Tag Archives: journalism

The U.S. Government Lied about the Afghanistan War. They Couldn’t Have Done It without Lapdogs like the Washington Post.

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            “In ten years or so, we’ll leak the truth,” the Dead Kennedys sang. “But by then it’s only so much paper.”

            But it might just score you a Pulitzer Prize.

            Award bait and bragging rights are no doubt the principal goals of The Washington Post’s self-congratulatory data dump, “The Afghanistan Papers.” As the headline implies, the 2000 pages that a court ordered the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to release to Jeff Bezos’ newspaper paints a Robert McNamara-esque portrait of not-so-best-or-bright Bush and Obama Administration bozos privately admitting what they knew all along—that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was always an unwinnable, counterproductive mistake—at the same time they were telling the American people that victory in the post-9/11 “good war” was right around the corner. All we had to win was win Afghan hearts and minds.

            “The [I.G.] documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting,” the Post reported. “Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul—and at the White House—to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

            “The Afghanistan Papers” is a bright, shining lie by omission. Yes, our military and civilian leaders lied to us about Afghanistan. But they could never have spread their murderous BS—thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans killed, trillions of dollars wasted—without media organizations like the Washington Post, which served as unquestioning government stenographers.

            Press outlets like the Post and New York Times weren’t merely idiots used to disseminate pro-war propaganda. They actively censored people who knew we never should have gone into Afghanistan and tried to tell American voters the truth.

            People like me.

            I was among the tiny minority of journalists and commentators who opposed the Afghanistan war from the very beginning. Nine days after 9/11, I published the first of my cartoons pointing out that Al Qaeda was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so there was no moral or legal justification for invading. As the war dragged on I pointed out that the men and women in charge of the war didn’t have a clue about Afghanistan or the Afghan people. According to “The Afghanistan Papers,” those men and women knew they were screwing up, wouldn’t admit their ignorance and refused to bring in experts.

            I went to Afghanistan to check things out for myself. It was obvious the U.S. didn’t stand a chance there. “The principal goal of this adventure in imperialistic vengeance, it seems obvious, should be to install a friendly government in Kabul. But we’re winning neither hearts nor minds among either the commoners or the leadership of the current regime apparent,” I wrote from Afghanistan on December 11, 2001. “And so we’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are. The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right—we’re not nation builders…we ought to tally our dead, write up our losses, and count ourselves lucky to still be called a superpower.” My piece, for The Village Voice, was titled “How We Lost Afghanistan.”

            It was published eighteen years ago. But not in the Post. They didn’t want to hear what lefties like me had to say.

            They still don’t.

            Afghanistan was not a passing fancy for me. I wrote hundreds of essays and drew hundreds of cartoons urging an end to the madness. It was lonely. Even Democrats liked the Afghan war; they called it the right war while Iraq was the dumb one.

            I went back to the country, traveling independently as an unembedded reporter, several times. I wrote the first book about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the only book about oil pipeline politics in that country, a book placing Afghanistan in the context of Central Asia, and yet another book comparing the state of Afghanistan when Obama said we were pulling out—another lie—with how it was at the start of the war.

            What was my reward for being right while everyone else was wrong? Hundreds of death threats. Getting fired by my client newspapers and magazines. It’s hard to believe now but back in 2004 George W. Bush was popular and being compared to Winston Churchill; that was the year that the “liberal” New York Times and Washington Post stopped running my work.

            Major news outlets and book reviewers ignored my books. Editors refused to hire me. Producers wouldn’t book me. Anyone opposed to the Afghanistan war was censored from U.S. corporate media.

            Not that Afghanistan was ignored. It was the subject of countless analysis pieces and opinion articles in American newspapers—all of it pro-war propaganda. There were thousands of television and radio stories about the Afghan war on radio and television. Corporate media repeatedly trotted out the same retired generals, former CIA officers, and random right-wing warmongers for quotes and analysis. Never, ever did they invite critics or opponents of U.S. interventionism in Afghanistan to share their thoughts with readers, listeners and viewers.

