, all else is forgotten. After all, fascism is big business.’

Of course, a ‘real’ journalist would never say something like that.

An opinion piece on the business-oriented Bloomberg website proclaimed:

‘Brazil’s Bolsonaro Completes a U.S. Sweep of South America.’

Adding:

‘Other than Venezuela — and only for as long as Maduro holds on — the continent is now U.S.-friendly.’

The piece was written by James Stavridis, a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former military commander of NATO.

As journalist Ben Norton summed up via Twitter:

‘I repeat for the umpteenth time: capitalism and imperialism infinitely prefer fascism over socialism. Capitalist imperialism wholeheartedly embraces fascists, while murdering socialists. This ex-commander of U.S. Southern Command is bragging about this.’

‘Responsible’ journalism means providing a regular, amplified outlet for imperial-friendly ‘analysis’. As Jonathan Cook pointed out recently, Bolsonaro is ‘a monster engineered by our media’. In other words, in much the same way that the corporate media facilitated the rise of Donald Trump to become US president.

Bury UK Responsibility for Yemen’s Nightmare

There are always exceptions to the rules. Patrick Cockburn, a long-time foreign correspondent with The Independent, is an example of a journalist who questions established ‘truths’. For almost two years, the corporate media have cited a UN figure of 10,000 Yemenis who have been killed in the US-and UK-backed Saudi war. Recently, Cockburn pointed out that this figure grossly downplays the real, catastrophic death toll which is likely in the range 70,000-80,000.

Cockburn interviewed Andrea Carboni, a researcher with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). This is an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex. Carboni is focusing attention on the real casualty level in Yemen. He estimates the number killed between January 2016 and October 2018 to be 56,000 civilians and combatants. When he completes his research, Carboni told Cockburn that he expects to find a total of between 70,000 and 80,000 victims who have died since the start of the Saudi-led assault in the Yemen civil war in March 2015.

Cockburn adds:

‘The number is increasing by more than 2,000 per month as fighting intensifies around the Red Sea port of Hodeidah. It does not include those dying of malnutrition, or diseases such as cholera.’

In fact, figures from UNICEF and Save the Children show that between January 2016 and November 2017, at least 113,000 Yemeni children died from preventable causes; mostly disease and malnutrition.

In an interview with Ben Norton on The Real News Network, Cockburn points out that, despite the horrendous scale of this suffering, it is being given minimal news coverage:

‘It’s horrific. And you know, it’s not- a point, actually, that the UN was making recently, I don’t think got picked up very much, was, you know, that famines are pretty uncommon. You know, there was a famine in Somalia some years ago. There was another smaller one in South Sudan. But a famine like this, as big as this, this is very uncommon. I mean, it’s entirely manmade. And one could say it’s been taking place in view of the whole world. But actually it isn’t, because the news of it isn’t being reported.’

Cockburn also highlights a study by Professor Martha Mundy, titled ‘Strategies of the Coalition in the Yemen War: Aerial Bombardment and Food War’, concluding that the Saudi-led bombing campaign, which is supported by the US and the UK, deliberately targeted food production and storage facilities. (See also our media alert, ‘Yemen Vote – The Responsibility To Protect Profits’).

As a well-established veteran reporter of impressive credentials, Cockburn can report such uncomfortable truths without suffering career oblivion. But woe betide any young journalist trying to make their way in the ‘mainstream’ who tries to do likewise. Instead, they should follow the example of Patrick Wintour, the Guardian‘s diplomatic editor, who performs contortions to provide a fictitious ‘balance’ in a recent piece on Yemen. Wintour refers to mere ‘claims’ that the UK ‘is siding too much with the Saudis’. The Orwellian language continues with the description of Saudi Arabia as a ‘defence partner’ of Britain.

The sub-heading under the main title of Wintour’s article gives prominence to the perspective of the UK Defence Secretary:

‘Jeremy Hunt says cessation of hostilities could “alleviate suffering” of Yemeni people.’

As the historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis observed via Twitter:

‘This sub-heading is a microcosm of what a joke the Guardian is. After over 3 yrs of UK govt’s total backing of mass murder in Yemen, the paper has the temerity to equate UK policy with easing humanitarian suffering. The state could not ask for more.’

