Tag Archives: journalism

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Long Before Trump, News Media Wallowed in “Alternative Facts”

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Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.

But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.

Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?

Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.

August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied ­— as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.

The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.

For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.

Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.

After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.

Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.

That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.

Alternative facts abounded under Obama.

Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?

The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Russian Hacking: Where’s the Evidence?

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At the smallest, crappiest newspaper in the world – even at a high school paper – no sane editor would publish a story that wasn’t backed by solid evidence. As the 20th century print journalism cliché goes, if your mother says she loves you check it out. So why are the nation’s most prestigious multi-Pulitzer-winning newsgathering organizations repeatedly claiming that hackers working for the Russian government stole emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and gave them to WikiLeaks?

Because the CIA says so.

Well, not the actual CIA. Some unidentified people who claim to have seen some report say so.

The charge against Russia is explosive. “In a ‘closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week,’ intelligence officials told senators that it was now “quite clear’ that electing Trump was Russia’s goal,” according to Vox. Hothead Sarah Palin enabler and senior Arizona Senator John McCain called it “an act of war.”

Even Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman — historically a voice of reason and prescience — dove into the neo-Red-baiting morass of this weird month, writing that “bad guys hacked the election” thanks to “useful idiots” (a Cold War slur used against lefties like, um, Krugman, pinned here to Trump and his advisors).

(Hypocrisy alert! I’ll save my catalog of covert U.S. attacks against other nations’ democratic elections — Obama’s role in the recent coup in Honduras comes to mind — for some future book, a format where word counts aren’t as constricting.)

explainersmallAnyway, newspapers and magazines and radio and television and Internet news sites say that Russia was behind the hacks. So, as my editor at the Columbia Daily Spectator would surely have asked, what is the basis of this contention?

“The CIA.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday,” wrote the Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau. “Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

The primary basis of this “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” appears to be that whoever hacked the DNC also hacked the RNC but only released the DNC stuff to WikiLeaks. “If the Russians were going to interfere, why on earth would they do it to the detriment of the candidate that was pro-Russian?” asked Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

My editor at the Spec would not have been impressed.

As Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept, “you can’t help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates.”

This is one of those awkward times when you have to admit that Donald Trump has a point: why should we take the CIA, whose BS Iraqi WMD intel led to the deaths of over a million people, at its word?

Why would the very same journalists who let themselves get duped 13 years ago dutifully transcribe what amounts to nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations?

I don’t know if Russia is innocent of hacking those emails — any more than the New York Times and the Washington Post and CBS News and so on know that they’re guilty.

No one knows.

Well, the CIA (and the hackers, if there indeed were hacks) might know. But if the spooks have any evidence, much less proof, they aren’t showing it to us or those idiotic media outlets. Which makes this an unsourced story — and one whose geopolitical implications, involving the world’s most heavily-armed nuclear states makes it incomprehensibly, irredeemably irresponsible to spread around.

If the government wants to warn us that a Russian puppet is about to move into the White House, they ought to take a cue from JFK, who went on television to show secret US spy photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Show us the evidence or shut up.

As if this “Russia hacked the election” episode wasn’t enough to showcase the intellectual bankruptcy of America’s state-controlled news media, the stenographers are ignoring a far more credible explanation for how WikiLeaks got the Podesta/DNC emails: they were leaked, not hacked.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and WikiLeaks associate, told The Daily Mail that a DNC insider motivated by “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders” personally gave it to him in Washington. “Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,” Murray says. “The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray is a paragon of integrity, having sacrificed his diplomatic career in order to call out Islam Karimov, the sadistic tyrant of Uzbekistan known for boiling political dissidents to death and his cozy ties to the U.S. (His account “Murder in Samarkand” is highly recommended for its brutal honesty.)

Regardless of your politics, Murray is infinitely more believable than the CIA.

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange confirms that “the Russian government is not the source.” Assange too has an impeccable reputation.

As far as I can tell, only one U.S. outlet, the right-wing Washington Times, has covered the Murray angle.

Everyone “knows” that Russia hacked the election. But it may or may not be true. To the contrary! The facts point to a leak.