            Nothing has changed. Whenever there is a foreign policy “crisis,” you will never read or hear or see someone completely opposed to U.S. involvement given a voice in the media. Certainly not in the Post.

            So, 18 years and tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars too late, it’s nice to see the media finally shame these scumbags and their government handlers. But they ought to save a big portion of the blame for themselves.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

If the Roles Were Reversed, and ISIS Had Assassinated President Trump

After US special forces assassinated the head of the Islamic State, the reaction among American political officials, especially the president, and also journalists, was shocking. No one questioned illegality of the killing despite executive order 12,333, which specifically prohibits political assassinations by employees of the United States government. Journalist stupidly and openly asked the question of whether the group would now come to an end as a result. Overall, the reaction was shockingly callous and lawless.

The New York Times Called a Famous Cartoonist an Anti-Semite. Repeatedly. They Didn’t Ask Him for Comment.

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The cartoon by António Moreira Antunes that prompted the perpetual ban on political art in the New York Times.

            Earlier this year the Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes drew one of the most controversial political cartoons in history. His cartoon about U.S.-Israeli relations sparked so much controversy that The New York Times, whose international edition published it in April, decided to fire its two staff cartoonists, neither of whom had anything to do with it. Then the Times permanently banned all editorial cartooning.

            Antunes took the most flak from the Times itself, as it furiously backpedaled from its own editorial decision to publish his cartoon. In five news stories and editorials, the Newspaper of Record unreservedly described Antunes’ cartoon as anti-Semitic. American media outlets followed the Times’ lead.

            “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist,” Antunes told me. “In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am in favor of two countries and I am against all annexations made by Israel.” The Times censored Antunes’ side of the story from its readers.

            Was Antunes’ cartoon, a metaphorical illustration depicting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind President Trump, anti-Semitic? That question is both inherently subjective and eminently debatable. “The cartoon is not anti-Semitic, but many political and religious sectors classify any criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic,” Antunes said in an interview.

            Pro-Israel groups disagreed. On the other hand, many cartoonists thought there was nothing wrong with it.

            But that’s not how the Times covered it. In article after article, Antunes’ cartoon was described as anti-Semitic. It was an objective truth. No one could doubt the cartoon’s anti-Semitism more than the fact that Washington is the capital of the United States.

            “Times Apologizes for Publishing Anti-Semitic Cartoon,” read the headline on April 28th.

            Not “allegedly anti-Semitic.”

            Not “cartoon criticized as anti-Semitic.”

            In an April 30th editorial, the paper called Antunes’ work “an appalling political cartoon” and “an obviously bigoted cartoon.” It explained: “The cartoon was chosen from a syndication service by a production editor who did not recognize its anti-Semitism.” Not “its possible anti-Semitism.”

            Two more articles on the subject appeared on May 1st: “Times Disciplines Editor and Cancels Cartoon Contract Over Anti-Semitic Drawing” (we don’t know what that discipline entailed, but unlike the cartoonist, the editor wasn’t fired) and “After the Publication of an Anti-Semitic Cartoon, Our Publisher Says We’re Committed to Making Changes.” The text of both pieces described the cartoon as self-evidently anti-Semitic.

            On June 10th a Times article announced the end of political cartooning in the Gray Lady. Antunes’ cartoon, the Times stated flatly, contained “anti-Semitic imagery.”

            Accusing a political cartoonist of anti-Semitism is as serious as it gets. So something jumped out at me as I read the Times’ repeated characterizations of Antunes’ cartoon as anti-Semitic, so devoid of mitigating language: where was his response?

            “The New York Times never contacted me at any time,” Antunes now says.

            I reached out to the Times about this; I asked why they didn’t talk to him and how the paper made the determination that Antunes’ cartoon was anti-Semitic. James Bennet, the editorial page editor who banned cartoons and presumably wrote the editorials, did not reply to my repeated queries. (I gave him nearly a week to do so.) Neither did two reporters who authored pieces about Antunes.

