Sunday, February 25, 2018

Politico Promotes Another False Anti-Sanders Story On Russian Trolls

Thursday, this writer performed an autopsy on Politico's latest hatchet-job on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, using its own cited sources to expose it as a fraud and a lie. On Saturday, Edward-Isaac Dovere, the unethical hack responsible for that atrocity--and Politico's chief Washington correspondent--returned for another round. Beneath another false, click-baity headline, "Bernie Sanders Promoted False Story On Reporting Russian Trolls," he continued the fictional narrative from his first story while adding new misrepresentations.

In an appearance on Vermont Public Radio, Sanders had related how, toward the end of the 2016 presidential race, John Mattes, a staffer on his campaign in California, noticed and began to investigate strange activity on pro-Sanders Facebook groups. Mattes came to believe it was being carried out by Russian trolls and took this information to the Clinton campaign. Sanders acknowledged he didn't personally know Mattes and former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver later clarified that Sanders only knew of this incident via press reports, citing a piece from NBC's San Diego affiliate, which had, in fact, reported that "Mattes said he took his findings to the Clinton Campaign as well as the Obama Administration last September"--that being September 2016.

To challenge this, Dovere edited out Sanders acknowledgement that he had no firsthand knowledge of Mattes and tried to make Weaver's later statement sound like Sanders had changed his story. Dovere then turned to an anonymous "former Clinton campaign staffer," who denied the incident had ever happened. Since Mattes had reportedly told that NBC affiliate it had,[1] the implication was that Mattes was a liar. If Dovere ever talked to Mattes himself--which would have been the first step for any competent journalist investigating this matter--he gave no indication of it.

I talked to Mattes on Saturday--he's not hard to find--and he confirmed that Dovere had never contacted him prior to writing that first article. Dovere never contacted Mattes at all, in fact, until Mattes, who wasn't at all pleased with how he and his activities had been portrayed in that article, contacted Politico. "It's disheartening," Mattes told me, "to see inexperienced reporters peddling phony stories." Mattes sees the broad circulation of Dovere's article--it has gone all over the internet, its false narrative picked up by many other outlets hungry to bash progressives in general and Bernie Sanders in particular--as further cause for dismay. "It is even more distressing that a phony story is picked up and amplified by other so-called reporters who don't do the most basic thing in journalism: check your sources."

Dovere's second article, which focuses much of its attention on Mattes, is a train-wreck from its opening:
"Bernie Sanders is taking credit for action to combat the Russian incursion into the 2016 election that he didn’t have anything to do with--and didn’t actually happen."
The "action" in question is Mattes' investigation into alleged Russian internet activities, which did actually happen, but while Dovere twice accuses Sanders of "taking credit" for this--later in the article, he gets ambitious and says Sanders is "taking all the credit"--Sanders hasn't, in fact, taken any credit for it in any venue at any time. In the radio interview that started all of this, in fact, Sanders described Mattes as "a guy on my staff who I don't know personally." Devore, who heard this comment but cut it from his own account of that interview (inserting ellipses at the break), continues to lie to his readers, pretending as if Sanders never said it. Even without Sanders' own words, Jeff Weaver pointed out, days ago, that Sanders' only knowledge of Mattes' activities re:the Russia business came from press reports and Devore knows this too, because he quoted Weaver on it in his previous story, yet he now pretends as if he's uncovered something new; "it turns out," he writes, "that the purported Sanders' staffer who said he tried to sound the alarm was a campaign volunteer who acted on his own, without any contact or direction from the Vermont senator or his staff." And then he quotes the same remarks from Weaver as before ("All [Sanders] knows is what was reported.").

Sanders definitely misspoke in saying Mattes was "on my staff"--Mattes jokes that "Bernie gave me a promotion"--but Devore can't resist belaboring even this utterly inconsequential error. In a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press, Sanders described Mattes as "one of our social media guys out in San Diego"--a more accurate description. Dovere compares this to Sanders' radio description of Mattes and writes that "Sanders told two versions of the false story." He writes about "a purported Sanders staffer" and continues to dwell on this until Sanders spokeswoman Arianna Jones "eventually acknowledged that Sanders 'misspoke' in calling Mattes a member of his staff."[2]

Mattes has been around. Among other things, his distinguished career as a litigator and investigative reporter has netted him a pile of awards that would blot out the sun. Devore, whose career is unlikely to ever imperil his own sun-tan, makes Mattes sound like someone who just fell off the turnip truck, writing that when Mattes "said he communicated with the Clinton campaign in local press accounts, he was confusing it for a super PAC supportive of Clinton."

"I guess I'm that clueless," Mattes told me, "and I'm glad that Politico pointed it out to me." But Mattes didn't sound particularly sincere on this point.

Mattes' story is straightforward and he's been telling it for a year now. Late in the 2016 campaign, he noticed a sudden influx of new people into the various Facebook groups that had grown up around the Sanders campaign, an odd development, as Sanders was long out of the race by then. He began to investigate and eventually came to believe this was the work of the Russians. "From September through the election, I shared what I was uncovering on a daily basis with the research arm of the Clinton organization," that being David Brock's American Bridge.

It's on this last point--about which Mattes was never for a moment confused--that Dovere hangs his assertion that Mattes' story is false:
"[Mattes] said he never talked to anyone on the Clinton campaign itself, though he believed that the researcher he spoke with at the pro-Clinton American Bridge PAC, run by David Brock, was tantamount to reaching the campaign... Mattes is adamant that anyone who claims that American Bridge was not tantamount to the Clinton campaign is being naive, though campaign finance laws prohibit interaction between entities such as those."
Reading that, one wonders if Dovere is being really dishonest (again) or if he just slept through the entire 2016 campaign then couldn't be bothered to do basic research (again). While he's correct on the point of law, David Brock's operation openly flaunted that in order to coordinate directly with the Clinton campaign. American Bridge's specialty was opposition research. Shortly after Clinton entered the presidential race, one of its subsidiaries, the Correct the Record Project, made a show of breaking with the parent org, announcing it was "reorganizing so it can coordinate with Clinton’s campaign and devote all of its resources to her." That's as reported in--wait for it--Politico. The Washington Post reported that:
"Hillary Clinton’s campaign plans to work in tight conjunction with an independent rapid-response group financed by unlimited donations, another novel form of political outsourcing that has emerged as a dominant practice in the 2016 presidential race."

On Tuesday, Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton rapid-response operation, announced it was splitting off from its parent American Bridge and will work in coordination with the Clinton campaign as a stand-alone super PAC. The group’s move was first reported by the New York Times.

"That befuddled many campaign finance experts, who noted that super PACs, by definition, are political committees that solely do independent expenditures, which cannot be coordinated with a candidate or political party. Several said the relationship between the campaign and the super PAC would test the legal limits.

"But Correct the Record believes it can avoid the coordination ban by relying on a 2006 Federal Election Commission regulation that declared that content posted online for free, such as blogs, is off limits from regulation."
The "break" with American Bridge was essentially a paper separation; they remained, for all intents and purposes, the same org. They shared the same address in the Capitol--455 Massachusetts Ave. NW, the 6th floor--the same founder and, simultaneously, a lot of the same employees. American Bridge and Correct The Record are both represented by the same law firm (Perkins Coie), which also happens to be the firm that represented the 2016 Clinton campaign. In April 2016, the Center for Public Integrity noted how CTR, Bridge and two other pro-Clinton PACs that were incestuously intertwined
"regularly shuttle millions of dollars in cash and resources among themselves. This means an initial, anonymous contribution to one super PAC can flow through any of the rest before it’s finally used to help Clinton. Consider the $1 million Priorities USA Action gave Correct the Record in December. Correct the Record, in turn, gave American Bridge 21st Century $400,000 later that month."
The Clinton campaign worked openly with CTR, a fact that, yes, Politico noted over and over again throughout the 2016 cycle. The hacked John Podesta emails offered a wealth of detail on this coordination. On at least one occasion, the campaign directly paid American Bridge for some "research," something that only became public because of an apparent filing error.

