Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Story of Raymond Davis
The US Media, Lies, and Deception

Sunday, March 27, 2011, Jake Tapper filled in for Christian Amanpour on ABC’s Sunday show “This Week.”  He had an interesting panel discussion on the internationally enforced no fly zone in Libya with panelists with diverse viewpoints. He also did a concurrent interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the US intervention in Libya. Towards the end of the interview Tapper switched to other topics. This part of the interview was incredibly revealing about US foreign policy and ABC News. This section of the interview begins at 9 minutes 15 seconds. 

Speaking about the likely fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the 32-year dictator of Yemen and a US ally, Gates said,

It is a real concern because the most active and at this point, perhaps the most aggressive branch of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, operates out of Yemen and we have had a lot of counter-terrorism cooperation from president Saleh and the Yemeni security services so if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak then I think we will face some additional challenges out of Yemen. There is no question about it. It’s a real problem.

First of all, we really should stop referring to dictators, even ones that are allies, as “presidents.” At the very least let’s refer to them as “strongmen” so that we recognize that they weren’t democratically elected in free and fair elections. Second, this is one of the greatest ironies of all time. While we are helping the rebels in Libya over through their dictator we lavish unwavering support for Yemen’s dictator. It is true that Yemen has done a lot of important counter-terrorism work for the United States. But when a democratic uprising is about to over through him, our leaders should at least be calling for democratic reform. A more consistent foreign policy would use our leverage to call for his resignation, perhaps offering him asylum in the US.  

The most startling point in the show immediately followed Robert Gates’ response. Jake Tapper set up the next question this way,

Secretary Clinton, on Pakistan, Pakistan has been trying to block US counter-terrorism efforts in the Fatah region and continues to work with terrorists who attack India, it held a US diplomat in its prisons for several weeks as I don’t need to tell you, has this relationship gotten worse in the last six months, US-Pakistan?

The “diplomat” that Tapper referred to was Raymond Davis, whose story in Pakistan is quite complex.

On January 27, 2011, CIA agent Raymond Davis shot and killed two men in Lahore, Pakistan. He claimed it was in self-defense; Pakistani officials charged him with murder. Since then, top US representatives have lobbied for his release. The story received very little coverage in the US press, and the sources that did cover it knowingly lied to their readers by telling them that Davis was a diplomat rather than a CIA agent. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press all did so at the request of the US State Department. Raymond’s real identity was first revealed in the Western press by the British newspaper “The Guardian” on February 20th, 2011. The NYT, WP, and AP admitted their deception to their readers and explained that they did so to try to protect Davis, even though his CIA affiliation was well known in Pakistan at the time.

US officials tried to get Davis released on diplomatic immunity, a status where diplomats are immune from prosecution. The reasoning behind diplomatic immunity is that if Country A does something Country B doesn’t like, Country B can’t retaliate by bringing false charges against diplomats from Country A. It is my opinion that genuine charges of murder should not be subject to diplomatic immunity. On top of that, it is quite a stretch to try to apply diplomatic immunity towards a CIA agent. Thus, the nature of Davis’ job is critically important to understanding the story, and claiming that Davis was a diplomat had the potential to dramatically change reader’s views on whether he should be released.

Raymond Davis was released from Pakistan on March 16th after the US gave the Pakistani government over 1 million dollars to reimburse the victim’s families.

I do not know if Raymond Davis committed murder in Pakistan or if he merely acted in self-defense. I also don't know if he was carrying out the orders of the CIA when he killed the two men. If he was acting without orders from the CIA and he murdered those men, then he deserves a life sentence. But if he was acting in self-defense or carrying out CIA orders then he was merely doing dangerous work for his country. Unfortunately, we won't know the truth of the matter until the government documents surrounding this event become declassified in the distant future. 

In many ways this case was the opposite of the Valarie Plame affair. Valarie Plame was a CIA agent who was outed by the Bush Administration because her husband publicly contradicted the administration’s line that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. This outing to the press endangered her life and ruined the career of a woman who risked her life for decades to serve her country.

In both the Raymond Davis and Valarie Plame incidents the press was pushed to report a story a certain way based on the persuasion of government officials. The difference between the Valarie Plame and Raymond Davis stories is that Davis was credibly charged with the most serious crime a person can commit. That changes the press’ requirement to keep an agent’s job secrete to requiring them to disclose it.