There is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that the moral midgets of American corporate media don’t have the slightest interest in uncovering the truth. How perfect as we enter the Age of Trump.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please consider supporting Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Trump’s Maniacal First 100 Days

Trump's political genius is centered around his manic style. He issues one outrageous statement after another, so that the media and critics can only beguin to respond to each before it gets eclipsed by the next one, with the net effect that nothing ever gets fully processed. If elected president, he'll probably do the same thing. Hey, it worked for George W. Bush!

Trump’s political genius is centered around his manic style. He issues one outrageous statement after another, so that the media and critics can only begin to respond to each before it gets eclipsed by the next one, with the net effect that nothing ever gets fully processed. If elected president, he’ll probably do the same thing. Hey, it worked for George W. Bush!

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The Leftie Who Came In From The Cold

After a hard-fought primary campaign, Bernie Sanders capitulated and endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton for the presidency. In the final analysis, Clinton gave up little more than lip service to Bernie's agenda of a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition at public universities, and universal healthcare. To the contrary, Clinton is now moving to the right, considering a general as vice president and asking the platform committee not to oppose the TPP free trade agreement.

After a hard-fought primary campaign, Bernie Sanders capitulated and endorsed his rival Hillary Clinton for the presidency. In the final analysis, Clinton gave up little more than lip service to Bernie’s agenda of a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition at public universities, and universal healthcare. To the contrary, Clinton is now moving to the right, considering a general as vice president and asking the platform committee not to oppose the TPP free trade agreement.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

IMG_2255Though it might not always seem like it, the news media is composed of human beings. Humans aren’t, can’t be, and possibly shouldn’t be, objective. Still, there’s a reasonable expectation among consumers of political news that journalists of all political stripes strive to be as objective as possible.

At their minimum, media outlets ought to be straightforward about their biases.

They certainly shouldn’t have, or appear to have, their thumbs on the scales.

Unfortunately, all too often, it appears that the political system is rigged – and that the major media companies play an important role in gaming the system. That’s what has happened throughout this year’s Democratic primaries, in which the vast majority of corporate media outlets appear to have been in the bag for Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, against self-described “democratic socialist” insurgent Bernie Sanders.

Examinations of coverage have confirmed the impressions of cable news junkies that Sanders has been the victim of a blackout, thus depriving him of a chance to make his case to voters. When the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, scheduled the first round of Democratic debates at times the party hoped nobody would be watching – again, a seemingly obvious ploy to deprive Sanders of exposure – corporate media outlets had little to say about it.

Then there has been the media’s complicity in spreading Clinton campaign talking points that bore little relation to the truth.

MSNBC and other DNC-aligned media outlets kept pointing out that Clinton won 3 million more votes than Sanders. True, technically. But that’s pretending that caucus states didn’t exist. Sanders did better than Clinton in caucuses.

Most recently, they conflated pledged delegates – those won by a candidate based on votes cast – with superdelegates, the Democratic politicians and party officials who will be able to vote however they want at the convention this coming July. Back in November, an Associated Press survey found that Hillary Clinton – unsurprisingly – enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the superdelegates. Assuming that the superdelegates will not change their minds, the AP called the Democratic race for Hillary Clinton on Monday, the night before a set of important primaries, including California. Does anyone doubt that calling a race over as the effect of depressing voter turnout?

It’s impossible to quantify that effect, to know how many people didn’t bother to show up at the polls because they were told it was all over. In California, however, Hillary Clinton won 56% of the vote in a state where polls showed the two candidates neck and neck. (California’s state election officials also did their best to keep voters away from the polls.)

As a journalist, I’m reluctant to categorically argue that the AP ought to have held its statistical analysis of the race until after Tuesday’s vote. News ought not to be suppressed. When you have it, you ought to report it. Similarly, I’m not sure that the New York Times was wrong to report the AP story. However, I do question the editorial wisdom of running it as a banner headline. The United States is a democracy. We elect our leaders based on votes actually cast by real people, not polls. Even after Tuesday’s vote, Hillary Clinton still didn’t have enough pledged delegates to claim the Democratic nomination. Since those superdelegates aren’t going to vote until July, she won’t be able to really claim the nomination until then.

Agreed, it’s a silly system. But it’s the system the Democrats have. They – and the media – ought to abide by it. Besides which, think how embarrassing it will be if the Justice Department indicts Hillary between now and July. There’s a lot to be said for leaving things hanging.