So when Mattes calls this "the research arm of the Clinton organization," he's not blowing smoke, talking smack or revealing state secrets. Clinton's open coordination with the Brock operation was, in real time, a significant and much-discussed controversy.

Dovere writes that "Mattes shared with POLITICO email exchanges he had with an American Bridge researcher, whom Federal Election Commission records show was on staff through the end of 2016." Mattes describes his contacts with American Bridge on this issue as extensive, continuing on a daily basis for the last months of the campaign, "and at no point in time in the hundreds-plus conversations and the hundreds-plus emails did anyone say 'John, you've called the wrong place. Please contact the Clinton campaign.'" As Mattes told Dovere, "if they weren’t sharing it with Hillary, that is their responsibility."

Mattes doesn't mince words on the sort of dope Dovere is peddling.[3] "It's fraud. It's journalistic malpractice, period." He feels strongly that Russian interference in the political process is a serious business that is done a serious disservice by this sort of nonsense, as is journalism itself. "If journalists can't be responsible with our own stories, then why would anybody depend on them for any factual analysis?

--j.

---

[1] Dovere also writes at one point that "Sanders and staffers offered numerous and conflicting answers in the span of a few hours on Wednesday about what he did about Russian meddling." This is a reference to Devore's own false narrative from his previous article. He digs in further, writing that "Sanders and his top aide were at turns defiant and defensive during and after his interview with a Vermont radio station, even initially disputing special counsel Robert Mueller's finding in his indictment last week that the Russians backed his campaign." As I covered in my response to it, Sanders and co. have been telling the same story, and never disputed Robert Mueller's findings. Rather, Sanders pointed out that Mueller's indictment, which doesn't, in fact, substantiate any specific example of support for Sanders' campaign, outlined the goal of the Russian conspiracy as sowing chaos and discord, not "supporting" Bernie Sanders. Dovere tied himself in such a knot with his misrepresentations of Sanders that he was insisting Sanders, who has always strongly supported the Mueller investigation and insisted it must go forward, wherever it leads, was somehow echoing Donald Trump's efforts to undermine same.

[2] It's completely ridiculous that Dovere would slam Sanders for accurately relaying a story that had been reported in the press and as Dovere pretended as if the Mattes story isn't true, Jones got in two good digs at him:

"Asked to explain why Sanders would repeat a story he didn't know was true and turned out not to be, Sanders spokesperson Arianna Jones said he's 'not a great fan of reporters who try to provoke controversy where none exists.'... Asked why the senator relayed the Mattes story without checking it, Jones responded, 'It sounds as if you're suggesting that we should no longer trust the reporting of outlets like NBC and that the information they provide requires independent verification?'"

[3] And Dovere's dismal work is only one of multiple egregious examples with which he's recently come face-to-face (and which may be covered here in the near future).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

In Effort To Mangle Bernie On Russia, Politico Mangles the Facts

When it comes to life's inevitabilities, an item that seems to take its place beside death and taxes is corporate press hostility to progressives in general and Sen. Bernie Sanders in particular. Politico is becoming quite notorious for its stream of tendentious, anti-progressive and anti-Sanders editorials masquerading as news reports and Edward-Isaac Dovere, Politico's chief Washington correspondent, has just excreted another one. "Bernie Blames Hillary For Allowing Russian Interference," screams his sensational headline. His opening is hard-hitting:
"Bernie Sanders on Wednesday blamed Hillary Clinton for not doing more to stop the Russian attack on the last presidential election. Then his 2016 campaign manager, in an interview with POLITICO, said he’s seen no evidence to support special counsel Robert Mueller's assertion in an indictment last week that the Russian operation had backed Sanders' campaign.

"The remarks showed Sanders, running for a third term and currently considered a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, deeply defensive in response to questions posed to him about what was laid out in the indictment. He attempted to thread a response that blasts Donald Trump for refusing to acknowledge that Russians helped his campaign--but then holds himself harmless for a nearly identical denial.

"In doing so, Sanders and his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, presented a series of self-serving statements that were not accurate, and that track with efforts by Trump and his supporters to undermine the credibility of the Mueller probe."
But readers digging through Dovere's article and its source material will struggle in vain to find anything that supports Dovere's fuming assertions. Rather, the only story here is that an alleged "journalist" has decided to misrepresent the facts in order to libel the progressive senator. Again.

The principal exhibit here is an interview Sanders had just given to Vermont Public Radio. At the 11:30 mark, Sanders begins fielding a series of questions about the Russia matter. Dovere distorts its content beyond recognition:
"Sanders said that his campaign had shared information with the Clinton campaign about suspected Russian anti-Clinton trolls on a campaign Facebook page. But Weaver later acknowledged that the Vermont senator had no firsthand knowledge that this had happened. Weaver said Sanders based his remark on an article published by NBC’s San Diego affiliate over the weekend about a campaign volunteer who claimed to have conducted his own investigation and brought the findings to the Clinton campaign in September--an assertion flatly denied by a former Clinton campaign aide.

"'A guy who was on my staff … checked it out and he went to the Clinton campaign, and he said, "You know what? I think these guys are Russians,"' Sanders said. Weaver said Sanders had not verified the information in the article himself before stating it as fact."
In order to make Weaver's later comments look like after-the-fact dissembling, Dovere has edited out a portion of Sanders' own wherein Sanders conceded he had no firsthand knowledge of this; within those ellipses Dovere dropped in, Sanders actually described "a guy on my staff who I don't know personally, his name was John Mattes out in San Diego." Further, though Sanders didn't mention the NBC San Diego report, both he and Weaver accurately relayed its contents:
"After a lengthy investigation, Mattes said he took his findings to the Clinton Campaign as well as the Obama Administration last September."
If this report turns out to be incorrect, it's hardly a mark against them. To refute it, Dovere turns to an anonymous Clintonite and acts as an uncritical stenographer:
"A former Clinton campaign staffer said it was nonsense that Sanders' campaign had reached out to Clinton's about potential Russian interference. 'No one from the Sanders campaign ever contacted us about this'--not in September, and not in 'April and May.' Sanders said in the radio interview that he noticed 'lots of strange things' during those months in 2016."
So what do we have here? It may be that the NBC San Diego report didn't accurately relay what Mattes said. It may be that Mattes isn't telling the truth. Or it may be that this "former Clinton campaign staffer" is acting in the usual custom of that campaign, which rarely told the truth about anything. Dovere's project is falsely presenting Sanders and Weaver as offering a series of self-serving fictions, so he never ever tries to disentangle the matter.

Worse, either Dovere or the staffer is flatly lying about Sanders' "April and May" comment. Not only did Sanders never say he "noticed" anything unusual in those months, he specifically said he didn't know anything that early in the game. Sanders was describing Mattes noting strange activity on Facebook in September 2016, near the end of the campaign, and said "we did not know early on" about any Russian activity but subsequently, "what we found out was that in April and May, it appeared that there were lots of strange things happening attacking Hillary Clinton." Sanders never even claimed he knew in September; he was merely referencing that NBC San Diego story, an article that had appeared in the press a few days before his interview. Dovere's wording makes it unclear whether he or the staffer added the bit about "April and May" but it ran under his name and it's false.

In the radio interview, Sanders repeatedly pointed out that the alleged Russian activity wasn't aimed at supporting his candidacy but rather was carried out with the goal of sowing chaos and discord in the electoral process, which is the position taken by the Mueller indictment. The indictment offers a narrative wherein the Russian conspirators began putting in place the initial infrastructure for their eventual project as early as 2013, years before anyone even dreamed of a Sanders--or Trump--candidacy. The indictment repeatedly outlines the conspirators' goals: they "had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election," were "interfering with the U.S. political system," were "interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of 'spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.'" No one who has read it can miss this.

Sanders echoes it. "[A]ll they want to do is sow division in this country, bring people against each other," he said. "This was not supporting me, any more than they were supporting groups like Black Lives Matter that are fighting for social justice," a reference to the Russians targeting messaging toward BLM activists, another matter covered in the Mueller indictment. "Trust me, that's not what they were doing--they were trying to cause division."