Aspiring journalists should take note of the state-corporate requirement to bury the bloody reality of ‘defence’ and the huge profits that must be protected.

Curtis also recently highlighted an admission by the Ministry of Defence that has seemingly gone under the radar of the corporate media:

‘Oh, so Saudi pilots *are* being trained at RAF Valley in Wales (Anglesey). https://bit.ly/2qiNkrN’

It would also not do for those hoping for a career in journalism to examine the daily contortions and sleight-of-hand pronouncements emanating daily from government departments. Thank goodness, then, for Curtis who regularly highlights the distasteful deceits that are churned out by the UK state.

We tweeted BBC News about the buried truth that the UK is training Saudi pilots, even as Saudi Arabia commits war crimes in Yemen:

‘Hello @BBCNews. Perhaps you could devote a decent amount of coverage to this? Or would you rather keep the public in the dark about the extent of UK government complicity in #Yemen’s nightmare?’

As ever, the BBC did not respond.

In short, being a reliable ‘mainstream’ journalist entails a number of basic rules including: propagating the myth that ‘we’ are the good guys; conforming to the requirements of wealth and power; keeping one’s head down and never challenging authority in any deep or sustained way; and refraining from any public discussion about these rules.

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Media bias is real, and everywhere


NOVANEWS
Image result for Media bias CARTOON
By Yves Engler 

Can you trust any media outlet to tell the truth about foreign affairs? Or are they all part of some propaganda system? Perhaps the best we can do to understand what’s really happening in the world is read/listen/watch a variety of sources, but assume they are all biased in one way or another?

These questions came to mind after a recent Montréal event about Syria.

In a La Presse article, international affairs reporter Agnès Gruda essentially dismissed a presentation by a freelance journalist who has covered the war in Syria by writing: for who does Eva Bartlett really work? During her conference, she confirmed that she wrote commentaries for Russia Today — a Russian propaganda organ.”

Gruda isn’t the only reporter to highlight Bartlett’s ties to RT when discussing her Syria work. A Hamilton Spectator story about her talks in that city noted, Bartlett maintains a blog for the state-funded media outlet Russia Today” while Pulse reported that she contributed to the Kremlin broadcaster Russia Today.” (Bartlett has published five articles about Syria for RT.)

Of course, the question of where journalists publish or who employs them and the interests of the owners/funders of said media does deserve attention. It is not unreasonable to be skeptical of a Russian media outlet’s reporting on Syria. While I’m not current with RT, it’s hard to imagine that a station set up by the Russian government wouldn’t be biased in favor of Moscow’s position in a conflict it is a major player in.

But, does Gruda describe herself as an employee of the billionaire Desmarais family that is heavily involved in Canadian and other countries’ politics? How does Gruda describe journalists who’ve written for Al Jazeera, which is owned by a Qatari monarchy that has backed armed opposition to Assad? Or how about the BBC, CBC and other media outlets owned by governments?

Does Gruda offer readers similar background on journalists who’ve worked on a National Film Board documentary? Created as part of the Canadian government’s World War II propaganda arsenal, the 1950 National Film Board Act calls for it to “promote the production and distribution of films in the national interest.”

Or, does she mention journalists’ ties when they have freelanced for Radio Canada International, a “Canadian government propaganda arm”? Initially focused on Eastern Bloc countries, beginning in 1945 RCI beamed radio abroad as part of “the psychological war against communism”, according to external minister Lester Pearson. Early on External Affairs was given a copy of the scripts used by commentators and it responded to criticism of Canada’s international policies. Into the 1990s RCI’s funding came directly from External Affairs.

Or what about the Canadian Press ? The influential media institution has significant historic ties to official Canadian international policy. During World War I Ottawa helped establish the Canadian Press to increase pro-war coverage and strengthen national identity. A predecessor newswire disseminated Associated Press stories in Canada but the war spurred criticism of the US news agency, which did not cheerlead British/Canadian policy loud enough for some (Washington had yet to join the fighting). “In effect, an arm of the British Foreign Ministry”, Reuters offered Canadian newspapers free wire copy during the war. But, the British press agency would only deliver the service to Ottawa. If the federal government wanted to ensure that this pro-war imperial news service was distributed effectively across the country”, it had to subsidize a telegraph connection to the West Coast. To support CP the federal government put up $50,000 ($800,000 in today’s dollars) a year, which lasted for six years.