The thing that disgusts me most about this system – besides the perpetual state of war, the manufacturing of mass poverty, the prison industrial complex, the miserable state of the justice system, the fact that it’s impossible to make a decent living working 40 hours a week – is that it doesn’t even pretend to follow its own rules in a consistent way. Consider, for example, how the New York Times couldn’t wait to report its “Hillary Clinton becomes first woman nominee from a major political party” story until after the primaries in California et al. Would one or two days have made a big difference? (Well, yes. Sanders might have won California.) If the idea is to get the story out first, no matter what, even if it suppresses the vote, I can respect that. But then they ought to be consistent.

It was a very different story back in 2004. A few weeks before the general election in November, the New York Times researched and came to the conclusion that George W. Bush, the incumbent, may have cheated in at least one of the presidential debates against Sen. John Kerry. Photographs of the debate clearly showed a suspicious bulge in Bush’s shoulder; the Times did report the story as a light he-says-she-says piece. But then experts concluded that the tongue twisted former governor of Texas had been using a receiver paired with an earphone in order to get advice and retorts to carry from an unknown co-conspirator.

Editors at the paper decided to hold a serious exposé until after the election so that its coverage would not affect the results. Then they killed it. Four more years of Bush followed.

Actually, the corporate media’s policy is brutally consistent. If holding a story benefits the forces of reactionary conservatism, it gets held. If releasing it does so, it gets released. Time after time, the system exposes itself for what it is.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His next book, the graphic biography “Trump,” comes out July 19th and is now available for pre-order.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Everyone But the Media Saw Trumpism Coming

  If you suck at your job, you’ll get fired.

If you suck because you’re lazy, you’ll definitely get fired.

Unless you’re a member of the political and economic establishment of a disintegrating superstate. If you’re incompetent and indolent but reliably loyal and unquestioning, your sinecure in the system that props up the powers that be is safe.

The New York Times, an institution so beholden to the establishment that it subjects a major presidential candidate to a media blackout and Orwellian post-publication memory-holing, is this week’s case study in establishmentarian unaccountability.

After effectively donating nearly half a billion dollars of free media coverage to the campaign of Donald Trump (or is it $1.9 billion? who can count?), corporate media is finally beginning to wonder whether teeing the country up for its first potential bona fide fascist dictatorship was a good idea.

In the Times, reliably mistaken op-ed columnist David Brooks allowed that, just maybe, opinion mongers like him ought to have noticed the building voter outrage over “free trade” deals like NAFTA and TPP — agreements supported by him and his paper’s editorial board — that gutted America’s industrial heartland and are driving the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns. “Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else,” Brooks wrote March 18th.

“Moreover,” continued the man who thought invading Iraq would be a cakewalk, “many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.”

This is a stunning admission.

Let’s set aside the question of how likely it is that Brooks really will make the effort to get out more. (My guess: not very.) Why should the Times ­— and, more to the point, the readers whose paid subscriptions pay Brooks’ salary — keep a man on staff who admits that he sucks at his job because he’s too lazy to interact with the American people?

Brooks deserves to have plenty of company as he walks the unemployment version of the Long Green Mile.

On March 28th fellow Timesman Nicholas Kristof, famous for taking young men and women to Third World nations devastated by U.S. foreign policy (though I doubt he tells them why those dumps look so dumpy), went even further, in a piece titled “My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump.”

“We were largely oblivious to the pain among working-class Americans and thus didn’t appreciate how much his message resonated,” Kristof wrote.

Most Americans are working-class. In other words, Kristof and his colleagues admit they don’t cover the problems that affect most Americans. Again: why does he still have a job?

Believe it or not, there are scores — maybe hundreds — of opinion writers who do know what’s going on in their own country. Who write well. Who get stories right. Pundits who saw the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders populist phenomena coming. But you won’t find any of them in the print pages of major newspapers like the Times, or even in the low-pay ghettos of their web-only content.

Because you can’t be a good journalist and a shill for a corporate media obsessed with access to the powers that be.

As usual in these moments of MSM navel-gazing, they almost get it right. Kristof continues: “Media elites rightly talk wabout our insufficient racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but we also lack economic diversity. We inhabit a middle-class world and don’t adequately cover the part of America that is struggling and seething. We spend too much time talking to senators, not enough to the jobless.”