In order to set up a false equivalence with Donald Trump's comments regarding this matter, Dovere omits all of this, quoting only Sanders' denial that the Russians were supporting him then engaging in further fabrication:
"The Vermont senator was adamant that he did not benefit from Russian bots urging voters to support him... Sanders has repeatedly condemned President Donald Trump for not acknowledging the Russian attack on the 2016 election alleged in the Mueller indictment and being investigated by congressional committees. But he has refused to say that his campaign benefited from the activities."
At no point in the interview did Sanders deny he benefited from Russian bots. He was, in fact, never even asked if his campaign benefited, nor, if he had been, would he even be able to say; the Mueller indictment's allegations of Russian activity during the Democratic primary are too nebulous and unspecific--barely even a blip. The indictment references a memo circulated among the Russian conspirators on 10 February, 2016, describing it as "an outline of themes for future content to be posted to ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts" in which "specialists were instructed to post content that focused on 'politics in the USA' and to 'use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump--we support them).'" While concealing from his readers what the indictment says about the Russians' motives and how it relates to Sanders' comments, Dovere partially quotes this in an effort to refute Sanders but while the indictment covers an extensive range of specific activities carried out by the conspirators, nearly all of those activities occurred after Sanders had already lost the Democratic nomination in early June 2016. Sanders' name and campaign, in fact, are only even mentioned in the few lines regarding that memo; the indictment contains no other information on any support for him.

Weaver is on top of this:
"'The factual underpinning of that in the indictment is what? Zero,' Weaver said. 'I have not seen any evidence of support for Bernie Sanders... Two dudes sitting in a hole somewhere support Bernie Sanders--tell me what they did to support Bernie Sanders,' Weaver added later."
Dovere can't tell Weaver that but instead of noting Weaver is correct, Dovere equates these remarks with Donald Trump's:
"Sanders' and Weaver's argument mirrors that of Trump, who has argued in a days-long series of tweets that the Russians were not supporting him."
But as gratifying as this anti-Sanders "journalist" no doubt found it to tie Sanders to the spectacularly unpopular Trump, nowhere in this recent tweet-storm does Trump say the Russians weren't supporting him. Rather, he says his campaign didn't collude with the Russians and that their activities had no impact on the ultimate outcome of the election.[1] Neither Sanders nor Weaver have said anything of the sort. In the past, Trump has suggested the entire notion of a Russian conspiracy to interfere in the election was a hoax.[2]

While the existence of an online Russian "troll army" that follows Kremlin policy was a matter of public record well before 2016, it wasn't particularly well-known in the U.S.. After allegations emerged that Russians were behind the hacking of the John Podesta emails, which Wikileaks began releasing shortly before the Democratic convention at the end of July 2016, Russia became subject to more scrutiny but online activity attributed to Russia and aimed at interfering in the presidential election only really came to be scrutinized toward the end of the campaign and only became a major story after the election. By the time this heightened scrutiny was brewing, Sanders was working with the Clinton campaign and as a consequence, it's to the Clinton campaign that Sanders deferred when asked why he didn't alert his supporters of these alleged Russian activities. "I would say the real question to be asked was 'what was the Clinton campaign [doing]?' They had more information about this than we did and at this point, we were working with them."

Interviewer Jane Lindholm persisted: "So did the Clinton campaign say 'don't talk about this'?

"No, of course not, but who do you think would be raising that issue?"

Sanders was acting as a campaign surrogate at the time and it isn't the place of a surrogate to go off-script with allegations that, at the time, could be perceived as crackpotism, thus harming the candidate. The candidate calls the script, and in such a situation, Sanders is right to defer. Lindholm didn't like that: "Why not take that directly to your supporters, many of whom really hung on your every word?" But, of course, what Sanders was saying at every stop during the timeframe in question was "vote for Hillary Clinton." If his supporters really hung on his "every word," why would words regarding Russia allegations carry more weight in the election than those? It's an utterly bizarre--and empty--criticism, Blame Bernie-ism run amok. If the campaign messaging on this subject is found to be wanting--and that's a dodgy proposition anyway[3]--it's the campaign that should be questioned.

That's not, of course, a position that's going to find a warm reception among Clinton's personality cult, as one of its defining characteristics is an absolute conviction that Clinton is correct when she insists she has no real responsibility for anything.

Dovere certainly doesn't like it. He roasts Sanders for failing to call out this Russian activity during the campaign and contrasts this with Clinton, writing "Clinton's campaign regularly raised suspicions of Kremlin-backed activity during the home stretch of the race." But Clinton's attacks on Russian interference during the campaign were directed toward the cyberattacks--the hacking and subsequent releases of Democratic emails. As far as I've been able to ascertain,[4] she never said anything about Russian-directed internet troll activity, which really only became a big story after--and because--she lost the election. General-election debates produce the single largest audience a presidential candidate will ever have but even during the 2nd debate with Trump, when Clinton went on an extended anti-Russia tear, she focused on human rights and the hacking and didn't raise the issue. Criticizing Sanders, a surrogate, for failing to speak out when the candidate herself remained silent is self-evidently absurd.[5]

Dovere doesn't ask that "former Clinton campaign staffer" or anyone else from ClintonWorld about the campaign messaging. Instead, he uses Sanders' deference to Clinton as the basis for the charge in his lede that Sanders "blamed Hillary Clinton for not doing more to stop the Russian attack on the last presidential election," which is entirely fictitious. Sanders has assigned no "blame" in this matter other than to the Putin regime, nor, other than that, has he even said there's any blame to be assigned. These alleged activities were carried out by a foreign power, beyond the control of anyone in the U.S. Dovere's truncated headline claim that Sanders has blamed Clinton for allowing Russian interference--the headline everyone on the internet will see--is a particularly egregious lie. This activity was based in Russia and there was never any question of "allowing" it to go forward or not.

Though Dovere has done nothing to establish that these Russian activities benefited Sanders' campaign or made any case for why, beyond providing fodder for trolls, it would matter if they had, he writes that "Sanders has faced questions since Friday about why he has not more strongly condemned the Russian actions that benefited his campaign." But Sanders has categorically condemned Russian interference and Dovere's only example of those with such "questions" is Joan Walsh, a positively rabid Clinton supporter/Sanders basher--no better a source on this matter than some random Twitter troll. Dovere identifies her only as a "liberal writer" and gives her space to assert that Sanders has made such a misstep that "this could be the end of Sanders 2020."

Dovere ends on what he seems to think is a snarky "gotcha":
"On Wednesday evening, Sanders took to Twitter with additional statements.

"'Mueller's indictment provides further evidence that the Russian government interfered in 2016. It also shows that they tried to turn my supporters against Hillary Clinton in the primary and general election. I unequivocally condemn such interference,' he wrote.

"A Sanders spokesman declined to explain the senator's apparent change of heart over the course of the day."
But that statement merely reflects what Sanders has already said, no "change of heart." In that radio interview, in fact, Sanders said, "They were attacking Hillary Clinton's campaign and using my supporters against Hillary Clinton." Dovere knows this; he directly quotes it in his own article. And, of course, Sanders has condemned Russian efforts to interfere in the election from his earlier public comments on the subject.

Dovere began by insisting Sanders and Weaver had " presented a series of self-serving statements that were not accurate, and that track with efforts by Trump and his supporters to undermine the credibility of the Mueller probe," but the only thing that wasn't accurate was Rovere's own assertions and Sanders has been outspoken in his insistence that the Mueller probe continue.