Jake Tapper cannot plead ignorance in this case. Any serious US journalist knows that Raymond Davis was a CIA operative and not a diplomat. 3 months after the shooting, 1 month and 1 week since the Guardian article, and 1 week and 4 days after Davis was released, ABC is still deceiving its viewers about the details of the Raymond Davis case. It goes without saying that noting Davis is a CIA operative no longer puts him in danger as he walks freely in the United States.

The US press has been much more skeptical about US intervention in Libya than it was about the war in Iraq. All US news outlets bought the falsehoods promoted by the Bush administration, that Saddam Hussein was perusing weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam was tied to Al Qaeda. MSNBC even canceled the only program which aired anti-war voices. The coverage of Libya has shown how far the US press has come since then. The rare and inaccurate coverage of the Raymond Davis incident shows how far we have to go. 

Originally posted March 27, 2011

UPDATE: The US has changed its position on Yemen and now supports Saleh leaving office. This is a small but important step toward a more consistent foreign policy of supporting democracy abroad.  Hopefully it will translate towards greater respect towards America in the Arab world as well. 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article has been slightly changed from its original form. It originally called for Raymond Davis to stand trial in Pakistan in order to determine his guilt and to deliver justice. After more thought on the matter, I decided that the Pakistani public was so convinced of his guilt that he could never get a fair trial. An innocent man could have been sentenced to life or worse. The text was changed to reflect a more generic opinion of what I think would be the proper punishment under a variety of circumstances. The reason I wrote this article was the fact that various US news outlets lied to their viewers on the request of the government and in the process misinformed the public on the most basic facts surrounding the case. That is a criticism I still hold.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pundits and Politicians
A Spoof on MSNBC’s Election Coverage

Saturday Night Live did an awesome piece making fun of the personalities at Fox News in the segment “Embracing Civility”. I decided to try my hand at satire and come up with a fictional script for my friends at MSNBC. The following parody of the personalities of pundits and politicians is full of hidden references to actual comments, which will hopefully entertain those who watch the media closely. THIS IS A FICTIONAL SCRIPT NOT AN ACTUAL TRANSCRIPT. Enjoy.

O’Donnell: Welcome back to MSNBC’s 2012 election coverage. And what a nail biter it has been.

Matthews: I know, this whole election season has been absolutely bizarre. In the beginning of 2011 the economy appeared to be making a comeback. None of the respectable republican candidates entered the race because they didn’t think that they could beat Obama.

Maddow: And that’s how we ended up with the Palin/Bachman ticket.

Matthews: Exactly. Then Bank of America collapsed.

O’Donnell:  No one could have seen it coming.

Ratigan: (enters) I did! The systematic fraud in Bank of America’s mortgage system has been painfully apparent for years!

O’Donnell:  (genuinely puzzled) Who are you?

Ratigan: I’m MSNBC’s business host. I have a show at 4 in the afternoon. I come on right before the first airing of Hardball.

O’Donnell: I think I might have seen a promo for one of your shows once.

Ratigan: Aaahh! (muttered under his breath as he leaves the set) Money-printing, politician-buying, scoundrel!

Matthews: Anyway, the collapse of Bank of America caused the stock market crash, actually creating the possibility of a Palin victory. America truly had a hard time choosing between the republican balloon-heads and the guys who couldn’t fix the economy.

Shultz: And what was Palin’s proposed response to the collapse of Bank of America? Less regulation on Wall Street! After Wall Street Fatcats raked in millions for pushing money around and twice crashing the entire world economy, Palin’s response is to propose removing the final restraints on their sociopathic behavior!

Maddow: (troubled) Ed, you’re on fire.

Shultz: I know.

Maddow: No, literally, Ed, you’re on fire.

Shultz: I’m on fire! Ahhh! (leaves set)

(Matthews, O’Donnell, and Maddow remain)


Matthews: The teabaggers don’t even look presidential. Bachman looks like a chewed up pencil and Palin looks like…

(young NBC staffer races on stage and covers Chris Matthews’ mouth, his  words incoherently pass through the staffer’s hands, staffer drags Matthews offstage,)

(O’Donnell, Maddow remain)

Maddow: And all we hear from the right is about how Sarah Palin is the first female presidential candidate from a major party. I got it already. Let’s hear what she thinks on actual policy issues.