            I did hear back from Stacy Cowley, who wrote the April 28th piece. “I dug around online and was unable to find any contact information for Mr. Antunes,” Cowley explained. “He has no publicly posted contact information that I could find, and as of the date I wrote my article, he had not publicly commented to any other news outlets about his cartoon. (Had he done so, I would have linked to and quoted his comments.)” Cowley said she tried to reach the editors of Antunes’ home paper in Portugal. She noted that she was working on a tight deadline.

            I reached Antunes via Facebook; he replied via email.

            Contacting the subject of a news story for comment is Journalism 101, a basic ethos taught to students at high school newspapers. That goes double when the article is critical.

            “Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages,” the Times says in its Guidelines on Integrity. “But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond.” Given the gravity of the criticism leveled against Antunes, the Times appears to have fallen woefully short of its own standards.

            OK, Cowley was on deadline. What about the other articles? They appeared days later. One ran six weeks later. Antunes isn’t a recluse—he’s one of the most prominent cartoonists in Europe. I found him. So did other newspapers.

            The Times could have contacted the New York-based syndicate from which it bought Antunes’ cartoon; the syndicate has his contact information, as they do of all their contributors.

            Though scarred by his experience, Antunes says that he has not lost business. “The U.S. media” he says, “are prisoners of political correctness, right-wing turning [sic] and social media.” Europe, he says, is more tolerant.

            What’s clear is that the Times threw its cartoonist under the bus in a shockingly cavalier fashion—a practice that has become so common that it’s contributing to the imminent extinction of political cartooning.

            The Times owes Antunes an apology. They owe the two fired cartoonists their jobs back, along with back pay. Political cartoons should resume their rightful place in the paper.

            Finally, the Times owes its readers an assurance that they will never again succumb to the siren call of “fake news” as part of an ethically-challenged witch hunt.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Freedom of the Press? Not in the U.S.

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            The United States ranks 48th among nations for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders. Since few other countries have the equivalent of our First Amendment, learning that we rank below Botswana and Slovenia may come as a surprise.

Mostly the organization pins this dismal state of affairs on Trump’s attacks on the news media. They reference the White House’s revocation of CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press card, the president’s “fake news” and “enemy of the people” jibes and his tacit approval of the grisly murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by the government of Saudi Arabia. “At least one White House correspondent has hired private security for fear of their life after receiving death threats, and newsrooms throughout the country have been plagued by bomb threats and were the recipients of other potentially dangerous packages, prompting journalism organizations to reconsider the security of their staffs in a uniquely hostile environment,” reports RWB. (Cry me a river! I’ve received hundreds of death threats.)

Like most other mainstream analyses of the state of press, RWB focuses on how easy it is for large, corporate-owned media conglomerates with establishmentarian political orientations to do their jobs.

Independent journalists, especially those whose politics are left of the Democrats or right of the Republicans, have much bigger problems than deep-pocketed mega-conglomerates like CNN.

No consideration of freedom of the press in the U.S. is complete without a hard look at the case of Julian Assange. The founder and publisher of WikiLeaks is rotting in an English prison, awaiting extradition to the United States for possession and dissemination of classified information—exactly what The New York Times did when it published the Pentagon Papers and the Edward Snowden revelations. He is being “treated worse than a murderer, he is isolated, medicated,” says journalist John Pilger, who recently visited him. Incredibly, corporate media is siding with the Trump Administration, not merely ignoring Assange but mocking him and accusing him of treason (which is impossible, since he’s not American).

Censorship is insidious; readers and viewers can’t know what they’re not told. Almost as sinister as the persecution of Assange is the wholesale erasure of left-wing politics from U.S. news media. 43% of Americans tell pollsters they want the U.S. to become a socialist country. 36% of registered Democrats currently support self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, whose campaign promises closely align to Sanders’.