A few things on this issue beyond the immediate matter of Politco and its asshat "reporter": These are troubled times, and an entrenched political Establishment in such times will latch on to just about anything to keep people from catching on to the fact that it is part of what troubles them. "Russian interference" is its current shiny object. Those in the Democratic Establishment, using it to avoid any assessment of their own epic-scale failures in the last decade, have built it up into a scandal of monumental proportions.[6] The right has embraced it as well but insists the real makes-Watergate-look-like-stealing-a-Snickers outrage is a series of fake counter-scandals they've manufactured that blame the other side. For over a year now, both have insisted that, any moment now, the other shoe will drop and the resulting public outrage will forever wash away the opposition in a flood of ignominy. And here's one of the few guarantees in all of this: that's never going to happen. Further, here are some truths about this particular species of Russian "interference" that neither of these players want you to hear.

--This sort of thing is the price of living in a free society. One can, of course, prosecute any crimes that occur and one should always try to expose sources that attempt to conceal their origins but when it comes to much of the activities with which these Russians were involved--setting up discussion-groups on the internet, commenting on social media, organizing rallies, etc.--there's little a free society can do about it.

--The U.S. presidential electoral process is a multi-million-dollar behemoth. When standard operating procedure involves candidates trading their souls to Wall Street sharks, oil billionaires and the like for campaign contributions, worrying over a few dozen people buying Facebook ads from a warehouse on the other side of the world--or worse, presenting them as having stolen an election--is completely ridiculous. Which brings me to perhaps the most important item,

--It doesn't even matter. Whether anyone wants to hear it or not, Hillary Clinton lost the election because she was astonishingly unpopular. Not unpopular as a consequence of a few foreign trolls on the internet but as a consequence of an entire lifetime of shiftiness, dishonesty and corruption. And the only reason Donald Trump, the most unpopular major-party candidate in the history of polling, won the election is because he was facing Hillary Clinton. Even in a worst-case scenario, any impact these activities alleged by Mueller may have had is microscopic.[7]

In closing, here's some food for thought from just abut the most unlikely source imaginable:


Chill out, folks.

--j.

---

[1] The Tweet flurry in question:
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964594780088033282
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964944088696049666
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964946611502747649
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964949269374529538
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964955496137535488
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964956781670694912
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965075589274177536
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965079126829871104
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965199840471810049
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965202556204003328
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965205208191168512
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965212168449941505
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965676314576543744
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/965930611272712192

[2] It is, however, worth noting that according to the theory advanced in the Mueller indictment, the Russian conspirators' "support" for Trump, which is detailed at great length and with much specificity, was a result of their (correctly) perceiving him as a chaos figure who would serve their goal of disruption. After the election, they organized both pro- and anti-Trump rallies. Chaos.

[3] There's really no reason at all to question the campaign messaging on this; it's an entirely manufactured "controversy." If one just insists on charting the many problems the Clinton campaign needed to address and didn't (or couldn't), any perceived shortcoming on this matter would be so minor in comparison to the rest--both individually and in bulk--it would barely even register.

[4] Clinton certainly never made a major issue of the troll activity. To ascertain whether she'd ever mentioned it, I went to Google news, set the search date parameters to cover the entire general election campaign then spent far too much time conducting a series of searches for every relevant word combination of which I could conceive. I found nothing in which Clinton addressed the troll activity.

[5] It's entirely possible Clinton didn't know about these activities until after the election. If one wanted to make an ugly partisan dogfight about it, that report about John Mattes, who "said he took his findings to the Clinton Campaign" in September--the report Dovere declined to properly examine--potentially looms large. But whatever the case may be, there really just isn't any "blame" to cast here; if Russians were carrying out these activities, it's beyond the control of anyone in the campaign.

[6] The "Russiagate" scandal pimps have used this "interference" story to insist on a needlessly belligerent posture toward Russia and to attempt to scandalize any effort at a more reasoned approach. To the extent that this has any impact, it's dangerous, and in recent days, they've escalated their rhetoric into the realm of irresponsible by insisting the "interference" amounts to "an act of war." It isn't, and that's not something responsible people should even suggest.

[7] The major activity attributed to Russia and that may have had an impact was the hacking and release of the Democratic emails but even there, the scandal was only a consequence of Democratic misbehavior; releasing those emails was much more akin to a public service than an offense meriting condemnation. The Mueller indictment doesn't deal with the matter of those emails.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Correcting Korecki: Politico vs. Progressives

Politico's reactionary anti-progressivism was on ugly display in a recent article on the brewing Democratic primary fight in Illinois' 3rd District. Marie Newman, a marketing consultant running a crowdfunded campaign on a straightforward progressive agenda, is looking to unseat Dan Lipinski, a legacy incumbent of the Chicago machine and one of the most conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Progressive groups, weary of Lipinski's socially conservative views, have been lining up behind Newman and Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky have just endorsed her. In explaining all of this, senior Politico reporter Natasha Korecki leads with a tendentious headline--"Chicago Democrats Throw Lipinski Under the Bus--And Blame Trump"--and seems personally offended by the joint endorsement, describing it as "an unprecedented act... the unthinkable, plunging a knife into the back of a neighboring Chicago-area congressman whom they'd served with in Congress for over a decade."

In contextualizing the primary contest, Korecki immediately reaches for--and constructs her entire article around--the tired conservative Clintonite narrative about crusading progressives, unreasonably obsessed with ideological purity, branding "pragmatists", "moderates" and "centrists" as heretics and trying to drive them from the party. Her outrage obvious, Korecki doesn't spare the hyperbole--she describes this as a violent act:

"The act of throwing Lipinski under the bus was an exercise in bare-knuckled Chicago politics, and it was also a tale of a party that is an increasingly awkward fit for centrists like Lipinski."

With that "centrist" label in place, Korecki turns the floor over to Lipinski himself, who offers the usual progressive-trashing line:

"'There's an effort that is very detrimental to the Democratic Party, in that there's the Tea Party of the Left that some people said they wanted to create. That's bad for the party. That's not going to be helpful in growing our numbers,' said Lipinski, who noted that the Tea Party movement was responsible for Trump's ascendance. 'I think we have to acknowledge that the way to get back into the majority into the Congress and pick up seats is to make sure we are a big-tent party and reaching out to people are moderate and not just push to the left.'"

While positioning Lipinski as a "centrist" is essential to this anti-progressive narrative, the 3rd District is strongly Democratic--over 60%--meaning it's likely that Lipinski's conservative views are directly at odds with those of most of his constituents.[1] This gives him no claim on the political "center" there.[2] Korecki knows how to get around this problem; she attributes the view that Lipinski is out of step with his district to Gutierrez and Schakowsky, the people she describes as back-stabbers unconscionably putting the knife to their colleague. Gutierrez is further besmirched when Korecki gratuitously suggests that his endorsement of Newman may be merely his "settling a score with the powerful state party chairman Mike Madigan, a longtime ally of the Lipinski family" (a few paragraphs are then devoted to this ad hominem rabbit-hole).

Korecki also suggests that wanting a more reliable Democrat representing a reliably Democratic district isn't "pragmatic." The Newman endorsements, she writes, "put [Gutierrez and Schakowsky] at odds with a more pragmatic faction of Chicago Democrats," those being Lipinski's supporters, who, in Korecki's telling, get that "pragmatic" label merely by being Lipinski supporters. Korecki is beside herself over the fact that this race is happening and megaphones the views of this "pragmatic faction":

"In other words: why is the party spending precious resources to oust an incumbent from a safe Democratic seat? Especially when Democrats are busy trying to oust a Republican governor from office and nearby GOP congressmen from their seats?"

Democracy, perhaps?

Korecki turns the mechanics of the race on its head, writing that in endorsing Newman, "Schakowsky and Gutierrez joined powerful national groups that have already coalesced behind the challenger, including NARAL, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Human Rights Campaign." How appropriate is Korecki's violent language and invocation of "bare-knuckled Chicago politics" to describe Newman's support given the fact that Lipinski, not Newman, is the candidate backed by the powerful Chicago Democratic machine noted for its bare-knuckling tendencies? Dan Lipinski's father held this same seat for 22 years. In 2004, Daddy Bill ran for the Democratic nomination for the 12th time, won it, then just gave it to son Dan, who hadn't even regularly lived in the district for 15 years. In such a safely Democratic district, Dan didn't even have to compete for it. He's held it ever since. Newman is a political novice who entered the race with very low name-recognition while Lipinski is a dynastic incumbent backed by the Chicago machine, with all the extraordinary advantages that confers, yet in Korecki's telling, the reader could be forgiven for believing Lipinski is the besieged underdog taking on the unscrupulous Establishment.[3] It's an inversion of reality that is simply impossible to justify.