O’Donnell: I know, the thing that gets me the most though, is how much Palin and Bachman get wrong in history alone! Palin celebrated Regan winning World War II, had George Washington creating Guantanamo to indefinitely hold prisoners of war rounded up from “foreign adventures”…

Maddow: And Bachman had the battles of Lexington and Concord happen in New Hampshire.

O’Donnell: It’s a national disgrace. (Pause) And we’re just now getting in the final results from Ohio. NBC predicts that Ohio, and by extension the presidency, will go to…Sarah Palin.

(Awkward Pause)

Matthews, Shultz, O’Donnell, and Maddow: NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

Originally posted March 22, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Not a Perversion of History
Martin Luther King and public sector unions

Today, Friday March 18, 2011, Fox News daytime host Neil Cavuto had a lot of important stories to cover in only an hour. Neil talked with a foreign affairs expert about a recently passed UN Human Rights Council resolution that included Iran and Venezuela’s criticisms of the US on human rights. He discussed the Libyan uprisings with a woman who lost three of her family members in the Lockerbie bombings. Neil also commented on the US roll in the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya.

Towards the end of the hour, he talked with tea party leader Lisa Fritsch about recent comments made by Richard Trumka that they both disagreed with. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a large labor union, announced plans for protests across the US on April 4th, 2011 by invoking Martin Luther King. “Join us to make April 4, 2011, a day to stand in solidarity with working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and dozens of other states where well funded, right-wing corporate politicians are trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for.” Lisa Fritsch said that these statements were “perverting, twisting, and lying about what Martin Luther King really stood for” and that, “there is a difference between equality (of opportunity) and entitlement.” She also said

“Do they even know why he marched on March 18th? It was because two black workers were injured and sent home and not paid while the union workers were paid. They have no idea the history that they are invoking to promote themselves. It’s really base and disturbing.”

I decided to delve into the past to see if these claims were accurate.

In 1968, garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee had it rough. Workers were required to lift tubs that leaked maggots on them. Black workers were called “boy” by their bosses and were often sent home without pay for minor infractions. Two workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death when they went into a garbage truck to escape the rain.  They weren’t injured, they had died. Memphis garbage workers went through all of this for just $1.70 an hour. On February 12, 1968, the workers went on strike to improve their working conditions, require the city to recognize their union, and raise their pay…to $2.35 an hour. (Source: The American Prospect)

So the garbage workers were rallying to create a union, not because non-union workers were being discriminated against compared to union workers. Before the strike, there was no union.

Throughout March and April Martin Luther King rallied with the workers of Memphis to show his solidarity with their struggle and to bring national attention to the story. On April 3rd, 1968 Martin Luther King was shot while he was standing on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. (Source: The American Prospect)

Martin Luther King gave his life for many causes that were controversial at the time, one of which was the right for public sector workers to collectively bargain. Thus the governors of many Midwest states are trying to take away at least one of “the rights Dr. King gave his life for,” as Trumka proclaimed. Thus Trumka’s statement is not, “perverting what Martin Luther King stood for,” as Lisa Fritsch claims.

As for her statement that, “there is a difference between equality of opportunity and entitlement,” she is absolutely right. However, Martin Luther King supported both. MLK called for a guaranteed national income that would be, “pegged to the median income of society, not the lowest levels of income(Source: The Nation). This idea is a cousin of the minimum wage. But King’s support for a high national income places him far to the left of any politician that is active in politics today. This is clearly a call for entitlement, even if the money is to come from businesses rather than the government. Personally, I disagree with a guaranteed national income because if labor were to become drastically more expensive to businesses they wouldn’t hire as many workers.

MLK was also highly critical of inequality of outcomes, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes... God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty” (Source: The Nation). To claim, as conservatives often do, that King merely advocated for an end to discrimination to allow for the equality of opportunity is blatantly false. King supported aggressive policies to combat poverty to compensate for America’s history of racial discrimination and because he felt vast inequality was an injustice in itself.