CP “cemented” itself as Canada’s national news service during World War II. “To accomplish this,” Gene Allen writes in a history of the organization, “CP cultivated unprecedentedly close relations with Canada’s military authorities — who had reasons of their own for wanting extensive coverage of the national war effort — and thereby moved some distance away from traditional notions of journalistic independence.” In an extreme example, CP recruited a Canadian Forces public relations officer who led reporters into battle zones. Bill Boss remained with the same unit but began reporting for the news service and would become one of Canada’s most famous war correspondents.

Nationalism remains an important media frame at the CP. “As a war correspondent in the 1990s”, former CP reporter Stephen Ward describes facing nationalist pressures. “I came under pressure to be patriotic when reporting on Canadian soldiers or peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere [Iraq] … I should not embarrass Canada by reporting on mistakes in the field; I should not quote soldiers puzzled about their mission; I should do ‘feel-good’ pieces about soldiers watching hockey via satellite in warring Bosnia.”

Most Canadian media face similar pressures in their international coverage, as I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation.

Certainly Russia’s foreign affairs machinery isn’t the only one that shapes international coverage. Highlighting Russia’s “propaganda system” to a Canadian audience without mentioning the one at home indicates either a journalist’s ignorance or that she is part of it.

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Why are US tech firms suddenly trying to restrict RT’s access to social media?


NOVANEWS
Image result for Facebook. CARTOON

On Wednesday RT found its access to Twitter’s official news discovery partner Dataminr stifled, and it was temporarily denied full use of Facebook. These events followed weeks of hysteria about the network in the US.

First up, we need to explain what Dataminr is. It’s an American startup with exclusive access to Twitter’s ‘firehose’ (the full flow of all Tweets in real time), vital to any agency that breaks the news.

While it isn’t hugely significant for casual users, it’s extremely useful for media services, and it appears government intelligence agencies too.

The firehose is also seemingly a valuable resource for anyone looking for illegal activity on Twitter. This is due to how the information can help “explore an individual’s past digital activity on social media and discover an individual’s interconnectivity and interactions with others on social media.”

We know this because a lobbying firm called Beacon Global Strategies told the Danish government about these abilities when pitching a partnership between Copenhagen and the tech company.

RT, along with dozens of other news organizations, has been using Dataminr successfully for some time. Nobody batted an eyelid until a strange Wall Street Journal article last May placed the network center stage in a battle between Twitter and American spies. Headlined “Twitter Picks Russia Over the US,” it suggested that Dataminr was selling information directly to Vladimir Putin, via RT. Meanwhile, it denied CIA operatives access to its platform.
Changing tack

This stance changed five months later, when the startup, which is partially owned by Twitter, agreed to provide an “advanced altering tool” to the FBI. Furthermore, it was at the same time when RT’s relationship with Dataminr suddenly became more confused.

As this network attempted to pay the annual service charge for usage, the tech company insisted they’d prefer monthly payments, as they were “reviewing how we work with government agencies.” While that seemed unusual at the time, the reasons finally became apparent when RT’s access to Dataminr was revoked with immediate effect on Wednesday.

This unfortunate and sad move appears to be a result of the climate of fear that sections of the US press are whipping up around RT and Russian media in general. The preposterous Wall Street Journal article of last May is just one of countless similar diatribes.

Written by Louis Gordon Crovitz, senior enough to have been a former publisher of the paper, it hysterically created the impression that RT was somehow passing on information from Twitter to Russian special services – in other words, baseless, utter nonsense.

Crossed purposes

Just after Dataminr cut off RT, the plot thickened on Thursday when The Verge reported that it wasn’t only Denmark that Beacon had considered collaborating with. They also met officials from Azerbaijan and at least five other embassies over a period of three months. Unlike RT, which used the facility only for news gathering, these pitches were clearly made in ways that suggested it could have been used for surveillance.

While Dataminr has exclusive access to Twitter’s firehose, Facebook has a de facto near-monopoly on the distribution of news these days. Thus, when they blocked RT’s ability to post new links and video from Wednesday night to Thursday evening, it was easy to see the one-two punch to RT’s social media access as more than mere coincidence.

