Tag Archives: FAIR

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Factchecking the Factcheckers

In a Media Without Real Journalists, Lies Become True

When fact-checking organizations like Politifact and Factcheck.org appeared a few years ago, they seemed like perfect antidotes to a lazy, corrupt and broke corporate media unable and/or unwilling to hold politicians to account for their lies. Cue Murphy’s Law: Rather than set a higher standard, independent fact-checkers gave mainstream journalists more excuses not to work.

“Perhaps the most jarring aspect of media factchecking is that many reporters see it as someone else’s job,” Peter Hart and Julie Hollar wrote in FAIR’s Extra! magazine.

This year’s presidential debates have been showcases of absentee journalism. With the exception of a single interjection by Candy Crowley (on a trivial point), all three moderators sat silently and passively as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney told one lie after another to an audience mostly composed of citizens who were paying attention to the campaign for the first time.

“My moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow,” said Jim Lehrer, moderator of debate number one.

Lame mission accomplished.

To make things worse, the pundits and journalists voters count upon to set things straight let the biggest lies and gaffes stand uncorrected. Even partisan screamers let us down: Fox News failed to call out Obama’s biggest fibs while MSNBC dropped the ball on Romney’s.

And the fact-checking commentariat let the ugliest and meanest sleeping dogs lie.

Last night’s third and final presidential debate included a few gaffes—my favorite was the geographically challenged Romney’s repeated statement that “Syria is Iran’s route to the sea“—Iran doesn’t have a border with Syria, nor is it landlocked—and the usual share of whoppers, most of which have gone unchallenged so long that people consider them facts.

Do politicians’ lies matter? You bet.

Whether people are deciding which of the two corporate major-party candidates to vote for, or they’re looking outside the system to a third party, voter boycott or revolution to overthrow the entire system, they can’t make an intelligent decision without knowing the pertinent facts. The myth of U.S. exceptionalism, for example, mistakenly teaches Americans that their country is #1; if they knew the truth, that the U.S. is behind much of the industrialized world by such measures as child poverty (we’re #34 out of the 35 industrialized nations, just ahead of Romania), they might decide to stop tolerating U.S.-style corporate capitalism.

Lies are the glue that hold a sick and sickening system together.

As far as I can tell, neither cable news networks, nor news websites, nor newspapers have questioned somewhere the following bipartisan lies, which all reared their heads at the third debate:

Obama said: “We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11.”

Actually, 16,000 U.S. troops will remain after the “pullout.” Hilariously reclassified as “staff” of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad—world’s biggest force of security guards—American soldiers will be fighting alongside 3,500 to 5,000 private U.S.-paid mercenaries.

9/11 was not carried out, or planned, by citizens of Iraq or Afghanistan.

What if they gave a war, and people came, but nobody knew? Some antiwar voters will vote for Obama for ending a war he is actually continuing.

Obama said: “We killed bin Laden…when we bring those who have harmed us to justice, that sends a message…”

The president could have argued that bin Laden got what he deserved. Bringing someone to justice means placing them under arrest so their fate can be determined by a judge and jury in a court of law. If the president can get away with saying—and the media doesn’t question it—that an assassination is justice, then law and order no longer have any meaning.

We live in an authoritarian police state.

A police state full of lazy reporters.

Obama said: “Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden.”

Everyone “knows” bin Laden was behind 9/11. That he admitted it in a video. But though bin Laden never shied away from his involvement in terrorism—he admitted ordering the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings—he denied ordering 9/11. The translated “confession” was shown to have been faked by the CIA.

Obama said: “Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s a threat to Israel’s national security…And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.”

Though debunked, the oft-repeated canard that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to “wipe Israel off the map” is part of Democratic and Republican propaganda alike.

Jonathan Steele of the UK Guardian provides the best available translation of what Ahmadinejad really did say: “The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that ‘this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,’ just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished. He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The ‘page of time’ phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon.”

A top Israeli official, intelligence and atomic energy minister Dan Meridor, agreed recently that Ahmadinejad never used that “wipe off the map” phrase, which doesn’t exist in Farci. Meridor says that Ahmadinejad  and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “that Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out.'”

Romney again repeated his meaningless line that Iran is “four years closer to a nuclear weapon.” By the same logic, Iran was eight years loser to a nuclear weapon during Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president.

Bob Schieffer asked Romney: “What if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said: Our bombers are on the way. We’re going to bomb Iran. What do you say?” Romney replied: “Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the prime minister of Israel is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way or their fighters are on the way. This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before that kind of action.”