So, Lisa Fritsch was wrong both in her assessment of the historical accuracy of Richard Trumka’s comments and in Martin Luther King’s views on inequality. Her inaccuracies of the Memphis Strike where MLK was assinated shows that she has no idea the history she is invoking. It’s really base and disturbing.

I suspect this will not be the last time that conservatives misrepresent Martin Luther King’s views on labor and inequality.

P.S. The union that was created by the striking Memphis garbage collectors was an AFSCME union. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was founded in Wisconsin in 1932. Now, AFSCME unions in Wisconsin are fighting for their right to exist after Scott Walker signed a law that ended collective bargaining for public sector workers.

P.P.S. Here is a link to a NPR StoryCorpse segment on the Memphis strike.

Originally posted March 18th, 2011

UPDATE: Glenn Beck presented similar distortions on Martin Luther King's views on public sector unions in reaction to the Trumpka's invitation to protest on Martin Luther King Day. Ed Shultz did an awesome takedown of that segment.  On Martin Luther King Day, both Fox News hosts continued to present the same distortions. Media Matters documents all of these incidents here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Where do People Turn for News?

In order to better understand the news media landscape, I have compiled a list of the audience sizes of various sources of national news. No other website compiles data on audience sizes of news sources across as many diverse mediums. I used the most current data as I could find. Inclusion on this list is meant only to compare the sizes of the audiences of various news sources, not to comment on their accuracy or tone. You can find my analyses of those qualities in my other posts.
1. The Wall Street Journal                2,061,142 weekday        no Sunday edition.
2. USA Today                                      1,830,594 weekday      no Sunday edition.
3. The New York Times                     876,638 weekday          1,352,358 Sunday .
4. Los Angeles Times                        600,449 weekday           901,119 Sunday.
5. The Washington Post                    545,345 weekday           764,666 Sunday.
6. Daily News of New York               512,520 weekday           568,266 Sunday.
7. New York Post                               501,501 weekday            339,115 Sunday.
9. Chicago Tribune                            441,508 weekday             768,073 Sunday.
21. St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times          239,684 weekday            377,235 Sunday.
22. The Oregonian of Portland          239,071 weekday            292,800 Sunday.
1. The O’Reilly Factor                                               3,194,000
2. Special Report with Bret Baier                               2,204,000
3. Hannity                                                                  2,189,000
4. Glenn Beck                                                            2,055,000
5. Fox Report with Shepard Smith                             1,949,000
6. On the Record with Greta van Susteren                  1,623,000
7. Your World with Neil Cavuto                                1,423,000
8. America’s Newsroom                                           1,234,000
9. Studio B                                                               1,226,000
10. The O’Reilly Factor (11 PM Repeat)                  1,219,000
11. America Live                                                      1,214,000
12. The Rachel Maddow Show                                 1,102,000
13. Happening Now                                                  1,035,000
14. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell            1,033,000
15. Fox and Friends                                                     987,000
16. Anderson Cooper 360                                           854,000
17. The Ed Show                                                          825,000
18. Piers Morgan Tonight                                              809,000
19. Hardball with Chris Matthews                                  728,000
20. The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer                       680,000
21. Parker Spitzer                                                          630,000
22. Nancy Grace                                                            584,000
23. AC 360 (repeat)                                                        563,000
24. John King USA                                                          559,000
25. CNN Newsroom                                                       558,000
26. Last Word (repeat)                                                    508,000
27. Morning Joe                                                               459,000
28. The Daily Rundown                                                    426,000
29. MSNBC Live                                                             393,000
30. Andrea Mitchell Reports                                             390,000
The Daily Show with John Stewart                                  1,606,000
The Colbert Report                                                         1,124,000

1.       Meet the Press                                 NBC                       3,460,000
2.       Face the Nation                                CBS                        2,750,000
3.       This Week                                       ABC                        2,420,000
4.       Fox News Sunday                           Fox News            1,300,000

1.       Today                                           NBC                       5,650,000
2.       Good Morning America                ABC                       4,960,000
3.       The Early Show                            CBS                        2,860,000

1.       NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams    9,710,000
2.       ABC World News with Diane Sawyer       8,550,000
3.       CBS Evening News with Katie Couric        6,290,000
4.       PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer                  1,200,000

