Tag Archives: New York Times

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.)

Political Cartooning Was Murdered. Here’s the Autopsy.

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A century ago newspapers employed more than 2000 full-time editorial cartoonists. Today there are fewer than 25. In the United States, political cartooning as we know it is dead. If you draw editorial cartoons for a living and you have any brains you’re working in a different field or looking for an exit.

You can still find them online so political cartoons aren’t yet extinct. But they are doomed. Most of my colleagues are older than me (I’m 55). As long as there are people, words and images will be combined to comment on current affairs. But the graphic commentators of tomorrow will be ad hoc amateurs rather than professionals. They won’t have the income and thus the time to flesh out their creative visions into work that fulfills the medium’s potential, much less evolves into a new genre.

With zero youngsters coming up in the ranks and many of the most interesting artists purged, our small numbers and lack of stylistic diversity has left us as critically endangered as the wild cheetah. The death spiral is well underway.

June 2018: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fired Rob Rogers, a 25-year veteran, for drawing cartoons making fun of President Trump. (Rogers had always been a Democrat.)

January 2019: Steve Benson, the widely-syndicated winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was fired by the Arizona Republic after three decades of service.

            May 2019: Gatehouse Media fired three cartoonists on the same day: Nate Beeler of the Columbus Dispatch, Rick McKee at the Augusta Chronicle and Mark Streeter at the Savannah Morning News.

June 2019: In one of the strangest offings, the New York Times fired both of its cartoonists, Heng and Patrick Chappatte, in order to quell criticism over a syndicated cartoon—one drawn by an entirely different cartoonist. The Syrian government thugs who smashed Ali Ferzat’s hands with a hammer in 2011 were more reasonable than editorial page editor James Bennet; the goons only went after the actual cartoonist whose cartoons offended President Bashar Assad. Nor, by the way, did the Syrian dictator ban all cartoons. Political cartooning is now and forever banned from the 100%-censored Times.

And of course in 2015 the Los Angeles Times, whose parent company had recently been purchased by the Los Angeles Police Department pension fund, fired me as a favor to a prickly police chief because he was angry at my cartoons. In 2018 the same paper fired cartoonist David Horsey for the crime of accurately describing White House press flak Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ looks as those of a “slightly chunky soccer mom.” As at a Stalin-era show trial, they forced Horsey to apologize before giving him the boot.

Individual cartoonists are under fire around the world. Only in the United States, “land of the free,” has the art form as a whole been targeted for systematic destruction by ruling elites and cultural gatekeepers. After decades of relentless, sweeping and never-reversed cutbacks there are now far more political cartoonists in Iran than in the United States. After terrorists murdered 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, a single publication in France, hundreds of U.S. newspapers ran editorials celebrating the power of cartoons; 99% of these hypocritical blowhards didn’t employ a single cartoonist.

American editorial cartooning didn’t just die. It was murdered.

Here’s how it happened/it’s happening:

Cartoonists were overrepresented in mass layoffs. Publishers fired numerous journalists. But they always came first for the cartoonists.

Scab syndication services undercut the market. A few discount syndication companies, one in particular, sold bulk packages of heavily discounted hackwork, undercutting professionally-drawn cartoons.

Publishers killed the farm system. The early 1990s marked the start of a vibrant new wave of “altie” political art by Generation Xers. Urban free weeklies carried our work but deep-pocketed dailies and magazines refused to hire us. Gifted young cartoonists realized they’d never be hired and abandoned the profession.

Social media mobs spook editors. Twitter and Facebook make it easy for six angry dorks to look like thousands of angry readers ready to burn down a newspaper over a cartoon. Cowardly editors comply and sack their artist at the request of people who don’t subscribe to the paper.

Prize committees reward(ed) bland cartoonists. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Alties like Tom Tomorrow, Andy Singer, Clay Butler, Ruben Bolling, John Backderf and Lloyd Dangle were reinventing American political cartooning. Their revolution would not be recognized. The Pulitzer Prize committee snubbed alties. (Though some have been finalists—me in 1997—no altie has won a Pulitzer.) Among the older traditional cartoonists as well, prizes usually went to safe over daring. Awards signal what’s acceptable and what’s not. Editors pay attention. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.