It's also worth noting that while Korecki ties this race to the larger ongoing conflict within the Democratic party, it's hardly representative of it. There are, this year, a quite large number of Bernie Sanders-inspired crowdfunded progressive candidates around the U.S., an army of them unlike anything this not-inexperienced writer has ever seen. They should make this political year very interesting. Newman is drawing a lot of Democratic support in her race but the Democratic Establishment typically stands against these up-and-coming liberals, choosing, instead, to throw support behind conservative Clintonite figures. This---a problem for many years and a perpetual complaint among activists--is finally beginning to get some press. Perhaps the spectacle of some prominent Democratic pols and groups backing Newman--a man-bites-dog story, really--is partly what draws Korecki's fury.

That ongoing Democratic conflict is between progressives who are attempting to make the party better reflect the left views of its constituents and Clintonites who push a more conservative, business-friendly, war-hawkish line. While that conservative line attracts big-money donors (as it's intended), it's at odds with the views of the party's voters, and the Clintonites have attempted to obscure and avoid addressing this by, among other things, crafting the narrative Korecki has deployed here,[4] an indefensible narrative that amounts to an attack on not just liberals but liberal democracy itself. Its a gross misrepresentation of what's actually happening, its underlying assumption is that it's entirely unreasonable to want one's elected representatives to reflect one's own views and it heaps personal abuse on anyone who takes any real measures to make that the case,[5] all in the service of defending unrepresentative conservative pols in a progressive party and country. The great passion Korecki displays is offered in defense of an utterly disreputable cause and does a disservice to her readers.

--j.

---

[1] That's what Newman's internal polling from a few months ago suggested; support for Lipinski within the district begins to collapse when voters are informed of his conservative record. Take that for what it's worth.

[2] Even looking at the race from the national perspective, Lipinski's views on, for example, abortion and gay rights--he's opposed to both--are wildly outside the broad American political center.

[3] Though Korecki does note, almost in passing, that the AFL-CIO--hardly a bit player--has endorsed Lipinski.

[4] Arguably, this race isn't even an example of this sort of progressive-vs.-Clintonite fight that prefab narrative was meant to cover and to obscure--Lipinski is a labor-backed candidate with backwards social views, while Newman's commitment to progressive policies has yet to be demonstrated.

[5] It's worth noting that while progressives holding to any sort of minimal standards for an elected official are treated by the narrative as engaged in entirely unreasonable purity politics, Clintonites exempt themselves from this when its their favored issues in question.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Same As It Ever Was: Hillary Clinton's Bedtime Stories

As Hillary Clinton's tour in promotion of her new book continues, Andrew Endymion has offered a corrective to some of the nonsense the former candidate is spewing all over her press appearances. "Despite the claims of Hillary's most brainwashed groupies," he writes, "the media was overwhelming in its support of her campaign," support, he documents, that has continued right through Clinton's current tour, where she's granting interviews to sympathetic press outlets that allow her to mouth outlandish comments about that campaign over and over again without any serious challenge. This blog covered the performance of the press throughout the Democratic primary campaign, work that buttresses Endymion's article.


Bernie Sanders, Clinton's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, began his campaign an almost complete unknown and much of the corporate press seemed determined to keep it that way, instituting what became known as the "Bernie Blackout."

When Sanders officially joined the race in April 2015, the evening newscasts of the three major networks virtually ignored the development. ABC’s World News Tonight disposed of it in less than 20 seconds, with half of that devoted to Clinton's reaction to it. The CBS Evening News gave it only a portion of a single sentence as an aside at the end of an unrelated report about the Clinton Foundation. The NBC Nightly News shoehorned a few seconds about it into a report about Hillary Clinton's political chameleonism over the years. Not a single newscast ran a full report on Sanders, despite all three having devoted full reports to the campaign launches of Clinton and every Republican who had, to that date, announced his candidacy.

In May 2015, Steve Hendricks wrote a pretty good Columbia Journalism Review piece on how the press was handling Sanders' candidacy:

"The [New York] Times, for example, buried his announcement on page A21, even though every other candidate who had declared before then had been put on the front page above the fold. Sanders's straight-news story didn't even crack 700 words, compared to the 1,100 to 1,500 that Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton got. As for the content, the Times' reporters declared high in Sanders's piece that he was a long shot for the Democratic nomination and that Clinton was all but a lock. None of the Republican entrants got the long-shot treatment, even though Paul, Rubio, and Cruz were generally polling fifth, seventh, and eighth among Republicans before they announced."

The Tyndall Report, which tracks the network evening newscasts, reported that Bernie Sanders’ campaign received only 20 minutes of coverage in the entirety of 2015, compared to Clinton’s 121 minutes. Clinton's other Democratic rivals Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb managed very little public support and were given even less coverage. For comparison, even Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, whose campaigns were jokes, managed to draw 57 minutes in the same period.

When the corporate press wasn't trying to ignore Sanders to death, it was working to marginalize him, presenting him as a fringe candidate, an uber-longshot, a dealer in fairy-dust who advocated policies far too extreme to ever be taken seriously in American politics despite the fact that they commanded the support of very broad majorities of the public. When it was judged worthy of any mention, his campaign was analyzed primarily by how it would affect Clinton's candidacy, which supported Clinton's favored narrative of her own inevitability. After the first Democratic debate, which wasn't even held until October 2015, press pundits pretty much unanimously declared Clinton the winner by a blow-out, while every available metric suggested the viewing public thought Sanders had won.

As the primary contests proceeded and Sanders gathered steam and couldn't be so easily ignored, press attacks on his campaign increased and became increasingly vicious and even less grounded in reality. Endymion mentions some notorious incidents, such as the Washington Post's decision to run no less than 16 anti-Sanders stories in the 16 hours leading into the critical Michigan primary and the time the editors of the New York Times pulled from the paper's website a positive story examining Sanders' legislative record, rewrote it into an anti-Sanders hit-piece then republished it without ever indicating any change had been made. After Sanders completely destroyed Clinton in Wisconsin, the frustrated Clintonites launched a campaign to present Sanders as unqualified to be president. Sanders responded to this attack by turning it back on itself and the press corps, at the urging of the Clinton campaign issued a collective gasp and spent a week insisting Sanders had said Clinton was unqualified to be president and trashing him for it. Sanders was interviewed by editors of the New York Daily News, a paper that endorsed Clinton and characterized Sanders as "a fantasist who's at passionate war with reality," and a question was raised about how Sanders would break up the big banks, a key Sanders issue but one the Daily News editors didn't understand--they completely bungled the facts and made it sound as if Sanders didn't know what he was talking about. Much of the rest of the press spent the next few days (at the behest of the Clinton camp) pillorying Sanders as the candidate who can't explain how he'd break up the big banks. This, unlike most of the other examples of press malfeasance, did lead to a bit of a backlash, as people who did understand the matter began to come forward and point out Sanders had gotten it right but the damage had been done and that Sanders had made a mess of the issue is a bit of conventional wisdom repeated by Clintonites to this day.

ABC News' World News Tonight devoted only 4 minutes to coverage of Sanders in 2015, the lowest of any network (three of those minutes were in December). I wrote regularly about ABC News' horrible coverage of the Democratic race, which was almost entirely Clinton-centric, with Sanders only ever making brief cameo appearances as some odd outside force the heroine of the story had to overcome on her way to the presidency. Night after night, ABC's "reports" on the race couldn't have been more pro-Clinton if they'd been produced by the Clinton campaign itself. They, in fact, often looked like Clinton campaign ads. Clinton, for example, was notoriously incapable of drawing crowds. In what seemed a perfect metaphor for the campaign, she would routinely have to address audiences in which the reporters covering her outnumbered the spectators who had come to hear her, while Sanders was drawing the largest crowds of anyone on either side, a constant source of embarrassment for Clinton. In the final WNT report before the Iowa caucus, there was correspondent Cecilia Vega insisting, in an entirely gratuitous fashion, that a huge crowd had gathered to see Clinton and even showing footage of people allegedly waiting on line. "Look at how far back it stretches." I covered example after example of this sort of made-to-order pro-Clinton nonsense.