1.       Morning Edition                                                13,000,000
2.       All Things Considered                                      13,000,000

1.       The Rush Limbaugh Show                            15,000,000
2.       The Sean Hannity Show                               14,000,000
3.       The Glen Beck Program                               10,000,000
       The Mark Levin Show                                 8,500,000
      The Savage Nation                                       8,500,000
      The Alan Colmes Radio Show                       2,750,000
      The Ed Shultz Show                                      2,750,000

60 Minutes
60 Minutes                                              17,400,000

Originally posted 3/12/11

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jon Stewart’s Epic Takedown of Fox Business

Yesterday, Jon Stewart did one of his best segments he has done in the past few weeks. “Crisis in Dairyland-For Richer and Poorer” Exposed the inconsistency in the views of Fox Business hosts on Wall Street Bankers and Teachers. According to Fox Business host Eric Bolling, teachers who make around $90,000 a year in salary and benefits are making a lot of money while a Fox Business contributor thinks those making over $250,000 a year are, “near poverty”. It also contained Fox Business’ own ridiculous comparisons between Wall Street Bankers and public school teachers. Jon ends the segment with the hypocrisy of Tracy Brynes, a Fox Business contributor, who believes that contracts for Wall Street Bankers are sacrosanct, whereas contracts with public school teachers are not.

All of this supports the allegation that Fox Business is more about providing another platform for right wing talking points than providing useful investing advice.  In fact, Media Matters has documented countless examples of Fox News and Fox Business anchors injecting right wing talking points into their supposedly objective reporting of the stock market.

Wonderful work TDS (The Daily Show). You set the standard high for media criticism, and I look forward to the future commentary on your “comedy show.”

Originally posted March 4th, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Excellence in Journalism

All of my previous posts have been critical of politicians and the media. Today I am going to switch gears and highlight my favorite source for news and explain the qualities that set it apart.

National Public Radio covers economic news in a way that doesn’t belittle the listener’s intelligence. During the financial collapse of 2007-2008 they were able to explain the failings of the mortgage and financial industries as their excesses finally came to light. One of their greatest stories was broadcast on December 22nd, 2010 when cable news had nothing to offer other than rumors of Mitt Romni’s potential 2012 presidential run.  It was then that NPR broadcast the results of an investigation they had done with ProPublica on the investment bank Merrill Lynch.  Merrill’s traders were paid bonuses based on the number of risky investments they sold. When they realized no one else was buying, they made a deal to split their bonuses with some of their colleges who created a group within Merrill Lynch to buy the risky assets. The investments fell through, requiring Merrill Lynch to be sold to Bank of America

Their Foreign news is unrivaled among US news agencies. They cover all countries, not just the ones that are strong allies or enemies of the United States. Had I not been an NPR listener, I wouldn’t have known about the crisis unfolding in the Ivory Coast. NPR actually has a correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, stationed in Senegal. CBS and NBC each have only one main foreign correspondent that covers international news overseas, Lara Logan and Richard Engle respectively.

Yesterday, NPR had a story that combines their expertise in both of these areas. The looming collapse of Afghanistan’s largest bank threatens to dissolve any remaining stability in the areas controlled by the central government. The bank loaned its money to relatives of Afghan politicians, who didn’t pay it back. The International Monetary Fund won’t take action to save the bank due to the bank’s refusal to reform its practices. As a result, the US will likely end up footing the 1 billion dollar bill. This report, along with others NPR has covered about Iraq, Afghanistan, and military issues, continue after most other US news outlets have given up on covering America’s ongoing wars.

NPR’s coverage on the lack of mine safety at Massey Energy is another example of NPR keeping listeners informed on the issues that matter. Massey Energy was responsible for the explosion of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners. Despite receiving hundreds of citations for its safety violations, Massey has refused to reform its mining practices. The Labor Department took a critical step when it filed to shut down Massey’s Freedom Mine #1, due to the risk Massey’s blatant disregard for safety posses to its workers.

For these reasons and many more, NPR is my most trusted source for news. The depth and breadth of their coverage is above and beyond all other US news providers. You’ll always learn something new whenever you listen to NPR.


Originally Posted March 1, 2011