Legacy employers blackballed edgy cartoonists. Click data proves that controversy is popular. Faced with shrinking circulation, however, print newspapers and magazines played it safe and avoided controversy. Kowtowing to advertisers rather than the readers who drive circulation, publishers fired the controversial cartoonists—the ones whose work readers were talking about—first. Another self-fulfilling prophecy: the dull cartoons Americans saw in major outlets like USA Today elicited little response from readers. They weren’t missed after they vanished.

Billionaire newspaper “saviors” refuse to hire cartoonists. When billionaires buy papers they invest in reporters and editors. Not cartoonists. One exception is Sheldon Adelson, who hired Mike Ramirez at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But 90% of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway-owned newspapers employ zero cartoonists. Patrick Soon-Shiong bought the LA Times after they fired Horsey and me; his paper hired a bunch of underpaid Millennial writers but never replaced or brought back the two cartoonists. To his credit Jeff Bezos kept Tom Toles and Ann Telnaes on at the Washington Post, but he hired “dozens of reporters”—and no one new to draw cartoons. (Historically many newspapers have employed multiple cartoonists.)

Twee identity-politics cartoons are boring. Boosters sometimes point to sites for Millennial cartoonists as a bright spot. For the most part, these cartoons are flat, preachy and predictable. Right or left, political correctness is death to political cartooning.

Online media sites refuse to hire cartoonists. News sites like Huffington Post, Salon, Slate and Vox are heirs to print newspapers. None employ cartoonists. Don’t they realize theirs is a visual medium?

Cartoonists fulfill the market for crappy cartoons. Editors, publishers and award committees have made clear what kind of cartoons they are most likely to buy and reward. Jokes should be conventional, preferably derivative. Sacred cows must not be criticized. Patriotism is mandatory. Artistic styles remain frozen safely in the 1960s, when most editors were kids. Cartoonists have a choice: give the marketplace what it wants or go hungry. Many cartoonists produce work they know is beneath their talents, readers don’t react when they appear in print and no one takes note when the cartoonist gets laid off.

I love editorial cartooning. All I ever wanted to do was draw for a living. When I was growing up, political cartooning was clever and dangerous. Punk rock.

Now it’s Muzak.

Muzak is dead.

(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.)

Long Form Long Form Long Form! is the Future of Print Journalism

Image result for battered newspaper box Journalism is in trouble. Writers of articles pointing this out typically argue that this is really bad for democracy or America or whatever. Anyone who disagrees is too stupid to read this so I won’t bother to repeat this obviousness. Such writers also point out contemporaneous evidence of the media apocalypse; here are the three I came across this week.

1. 1,800 local newspapers have gone out of business in the last 15 years. Since print newspapers generate nine out of ten stories that appear on radio, TV and online, that’s a big loss.

2. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has closed. This is notable because it’s the first time in memory that a major city’s single major daily (OK, thrice weekly in recent years) has vanished. Its smaller Baton Rouge-based competitor remains but now it’s easy to imagine a real city having no daily paper whatsoever.

3. The influential and notably right-before-anyone-else investor Warren Buffett used to believe in newspapers enough that he bought some. No more. Now he says the only viable print papers are the national megapapers The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. (Disclosure: I write op-eds for the Journal.)

At the same time, the Mueller Report was a bestselling book.

A print book.

Note: you can read it for free online.

Why would anyone pay for the Mueller Report? For the same reason they paid to read the 9/11 Commission Report and the Starr Report about Bill Clinton, two other public documents freely available on the Internet that became bestsellers in print form. Which happens to be the same reason magazines like The New Yorker and The Economist make a profit while many others are tanking. It’s also why the Sunday edition of The New York Times does well.

Long stuff is easier to read in print.

Many readers read the Mueller Report on their electronic devices. As evidenced by the success of the book version, however, a lot of people are willing to pay money to avoid the eye and neck strain of peering and craning at a comparatively low-resolution screen—while retaining less of what they read—for more than 400 pages. And that is the future of print journalism.

In the 1970s the weekly news magazines Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report ran long-form analysis of the stories that had been reported the previous week by daily newspapers. Reporters at the newsweeklies dug deep, unearthed new details and told you what it all meant and why it mattered. They were giants, read by tens of millions of Americans.

Beginning with the rise of the Web in the 1990s, the newsweeklies lost their way. Editors thought the Internet proved that our attention spans were shortening so they slashed word counts. Stories got shorter. There were fewer of them too. So people stopped reading them. Why pay for the same content they could get free online, and sooner? Newsweek basically went out of business. U.S. News is online only. Once the cornerstone of Henry Luce’s empire, Time subsists.