While Clinton's wins were trumpeted, Sanders' wins were regularly pooh-poohed, with some press outlets failing to mention them at all. In the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic contests of 5-6 March, correspondent Tom Llamas took to Good Morning America to report "a seismic weekend for the Republican field, Sen. Ted Cruz having a super Saturday, winning two states and taking the most delegates." Cruz had won 2 out of 5 contests. At the same time, Sanders took 3 of the weekend's 4 contests, including racking up much more impressive wins in the same states as Cruz plus Nebraska and also took the most delegates but while Cruz is covered as having had a "seismic weekend," Llamas doesn't even mention two of Sanders' three victories and dismisses the only one he opts to cover ("but Clinton [is] still way ahead when it comes to delegates."). On 26 March, Sanders completely destroyed Clinton in Hawaii, Washington and Alaska, the latest wins in a streak in which he'd taken 6 of the last 7 contests; instead of live election coverage, MSNBC and CNN opted to show, respectively, re-runs of a prison reality-show and a documentary about Jesus.

The Democratic superdelegates are party insiders who, though not elected by anyone, are each granted the same standing at the party nominating convention as thousands of actual voters. A super doesn't vote until the convention and he's free to change his mind at any point up to then but press outlets insisted on ubiquitously including those supers who had expressed a preference in the various delegate counts. Hillary Clinton sewed up a massive portion of this Establishment good ol' boys club before any real voters had spoken and the improper inclusion of the supers in these counts made Clinton look unbeatable. Even DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Clinton partisan who collaborated with the Clinton campaign to tilt the primary process in Clinton's favor, publicly noted that the press was misrepresenting the race by this practice. But it continued anyway until, the day before the 2nd-biggest round of contests on the Democratic calendar, the press used the supers to declare the Democratic race closed and Clinton the nominee, one of the more brazen and outrageous media interventions in an electoral contests in memory.

Clinton's only significant critical coverage throughout this process was over her private email server while she was Secretary of State but as Endymion notes, the reason this so persistently stayed in the news is because Clinton refused to be honest about it. Practically everything she said about the matter was a lie and with every new revelation proving the last lie, she'd simply introduce another that would then blow up in similar fashion.

On her current book tour, Clinton is correct in her assertion that Trump was boosted by the press. From his entrance into the race, Trump was getting many times the coverage of anyone else. But as Endymion notes, it's hardly proper to let Clinton go from show to show complaining about this given that it was the official policy of her campaign right from the beginning to pump up Trump's candidacy. The Clinton camp asked for this, the press, which had done everything to pump up her own weak, loser candidacy, was happy to oblige. And now, as the woman who is more responsible than anyone for inflicting Trump on the U.S., returns to the public eye to pimp a book of lies aimed at absolving herself of any real responsibility for anything that happened in the campaign, well, the press is happy to provide a friendly platform for that too.

--j.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Intolerance

This is a popular internet meme:


It's been around for years, one of these things that has become such a staple that no one even remembers where it started. If you've spent any time talking politics on Facebook, you've seen it a million times. A few years ago, I guess I saw it one too many times and opted to use it to turn the mirror on those who so ubiquitously posted it:


A truism: Tolerance necessarily involves a disdain for intolerant points of view. That's baked into its basic premise. On the internet, though, where everyone's favorite charge against those with whom they disagree is "hypocrisy," this basic liberal virtue tends to be portrayed by conservatives and rightists as, in itself, intolerant. Everywhere, we see expressions of mindless hatred of Muslims, LGBT folks, immigrants, etc. and anyone who speaks against this and stands up for the pluralistic liberal society is, for doing so, tagged as intolerant and thus a hypocrite. Hating Nazis is the same as being a Nazi.

The idea that standing against intolerance is, itself, intolerance is, of course, strictly Orwellian but it's a narrative the right-wing Rage Machine has peddled relentlessly. The Rage Machine--nearly every major rightist outlet in the U.S.--fosters a cult of aggrievement among its followers, relentlessly drilling into their heads that they're persecuted by the liberal society. The rise of Donald Trump, a protofascist who openly promotes hatred against Muslims, immigrants and other marginalized groups and who, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly encouraged violence against those who protested against him, didn't encourage any pause, any soul-searching; the Rage Machine simply doubled down on the doublethink. According to the Machine, it wasn't the orange clown on stage who was weaving vile hate-fantasies about thousands of American Muslims gleefully celebrating the 9/11 attacks or offering to pay the legal bills of his followers if they beat up anti-Trump demonstrators. He wasn't the one who was intolerant. Rather, it was those objecting to such things.

Riding the Trump train, alt-right shitbag Milo Yiannopoulos became, for about 15 minutes, a major rock-star on the right. Yiannopoulos was a troll in the truest sense, a cynical purveyor of hatred whose celebrity was based solely on saying vile, outrageous things he, himself, didn't even believe but that the right absolutely loved to hear. He barely even pretended to have any substantive message; he simply gamed the poisonous outrage culture on the right for fun and profit for as long as he could. He worked at alt-right sewer Breitbart, an outlet that loves to harp on "liberal intolerance" while acting as a sympathetic platform for white nationalists and other actual hatemongers. Breitbart had a great racket going with Yiannopoulos, a perfect feedback loop wherein it financed his "Dangerous Faggot" tour as it rolled through institutions of higher learning in 2016 and 2017 then used the outrage it provoked as examples of the "hate and intolerance" of liberals on college campuses, a theme that was then picked up across right-wing media.

In these appearances, Yiannopoulos was as content-free as ever--in the name of "free speech," he simply attacked rape victims, Muslims, black activists, immigrants, transgendered people and anyone who objected to Milo Yiannopoulos, including students on the campus. He'd come to command an army of admiring trolls and took great relish in unleashing them to harass and bully his targets (in the midst of this, he'd been kicked from Twitter after promoting the ugly, racist harassment of actress Leslie Jones). In January, anti-Milo demonstrations at UC Davis convinced the campus College Republicans to cancel their scheduled event. Yannopoulos took to Facebook to assert it had been cancelled "after violence from left-wing protestors," but there had been no violence of any kind (presenting any protest as "violence" is a standard feature of this particular narrative). Shortly after that, a man was shot outside another of Milo's appearances, this time at the University of Washington. Inside, Yiannopoulos implied it was one of his fans who'd gotten plugged. "If I stopped my event now," he told the assembled, "we are sending a clear message that they can stop our events by killing people. I am not prepared to do that." In reality, the victim was an anti-Milo protester; a pair of Yiannopoulos supporters took a gun to the event, bragging on social media about how they were looking for a fight, and shot the fellow in the stomach.

The incident went virtually unreported in the corporate press (and Breitbart, following Yiannopoulos' lead, left readers with the impression it was a Milo fan who had been shot) but it seems to have become the straw that broke the camel's back. When, shortly after this, Yiannopoulos brought his shit-show to the University of California, Berkeley, there were the usual protests but after most of the demonstrators had left, masked anti-fascists descended on the site, destroyed some property and succeeded in getting the event cancelled.