The nation’s 1,000-plus newspapers employ countless Democrats and Republicans. But there isn’t a single staff columnist or editorial cartoonist who agrees with that 43% of the public that socialism would be better than capitalism. There isn’t a single one who says he or she supports Sanders or Warren.

Watch CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews and the other cable news outlets. Once in a very long while you might catch a token leftist joining a yakfest. You’ll never see socialist get a gig as a regular contributor, much less be asked to host a show. If you don’t think it’s weird that 43% of the country’s population is being censored, I don’t know what to tell you.

Pervasive among both corporate and independent journalists is self-censorship. Apologists say that freedom of the press doesn’t include the right to be published, and that’s true. Because journalists are like everyone else and can’t survive without earning money, however, the real-world practical effect of having to earn a living is that reporters and pundits have to watch what they say lest they become unemployable pariahs like I was after 9/11. “Sorry, man,” an editor I considered a friend told me after I asked him for work at his business magazine, “you’re radioactive.”

The Washington Post and other corporate news companies ridiculed Bernie Sanders’ recent assertion that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ownership of the Post influences its coverage. As Sanders noted, it’s not like Bezos calls Post editors to tell them what to print and what to censor.

Self-censorship is subtle. Post executive editor Marty Baron is technically correct when he retorts that “Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence.” But he’s dodging the meat of the matter. Baron and other Post editors know who their bosses are: Bezos and, more generally, his allies in the corporate ruling class. No matter how much they protest that they can follow any lead and print anything they want, that knowledge of who butters their bread informs every move they make. It’s why, when the editorial page editor sorts through the day’s nationally syndicated political cartoons, he never ever publishes one from a left-wing political orientation, no matter how well-written or well-drawn it is. It’s why, when they’re hiring new staffers, they never hire a leftie. They’re smart enough not to bite the hand that feeds them. It’s also why the person making that hiring decision is not himself or herself one of the 43%.

I’m more audacious. Yet I too know not to go too far.

I’ve learned that I can draw a cartoon or write a column criticizing “free trade” agreements without fear of getting fired or assassinated. There is also no fear that it will be published by a corporate newspaper—so why bother? Over the long run, I have to give editors material they want to publish; if I send out too much stuff about a verboten topic like free trade I’ll lose clients.

Most people who hear about my defamation lawsuit against the Los AngelesTimes support me. But most people don’t hear about it for a simple reason: when one member of the press is besieged—especially when it’s justified—the others circle the wagons. Reporters for The Washington Post, The New York Times and fake-left outfits like The Intercept contacted me eager to write about how the LAPD pension fund bought the Los Angeles Times in 2014 and then ordered the paper to fire me because I criticized the police in my cartoons. (It’s still legal for the the cops to buy a newspaper.) Invariably they went silent after talking to their editors.

Corporate gangsters stick together.

As I said, I’m not that brave. My editor didn’t tell me about the LAPD deal with the Times. I assume she didn’t know. If she had called and said “hey, lay off the police, they own us now, draw about something else,” I would have. I have to make a living.

48th? When it comes to press freedom, the U.S. is benefiting from grade inflation.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Can We Blame Moderate Politics for the Next Mass Shooting?

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?

Media Censors the Opinions of 37% of Americans. And Now They’re Gloating About It.

1-3-18Thirty-seven percent of American citizens are socialist or communist. That’s far more people than voted for either Hillary Clinton (28% of eligible voters) or Donald Trump (27%) in 2016.

The majority is voiceless. A privileged minority rules. The United States is a political apartheid state.

If the Left were allowed on the ballot in this fake democracy, given space in newspapers and on television, invited to join political debates, and if it wasn’t brutally suppressed by the police and FBI, the Left wouldn’t need to wage a revolution in order to take over the country. Leftists could easily win at the ballot box if America were a real democracy.

Media censorship plays a major part in the conspiracy to deny the majority Left its rightful role as the nation’s rulers. Socialist and communist Americans read newspaper editorial pages and draw the false conclusion that they’re members of a lunatic fringe. More than 1,000 papers—yet not one single leftist opinion columnist or editorial cartoonist on staff?!?