Especially, when RT was accused of breaching terms of service by merely streaming a video purchased under license from the Associated Press; AP confirmed it was entirely legal in a statement to RT. Not just that, but Facebook generated a notice nonsensically alleging that RT’s stream of AP video was infringing on the rights of US state broadcaster Radio Free Europe.

Facebook rectified its error the next day. Where RT’s Dataminr relationship is concerned, it is reasonable to assume the decision to deny service came from high-up in the company – or perhaps even above.

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The War Against Alternative Information


NOVANEWS

The U.S. government is creating a new $160 million bureaucracy to shut down information that doesn’t conform to U.S. propaganda narratives, building on the strategy that sold the bloody Syrian “regime change” war, writes Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

The U.S. establishment is not content simply to have domination over the media narratives on critical foreign policy issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and Russia. It wants total domination. Thus we now have the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” that President Obama signed into law on Dec. 23 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, setting aside $160 million to combat any “propaganda” that challenges Official Washington’s version of reality.

Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting on Syria, Sept. 25, 2016. Power has been an advocate for escalating U.S. military involvement in Syria. (UN Photo)

The new law mandates the U.S. Secretary of State to collaborate with the Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence and other federal agencies to create a Global Engagement Center “to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.” The law directs the Center to be formed in 180 days and to share expertise among agencies and to “coordinate with allied nations.”

The legislation was initiated in March 2016, as the demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia was already underway and was enacted amid the allegations of “Russian hacking” around the U.S. presidential election and the mainstream media’s furor over supposedly “fake news.” Defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for the bill: “It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy, and innocent lives.”

The new law is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least because it merges a new McCarthyism about purported dissemination of Russian “propaganda” on the Internet with a new Orwellianism by creating a kind of Ministry of Truth – or Global Engagement Center – to protect the American people from “foreign propaganda and disinformation.”

As part of the effort to detect and defeat these unwanted narratives, the law authorizes the Center to: “Facilitate the use of a wide range of technologies and techniques by sharing expertise among Federal departments and agencies, seeking expertise from external sources, and implementing best practices.” (This section is an apparent reference to proposals that Google, Facebook and other technology companies find ways to block or brand certain Internet sites as purveyors of “Russian propaganda” or “fake news.”)

Justifying this new bureaucracy, the bill’s sponsors argued that the existing agencies for strategic communications andpublic diplomacy were not enough, that the information threat required “a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power.”

The law also is rife with irony since the U.S. government and related agencies are among the world’s biggest purveyors of propaganda and disinformation – or what you might call evidence-free claims, such as the recent accusations of Russia hacking into Democratic emails to “influence” the U.S. election.

Despite these accusations — leaked by the Obama administration and embraced as true by the mainstream U.S. news media — there is little or no public evidence to support the charges. There is also a contradictory analysis by veteran U.S. intelligence professionals as well as statements by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and an associate, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, that the Russians were not the source of the leaks. Yet, the mainstream U.S. media has virtually ignored this counter-evidence, appearing eager to collaborate with the new “Global Engagement Center” even before it is officially formed.

Of course, there is a long history of U.S. disinformation and propaganda. Former CIA agents Philip Agee and John Stockwell documented how it was done decades ago, secretly planting “black propaganda” and covertly funding media outlets to influence events around the world, with much of the fake news blowing back into the American media.

In more recent decades, the U.S. government has adopted an Internet-era version of that formula with an emphasis on having the State Department or the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy supply, train and pay “activists” and “citizen journalists” to create and distribute propaganda and false stories via “social media” and via contacts with the mainstream media. The U.S. government’s strategy also seeks to undermine and discredit journalists who challenge this orthodoxy. The new legislation escalates this information war by tossing another $160 million into the pot.

Propaganda and Disinformation on Syria

Syria is a good case study in the modern application of information warfare. In her memoir Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that the U.S. provided “support for (Syrian) civilian opposition groups, including satellite-linked computers, telephones, cameras, and training for more than a thousand activists, students and independent journalists.”

A heart-rending propaganda image designed to justify a major U.S. military operation inside Syria against the Syrian military.