Class diversity is a real thing. Newsrooms at stodgy institutions like the Times have their token women and people of color, but most are women and POC from well-off families. They attend expensive journalism schools that don’t offer scholarships, and thus don’t produce graduates from poor families and towns. As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton prove, coming from a traditionally disadvantaged minority group is no guarantee that someone understands or cares about the troubles of the economically oppressed.

More to the point, we need a new class of intuitive journalists. Men and women with empathy. People who have a clue about what’s happening in their own country.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s With News Media Who Don’t Want to Publish News?

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If a pizza shop refused to sell pizza, everyone would say it was run by crazy people.

What does it say about the people who run the news media that they don’t want to report news?

If you read on, you probably expect this lede to be revealed as hyperbole. Sorry, no. I mean it: newspaper editors and TV producers routinely come across delicious slices of news, and then decide not to publish them or put them on the air.

Yet nobody calls them what they are: censors.

Or crazy people.

News businesses constantly refuse to serve news to eager news consumers. Because censorship is normative, it rarely makes the news itself.

This week’s debate over whether to run photos of the body of a 3-year-old boy on a beach, a Syrian refugee boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey, is a revealing exception.

“As the photographs appeared again and again in timelines on Facebook and Twitter, spurred in part by their publication on the websites of major European newspapers, a debate broke out about the ethics of sharing such graphic images of a dead child,” Robert Mackey reported in The New York Times. “There were also disagreements inside newsrooms about whether to publish or even share the images. A number of reporters argued forcefully that it was necessary to confront the public with the human toll of the war in Syria, and the impact of policies that make it difficult for refugees to find asylum in Europe. But many editors were concerned about shocking their readers and wanted to avoid the appearance of trafficking in sensational images for profit.”

Debate? There should be no debate.

Newspapers sell news. When an editor decides whether an item ought to go into her newspaper, she ought to consider one question, and one question only:

Is it news?

If it’s news, it goes in. No matter what.

Clearly, Europe’s refugee crisis is news. Tens of thousands of people, many fleeing civil wars and poverty in north Africa and the Middle East, are escaping to Europe on rickety vessels, some of which founder and sink in the Mediterranean. The European Union can’t come up with a plan to deal with them. It’s a story involving big issues like nativism, xenophobia, racism and a vacuum of political leadership, as well as blowback from American and European foreign interventionism.

Though sentimental and perhaps a big mawkish, the heartbreaking photo of the drowned boy illustrates the human cost of Europe’s failure vis-à-vis the refugee crisis. Which makes it news.

So it should run.

Easy decision, really. So why are editors worried about irrelevant concerns, like whether the photo is “tasteful”?

For some editors, according to the Times, it came down to whether readers could see the boy’s face:

“Many news organizations in the United States decided to publish pictures of the dead child in their print or online editions, but they were divided over whether to show more graphic images of the boy lying in the sand with his face partially visible. The New York Times published a less jarring image that shows a Turkish police officer carrying the child away but conceals his face. Several other newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and The Baltimore Sun, followed the same course of action.”

Thank you, Editor Nanny, but I’ll take my news the way God intended it: 200 proof, undiluted.

This is yet another case of a tiny good — respect for the dead — causing a big harm.

Hundreds of people, including that Syrian boy, are dying, and dying horribly. Their deaths are totally avoidable. The EU, home to hundreds of millions of people, can easily absorb even a million refugees. The U.S., whose foreign wars are in large part responsible for the crisis, can help subsidize resettlement costs, and invite many of the victims to come here.

Posting the more “jarring” image (which appeared all over the Internet anyway) might help jar the world into taking action. Conversely, not posting it delays action, guaranteeing that more little boys will die.

Surely saving those boys is more important than worrying making readers queasy over their morning cereal — yes, even if some of those readers are kids themselves.

“I understand the argument for running the photo as a way to raise awareness and call attention to the severity of the refugee crisis, and I don’t begrudge outlets that did,” commented Vox media editorial director Max Fisher, “but I ultimately I decided against running it because the child in that photo can’t consent to becoming a symbol.” Does this mean Vox won’t run any images of dead people, ever? Or images of people who don’t consent to being photographed? That’ll make Vox even more boring.