The New Yorker and The Economist are prospering because they doubled down on their commitment to detailed long-form journalism about ongoing issues. Graphically they contain no evidence that the Web ever existed. They carry words, lots and lots of them, occasionally punctuated by hand-drawn illustrations. Some articles weigh in at 5,000, even 10,000 words. These publications don’t break news—they can’t. They deep dive.

You already know what happened. Long-form analysis tells you what it means.

Long form, long form, long form. Long form is the future!

Old formats endure because new ones can’t replace desirable functions. Despite expert predictions TV didn’t kill radio because you can’t watch TV while you drive or clean the house. Print is perfect for long-form publishing because many people prefer flipping pages to scrolling. And it’s easier on your eyes.

The future of print—which, digihype aside, is still where the money is to be made—is analogous to the 1970s, when people read daily papers for breaking news and news magazines for long-form analysis. When news breaks we’ll read about it online, on our devices. A new generation of print outlets will supply after-the-fact analysis that go on for thousands of words, along with comix journalism and complicated charts that require days (rather than minutes or hours) to research, compile and edit.

Newspapers, Buffett said, “haven’t figured out a way to make the digital model complement the print model.” It would be nice to suggest that he is mistaken, that beleaguered newspapers will finally pivot to long form, perhaps replacing their current seven-day runs with a single beefy weekend edition. Unfortunately, he’s right.

Newspapers have never been managed by people with less vision. They’ve fired the experienced out-of-the-box thinkers on their staffs in favor of underpaid Millennials who think they can guilt readers into subscribing the way NPR does during their pledge drives. Listeners support NPR because it offers unique content, not because listeners would feel guilty if it went under. Newspapers ought to have figured out long ago that no one will pay for the same exact news that they read yesterday, for free, on their phones.

“Creative destruction” will erase the dinosaurs. In their place will arise a new generation of print outlets dedicated to long-form analysis and commentary.

(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.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: All the Anonymous B.S. That’s Fit to Print: Self-Serving Newspapers Like the New York Times Ditch Their Own Ethics Rules

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The most disturbing aspect of the New York Times op-ed by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump Administration” isn’t its content.

The content isn’t significant enough to make an impression.

“Meetings with [President Trump] veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” writes Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. The “revelation” that Trump rambles incoherently and can’t keep a thought straight is not news to anyone who has watched Trump speak more than a minute and a half.

What is scary is that the stewards of a grand 167-year-old publishing institution can cavalierly abandon the basic standards of journalism in search of a social media splash in their tepid jihad against a sitting president.

My first response upon hearing about the anonymous op-ed was to read it. What a letdown! This #ResistanceInsider narrative contains nothing we didn’t already know about Trump or his mess of a White House. A trilogy of tell-all books by Michael Wolff, Omarosa Manigault Newman and Bob Woodward, plus a day-to-day geyser of leaks, confirm that the president and his monster’s ball of astonishingly nefarious idiots act just as stupidly behind closed doors as they do when they babble in front of cameras.

Next I checked the Times’ rules for anonymous sourcing.

Reliance on anonymous sources within the government has gotten the Times burned on a number of occasions. “Times editors are cracking down on the use of anonymous sources,” public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote on March 15, 2016.

The most recent word on anonymous sources comes courtesy of Times standards editor Philip B. Corbett. “Under our guidelines, anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way,” Corbett wrote on June 14, 2018.      What was newsworthy about the “I Am Part of the Self-Congratulatory Resistance” piece? Nada. What was in there that the Times was unable to report another way? Nothing. The Times has run other pieces covering the same exact ground: “Trump’s Chaos Theory for the Oval Office Is Taking Its Toll,” March 1, 2018. “Trump Tries to Regroup as the West Wing Battles Itself,” July 29, 2017. “Does Trump Want Even More Chaos in the White House?” May 9, 2018.

Americans are weird. Smokers wake up in the morning wheezing and hocking up loogies, but they need the Surgeon General to convince them tobacco is bad for them. People who live in the same place feel the weather get warmer every year but they still aren’t sure about climate change. Jesus, people, why can’t you trust yourselves?