Indeed, a huge amount of money has gone to “activists” and “civil society” groups in Syria and other countries that have been targeted for “regime change.” A lot of the money also goes to parent organizations that are based in the United States and Europe, so these efforts do not only support on-the-ground efforts to undermine the targeted countries, but perhaps even more importantly, the money influences and manipulates public opinion in the West.

In North America, representatives from the Syrian “Local Coordination Committees”(LCC) were frequent guests on popular media programs such as “DemocracyNow.” The message was clear: there is a “revolution” in Syria against a “brutal regime” personified in Bashar al-Assad. It was not mentioned that the “Local Coordination Committees” have been primarily funded by the West, specifically the Office for Syrian Opposition Support, which was founded by the U.S. State Department and the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

More recently, news and analysis about Syria has been conveyed through the filter of the White Helmets, also known as Syrian Civil Defense. In the Western news media, the White Helmets are described as neutral, non-partisan, civilian volunteers courageously carrying out rescue work in the war zone. In fact, the group is none of the above. It was initiated by the U.S. and U.K. using a British military contractor and Brooklyn-based marketing company.

While they may have performed some genuine rescue operations, the White Helmets are primarily a media organization with a political goal: to promote NATO intervention in Syria. (The manipulation of public opinion using the White Helmets and promoted by the New York Times and Avaaz petition for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria is documented here.)

The White Helmets hoax continues to be widely believed and receives uncritical promotion though it has increasingly been exposed at alternative media outlets as the creation of a “shady PR firm.” During critical times in the conflict in Aleppo, White Helmet individuals have been used as the source for important news stories despite a track record of deception.

Recent Propaganda: Blatant Lies?

As the armed groups in east Aleppo recently lost ground and then collapsed, Western governments and allied media went into a frenzy of accusations against Syria and Russia based on reports from sources connected with the armed opposition. CNN host Wolf Blitzer described Aleppo as “falling” in a “slaughter of these women and children” while CNN host Jake Tapper referred to “genocide by another name.”

War damage in the once-thriving Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Daily Beast published the claims of the Aleppo Siege Media Center under the title “Doomsday is held in Aleppo” and amid accusations that the Syrian army was executing civilians, burning them alive and “20 women committed suicide in order not to be raped.” These sensational claims were widely broadcast without verification. However, this “news” on CNN and throughout Western media came from highly biased sources and many of the claims – lacking anything approaching independent corroboration – could be accurately described as propaganda and disinformation.

Ironically, some of the supposedly “Russian propaganda” sites, such as RT, have provided first-hand on-the-ground reporting from the war zones with verifiable information that contradicts the Western narrative and thus has received almost no attention in the U.S. news media. For instance, some of these non-Western outlets have shown videos of popular celebrations over the “liberation of Aleppo.”

There has been further corroboration of these realities from peace activists, such as Jan Oberg of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research who published a photo essay of his eyewitness observations in Aleppo including the happiness of civilians from east Aleppo reaching the government-controlled areas of west Aleppo, finally freed from areas that had been controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its jihadist allies in Ahrar al-Sham.

Dr. Nabil Antaki, a medical doctor from Aleppo, described the liberation of Aleppo in an interview titled “Aleppo is Celebrating, Free from Terrorists, the Western Media Misinformed.” The first Christmas celebrations in Aleppo in four years are shown here, replete with marching band members in Santa Claus outfits. Journalist Vanessa Beeley has published testimonies of civilians from east Aleppo. The happiness of civilians at their liberation is clear.

Whether or not you wish to accept these depictions of the reality in Aleppo, at a minimum, they reflect another side of the story that you have been denied while being persistently force-fed the version favored by the U.S. State Department. The goal of the new Global Engagement Center to counter “foreign propaganda” is to ensure that you never get to hear this alternative narrative to the Western propaganda line.

Even much earlier, contrary to the Western mythology of rebel “liberated zones,” there was strong evidence that the armed groups were never popular in Aleppo. American journalist James Foley described the situation in 2012 like this:

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative.