You know what’s worse than taking a chance that kids will see pictures of dead kids? Not taking that chance, so that more kids wind up dead.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: 14 Years Ago, a Woman Vindicated Me Now

A woman walking down the street in West Hollywood saw a police officer roughing up and handcuffing a man, whom he accused of jaywalking. Appalled, she challenged the officer. “Take off his handcuffs!” she demanded.

Noticing the commotion, more passersby approached. Soon a small crowd of people had gathered around. Some people shouted at the officer to stop. Others mocked his aggressiveness, sarcastically suggesting that his unfulfilled sexual desires explained his behavior. Surrounded by pissed-off citizens, the cop replied with a smirk: “I’m SO scared.” Others stood and watched, witnessing.

This happened 14 years ago. The man was me.

None of us knew that the cop, Officer Will Durr, was secretly capturing the audio of my arrest on a tape recorder — some of it, anyway.

Last week, a LAPD dub of Durr’s tape savaged my career in journalism, which can never be the same. But then that woman’s angry voice — “Take off his handcuffs!” — vindicated me. It was a kind of time travel. This woman, yelling on Melrose Boulevard on October 3, 2001, changed my life on July 30, 2015.

I wish I could go back in time so I could kiss her.

Or do her laundry. Whatever she wants.

About two weeks ago, someone at the LAPD and/or LAPPL (the LAPD police union) gave the dub of Durr’s tape to some unknown person at The Los Angeles Times. Despite obvious gaps in their credibility and logic, the Times used the tape as its justification, not to merely fire me, but to internationally shame me with a “Note to Readers,” signed by editorial page editor Nick Goldberg, that accused me of having lied about the cop’s actions during my 2001 jaywalking bust. In journalism, that’s a career death sentence, and Goldberg knew it.

What Goldberg didn’t know was that the real liars were the LAPD. And what Goldberg didn’t learn was one of the first rules of journalism: check it out.

If I brought a tape to any editor worth a damn, she’d say: have it analyzed and checked for signs of tampering. Not Goldberg, or Times reporter Paul Pringle, who was assigned to investigate me. They “authenticated” the tape by — get this — asking the cops whether their own tape was legit.

The answer to that question turned out to be: Not so much.

Thank god for technology. Despite Officer Durr’s apparent attempts to cover up those unpleasant remarks from the angry crowd by whistling into his mic, and covering it up, audio technicians were able to clean it up enough to reveal the truth.

“Take off his handcuffs!” That line, and many others, proved that I’d been cuffed, and that there had been an angry crowd — two crucial bones of contention. In the court of public opinion, I’d been vindicated.

The truth: which I’d been telling. The truth: which the cops did not. The truth: which the LA Times doesn’t care about — I’m still fired. The now-discredited “Note to Readers” is still up, with no mention of the secrets revealed by the enhanced audio tape.

But the truth is out. I have a fight ahead of me, sure. But I couldn’t defend myself without it.

There’s no way that woman could have known, or knows now, that her declarative statement — “Take off his handcuffs!” — was or ever would do any good. She, and the other witnesses, probably felt angry and impotent and helpless in the face of obvious injustice by an agent of the state.

If the woman on Melrose, whom I would kiss if I could, remembers this incident, it’s likely as just another time where she got involved but accomplished nothing.

But she’d be wrong.

My case serves as yet another example of the importance of stepping forward to witness, document and interfere with unfairness and state violence whenever you can. If, for example, you see a cop hassling someone, document the stop with your cellphone camera (don’t comment or talk because it blocks other sounds). If you dare, speak truth to power by demanding the officer’s badge information and name, and asking that he stop what he’s doing. Even if you just stand and watch, you greatly reduce the chances of another brutal police killing or maiming.

As a white man, I’m lucky. I suffer only a small fraction of the disgusting greed and brutality of corrupt police officers experienced by black and other people of color every day. I’m grateful.

One small way I can show my appreciation for my privileged status in American society is to speak out, like here, about my own experiences with bad cops. Because if it’s happening to white guys like me, you know it’s even worse for people of color.

In this case, however, I couldn’t have done it without that voice from the past, that beautiful angry ghost from 2001. So: witness. Document. Fight back.

