Every time there’s a mass shooting, partisan members of the media scour social media and public postings to see if the perpetrator had a political agenda that they can blame as extremist and therefore responsible for the latest massacre. What’s going to happen when they find that the killer is a boring centrist moderate swing voter?
When the Kevin Spacey story first broke, he stood accused of one act of wrongdoing: aggressively hitting on a 14-year-old boy.
If true, this is wrong. Very wrong. Obviously. Adults shouldn’t proposition children. But this happened more than 30 years ago. The nature of the response — Netflix distanced itself from the star of its hit show “House of Cards” by announcing its previously secret decision to end the series next year — seems like the wrong response to the actor’s behavior…and one that has become all too typical.
Bear in mind, this was before other people stepped forward to say Spacey had sexually harassed them. Some of Spacey’s accusers worked on “House of Cards.” After that, Netflix would have been derelict not to put Spacey on hiatus as the accusations get sorted out, and to fire him for creating a toxic work environment for its current employees. Which is what it did.
Sexual harassers getting their just comeuppance is a good thing. It is decades, centuries, millennia overdue. What I can’t figure is, why is the knee-jerk response to these accusations, the standard-issue form of social shaming in the 21st century, to fire them from their jobs — including jobs where they didn’t do anything wrong?
The NYPD may file criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein, whose name will for the forseeable future be preceded by the phrase “disgraced Hollywood producer.” But Weinstein is an exception. For most men accused of sexual harassment and assault during this post-Weinstein outcry, the standard demand is: fire him!
Depriving a man (or woman, if that happens) of their livelihood in response to piggishness seems both too little and too much.
For victims, the knowledge that their attacker lost their job hardly rises to the level of even minimal justice. Nor does it protect other women from falling prey as well. Any sanction short of a prison term for a rapist or a big-time sexual harasser is bound to feel trivial, as though society doesn’t weigh victimhood, as if victims are disposable.
For the falsely accused (e.g., the University of Virginia, probably also the Columbia student accused by a famously mattress-toting classmate), being deprived of a livelihood for a crime they didn’t commit is egregious. We live in a capitalist society without a minimal safety net, so losing your job can — if you are unable to find a new one — quite literally kill you.
Unless the incident occurs on the job, the connection between employment and sexual harassment and rape is as arbitrary and odd as that between employment and healthcare. If a society determines that healthcare is important, it should be available to everyone, not just workers fortunate enough to land a 40-hour-a-week job working at a company big enough to offer a health plan. Similarly, what does sexually harassing 30-plus years ago at a private party — yes, even a boy — have to do with Spacey’s then-current gig with Netflix?
It didn’t turn out to be the case, but try to imagine that the entire brief against Spacey had never expanded beyond Anthony Rapp’s tweet, which describes an incident that Spacey claims he doesn’t recall. It’s safe to say Spacey’s character on “House of Cards” would have been killed off. Spacey probably would have lost other jobs. He would likely have had trouble finding work in the future. You might say good, who cares? But this outcome would have been fair neither to Rapp nor to Spacey.
If Rapp is telling the truth, it would be better for that truth to be determined by the courts, should he decide to file charges. Statues of limitation are challenging in these cases, but the solution is for state legislatures to fix that problem, and for prosecutors to be induced to go after cases tougher than a slamdunk. As it is, political leaders are abdicating justice to social media lynch mobs and employers. There are also civil courts, where the standard of proof is lower.
As far as Spacey goes, is it ethical to take money out of his pocket over an accusation that has never been tried, much less proven, by a judge or jury?
On the other side of the coin, Fox News waited way too long to fire Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. I’m not typically sympathetic to corporations or their bottom lines, but if I’m the boss at a company, anyone who forces my organization to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement to a sexual harassment victim — because, let’s face it, corporations only pay when they’re guilty — is out the door before it happens again. Mark Halperin allegedly harassed women at ABC; ABC’s firing thus seems cut and dry.
Of the recent firings, NPR handled things better than most. Michael Oreskes hung on to his job as long as his accusers were out of his past, from his previous position at the New York Times. They let him go after a female NPR staffer said he’d harassed her.