“Aleppo, a city of about 3 million people, was once the financial heart of Syria. As it continues to deteriorate, many civilians here are losing patience with the increasingly violent and unrecognizable opposition — one that is hampered by infighting and a lack of structure, and deeply infiltrated by both foreign fighters and terrorist groups. The rebels in Aleppo are predominantly from the countryside, further alienating them from the urban crowd that once lived here peacefully, in relative economic comfort and with little interference from the authoritarian government of President Bashar al-Assad.”

On Nov. 22, 2012, Foley was kidnapped in northwestern Syria and held by Islamic State terrorists before his beheading in August 2014.

The Overall Narrative on Syria

Analysis of the Syrian conflict boils down to two competing narratives. One narrative is that the conflict is a fight for freedom and democracy against a brutal regime, a storyline promoted in the West and the Gulf states, which have been fueling the conflict from the start. This narrative is also favored by some self-styled “anti-imperialists” who want a “Syrian revolution.”

The other narrative is that the conflict is essentially a war of aggression against a sovereign state, with the aggressors including NATO countries, Gulf monarchies, Israel and Jordan. Domination of the Western media by these powerful interests is so thorough that one almost never gets access to this second narrative, which is essentially banned from not only the mainstream but also much of the liberal and progressive media.

For example, listeners and viewers of the generally progressive TV and radio program “DemocracyNow” have rarely if ever heard the second narrative described in any detail. Instead, the program frequently broadcasts the statements of Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and others associated with the U.S. position. Rarely do you hear the viewpoint of the Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations, the Syrian Foreign Minister or analysts inside Syria and around the world who have written about and follow events there closely.

“DemocracyNow” also has done repeated interviews with proponents of the “Syrian revolution” while ignoring analysts who call the conflict a war of aggression sponsored by the West and the Gulf monarchies. This blackout of the second narrative continues despite the fact that many prominent international figures see it as such. For example, the former Foreign Minister of Nicaragua and former President of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, has said, “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.”

In many areas of politics, “DemocracyNow” is excellent and challenges mainstream media. However in this area, coverage of the Syrian conflict, the broadcast is biased, one-sided and echoes the news and analysis of mainstream Western corporate media, showing the extent of control over foreign policy news that already exists in the United States and Europe.

Suppressing and Censoring Challenges

Despite the widespread censorship of alternative analyses on Syria and other foreign hotspots that already exists in the West, the U.S. government’s new “Global Engagement Center” will seek to ensure that the censorship is even more complete with its goal to “counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation.” We can expect even more aggressive and better-financed assaults on the few voices daring to challenge the West’s “group thinks” – smear campaigns that are already quite extensive.

The “White Helmets” symbol, expropriating the name of “Syria Civil Defense.”

In an article titled “Controlling the Narrative on Syria”, Louis Allday describes the criticisms and attacks on journalists Rania Khalek and Max Blumenthal for straying from the “approved” Western narrative on Syria. Some of the bullying and abuse has come from precisely those people, such as Robin Yassin-Kassab, who have been frequent guests in liberal Western media.

Reporters who have returned from Syria with accounts that challenge the propaganda themes that have permeated the Western media also have come under attack. For instance, Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett recently returned to North America after being in Syria and Aleppo, conveying a very different image and critical of the West’s biased media coverage. Bartlett appeared at a United Nations press conference and then did numerous interviews across the country during a speaking tour. During the course of her talks and presentation, Bartlett criticized the White Helmets and questioned whether it was true that Al Quds Hospital in opposition-held East Aleppo was attacked and destroyed as claimed.

Bartlett’s recounting of this information made her a target of Snopes, which has been a mostly useful website exposing urban legends and false rumors but has come under criticism itself for some internal challenges and has been inconsistent in its investigations. In one report entitled “White Helmet Hearsay,” Snopes’ writer Bethania Palmer says claims the White Helmets are “linked to terrorists” is “unproven,” but she overlooks numerous videos, photos, and other reports showing White Helmet members celebrating a Nusra/Al Qaeda battle victory, picking up the bodies of civilians executed by a Nusra executioner, and having a member who alternatively appears as a rebel/terrorist fighter with a weapon and later wearing a White Helmet uniform. The “fact check” barely scrapes the surface of public evidence.