It really does count.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower, to be published August 25th. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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None Knowns

Asked whether he would have attacked Iraq knowing what we know now, that Saddam didn't have WMDs and that civil war would result, Jeb Bush echoed his brother Dubya, saying that he would indeed have done the same. As usual, the media missed the real story. But was it an accident?

Asked whether he would have attacked Iraq knowing what we know now, that Saddam didn’t have WMDs and that civil war would result, Jeb Bush echoed his brother Dubya, saying that he would indeed have done the same. As usual, the media missed the real story. But was it an accident?

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Bad Taste, Dirty Secrets: The Truth About The Pulitzer Prize

“Who had a good year?” my friend and cartoonist colleague asked me. Again. “Who’ll win?” We have the same conversation every April.

A couple of weeks ago, it was time once again for an annual ritual familiar to thousands of journalists: attempting to predict the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes.

“They’ll give it to some loser. Like they always do,” I replied. “Or they won’t, and someone good will get it. Who knows? When are you going to accept that the Pulitzers are a completely, totally random occurrence?”

This is the biggest unspoken truth about the most respected award in American mediadom: there is no rhyme or reason to who wins a Pulitzer.

Theoretically, Columbia University awards the Pulitzer to the best work done the previous year in each given category: best play, best biography, best news photography of 2014, etc.

In reality, anyone can win. Anyone can be snubbed. It’s like a tornado tearing through a neighborhood, leaving one house standing intact while the others all get their roofs ripped off. Why that one? Who knows?

Many groundbreaking, big-name cartoonists get snubbed their entire careers, yet the list of winners includes many forgotten even to geeks of the genre — who remembers Edmund Valtman and Casey Orr? One recent April, I had to Google the name of the winning cartoonist. In a profession with fewer than 30 full-timers, I’d never heard of him (nor had many of my colleagues).

To call the Pulitzers quirky would be putting it mildly. There are repeat finalists who never win the actual prize. An artist may make a big splash in a given year, creating a single piece or series of cartoons widely discussed in the media, yet get passed over, even as a finalist. When the winner is announced, whether we love the cartoonist’s work or think he or she is awful, the selection always feels like it comes out of left field — not least to the winner himself or herself. It’s like — really? Him? Me?

Disclosure: I have been a finalist once. Feel free to call it sour grapes — you wouldn’t be the first. But not every cartoonist has gotten to be a finalist, so I have little reason to complain (not that it stops me).

Truth is, I’m fascinated by systems, particularly those in which subjective human beings are assigned to decide objective truths; whether it’s guilt or innocence at trial or who drew the best cartoons over a 12-month period, I am fascinated by process (procès is the French word for trial.)

Alongside my colleagues I have studied and discussed the outcome of the Pulitzer Prize for my category (editorial cartooning) for more than 20 years. It’s an obsession, and perhaps not a good for my psyche, but there it is. Over the years, many members of the cartooning award committee, which picks the three finalists, have confided the details of their deliberations. I know how they winnow down stack of entries down to a small group of contenders, what criteria they consider, how they discuss their final choices.

So what accounts for the Prize’s wild unpredictability?

For a long time, I was convinced that the explanation for Pulitzer weirdness lay primarily with process.

You’d think every committee member would look at every entry, right? No. To make the job easier, committees some years divvy up the entries among the jurors. Let’s say there are 80 entries and four jurors. Each juror reads his 20-share of entries, then divides them into “yesses” and “nos.” The yes entries go the next round while the nos are purged. The other jurors will never see a portfolio rejected in the first round. Since the identity and the tastes of the juror who first (and second, and third) winds up with your portfolio, luck plays a big role.

Some years, the committee comes up with an ad hoc point system to winnow down the stack of entries: rank quality of drawing between 1 and 10, say, and quality of the writing between 1 and 5, and add the two together. Points are a sort of math, so they feel rational, but of course they’re inherently arbitrary.

I have disabused myself of the notion that Pulitzer committee members want to send some sort of message, as in “it’s time that a woman won,” or a young person, or a Republican (though that last one is highly unlikely, because only 7% of American journalists identify with the GOP). Everyone I’ve talked to who has sat in the room has told me that making a statement isn’t a major consideration, and I believe them. In fact, they usually don’t spend much time talking to each other.

I’ve heard some crazy stories.