These cases of sexual harassment and assault are more straightforward from a human-resources point of view: employers must not permit a hostile work environment. That requires them to fire harassers. But this does not go far enough. What of their victims? Is victims’ only recourse to sue in civil court, or try to get a book published? Here too, we need to adjust the criminal justice system to a post-“Mad Men” world that understands the toxic effects of workplace harassment. Bill O’Reilly probably misses his job, but he’s still rich and life goes on.
As I’ve written before, employers have way too much power over workers. While bosses have every right — and the duty — to fire those who abuse other employees at their current workplace, they shouldn’t be allowed to punish anyone for actions, no matter how heinous, that took place outside the workplace or at a previous job. Otherwise we wind up with insane politically-oriented censorship firings like the case of the neo-Nazi dude who never shared his views at his job at a pizzeria, yet got canned after he was photographed in Charlottesville, and the liberal woman whose marketing company employer let her go after she gave the finger to Trump’s motorcade — while biking, not at work.
Sexual harassers and assaulters should face prison time. So should false accusers. But bosses need to mind their own business — at their own business.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) 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.)
“Report the news. Don’t become the news.” Not that Fox News has ever adhered strictly to boilerplate advice from Journalism 101, but the craziness on Sixth Avenue has come to a serious boil lately.
TV news elder statesman Ted Koppel called Sean Hannity “bad for America.” Sean freaked out and attacked Ted. Sean reportedly pulled a gun on fellow Foxer Juan Williams. Fox peeps reported it to management, who did nothing.
Last year Fox boss Roger Ailes was forced out in the aftermath of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson, who is now at MSNBC. Fox paid her $20 million and apologized. Julie Roginsky recently filed another suit against Ailes.
I’ve never worked at Fox. But I used to spend enough time there to gain insight into a dysfunctional organization.
This was during the years immediately following 9/11. George W. Bush and his wars were popular, especially with Fox viewers. And I went after Bush more aggressively than anyone else. So they were constantly begging me to come on as a liberal punching bag.
It became routine: Fox News popped up on caller ID. Would you like to come on The O’Reilly Factor/Hannity and Colmes/later just Hannity to talk about it? Why yes, I would. Bill or Sean would yell at me (as Alan silently cowered). I’d shoot back a volley of snark in hope that some of it would get through my deliberately tamped-down mic.
Going on Fox felt like going to war. These were the darkest days of the War on Terror: 2002, 2003 and 2004. Republicans were right-wing Republicans and so were Democrats. Someone had to stand up against wars of choice and legalized torture. Someone had to fight for the Bill of Rights. I was insulted (Hannity: “you have no soul”) and lied to (O’Reilly in response to my argument that the U.S. couldn’t win in Afghanistan: “I’ll bring you back to follow up”). But it was worth it. I’d take any opportunity to represent for the Left.
Lord knows the Democrats weren’t doing it.
Some of their tactics were risible. They were so extreme that, over time, no one to the left of Reagan would agree to appear on the network unless they’d never heard of it.
Ergonomic warfare, for example. My teetering armless guest seat was placed several inches lower so that, at 6’2″, I was forced to gaze up as O’Reilly lorded over his desk (which I couldn’t reach so as to rest my hands) from his comfy Aeron chair. A minute into O’Reilly’s oral arguments-style volley of hostile questions, it took most of my concentration not to roll backwards off the set.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but isn’t someone who takes the time to come to your studio, slap on pancake makeup and suck up a barrage of nasty questions and comments entitled to hospitality?
That said, I kind of liked Bill. He was cordial during breaks. Once, while one of my cartoons was provoking death threats (granted, mostly from Fox fans), he expressed genuine concern for my personal safety. Off-camera, he didn’t come off as an ideologue. I got the impression that he was in it for the money.
Hannity was a classic Long Island mook.
Unlike O’Reilly, the thick-necked Hannity followed me around the studio, trashtalking me with right-wing talking points while I searched for the restroom. “Save it for the show,” I advised him. What’s wrong with this guy? I thought. Give this to him: he’s for real. Hannity is a rabid culture warrior, a Goebbels for an America in free fall.
One episode turned me off Fox for good. Hannity’s producer invited me on to discuss a controversial “Doonesbury” cartoon. I was going to deliver my opinion and analysis as a political cartoonist, not talking about my own stuff. On the air, however, Hannity ambushed me instead with insults over a controversial cartoon I’d done months earlier about Pat Tillman, and which I’d already appeared on his program to defend.