For much of right-wing media, this was manna from Heaven and the incident was quickly fashioned into a bloody shirt that continues to be waved about today, even long after Yiannopoulos' downfall--the symbol of violent, intolerant liberals shutting down conservative speech. That fantasy runs all over any sort of reasoned evaluation of the incident. There's the usual insistence on portraying everyone from center-right Democrats to communist radicals as "liberals," the misrepresentation of property-damage as "violence," the deliberate refusal to distinguish between the great mass of regular demonstrators, with whom there was no issue, and the handful of radical anti-fascists who broke stuff and, of course, none of the context offered here re: Yiannopoulos, his tour, the shooting, etc. It was all about how Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, now stood opposed to same. Donald Trump took to Twitter to threaten to cut off federal funding to the institution, one of the top research universities in the United States, over these incident, over which the university had no control at all. Yiannopoulos was elevated to the status of a free-speech martyr.[1]

Milo self-destructed shortly after this. A tape surfaced in which he made warm, jokey comments regarding pedophilia and he became instantly radioactive--fired from Breitbart, his six-figure book-contract cancelled and he's mercifully slunk back under whatever obscure rock from which he'd originally crawled out. The narrative he helped to build and feed, however, continues, aided by much of the regular corporate press, which followed the rightist media in taking the anti-fascist radicals to task for their alleged anti-free-speech attitudes.

The Trump regime has emboldened the white supremacist/Nazi/fascist subculture--what has now been rebranded the alt-right--to an extent that hasn't happened in the lifetime of most reading these words today. Radical anti-fascists--antifa--have long confronted such elements in the streets and the presence of this emboldened alt-right has led to greater antifa visibility. While the right-wing press has gleefully exploited this development to continue its ridiculous narrative about violent, intolerant liberals, much of the rest of the corporate press has, mostly through laziness, often aided that same narrative. When, in April, violence erupted at a pro-Trump "free speech" rally in Berkeley, for example, much of the press portrayed this as merely a clash between pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators. An important article in Esquire took these outlets to task for failing to get at the real story: the rally had been organized by the alt-right, featured overt white nationalists as speakers and "explicitly racist groups and individuals were present in force." Some of those racists had, for weeks in advance, openly bragged about planning to instigate violence at the event. Antifa counter-demonstrators showed up to oppose these elements, not to brawl with a bunch of ordinary Donald Trump fans.

At the same time, liberals have, contrary to the Rage Machine's narrative, largely joined much of the corporate press in condemning antifa activists. Antifa forthrightly takes the position that hate isn't speech and seeks, through direct action, to deny it any platform, noting--correctly--that fascism is, by its very nature, a direct threat to marginalized communities and to the freedom and safety of all. For ordinary American liberals, this simply cuts too sharply against the grain of their traditions of free speech as a thing that must be upheld for even the most deplorable elements, and the kind of street-brawling in which antifa activists sometimes engage is seen as an unacceptable breakdown of civil society (whereas hate and fascism apparently are not). The notion that hate isn't entitled to free speech protection is rarely given any serious consideration in the U.S. but it's actually a mainstream view in most of the rest of the advanced industrialized world. It's a legitimate position and an arguable case but, for reasons good and bad, not one most American liberals are presently willing to entertain.

On the other hand, the Trumpanzee right's ubiquitous portrayal of antifa (and the "liberals" it ludicrously associates with same) as fascist brownshirts is a complete inversion of reality. Antifa battles--and, in fact, exists to battle--actual brownshirts, people who heil Hitler, wave swastikas and openly stand against every notion of freedom, democracy and basic human rights that civilized peoples hold dear, but for the Rage Machine, acknowledging this would mean sacrificing a narrative it has too successfully milked to simply abandon. It also runs counter to several other false but long-running Rage Machine narratives, like the notion that fascists are "leftists" and white supremacists "liberals." If antifa is acknowledged to battle such elements, it can no longer be made a stand-in for "liberals" in a tale in which violent liberals try to repress conservative speech and it would instead become necessary to explain why lefties are battling lefties and, by extension, how one of those groups, who are rightist Trump supporters, are still actually somehow "lefties" and... well, you get the picture. The Rage Machine's sole product is anti-rationality and hate designed to keep its audience worked up into a perpetual lather and after it has spent all these years explaining the world to its ill-informed followers by way of a series of fantasies, it becomes more and more difficult to ever tell the truth about anything.

Donald Trump's hate-speech, his encouragement of violence during the campaign, his protofascism energized a much broader movement of street protests against his candidacy then against his regime and the Rage Machine has also used this as part of its ongoing narrative. Protests, which are exercises of free speech, are presented as attacks on free speech, demonstrations equated with violence and the kind of scuffles that often break out around the edges of such demonstrations are magnified a millionfold by the rightist echo-chamber, held up as outrageous examples of liberaldom's intolerance. Trump's tale, mentioned earlier, about thousands of American Muslims celebrating in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11 is devoid of any content; it's just a lie aimed at fostering hatred of a politically powerless minority--a fraction of 1% of the population--and justifying repressive government measures against them. The same is true, to cite another example, of Trump's lie about millions of illegal immigrants voting in the last presidential election. While elements of the Machine have acknowledged these are false, no weight it given to them or to the very negative consequences they could have for those targeted by them. To maintain the narrative about intolerant liberals, the Machine has to take the position that these sorts of monstrous lies, deliberately aimed at fostering intolerance, justify no significant reaction by people of good conscience, because if the liberals protesting Trump for such things have a legitimate beef, the wind goes out of the sails of that narrative. Trump's encouragement of violence against demonstrations sparked by his own misbehavior elicited no real condemnation either. The ugly truth is that the Machine itself has spent years deploying similar lies aimed at demonizing Muslims, immigrants and the other groups targeted by Trump, including liberals. Trump is merely a reflection of this. In their condemnation of "liberal intolerance," the talking heads of the Machine appeal to a particular standard of civil behavior and attempt to apply it to counter-Trump liberals while refusing to apply it to either Trump or to themselves.

There's that hypocrisy thing again. Hmm...

--j.

---

Post Script - Anecdotal: This writer is all over Facebook in the last few years. I run or admin many groups, participate in many others, and by far the most persistent lament I've encountered from those who attempt to recruit people for political discussion is that it's almost impossible to find quality conservatives and rightists. Whether its a consequence of very bad luck or something about the personalities of righties drawn to discuss public affairs on the internet or on that particular platform or whatever, nearly all of them turn out to be angry reactionary demagogues who merely parrot whatever nonsense they get from the Rage Machine that day and who are as ill-informed as they are utterly hostile to the expression of any other point of view. And they tend to author a whole lot of posts about "liberal intolerance" too. It's relatively easy to find good liberals and leftists (and, to be fair, easy to find bad ones too); finding good righties is like finding unicorns.

---

[1] Though his legitimate free-speech rights were in no way violated. No one has a constitutional right to a platform; no provision of the Bill of Rights entitles one to speak at a school that doesn't want you. The Rage Machine's persistent misrepresentation on this point justifies more than just a footnote but that's where I'm putting it anyway, so there.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Media Complicit In Trump's Terror Tall-Tale

A major preoccupation of Donald Trump's protofascist project is to portray America as under siege by brown people from foreign shores, and among the many lies and misrepresentations offered by Trump in his February speech to congress, the "president" asserted,
"According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country."
The Associated Press partially checked this claim, concluding:
"It’s unclear what Justice Department data he’s citing, but the most recent government information that has come out doesn’t back up his claim. Just over half the people Trump talks about were actually born in the United States, according to Homeland Security Department research revealed last week. That report said of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to attempt or carry out an attack in the U.S., just over half were native-born citizens.

"Even the attacks Trump singled out weren’t entirely the work of foreigners. Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his Pakistani wife killed 14 people in the deadly 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California, was born in Chicago."
As fact-checks go, this falls significantly short of exposing the enormity of this particular Trump lie. Trump's claim was about "those convicted for terrorism-related offenses" in general, not just terrorist acts committed by those "inspired by a foreign terrorist group." Beyond the fact-check, the false impression Trump is perpetually trying to create with these sorts of claims is an even bigger lie. Most terrorism in the U.S. isn't committed by foreigners. It isn't even committed by American-born Jihadist rightists. It's committed by domestic non-Jihadist rightists, who, since 9/11, have launched more terrorist attacks, have killed more people and have been involved in more plots that were broken up by law enforcement before they could come to fruition. Numbers differ, as different sources use different methodologies and definitions of terrorism, but that's the conclusion of those who have studied the matter.