Leftist Americans exist by the millions but many are isolated from one another. They watch CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews and figure they’re all alone. None of the three major cable news networks employs a single left-wing commentator. They go to the polls but there’s no left party on the ballot. Or if there is, they’ve never heard of it and don’t want to waste their votes.

To be a Leftist in America today is analogous to how black people felt until recently while watching TV: you don’t see anyone like you. The powers that be want you to feel like the Invisible Man, as though you didn’t exist. You know you exist. But you can’t miss the system’s message that you don’t matter.

American politics is a party to which you have not been invited.

This has been the state of affairs for as long as I can remember. Even as more Americans become disgusted by runaway capitalism, censorship of the Left has become increasingly thorough and ferocious.

There used to be a little space. In the 1990s lefties like me were granted occasional mentions in The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and NPR. Even FoxNews had us on to serve as punching bags. Shortly after 9/11 we disappeared along with the Twin Towers, relegated to a few blogs and alternative weeklies. Now newspapers and cable TV news and corporate news websites never give space or air to representatives of the Left. (Don’t email me about AOC. She’s a Democrat, not a leftist.)

Censorship of the really-existing Left is impressively thorough. You’ll find exactly as much opposition to the government on the media here in the U.S. as you’ll find in North Korea.

Ashamed and afraid, the gatekeepers used to have the decency to keep secret their suppression of people whose political sin is that they really, truly believe that all humans are equal. They didn’t even think they were biased. They thought they were reasonable. Moderate. Middle of the road.

Censorship with a smile is no longer enough for America’s corrupt news media. Now they’re brazenly contemptuous. The bastards even seek to elevate censorship of the Left to a proud American value!

On May 12th the Times ran another in a string of hit pieces on RT America, a television network it described as the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.” RT, the Times complained, “amplifies voices of dissent, to sow discord and widen social divides. It gives the marginal a megaphone and traffics in false equivalence.” Imagine that: giving airtime to people we’ve always censored! “Voices of dissent” must never be “amplified.” They must be silenced.

This has become a standard talking point.

“RT America has a modest audience, exploring stories of dissent, injustice and poverty within the U.S. that it says American news outlets ignore,” NPR sneered in 2016, as if dissent, injustice and poverty were standard fare on corporate media outlets. Anyway, if RT’s audience is so small, why is the political establishment so worried about them?

The formerly-liberal Guardian has gotten into the act: Fringe opinion takes centre stage [on RT],” it wrote in 2017. “Reporting is routinely bolstered by testimony from experts you have never heard of, representing institutions you have never heard of.” It is true that RT rarely interviews “experts” like John Bolton and William Kristol, neocon architects of the Iraq War who despite their evil idiocy pop up everywhere from CNN to the Bill Maher show. Far more often, they interview people who have been right year after year about issue after issue—people like me.

I get interviewed by RT often. (Disclosure: I am a frequent guest on RT’s sister radio network Sputnik News and draw cartoons for them too.) Never once have they told me what to say or not say. I wish I could say the same about many “mainstream” U.S. media outlets.

Many attacks against RT originate with the U.S. government’s national security apparatus. The Times piece blithely cites the RAND Corporation, Molly McKew, a right-wing lobbyist for the anti-Russian government of Georgia, and the Director of National Intelligence to support its allegations. A 2017 report issued by the DNI groused: “RT’s reports often characterize the United States as a ‘surveillance state’ and allege widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use. RT has also focused on criticism of the U.S. economic system, U.S. currency policy, alleged Wall Street greed, and the U.S. national debt.”

Notably, the report did not question the accuracy of those assertions.

It certainly didn’t suggest that the U.S. stop doing all those things that make it look so awful.

To U.S. corporate propagandists the solution is clear: censor more and censor better.