Now it’s the media’s Trump-bashing. These Captain Obviouses keep flailing from the ridiculous (two years in, there’s still no evidence of Russia-Trump election collusion) to the inane (Trump is cray-cray, it’s really true, some anonymous person, trust us they’re important and know what they’re talking about, says so).

The obvious truth is, Trump was impeachable the second he took office. Temperamentally and intellectually, he wasn’t ever and never will be up to the job. Chief Justice John Roberts ought to have refused to swear in this loon; Congress should have blocked him taking office; the Capitol Police shouldn’t have let him and Melania move into the White House.

The guy shouldn’t be president. Why is the Times breaking its rules to tell us what everyone already knows? Clicks?

During these times of disruption and collapse, it is tempting for struggling legacy media outlets like newspapers to discard their standards to compete with the young Turks (or Millennial techs) who often eat their lunch. But old-school institutions can only survive by maintaining their credibility. They must adhere to their own ethical guidelines, or die.

The Los Angeles Times violated numerous parts of its published Ethical Guidelines when it fired me as its staff cartoonist as a favor to the LAPD. Like the New York Times, one breach was violating their own rules about anonymous sources.

The LA Times repeatedly lied to their readers in their two articles about me. One lie was their claim that the LAPD had officially released documents that proved I had made up a story about being mistreated by a cop who ticketed me for jaywalking. Not only did the documents show I had told the truth, the LAPD wasn’t the source. It was the then-police chief, Charlie Beck, a sleazy official whose tenure was marked by one scandal after another. He was acting on his own, outside official channels, using documents of unknown provenance. Seducing a gullible publisher with a handoff of sketchy documents in a backroom meeting was par for his course.

If the LA Times had told its readers that Beck was the source, people from Santa Monica to East LA would have rolled their eyes and turned the page. Everyone knew I had been making fun of the LAPD, and Beck personally, for years. Everyone knew Beck was a turd.

So the LA Times granted Beck anonymity.

On paper, the LA Times and NY Times had similar standards. “When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers,” read the LA Times’ Ethical Guidelines, published in 2014. “We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving. Sources should never be permitted to use the shield of anonymity to voice speculation or to make ad hominem attacks. 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.”

In real life, corrupt publishers and craven editors ignore their own rules. Nothing could have been more “self-serving” than the chief of police of a department whose pension fund owned the parent company of the paper firing a cartoonist who made fun of him. Since there was no actual proof I had lied — there couldn’t be since I’d told the truth — the LA Times “speculated” that I probably lied. Nothing could be more “ad hominem” than falsely accusing a journalist of lying. As police chief, Beck had no “fear or retaliation.”

I’m suing them for defamation and wrongful termination. This could have been avoided had the LA Times adhered to their own stated principles.

Even if you hate Donald Trump, it shouldn’t be hard to see that the New York Times is on a dangerous path.

(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.)

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump, the Pussy Tape and a Bunch of Lazy Journalists

Image result for trump access hollywood            “The tape, without question, is real.”

I expected better from The New York Times.

The quote is the lede of a news story by Daniel Victor, a reporter at the Times. Victor’s piece is about a controversy, or more precisely, an echo of a controversy: the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording in which Donald Trump is heard joking with show host Billy Bush about grabbing women’s genitals. The audio (you don’t see Trump’s face during the gutter talk) was released shortly before a major debate against Hillary Clinton; it nearly cost Trump the election.

Perhaps in an effort to distance himself from the big sexual harassment discussion, Trump has lately been telling people that the audio wasn’t real — that it wasn’t him saying all that sexist stuff. “We don’t think that was my voice,” he told a senator recently.

Trump’s denial-come-lately (he apologized at the time) is being ridiculed. “Mr. Trump’s falsehoods about the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape are part of his lifelong habit of attempting to create and sell his own version of reality,” Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin of the Times wrote. Senator Jeff Flake said: “It’s dangerous to democracy; you’ve got to have shared facts…that was your voice on that tape, you admitted it before.”

Trump lies a lot. He may be lying here. I don’t know.

The point is, neither does The New York Times.

            What disturbs me more than the possibility/likelihood that the president is a liar is the fact that journalists who ought to know better, including six-figure reporters employed by prestigious media organizations like The New York Times that repeatedly brag about adhering to high standards, are too lazy and/or ignorant to conduct basic due diligence. This isn’t new: I have been the subject of news articles for which the news outlet didn’t call me for comment (calling for comment is journalism 101). But journalistic laziness is still shocking and wrong.