I held up OK and kept my cool. But I was pissed. These appearances are discussed and agreed upon in detail: you’ll show the cover of my book at the beginning, you’ll identify me as “Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist,” you’ll be questioned about this and that. Switching to an entirely different subject violates the rules. At a well-run cable news network, punking a guest could lead to a warning or dismissal. Hannity’s crew just laughed.
Not long afterward, Sean’s producer called to apologize and begged me to return. I said I would if Sean would apologize on the air, the same medium where he’d tried to humiliate me. “He’s not likely to agree to that,” the producer said. I stayed home.
Two of my Foxiest memories took place in make-up.
A rushed make-up assistant accidently scraped my open eye. Years later, my left eye tears up in windy weather. Riding a bike, it runs full on. Stuff happens.
More startlingly, Sean entered the room while I was in the make-up chair. He didn’t trashtalk me or acknowledge my presence. My make-up artist was an undocumented worker. Sean knew. He told her that Fox was trying to determine how to pay her off the books and reassured her that they would figure it out.
As tempting as it would have been to expose the hypocrisy of a network and a personality who have raked in millions by spreading nativism and xenophobia, I didn’t go public for a simple reason. I didn’t want to strip an innocent hard-working person of her livelihood or, worse, subject her to possible deportation.
It was a confusing episode. Here was Sean Hannity, mega-mook, taking a risk by breaking the law to help an illegal immigrant. He almost seemed human. On the other hand, Fox News could easily afford to hire a U.S. citizen at a reasonable salary. There was more nuance in that minute-long conversation than in a year of Fox News broadcasts.
It was also revealing. Why would the top-rated channel in cable news break federal immigration law? The answer, it seems, is that Fox management didn’t think rules applied to them.
I’m still waiting to come back on O’Reilly to talk about Afghanistan.
(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.)
Originally Published by ANewDomain:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an essay for BreakingModern about the Brian Williams scandal, and how it reflects the sick cult of militarism that has ruled America and its media since 9/11. “You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies,” I said.
Williams’ attempt to portray himself as some kind of bad-ass journo-soldier was preceded by Hillary Clinton’s false claim of dodging enemy fire in Bosnia and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal’s lie that he had served in Vietnam.
Now two more public figures are being accused of ginning up accounts of courage in war zones.
FOXNews host Bill O’Reilly is fending off charges that he repeatedly bragged about dodging bullets during the Falklands war though he never came close to the war zone, having been confined by Argentine authorities to the capital of Buenos Aires. He is attempting to defend himself by saying he was caught in a riot there, where he was shot at by police or soldiers, but most of his fellow CBS veterans remember it differently.
O’Reilly, characteristically aggressive, threatened a reporter for the New York Times that he would retaliate if they weren’t fair to him: “I am coming after you with everything I have,” he said. “You can take it as a threat.”
Disclosure: I have appeared several times on “The O’Reilly Factor.” A statement by one of O’Reilly’s accusers sums up my experience: “Nobody gets a fair shake. just wants to beat them up, call them names.” I didn’t care about that, but I’m still annoyed about the fact that, when I went on his show at the beginning of the occupation of Afghanistan to predict that the war would go badly for the United States, he promised on the air — after mocking me and questioning my patriotism — to have me back later to see who was right.
I sure would have liked to have performed my little victory dance.
And now there is another apparent case of an armchair warrior pretending to have served in the military: US Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert MacDonald. He apologized yesterday for saying that he had served in the Army’s elite Special Forces.
In fact, MacDonald graduated from West Point in 1975 and served in the 82nd Airborne Division – hardly the resume of a wimpy pacifist unqualified to attempt to unravel the hot mess that his department has become.
As I wrote about Brian Williams, the O’Reilly and MacDonald cases tell us a lot more about contemporary American culture and the cult of militarism than they do about these two guys.
If it matters, Williams has been in harm’s way in war zones. O’Reilly has an enviable career as a successful TV and radio host, best-selling author and yes, a prehistory as a real journalist.
MacDonald really was a soldier, if not the exact kind of bad-ass super trooper he was compelled to present himself as.
The point is, why do these people, who are incredibly accomplished professionally and in some cases have demonstrated real courage under fire, feel tempted to puff themselves up in this particular way?