Make censorship good.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

First They Came for Julian Assange But I Said Something Stupid

WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and tossed into the hands of British security forces who plan to extradite him to the United States. Amazingly, many American journalists thought this was a very good idea and couldn’t possibly see how they might be next.

For Journalists, Self-Censorship is Credibility Suicide

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What is the job of the news media? To report the news. Everyone agrees about that. But some well-intentioned self-imposed ethical guidelines that members of the news media take for granted are getting in the way of the industry’s fundamental mission: telling everything they know to a public whose right to know is sacred.

You know journalists have lost their way when they cheer the arrest and potential extradition to the U.S. of WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange. Any of us could be next; we should be circling the wagons. Yet they insist on focusing on such inanities as Assange’s personality, his “arrogance,” even his cat. Some even approve.

The other day NPR’s “Morning Edition” covered the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Everyone over age 40 remembers what happened: suffering from depression, chronic pain and opiate addiction, the singer put a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head off.

It’s one of the most famous suicides ever. NPR chose to be coy about it, mostly referring to Cobain’s “death” rather than his “suicide.”

Airbrushing well-known reality is silly. But, like most American media outlets, NPR was merely following the World Health Organization’s published guidelines on covering suicide. According to experts news accounts of suicide can feed a phenomenon called “suicide contagion” wherein people in emotional crisis are inspired by stories to see taking their own lives as a solution to their problems. As Time magazine wrote recently, “the more vivid the depiction of a death… the more it may contribute to suicide contagion.” Editors and producers are encouraged to avoid detailed descriptions of how victims of suicide did it, what their last note said, etc.

Reducing the suicide rate is a laudable goal. But journalists’ job is to report and analyze the news, not to reduce mortality. What’s next, refusing to mention hamburgers in the news because they contribute to arteriosclerosis? Cars because they kill people (and in vast numbers)? While we’re at it let’s censor war correspondence on the grounds that battle stories glorify militarism and thus prompt more wars!

Lying to readers is the worst sin a newspaper can commit. That includes lies of omission: readers pay for and have every right to expect the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from a product that promises exactly that. Playing cute by omitting important, relevant facts from the news, as in the Cobain story, seriously undermines the media’s credibility. That goes double when listeners and viewers know what really happened and realize they’re being treated like children by self-appointed nannies.

Moreover, self-censorship can destroy a story. Cobain’s death by suicide was a shocking where-were-you moment and a defining cultural experience for Generation X. I don’t see how Millennials could understand that from the NPR account. It wasn’t merely the fact that the lead singer of Nirvana had died. The way he died was central.

Another way the media loses credibility while trying to do the right thing is adhering to the widely accepted belief among corporate news outlets that they are somehow responsible for protecting national security. When the press receives classified government materials from a leaker or whistleblower they often contact the relevant agency to authenticate the documents and/or to allow them to suggest redactions. If you watched “The Post” you saw the Washington Post contact the Nixon Administration to give the White House a chance to argue why they shouldn’t publish the Pentagon Papers.

Media outlets like The Guardian and the New York Times shared the Edward Snowden files with the NSA and CIA so they could expunge information like the names of undercover intelligence operatives and suggest redactions. Even The Intercept (formerly a left-leaning media group) did this, to grievous effect: they foolishly shared leaked CIA documents with the feds, who used their analysis to track a whistleblower named Reality Winner. She is in prison.

During the Gulf War Geraldo Rivera got in trouble for drawing a map showing troop movements in the sand. The Pentagon threw him out of Iraq and many reporters agreed.

They were wrong. Journalists are not government employees. They’re solely responsible to news consumers, not the military or intelligence agencies who failed to safeguard their own secrets. Why shouldn’t a reporter report what they know, whatever they find out, whatever it is, if it’s news—no matter how sensitive? If the New York Times had gotten the D-Day plans a week ahead of time, they didn’t owe the War Department a phone call. They should have published, consequences be damned.

As the D-day example shows, respecting the public’s right to know is hard. Good people can die as a result. Wars may be lost. But for someone dedicated to journalism it’s an easy call. Either you’re a journalist or you’re nothing more than a low-rent liar and propagandist for the government.