The same writer did another shallow “investigation” titled “victim blaming” regarding Bartlett’s critique of White Helmet videos and what happened at the Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo. Bartlett suggests that some White Helmet videos may be fabricated and may feature the same child at different times, i.e., photographs that appear to show the same girl being rescued by White Helmet workers at different places and times. While it is uncertain whether this is the same girl, the similarity is clear. 

The Snopes writer goes on to criticize Bartlett for her comments about the reported bombing of Al Quds Hospital in east Aleppo in April 2016. A statement at the website of Doctors Without Borders says the building was “destroyed and reduced to rubble,” but this was clearly false since photos show the building with unclear damage. Five months later, the September 2016 report by Doctors Without Borders says the top two floors of the building were destroyed and the ground floor Emergency Room damaged yet they re-opened in two weeks.

The many inconsistencies and contradictions in the statements of Doctors Without Borders resulted in an open letter to them. In their last report, Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF) acknowledges that “MSF staff did not directly witness the attack and has not visited Al Quds Hospital since 2014.”

Bartlett referenced satellite images taken before and after the reported attack on the hospital. The images do not show severe damage and it is unclear whether or not there is any damage to the roof, the basis for Bartlett’s statement. In the past week, independent journalists have visited the scene of Al Quds Hospital and report that that the top floors of the building are still there and damage is unclear.

The Snopes’ investigation criticizing Bartlett was superficial and ignored the broader issues of accuracy and integrity in the Western media’s depiction of the Syrian conflict. Instead the article appeared to be an effort to discredit the eyewitness observations and analysis of a journalist who dared challenge the mainstream narrative.

U.S. propaganda and disinformation on Syria has been extremely effective in misleading much of the American population. Thus, most Americans are unaware how many billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on yet another “regime change” project. The propaganda campaign – having learned from the successful demonizations of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and other targeted leaders – has been so masterful regarding Syria that many liberal and progressive news outlets were pulled in. It has been left to RT and some Internet outlets to challenge the U.S. government and the mainstream media.

But the U.S. government’s near total control of the message doesn’t appear to be enough. Apparently even a few voices of dissent are a few voices too many.

The enactment of HR5181, “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation,” suggests that the ruling powers seek to escalate suppression of news and analyses that run counter to the official narrative. Backed by a new infusion of $160 million, the plan is to further squelch skeptical voices with operation for “countering” and “refuting” what the U.S. government deems to be propaganda and disinformation.

As part of the $160 million package, funds can be used to hire or reward “civil society groups, media content providers, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions.”

Among the tasks that these private entities can be hired to perform is to identify and investigate both print and online sources of news that are deemed to be distributing “disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda directed at the United States and its allies and partners.”

In other words, we are about to see an escalation of the information war.

Posted in MediaComments Off on The War Against Alternative Information

Did Big Media Run Fake Headlines on the Deutsche Bank “Settlement” ?


NOVANEWS
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

deutsche-bankTypically, it takes two to settle bank fraud charges – the bank committing the fraud and the law enforcement agency bringing the charges. But in the case of the announcement late last Thursday evening that Deutsche Bank and the U.S. Justice Department had reached an agreement to settle claims against the bank for allegedly swindling investors in the sale of toxic residential mortgage backed securities, all that could be heard was the sound of one hand clapping in a press release issued by the defendant, Deutsche Bank. Nowhere to be found was a statement of particulars on what the bank was admitting to or a man behind a podium bearing the seal of the U.S. Justice Department in a press briefing room, as typically occurs in a real settlement.

The lack of substantive details to this “settlement” and no confirmation from the Justice Department that an agreement actually existed did not hamper expensive media real estate from running with the story. The New York Times plopped the story on the front page of its business section on Friday, December 23 – the last trading day before Christmas – under the decidedly declarative headline: “Deutsche Bank to Settle U.S. Inquiry Into Mortgages for $7.2 Billion.” The Times article said the bank’s statement “came ahead of a formal announcement in the case.” It’s now a week later and as of this writing there is still no formal announcement from the Justice Department.