Earlier this month, a trio of academics released a new study of media coverage of terror attacks that puts some hard numbers to some obvious media trends. Monday, its authors published an accompanying article in the Washington Post. A few weeks ago, they write in the Post, Trump's administration "had provided a list of terrorist attacks it claimed were underreported by the news media. The list primarily included attacks by Muslim perpetrators." Trump furthering his false narrative. In their study, the academics explain, they examined coverage of terrorist attacks in the U.S. listed in the Global Terrorism Database over a five-year period and coverage of those attacks from American print sources in the LexisNexis database and CNN.com--nearly 2,500 articles in all. Their findings:

--A whopping 87.6% of the terrorist attacks in the timeframe studied were carried out by non-Muslims (or by perpetrators unknown).

--Muslims, on the other hand, perpetrated only 12.4% of the attacks. Foreign-born Muslims committed only 5% of total attacks.

--Nevertheless, 32% of total news coverage was devoted to the 5% of attacks by foreign-born Muslims and overall, 44% of coverage was devoted to the 12.4% of attacks carried out by Muslims in general.

--"In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks [by non-Muslims], which received an average of 18.1 articles."

--27% of attacks received no coverage at all in the sources studied.




This puts some numbers behind some things this author has been pointing out for years. Media coverage significantly distorts Americans' perceptions of terrorism, with potentially very negative consequences. Just last month, Adam Johnson of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted how "corporate media paved the way for Trump's Muslim ban" by this very behavior. Trump makes a show of despising the press but he's able to perpetuate this particular fraud because of it.

--j.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fact-Checkers Likely Understate the Magnitude of Trump's Latest Lie

Another day, another slanderous lie from Donald Trump. It's hard to keep up. Today, while the press commentariat is still all achatter about Trump's utterly baseless claim that last year, President Obama was wiretapping his campaign, Trump took to his Twitter account--the official Twitter account of the President of the United States--to offer up his newest fiction:


Trump gave no source for his claim but he made it half an hour after Fox News' Fox & Friends account had passed along a Fox News segment in which the same assertion had been made. Fill in the standard appropriate disbelief/bemusement/horror at the President of the United States, with all the resources of the U.S. government at his command, getting his "information" instead from political fantasists like Fox News. Right-wing figures have made similar claims about former Guantanamo prisoners for years. The fact-checkers went to work on this one today but while they refuted part of Trump's claim, they uncritically employed extremely dubious information provided by the government, information past analysis suggests grossly inflates actual recidivism by Guantanamo detainees.

Rebecca Shahab at CBS News:
"The number [122] appears to stem from a report released last September from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but the report clearly indicates that 122 of the 693 detainees, or about 18 percent, released under both George W. Bush and Obama administrations reengaged.

"A bulk of those detainees that returned to the battlefield, however, were released under the Bush administration, before the U.S. set up an interagency screening and hearing process for each prisoner. The report says that of the 532 detainees released from the detention facility under Bush, 113 returned to the battlefield, or about 21 percent.

"Under Obama, 161 detainees were transferred from Guantanamo Bay and only 9 have been confirmed to have reengaged and returned to the battlefield. That’s just under 6 percent of the total transferred since 2009.

"Of the combined total 122 that returned to the battlefield under both Bush and Obama, the report says that 30 are dead, 25 are in custody and 67 are not in custody."
Shahab's use of Trump's word "released" is potentially problematic, as those who are "released" are, in fact, transferred to the control of foreign governments, not, as that word implies, simply set free.

FactCheck.Org's Robert Farley used the same report (but also the same problematic wording), concluding that Trump's claim was "simply false"; the overwhelming majority of those 122 were released by the Bush administration.[1]

Politifact's Lauren Carroll uses the same figures: over 92% of those "the government believes have returned to some sort of terrorist activity" were transferred under Bush. On the terminology, Carroll, to her credit, is more careful and quotes DePaul University counterrorism professor Thomas Mockaitis pointing out that "many of those released are handed over to foreign states who assume responsibility for them." Carroll also references a 2014 report by the New America Foundation which investigated confirmed or suspected "militant activity" by former detainees and could only confirm 1/3 of the cases claimed by the government at the time.

Rather than spurring further investigation, that last bit of info is just left to lie there unexamined while Carroll rates Trump's claim "mostly false."

The government's claims with regard to recidivism by former Guantanamo detainees, which have been made in a periodically-issued report for many years, have long been called into serious question. The Center for Policy and Research at the Seton Hall University School of Law, which has released over 15 reports on issues related to the detainees, has tackled the recidivism claims repeatedly.[2] Among other things, the government can't document most of its claims of recidivism. It consistently makes sweeping assertions regarding this matter while refusing to name most of the alleged recidivists or provide any real information on their alleged recidivism. The material cited by the fact-checkers are just asserted numbers. Empty claims, and not consistent ones either--the number of asserted recidivists goes up and down over the years.[3] With regard to the much smaller group who have actually been named, the government's assertions are rife with problems. Contradictions abound. While "recidivist" clearly suggests someone who was guilty of some past offense returning to commit further offenses, most of the Guantanamo detainees--55%--were "not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies," which shouldn't be surprising given the fact that only 5% of them were captured by U.S. forces in the first place; the rest were, instead, turned over by third parties in exchange for U.S.-provided bounties on those who were supposed to be al Qaida or Taliban fighters. In so impoverished a country as Afghanistan, a get-rich-quick scheme. Some named were, in fact, never detained at Guantanamo at all. For years, the government conflated numbers on those whom it asserted had committed actual recidivist offenses and those merely suspected of doing so, admitting that some of the claims were based on unconfirmed, single-source reporting. Makes the number look bigger, see? For a long time, the government even identified as recidivists those who had merely written articles critical of their own detention or had publicly spoken out against same, a policy now discontinued but one that, like most of the rest of this, speaks to the bad faith of the government's claims. Remarkably, "the government admitted that its primary source of information was reporting by the press, not government intelligence," which makes the refusal to provide names to go with most of the claims even more suspect, as the names of everyone who had been detained at Guantanamo have been public information for years.[4]

To put the matter bluntly, the government's claims in this matter are bullshit. They've been bullshit for over a decade.

So while the fact-checkers have refuted part of Trump's claim, the dubious nature of the information on which those refutations rest--and which the fact-checkers mostly ignore--suggest the scale of his lie may be much larger than even those refutations suggest.

--j.

---

[1] Farley further notes that the Trump regime made a similar claim only a few weeks ago and was corrected by FactCheck then as well:
"On Feb. 22, we wrote, Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, wrongly suggested that a released Guantanamo Bay detainee responsible for a recent suicide bombing in Iraq was released by Obama. He was transferred from Gitmo in 2004 under President Bush. Gorka also wrongly claimed that among detainees released by Obama, 'almost half the time, they returned to the battlefield.' According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, about 12.4 percent of those transferred from Gitmo under Obama are either confirmed or suspected of reengaging.

"As we noted then, most of the former Gitmo detainees who are now suspected or confirmed to have reengaged were transferred or released under President Bush. Bush transferred a higher number of detainees--532 compared to 161 under Obama--and they have been reengaging (or are suspected of reengaging) at a higher rate — 35 percent  compared to 12.4 percent under Obama. That may change over time, but those were the percentages as of last July."
[2] As those reports have been released over the years, they've been almost entirely ignored by the corporate press. Having the fact-checkers now ignore them is, unfortunately, nothing new.

[3] The Center's March 2012 report even makes a chart of these shifting claims over three years:


[4] Even if one takes the government's worst-case assertions at face value, most detainees who were transferred have never become "recidivists." The actual documented cases of subsequent offenses are a much smaller number. The focus on alleged recidivists, rather than the bulk of detainees who aren't known to have ever committed any offense, is political, aimed at justifying the continuing existence of the GTMO detention facility when the known facts actually show it's been used to lock up people for years on end who have never been any threat to anyone.