Self-censorship often takes the form of policing newsworthy content for tastefulness. After Vice President Dick Cheney told a senator—on the floor of the senate!—to go have sex with himself, respectable media organizations dashed out the f— or otherwise danced around the nefarious fricative (as I am doing here because this column is syndicated). So dumb.

Everyone knows what Cheney said. No one could deny it was news. So print it.

Then there are the “tasteless” photos that are routinely withheld from printed pages and TV screens in the United States: sexual images like Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” and gruesome pictures of crime victims. America’s namby-pambyness is an outlier. In Latin America, photos of 9/11 jumpers ran on the front pages of major newspapers. But in the U.S., seventeen years later, the images are still scrubbed from public view. Even a sculpture based on those photos was removed from public viewing as too controversial.

It’s not like we don’t know these images exist. We saw them in live coverage on 9/11. Those who didn’t watch them then have heard about it. The media has decided that we’re too sensitive to see our own history. Even if you agree with their editorial decision, doesn’t it make you wonder what else they’re keeping from us?

Images of 9/11 jumpers underscored the horror of the day. Censorship doesn’t respect the dead. It whitewashes their agony.

The counterfactual argument, like airing ISIS snuff videos that might encourage the creation of more such imagery, is powerful. Even with such disgusting material, though, we should err on the side of the news and the public’s right to know. The alternative, the nanny media we have now, cannot be trusted and feeds into the demagogic framing of “fake news.”

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Things That Were Going to Save Journalism

Since the newspapers that generate over 90% of the news began tanking in the 1990s, we have repeatedly been told that some magic bullet, usually technological but not always, was going to save the industry.

The Greatest Projects I Never Made (Part 2 of 2)

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Two weeks ago I discussed some of the projects and jobs that, for whatever reason, I never got to do during my career as a cartoonist and writer. The stuff we don’t do, I wrote, defines as much as what we do. This week: my weird stuff that never came together.

            Hugh Hefner died in 2017. I was un-sad.

Un-sad is not happiness. It’s feeling neutral when you’re supposed to be unhappy. Hef, who as a young man wanted to be a cartoonist, had bad taste in cartoons and architecture but superb taste in art directors. In the 1990s his charismatic cartoon editor Michelle Urry recruited me to help modernize Playboy’s graphics, whose content and aesthetics were stuck in the 1960s the way The New Yorker looks like it’s still the 1920s. Under Urry’s tutelage I drew scores of sex-themed cartoons with a left-wing social and political bent. I think they were some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever done.

“I love them but Hef hates them,” Michelle told me. “He wants to leave everything the same.” So no commie sex comix. Sadly for real, Urry died prematurely.

One of my oddest aborted projects was a comic strip in which I partnered with another cartoonist to whom I will grant anonymity. Conceived over planter’s punches at a defunct Village bar called the Dew Drop Inn and marketed to alternative and underground newspapers under a pseudonym, “Lil’ Adolf and His Friend Eva” featured the antics of two kids in an American high school facing situations à la Archie and Jughead (drawn a bit like that) with a twist: neither knows they’re clones of a certain German Chancellor and his girlfriend Eva Braun. Faced with a dilemma—homework, bullying, getting picked last in gym class—the pair inevitably resorts to violence. I often decry newspaper editors as a band of boring middlebrow risk-averse Babbitts but in this case I applaud their discretion. Not one paper expressed interest in “Lil’ Adolf.” I am grateful.

My UPN fiasco left a few scars. In 1998 or 1999 Dean Valentine, head of the now-forgotten TV network that aired the “Dilbert” TV show, asked me to develop an animated series to follow “Dilbert” at 8:30 pm. Valentine had seen my cartoons in the Los Angeles Times. While the lawyers hashed out the deal I toiled over plots and character designs. The result would be a show called “Boomerang.”