We have developed a martial culture to the exclusion of all else. You don’t see teachers thanked for their service on television – hell, you don’t really see teachers on television much at all. Nor nurses. Nor musicians. Nor playwrights. Nor artists. In the United States in 2015, the way that you get people to show you deference is to claim to have fought in one of America’s many optional wars of aggression or, failing that, to have gotten caught in the line of fire as a journalist, or perhaps a former hostage.
If you don’t see that there is something terribly wrong with that, odds are you are either part of the problem or one of its victims.
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.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
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Why Is Obama Coddling Egyptian Dictator?
Here is Egypt, America’s neo-con dream come true. Democracy! In the Middle East! And it isn’t costing us a single soldier. You’d think American policy makers would be pleased as punch. So why are they messing it up?
At first glance the uprising in Cairo and other Egyptian cities puts the United States in an awkward spot. We’ve propped up Hosni Mubarak for three decades. If we cut him loose, our other pet dictators will stop trusting us. If we don’t, all that yapping about democracy and freedom rings hollow. Which do we choose, our purported principles or our actual allies?
Actually, it’s not that hard. We lost the trust of our puppet tyrants when Saddam dropped through the trap door. We lost the people with a zillion CIA-backed coups, not to mention the $37 billion we’ve paid to Mubarak. The dictator’s wealth is estimated at $40 billion. That’s right: no one dime of U.S. foreign aid made it to the Egyptian people.
The Obama Administration has an easy way out. They can disavow the policies of the past 30 years, policies they merely inherited. The president can make a clean break, announcing that he is cutting off U.S. funding to the Mubarak regime until things settle down. Then shut up.
Simple. Yet the president is handling this Middle Eastern crisis with all the class and diplomacy of a George W. Bush.
There’s the arrogance. On Fox News he agreed with Bill O’Reilly that he doesn’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to take over. “I want a representative government in Egypt,” Obama said. Dude, it doesn’t matter what you want or what we want. What matters is what the Egyptians want.
There’s the shortsightedness. Like previous presidents, Obama doesn’t understand that repression isn’t a synonym for stability.
There’s the failure to recognize the broader implications. Hated for Egypt’s joint blockade with Israel of the Gaza strip, Mubarak is viewed throughout the Muslim world as the embodiment of American-funded corruption. Obama’s refusal to cut him loose fuels radical Islamists’ argument that the U.S. will never allow the Palestinians to live with dignity.
Last but not least, there’s that classic Cold War-era mistake: backing the wrong side. In this case, Mubarak’s new vice president Omar Suleiman. Since 1993 Suleiman has run Egypt’s feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency. He is Egypt’s chief torturer.
As head of the General Intelligence Directorate Suleiman was the Bush Administration’s main liaison and coordinator for its “extraordinary rendition” program. Victims of extraordinary rendition are kidnapped by CIA agents and illegally transferred to other countries for the purpose of being tortured.
According to experts on the war on terror, Suleiman is a torturer’s torturer, a hard man who sets a high bar—from which he hangs his bleeding victims. Personally.
One of the CIA’s victims was Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. U.S. agents bought him from Pakistani intelligence and shipped him to Egypt. “In Egypt,” reports Lisa Hajjar for Al Jazeera, “he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, immersed in water up to his nostrils and beaten. His fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. At one point, his interrogator slapped him so hard that his blindfold was dislodged, revealing the identity of his tormentor: Suleiman. Frustrated that Habib was not providing useful information or confessing to involvement in terrorism, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a shackled prisoner in front of Habib, which he did with a vicious karate kick.”
Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was a former trainer in the Afghan jihadi camps who famously “confessed” a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda while under torture in one of Suleiman’s dungeons. Colin Powell cited al-Libi’s “information” in his 2003 speech of lies to the U.N. arguing for war against Iraq.
Note the word “was.” Al-Libi died in a Libyan prison in 2009.
Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst for NBC News, cites a classified source: “Al-Libi’s death coincided with the first visit by Egypt’s spymaster Omar Suleiman to Tripoli. “The Egyptians were embarrassed by this admission [that he had lied under torture…Omar Suleiman saw an opportunity to get even with al-Libi and traveled to Tripoli. By the time Omar Suleiman’s plane left Tripoli, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had committed ‘suicide’.”
Suleiman’s fearsome resume may come as a surprise to you. But Egyptians know all about him. Headlines like ” Obama Backs Suleiman – Led Transition ” (from the New York Times) aren’t making us more popular.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL