Tag Archives: journalism

The Stringer

April 21, 2021

Ted Rall’s new graphic novel is ripped from the headlines.

Suffering from budget cuts, layoffs, and a growing suspicion that his search for the truth has become obsolete, veteran war correspondent Mark Scribner is about to throw in the towel on journalism when he discovers that his hard-earned knowledge can save his career and make him wealthy and famous. All he has to do is pivot to social media and, with a few cynical twists, abandon everything he cares about most.

Graphic Novel, 2021
NBM Publishing Hardback, 8.5″x11″, 152 pp., $24.99

Click here to Order Online.

High Crimes against Journalism and Decency: Jeffrey Goldberg’s Insane “Trump Called Troops Suckers” Piece Is a New Low

9-11-97

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for The Atlantic that could harm Donald Trump’s chance to win re-election. Setting aside the controversial content of the remarks attributed to the president, it is important to note that this is an atrocious example of journalism.

You could almost call it “fake news.”

And corporate media is taking it at face value.

You may think Trump is a turd—I do. You may want him to lose the election—I do. (I also want Biden to lose, but that’s another column.) You may believe that Trump probably said what Goldberg reports—I think there’s a good chance. But everyone who cares about journalism ought to be deeply disturbed by the nonexistent sourcing for this story and its widespread acceptance by media organizations that ought to know better.

It’s easy to see why Democratic-leaning media corporations jumped all over Goldberg’s piece: it hurts the president and it reinforces militarism. But they’re degrading journalistic standards to manipulate an election.

According to Goldberg, four anonymous sources told him that Trump called American marines who died in World War I “losers” and repeatedly questioned why anyone smart would join the military or be willing to risk their life by fighting in one of America’s wars.

Anonymous sources have their place. I have used them. But basing a news story entirely on accounts of people who are unwilling to go on the record is journalistically perilous and ethically dubious. There are exceptions, as when a Mafia source fears physical retribution.

There is no such claim here. Most media organizations’ ethical guidelines are clear: news without attribution is not news. It is gossip.

            The Los Angeles Times, a publication my readers know that I hold in low regard, nevertheless takes a stance against anonymous sources. “When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving,” the paper’s ethical standards say. “An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and we should state those reasons when they are relevant to what we publish.”

            The Atlantic piece falls way short.

Likewise, writing that strips statements of necessary context is anti-ethical. Trump, writes Goldberg, “expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. ‘He’s not a war hero,’ Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. ‘I like people who weren’t captured.’” He goes on to note that Trump wanted to deny McCain the honor of lowering flags to half-mast after McCain died.

Goldberg frames Trump’s comments as part of a general bias against the military and portrays his attacks as unprovoked. Truth is, long before Trump made those comments he had been engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with the Arizona senator. McCain based his political career on his military service and the five years he spent as a POW in Vietnam. McCain was Trump’s enemy, and there is considerable evidence that McCain—known for a sharp tongue—started the war of words. Trump gave back in kind.

“Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004,” Goldberg continues in another context-free passage. Khan’s father famously spoke against Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said. In Trumpian terms, Khan started it. But Goldberg’s omission makes it look like Trump attacked a fallen soldier out of the blue.

Goldberg does this a third time: “When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him.” Both sides have insulted each other; as far as the record shows, Trump is usually running offense, not defense—but Goldberg falsely portrays the enmity as a one-way street.

One of the praiseworthy aspects of this president is his relatively restrained approach to military interventionism, coupled with his willingness to directly engage adversaries like North Korea and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the latter which recently signed a peace agreement with the United States. It is logical for Trump, who is skeptical of illegal wars of choice like Afghanistan and Iraq, to question why people would volunteer to fight and possibly die in such a pointless conflict. For Goldberg, militarism is a state religion. Questioning it is intolerable.

Goldberg’s piece, the tone of which reads like the pro-war hysteria following 9/11, reflects the aggressively militaristic neoliberalism of the Democratic Party in 2020.

Goldberg references Trump’s 2017 visit to Arlington cemetery with then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan … Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’ Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”

            Joining the military, of course, is hardly a non-transactional decision. Soldiers get paid. They get medals. They get free college. They are revered and thanked for their service. Military service gives you a leg up when you run for political office.

Moreover, Trump’s question is one Americans should be asking more often. Why would a 29-year-old man volunteer to travel to Afghanistan in order to kill the locals? No one in that country threatened the United States. No one there did us any harm. Afghans don’t want us there. Why did Robert Kelly go?

Goldberg seems obsessed with Trump’s description of fallen soldiers as suckers. “His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country, as well as those who are taken prisoner, or are wounded in battle,” Goldberg writes. But is he wrong?

            LBJ suckered us into Vietnam with the Tonkin Gulf incident, which historians of all stripes accept was a lie.

            George H.W. Bush suckered us into the first Gulf War with a tale of Iraqi soldiers rampaging through a Kuwaiti hospital and pulling babies out of incubators. Another lie.

            After 9/11 George W. Bush suckered us into Afghanistan by saying Osama bin Laden was there—he was not.

            Of course Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. More suckering. (At the time, Goldberg spread the lie that Saddam Hussein was allied with his enemy Al Qaeda.)

            Assuming that anything in Goldberg’s piece was true, Trump was right.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Whatever Happened to Basic Standards at Newspapers?

It’s just like the Ukraine story that failed to impeach Donald Trump. Anonymous sources tell major newspapers that second hand or thirdhand source is based in the intelligence community, which is tasked with lying, that Russia may be paying bounties to the Taliban in order to kill United States troops in occupied Afghanistan. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but why pay attention to a story that has no evidence or sourcing?

An Open Letter to Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine

Dear Mr. Pearlstine,

On June 5th you issued a statement acknowledging the role your newspaper has played in the racist oppression of people of color. “The Los Angeles Times has a long, well-documented history of fueling the racism and cruelty that accompanied our city’s becoming a metropolis,” you wrote. You promised reforms, including “addressing the concerns of people of color in the newsroom.”

You admitted that this is merely a start and asked for suggestions for how the Times can redeem itself and earn the trust of readers, especially people of color.

I will take you at your word.

To begin with, the Times should come clean about its longstanding, cozy relationship with the LAPD. And it should end this deep conflict of interest, which makes it impossible for your paper to report objectively about the police. When the media fails to hold the police accountable they are free to abuse the citizens they are supposed to protect.

My case shines a light on how the media censors critics and breeds self-censorship by journalists. I was the Times’ editorial cartoonist from 2009 to 2015. My cartoons often criticized police brutality and racist policing. Instead of stopping their abuse of minorities, however, the police repeatedly demanded that the papers that ran my cartoons fire me. Those requests fell on deaf ears until 2014, when the Times brought in a new publisher, Austin Beutner. Beutner, a hedge fund billionaire who is now superintendent of LA schools, midwifed a deal by which the $16.4 billion LAPD pension fund purchased #1 shareholder status in Tribune Publishing, which owned the Times and 14 other newspapers. (Yes, it’s legal for the cops to buy media companies.) Sealing the deal and in violation of the Times’ ethical guidelines, the LAPD police union gave an award to Beutner.

The LAPD police union has a history of buying newspaper stock. They don’t hide their motives. They seek to remove negative coverage of the police from “their” papers. “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced,” the union’s president explained in 2009, after it acquired interest in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Months after the LAPD-LA Times deal, then-LAPD police chief Charlie Beck arranged a secret meeting at Beutner’s office. Fire your cartoonist, Beck demanded. Beutner agreed.

But firing me was not enough for Beck. The LAPD also wanted to send a chilling message to journalists throughout the Southland: if you criticize the police, we will destroy you. So the Times published a smear job about me.

The Times’ article didn’t mention the meeting between Beck and Beutner. It didn’t talk about the LAPD pension fund’s ownership of the Times. To this day, those facts have never been revealed to Times readers. The piece relied upon faked evidence provided by Beck to characterize me as a liar (in a blog about jaywalking, of all things). I proved the evidence was bogus and that I had been truthful, yet editorial page editor Nick Goldberg—under orders from Beutner—ignored it.

Goldberg later admitted that the truth didn’t matter. The Times was determined to ruin me and didn’t care that I had done nothing wrong. Inexplicably, Goldberg still works at the Times.

My case is not just about me. It opens a window into why and how the Times’ relationship with the police corrupts its commentary and coverage.

It shows why and how victims of police brutality have been ignored or diminished.

It explains why and how police narratives are taken at face value, no matter how ridiculous. While I was being given the bum’s rush, reporter Paul Pringle, assigned to be the Times’ hatchet man, told me that he had verified that the bogus LAPD materials were authentic. How? I asked. “The LAPD told me,” he said. I laughed. He was serious, though. Pringle still works at the Times too. He recently won a Pulitzer Prize.

How can anyone read about what happened to me and still believe anything the Times has to say about cops?

Mr. Pearlstine, if this is not empty talk, if you are serious about turning over a new leaf, you should address my case. Hiring more people of color in the newsroom is overdue, important and necessary. But black reporters aren’t more likely than white journalists to go after the police if they’re equally afraid of getting fired. Everyone at the Times knows what the paper did to me; they know it can happen to them too if they go “too far” against the cops.

The LAPD got rid of their most irritating critic and a pundit who made going after police brutality a priority. The Times never replaced me.

The LAPD terrorized other journalists. They won.

Rehiring me would make a powerful symbolic statement that the Beutner era of corruption and complicity with the police is finished. It would demonstrate you do not edit a police propaganda rag. You could take down the two libel-filled articles about me that are still on your website. You could issue a retraction and an apology.

The LAPD has since divested itself of its Tribune stock. The Times’ current owner, Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, should pledge not to enter into financial partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Like many other papers, the Times relies on the police to tip off reporters about breaking local news. This relationship should be severed. Reporters ought not socialize with cops, much less rely upon them for stories. Refusing to be a police lapdog requires hiring more journalists—but Soon-Shiong is a biotech billionaire. He can easily afford them.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

Ted Rall

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

LAPPLInvestOaktree

So Far, There Is No Reason Not to Believe Tara Reade

Tara Reade Urges Joe Biden to Release Private Senate Papers

            Did Joe Biden finger-rape Tara Reade in the Capitol in 1993? No one knows but the two of them. (Given the former vice president’s obviously fragile mental state, he might not remember.)

            Pending the miraculous discovery of ancient surveillance footage, we may never know the truth about this alleged sexual assault. Still, the issue is worth discussing. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, the American people have the right to consider the possibility that their presidential candidate may be a rapist. Tara Reade has the right to be fully heard, Joe Biden has the right to a vigorous defense, and voters have the right to decide whether or not we believe her.

            What I find interesting, in part due to my own experience taking on The Los Angeles Times, is the pretzel logic that America’s political and media establishment deploys to fend off accusations against elites.

            Former prosecutor Michael J. Stern wrote an op-ed for USA Today that has become Democrats’ go-to list of reasons we can be “skeptical about Tara Reade’s sexual assault claim against Biden.” It is entirely devoid of fact, logical reasoning or common sense. And it is the way that many Americans, including those employed by major media outlets, think.
            It is also the reason that many victims, probably most victims, and not just of sexual crimes, don’t come forward. The system is set up, not to ask reasonable questions based on America’s constitutionally-guaranteed presumption of innocence, but to discourage legitimate victims from pursuing justice.

            “It is reasonable to consider a 27-year reporting delay when assessing the believability of any criminal allegation,” Stern writes. Did Gannett furlough its factcheckers? Reade says she filed a complaint with the appropriate U.S. Senate office at the time and that it was ignored. Even if she had waited 27 years — which she didn’t — surely it’s possible to imagine having been sexually violated by a U.S. senator, watching the guy rise to vice president and then run for president and then, when he wins the nomination for president, say to yourself: Enough is enough! I can’t stand the thought of seeing this guy as President of the United States for the next four to eight years! I’m going to break my silence.

            Christine Blasey Ford did the same thing. She spoke up when Brett Kavanaugh was elevated to the highest court in the land. Anita Hill reacted to Clarence Thomas’s nomination similarly.

            The corrupt billionaire bastard who libeled me as a favor to his allies in the LAPD is currently superintendent of LA public schools. That’s annoying. If Austin Beutner is ever up for something big with a national profile, however, that will truly be too much for me to bear. I will scream until some reporter finally pays attention to what he did to me.

            Reade says she didn’t reveal the vaginal penetration aspect of her story to a media outlet because she didn’t feel comfortable with the reporter. “It is hard to believe a reporter would discourage this kind of scoop,” Stern writes. “Regardless, it’s also hard to accept that it took Reade 12 months to find another reporter eager to break that bombshell story.” Why should that be hard to believe? She has corroborating witnesses now, yet still has difficulty getting media outlets interested in interviewing her. It isn’t easy to find a smart reporter who gets what you have to say.

Woodward and Bernstein are dead. Five years in, I’m still waiting for so-called journalists to get back to me about a shocking story of political corruption, the legal ownership of a major newspaper chain by a police department which uses its money and influence to fire, smear and bankrupt critics and whistleblowers.

Stern says Reade’s claim that “she cannot remember the date, time or exact location of the alleged assault…could easily be perceived as bulletproofing a false allegation.” When your personal space is brutally violated, whether it is sexual assault or a mugging or police brutality, you are shocked. You focus on the trauma: what happened to you, and who did it, not the where and when. Memories of trauma tend to be fragmented and incomplete. It would be preferable if Reade had had the presence of mind to recall that data. But not having it doesn’t make her a liar.

Stern says Reade lied about how she left Biden’s employ. “Leaving a job after refusing to serve drinks at a Biden fundraiser is vastly different than being fired as retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Senate,” Stern alleges. Actually, there is hardly any difference. The law calls what happened to her “constructive termination.” Most retaliation in the workplace takes the form of being demeaned until the victim quits. It’s an illegal firing and you can be sued for it.

The silliest smears against Reade concern her politics: “Reade essentially dismissed the idea of Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election as hype.” So do I. So do 40% of Americans. So what? Stern notes her support for Bernie Sanders. “The confluence of Reade’s support of Sanders, distaste for the traditional American democracy epitomized by Biden, and the timing of her allegation should give pause to even the most strident Biden critics,” Stern declares.

If your politics are slightly unconventional, according to this former prosecutor, you must be lying when you say you were raped. Or, just maybe, she supported Bernie Sanders in part because he never tried to rape her. Perhaps “the timing of her allegation” stemmed from her dismay that her rapist was about to become President of the United States. And the cheap psychological gambit that Joe “Captain America” Biden epitomizes “traditional American democracy” is so ridiculous that it merits no response.

The truth may come out and it may vindicate Joe Biden. Even so, the media will remain guilty and complicit of stupidity in the service of the rich and powerful.

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

 

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

Image result for afghanistan war"

            “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.

Image result for cartoonist antonio cartoon

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.

Image result for reporter arrested

            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?