Whereas “The Simpsons” is about a nuclear family in the suburbs, “Boomerang” would concern a postmodern extended tangled yarnball of relationships between half/stepsiblings and their LGBTQA partners and adopted children and pets living in a sprawling dilapidated Victorian hulk in Newark reflective of America’s splintering socioeconomic infrastructure. Very Gen X.

Six months or so into it, the deal was finalized. I signed a stack of contracts. My lawyer shoved them into a FedEx. And we never heard from UPN again. We called and called…no reply.

Ghosted by a corporation! Now it’s standard business practice. Twenty years ago, though, neither me nor my attorney had ever heard of such a thing. We could have sued for breach of (half-signed?) contract and perhaps won. But I wanted to do another show someday and didn’t want to get blackballed by Hollywood companies.

Two of my TV show pitches attracted high-level interest in Tinseltown, though not as close to those execution copies of contacts at UPN. Aside from the glory, I would have wanted to watch them. That’s my test for cartoons, books, podcasts, whatever I make. If I were a fan, would I want to consume it myself?

“Green”’s premise was simple: if the planet is in danger, if ecocidal maniacs are causing climate change, mass extinctions and possibly the end of the human race, isn’t the right thing to do to murder the bastards? “Green” the series would have been about a “deep green” terrorist organization—think Earth First! meets the Weather Underground if WU had had more members—and a FBI counterterrorist taskforce assigned to find and stop them. I saw it as a political, existential HBO-type show starring brilliant, troubled lead characters.

I scored repeat pitch meetings with Hollywood production companies and a few networks. But interest waned. Calls were no longer returned.

Shortly after the 2000 election I shopped a treatment for “The Bushies,” an animated series about the then-First Family in which all the characters were secretly different than their public personas. In “The Bushies” George W. Bush was a brilliant, soulful intellectual. Cheney was a mushy crybaby. The Bush twins were nefarious serial killers. Like many other L.A. dreams, “The Bushies” died in a major network’s “business affairs” department because some idiot lawyer worried about libel suits.

The Bushies were public figures, as public as could be. This was classic political satire, immune from litigation assuming a Bush was dumb enough to sue. Most countries (France, Germany, England, Russia) had similar comedies mocking their leaders. As usual, the in-house attorney won. Trey Parker and Matt Stone moved quickly with their “That’s My Bush!” for Comedy Central. It was not one of their finer resume entries.

Later in the decade I tried to jumpstart a political animation career with five-minute shorts. I drew and wrote; David Essman animated. We did 35 of them in all. Some still hold up, all are worth watching (the Tea Party one is great), but despite my aggressive marketing campaign I couldn’t sell them to anyone. It’s sad: static political cartooning is dead, Internet companies are obsessed with video but no one wants animated cartoons. My political cartoonist colleagues have had similar lousy results.

One of my most ambitious projects got killed by 9/11.

Less than an hour before the first plane hit the World Trade Center, my train left New York’s Penn Station for Philadelphia. By the time me and my business partner, now a magazine editor, arrived in Philly the Parks Police were shutting down the Liberty Bell. (My first post-9/11 joke: “don’t worry, it’s already broken.”)

We were in Philly to close a $1.5 million deal with a Pennsylvania media investor in Brooklyn Weekly, the alt weekly newspaper we wanted to launch in the borough. At the time Brooklyn still being hipsterized. The 19 hijackers messed it up. As we watched the events on TV the moneyman leaned back into his seat. “Deal’s off,” he announced as he wrote off the nation’s biggest city. “No one will ever do business in New York again.”

“With all due respect,” I replied with nothing-to-lose bravado, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. They still do business in Hiroshima.”

Osama bin Laden may have done me a favor. Craigslist destroyed the classified ads business that were the basis of the alt-weekly profit model. The dot-com crash pushed the economy into a slump that lasted the rest of the decade. Brooklyn Weekly might have been doomed.

Or maybe not. Brooklyn is different. I could easily see a weekly with a strong political and cultural point of view succeeding now.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)