Romney can’t be that sure. Israeli officials have told their U.S. counterparts that they won’t ask permission before attacking Iran—and will give us no more than 12 hours advance notice.

Romney lied less but his biggest lie was the biggest.

“America’s going to…continue to promote principles of peace,” he said in his closing statement.

It must have been difficult for the audience, who’d promised to keep quiet, not to laugh out loud. America? Peaceful?

Unless they believe that stuff about Obama ending the war in Iraq.

(Ted Rall‘s latest book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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RALL     10/23/12

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Iran – Because Two Wars Aren’t Enough

Why Doesn’t Anyone Call Out Romney for Warmongering?

Mitt Romney had a barnburner of a weekend in Israel. The GOP nominee apparent shared his unique combination of economic and anthropological wisdom, attributing the fact that Israel’s GDP and average income is many times higher than those of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to Israelis’ superior “culture.”

As if spewing one of the most overtly racist lines in recent presidential campaign history wasn’t enough, eschewing “containment” (read: “diplomacy”), Romney also endorsed a preemptive Israeli military strike against Iran in order to prevent the latter’s nuclear program—Israel’s own, illegal nuclear weapons stockpile is OK since it’s a U.S. ally—from moving forward.

“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Romney said, stating that “no option should be excluded.”

He didn’t say how he knew the intentions of Iran’s leaders. Clairvoyance? Bush had it too.

Though Mitt slightly walked back his campaign’s sabre rattling, the message was clear. If he is elected, Israel will receive a blank check to begin a war against Iran, one of the most well-equipped military powers in the Middle East—a conflagration in which the United States could easily wind up getting dragged into. (In a subsequent interview he reiterated that “we have all options on the table. Those include military options.”)

Most criticism focused on Romney’s flouting of the traditional proscription against candidates questioning a sitting president’s foreign policy while visiting foreign soil. Though, to be fair, the differences between his and President Obama’s approach to Israel and Iran are tonal and minor.

As usual with the U.S. media, what is remarkable is what is going unsaid. Here we are, with the economy in shambles and the public worried sick about it, the electorate tired of 12 years of war against Afghanistan and nine against Iraq, yet Romney—who could be president six months from now—is out ramping up tensions and increasing the odds of a brand-new, bigger-than-ever military misadventure.

Warmongering has gone mainstream. It’s a given.

In a way, Romney’s willingness to risk war against Iran is merely another example, like the car garage and dressage, of how clueless and out of touch he is. Most Americans oppose war with Iran. For that matter, so do the citizens of the country on whose behalf we’d be killing and dying, Israel. But even Romney’s Democratic opponents give him a pass for Romney’s tough-guy act on Iran.

The reason for the somnolent non-response is obvious: it’s nothing new. Year after year, on one foreign crisis after another, American presidents repeatedly state some variation on the theme that war is always an option, that the military option is always on the table. You’ve heard that line so often that you take it for granted.

But did you know that “keeping the military option on the table” is a serious violation of international law?

The United States is an original signatory of the United Nations Charter, which has the full force of U.S. law since it was ratified by the Senate in 1945. Article 51 allows military force only in self-defense, in response to an “armed attack.” As Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in The Los Angeles Times in March, international law generally allows preemptive strikes only in the case of “imminent threat.” In 1842 Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote what remains the standard definition of “imminent,” which is that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation.” The enemy’s troops have massed on your border. They have superior force. What must be done to stop them is evident. There’s no time for diplomacy.

Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t come close to this definition, even from Israel’s standpoint. Bruce Fein, deputy attorney general under Reagan, told Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Extra! Magazine: “It is nothing short of bizarre to claim, as the Obama Administration is doing, that the mere capability to make a bomb is justification for a preemptive attack. That’s a recipe for perpetual war. Almost any country could have the capability to make a bomb. They are torturing the word ‘imminent’ to the point that it has no meaning.”

By endorsing an Israeli attack against Iran at a time when there is no proof that Iran has nuclear weapons, intends to develop them, or use them if it does, Romney is going farther than Obama, who has engaged in back-channel diplomacy.

The Allies’ main brief against the Nazi leaders tried at Nuremberg was not genocide, but that they had violated international law by waging aggressive war. Yet every American president has deployed troops in aggressive military actions.

Aggressive war hasn’t been good for America’s international image, the environment, our economy or the millions who have died, mostly for causes that are now forgotten or regretted. But unless we draw the line against reckless, irresponsible rhetoric like Romney’s, it will go on forever.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.