The big one comes up every year: what with everyone in a hurry to make it to the open bar, judges rush through the process. If you’re a long-winded, wordy cartoonist, your stuff might not get read.

One year, I was told, all the entries by the “young” (i.e., under age 45) cartoonists were set aside because one of the judges couldn’t understand them, with the agreement that, later in the winnowing-down process, the youngsters would be revisited. Everyone forgot.

Every year, at least one of the jurors has never seen a political cartoon before, and has to have the form explained to him or her by other jurors. No one suggests that the judge recuse himself.

Where I am now — and this could change — is that the choice of jurors determines the winners. Specifically, and especially in the cartooning category, jurors have no taste.

Please understand! I am not saying this colloquially, as in, they have bad taste. That is not what I mean.

What I mean is that the Pulitzer jurors have no taste.

They don’t know anything about cartoons.

To have bad taste as a judge, one must possess knowledge about a subject. For example, were I to judge the Heisman Trophy, I would need to know a lot about football, especially about up-and-coming college players. If I had bad taste, I would, as a well-informed panelist, give the trophy to a player who didn’t deserve it. However, I don’t know anything about football. I don’t watch it or even read about it. I don’t even know the names of all the teams. I should not judge the Heisman Trophy because I am an idiot when it comes to football.

I have no taste in football. Indeed, to have bad taste in football would reflect a massive increase over my current knowledge.

Every year, an examination of the list of Pulitzer Prize jurors in the editorial cartooning category reveals a startling absence of basic knowledge, much less expertise, about editorial cartoons.

The United States has two dozen or so professional political cartoonists and perhaps an additional two dozen comics museum curators, academics and editorial cartooning historians. For reasons unknown, the Pulitzer folks carefully avoid inviting any of these people, who live and breathe comics, to judge the cartoon category.

This year, one of the jurors was a freelance tech writer who has written a handful of short bits about cartooning-related controversies but no, as far as I can find online, analysis or reviews. The committee for 2014 also included an adjunct curator of comics — perhaps the chief curator was busy — for an institution that doesn’t have, you know, an actual comics museum.

There was also a pair of executive editors. Unlike opinion editors and editorial page editors, executive editors don’t deal with actual cartoons on the job. They don’t choose cartoons, or work with a staff cartoonist. Indeed, these two executive editors work at papers that don’t have a cartoonist, and run few if any syndicated cartoons.

The committee’s chairman is the editor-in-chief — a position that doesn’t work with cartoons — for a paper, in San Antonio, that fired its cartoonist years ago, and never replaced him.

A two-time Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist did judge the Pulitzer this year — but not in the cartoon category.

Quirky!

What you have, then, are five people, chosen basically at random off the streets, asked to look at more than a thousand cartoons and decide which ones they like best.

“I like this one.”

“Funny!”

“Yeah.”

To be fair, other categories have fewer spectacularly unqualified jurors. Breaking news photography was judged by five photographers. Poetry, by two literature professors and a poetry columnist. History, by three historians.

Each committee of judges sends its three finalists up to the big Pulitzer Board who can select one winner, decide not to award the prize in that category at all, or select some random fourth winner outside of the three finalists.

If that’s not random enough for you, the eclectic group of editors, academics and journalists who comprise the Pulitzer Board decide winners of prizes in everything from best editorial writer to best biography to best play to best poet to best cartoonist.

These are not stupid people. But they’re also not experts in the subjects they’re asked to judge.

Steve Coll’s writing on the Middle East, South Asia and the war on terror is some of the best. But I’m not sure I trust him to pick the best editorial cartoon AND the best poem out of the, oh, two of each he reads of them each year. Because he’s an editorial page editor, I’d have faith in Paul Gigot to judge political cartoons, except for the fact that he’s at The Wall Street Journal, which doesn’t publish any. I love Gail Collins’ columns for The New York Times, but I’ve read her for decades — and never once has she mentioned political cartoons, which leads me to doubt she follows them attentively.

Assign random judges to carry out random judging processes and you get random outcomes. That’s my theory.

For now. It could change.

Because it’s all so incredibly weird.

To paraphrase Elvis Costello, I used to be disgusted. But hey — now I get it. They’re not ruling against me! It’s all random. Who knows? Maybe I’ll win! Or not. Whatever, it’s. All. Random.

Now I’m highly amused.

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