The timeline for this potentially fake news spreading like wildfire at major media outlets went like this:

At 7:56 p.m. on Thursday evening, December 22, Reuters ran this headline: “U.S. sues Barclays, ex-executives for mortgage securities fraud.” This headline was based on very material evidence. The U.S. Justice Department had just filed a 198-page lawsuit against Barclays in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York replete with allegations of breathtaking securities fraud. The lawsuit alleges that Barclays “knowingly securitized defaulted, delinquent, and defective” loans “to get them off Barclays’ books” and then lied to investors and ratings agencies about the quality of the loans. The lawsuit makes clear that the Justice Department has the emails to back up these charges. The Justice Department also disseminated a scathing press release on Thursday evening in which it excoriated the conduct of the bank and named two executives that are being charged: Paul K. Menefee, who served as Barclays’ head banker on its subprime residential mortgage backed securitizations and John T. Carroll who served as Barclays’ head trader for subprime loan acquisitions.

Just 37 minutes after this Justice Department fireball was dropped on Barclays and its red-faced legal team, Reuters was running this headline: “Deutsche Bank says it has reached settlement with U.S. DoJ on mortgages case.” The headline correctly indicates that Reuters is getting its information strictly on the basis of what the bank “says.”

Deutsche Bank’s legal team had simply released a 255-word press release to garner major headlines across big media’s digital and print platforms. In actuality, it was the Seinfeld version of a settlement agreement – it was about nothing concrete. The first clue should have been the words that ran above the title of the Deutsche Bank press release: “Ad-hoc.” According to the American Heritage Idioms Dictionary, used in that context, it means “improvised or impromptu.” Indeed, Deutsche Bank notes in the second paragraph of its 255-word missive that “The settlement is subject to the negotiation of definitive documentation, and there can be no assurance that the U.S. Department of Justice and the bank will agree on the final documentation.”

If there can be “no assurance” of a future agreement between the only two parties that can settle this case, how can this legitimately be called a settlement in headlines.

Adding to the potential for a deceptive public relations tactic on the part of Deutsche Bank, in September of this year the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was seeking $14 billion from Deutsche Bank to settle the case – almost twice what the bank now says it has reached an agreement on. The $14 billion initial tab suggests that the Justice Department has strong evidence of wrongdoing against the bank and could, as it did with Barclays, drop all that sordid laundry in a detailed complaint in Federal Court if Deutsche refuses to admit to its wrongdoing.

Another irony of big media taking the word of Deutsche Bank to write its headlines is that at the very heart of why the Justice Department is seeking billions of dollars from the bank is that it has engaged in serial deceptions.

In April of 2015, Deutsche Bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department over wire fraud and antitrust charges related to its role in manipulating U.S. Dollar LIBOR and engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy to rig Yen LIBOR. (LIBOR is an interest rate benchmark used to set rates on everything from credit cards to mortgages.) At the same time, a bank subsidiary pleaded guilty to wire fraud for manipulating LIBOR. The tab to Deutsche Bank was $775 million in criminal penalties. In June of this year, the Justice Department indicted two Deutsche Bank traders on LIBOR-rigging charges.

In November of 2015, Bloomberg News reported that “Deutsche Bank will pay $258 million and fire six employees to resolve a probe into sanctions violations from 1999 to 2006 after a string of e-mails showed employees discussed the ‘tricks’ used to move money in and out of Iran, Libya, Syria, Burma and Sudan.”

In 2013, FHFA, the conservator of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, announced a $1.925 billion settlement with Deutsche Bank to resolve claims that the bank had misled the mortgage giants in the sale of mortgage-related investments. Deutsche Bank did not admit wrongdoing in that settlement.

In 2010, Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $553.6 million to the U.S. and admitted criminal wrongdoing in a fraudulent tax shelter scheme that facilitated billions of dollars in U.S. tax losses.

Even after Deutsche settles or goes to court in the current matter with the Justice Department, there are still potential new charges that may be brought. According to Ed Caesar, writing in the August 29, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, Deutsche Bank is currently under investigation by “the U.S. Department of Justice, the New York State Department of Financial Services, and financial regulators in the U.K. and in Germany” for so-called “mirror trades,” a technique used to “turn rubles that were stuck in Russia into dollars stashed outside Russia.”

The above list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply meant to point out that big media should know better than to rely on a global bank that has been serially charged with egregious frauds and deceptions to write its headlines.

Posted in USAComments Off on Did Big Media Run Fake Headlines on the Deutsche Bank “Settlement” ?


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