A news article that begins with an unambiguous declarative statement like “The tape, without question, is real” ought to contain proof — or at least strong evidence — that there really is no question.

Victor’s piece does not come close to meeting basic journalistic standards. Victor quotes a host from “Access Hollywood” who says that’s Trump on the tape. Mostly he relies on Trump’s 2016 apology: “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” But so what? I can say I was on the grassy knoll but that doesn’t mean I really shot JFK.

I don’t like Trump either. But it’s reckless and irresponsible to report as news, as proven fact, something that you don’t know for certain.

The sloppy reporting about the authenticity of the Trump tape reminds me of the breathtaking absence of due diligence exercised by The Los Angeles Times when it fired me as its cartoonist. There too the story centered on an audio.

I wrote in a Times online blog that an LAPD cop had roughed me up and handcuffed me while arresting me for jaywalking in 2001. The police chief gave the Times’ publisher an audio the cop secretly made of the arrest. The audio was mostly inaudible noise, yet the Times said the fact that it didn’t support my account (or the officer’s) proved I had lied. I had the audio “enhanced” (cleaned up); the enhanced version did support my version of events. Embarrassed and/or scared of offending the LAPD (whose pension fund owned stock in the Times’ parent company, Tronc), the Times refused to retract their demonstrably false story about my firing. I’m suing them for defamation.

Where my former employer went wrong was that they didn’t investigate thoroughly. They were careless. They didn’t bother to have the audio authenticated or enhanced before firing me and smearing me in print.

Back to the Trump tape.

Editors and reporters at any newspaper, but especially one the size of the New York Times, which has considerable resources at its disposal, ought to know that proper reporting about audio or video requires both authentication and enhancement.

Proper forensic authentication of a recording like the “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump is a straightforward matter. First, you need both the original tape as well as the device with which it was made. A copy or duplicate of an audio or video cannot be authenticated. The tape and recording device are analyzed by an expert in a sound studio for signs of splicing or other tampering. The identity of a speaker can never be 100% ascertained, but comparisons with known recordings of voices (as well as background noise from the original recording location) can provide meaningful indications as to whether a recording really is what and who it is purported to be. (The LA Times didn’t do that in my case. Anyway, they couldn’t. All they had was a copy, a dub — and you can’t authenticate a copy.)

My situation with the LA Times highlights the importance of enhancement. Had the paper’s management paid for a proper enhancement, they would have heard what lay “beneath” a track of wind and passing traffic: a woman shouting “Take off his handcuffs!” at my arresting officer.

            Do I believe Trump’s denials? No.

Is the media right to say Trump is lying about the Billy Bush recording? Also no.

Because the media have offered no evidence as to the recording’s authenticity. For all we know, the original tape was never released. I’d be shocked if the recording device was released. And I’d be triple-shocked if those two items were sent to a professional audio expert for authentication.

A president who is an evil, dimwitted, underqualified megalomaniac is a danger to democracy.

So is a lazy, cheap, cut-and-paste class of journalists who don’t bother to thoroughly investigate stories.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Call H.R.? Why Not the Cops? The Weird Politics of Sexual Harassment

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5e/Kevin_Spacey_%40_San_Diego_Comic-Con_2008_-_b.jpg/170px-Kevin_Spacey_%40_San_Diego_Comic-Con_2008_-_b.jpg            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.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hugh Hefner Said His Critics Were Prudes and Puritans. The Negative Obits Prove Him Right.

 

No one has ever accused Ross Douthat of excessive astuteness. “Donald Trump isn’t going to be the Republican nominee,” he wrote in January 2016. Dude is paid to prognosticate politics. Even so, Douthat probably pulls down six figures at The New York Times, which doesn’t grant me the courtesy of a rejection letter. So people pay attention to him.

Hugh Hefner’s death didn’t move me. Penthouse was my print media stimulus of choice. I only read Playboy after the magazine’s late delightful cartoons director Michelle Urry commissioned some samples during her campaign to update the magazine’s hoary cartoon section with edgier, more political work. (Alas, those weird Marxist sex cartoons are lost to history.)

The worst cartoon editors are former aspiring cartoonists. Hef was one of those; he killed my stuff for being too edgy and political.

But Hefner sure managed to rile up Douthat.

“Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with Quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself,” Douthat wrote upon the Playboy founder’s passing.

As if syphilis hadn’t existed pre-Hef.

Or abortion.

Or porn, for that matter.

Banging out an all-out assault so shrill it would come off as over-the-top if it concerned Charles Manson, Douthat even blames Hefner for the sins of the political class: “Liberals should ask why their crusade for freedom and equality found itself with such a captain, and what his legacy says about their cause. Conservatives should ask how their crusade for faith and family and community ended up so Hefnerian itself — with a conservative news network that seems to have been run on Playboy Mansion principles and a conservative party that just elected a playboy as our president.”

Get real: I never met a liberal who considered Hefner a leader, much less the captain, of liberalism. And where exactly are these devout family-values crusading conservatives? Sending other people’s kids off to kill Middle Easterners for fun and profit, or pimping trickle-down economic BS to benefit their rich patrons?

I align myself neither with liberals nor conservatives nor Hefner. Honestly, though: the vituperative nature of so many Hefner postmortems have done more to validate Hefner’s claim that his critics were prudes and anti-sex identity feminists than everything he ever said or did.

There is more than a little ageism in these “The Loin in Winter” depictions of a porn entrepreneur who lived too long, couldn’t figure out the Internet and counted out his final years like a male Norma Desmond in the fading grandeur of a decaying Playboy Mansion, in denial that the culture had moved past him. Douthat opined: “Early Hef had a pipe and suit and a highbrow reference for every occasion; he even claimed to have a philosophy, that final refuge of the scoundrel. But late Hef was a lecherous, low-brow Peter Pan, playing at perpetual boyhood — ice cream for breakfast, pajamas all day — while bodyguards shooed male celebrities away from his paid harem and the skull grinned beneath his papery skin.”

A disgusting depiction — one that reflects upon its author more than its target.

Hef’s passing prompted a few genuinely positive assessments of the man and his product, like this from the refreshing Camille Paglia: “Pornography is not a distortion. It is not a sexist twisting of the facts of life but a kind of peephole into the roiling, primitive animal energies that are at the heart of sexual attraction and desire…It must be remembered that Hefner was a gifted editor who knew how to produce a magazine that had great visual style and that was a riveting combination of pictorial with print design. Everything about Playboy as a visual object, whether you liked the magazine or not, was lively and often ravishing.”

But most post-Hefs were like Peggy Drexler in CNN: “The terms of [Hefner’s] rebellion undeniably depended on putting women in a second-class role. It was the women, after all, whose sexuality was on display on the covers and in the centerfolds of his magazine, not to mention hanging on his shoulder, practically until the day he died.”

True enough. But not really fair.

Porn is weird.

Porn commodifies women, reducing them to flat 2-D imagery crafted to titillate. If you feel dirty after you use to it to masturbate, it’s because you feel at least a little guilty about the high probability that the women in those photos and videos almost certainly wouldn’t expose themselves if they didn’t really need the money. Yet Drexler misses that visuals are key to sexual attraction, and that includes the way hetero women assess men based on their physical appearance. We are all commodified by this culture of consumption and relationships based at least in part on mutual opportunism and exploitation.

Really-existing feminists rarely frame their critiques of pornography where it belongs, within the construct of a slave-labor capitalism in which construction workers and yoga teachers and professional athletes and UPS workers and cartoonists wear down their bodies for cash — or starve.

Largely divided between anti-Hefner obits and anti-Hefner obits that give the marketing genius his editorial due, what shines through is a deep discomfort with sex in mainstream American media. What is wrong with a 91-year-old man, even if he looks 91 and resorts to Viagra, viewing himself as a sexual being? Or a 101-year-old woman?

May we all be so alive until we are just dead.

Why does Douthat assume we should share his revulsion when he describes Hef as “a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies”? The aesthetics may not be yours, but the choices were his — which is as it should be. (On the other hand, criticism of Hefner seems legitimate when it attacks the man as manipulative of women in his orbit.)

As Paglia says, “Second-wave feminism went off the rails when it was totally unable to deal with erotic imagery, which has been a central feature of the entire history of Western art ever since Greek nudes.”

Relax. It’s just sex.

(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.)

We, Robots

Futurist science fiction author Lui Cixin predicts that artificial intelligence will put 90% or more of Americans out of work. Will politicians plan ahead for the coming end of work as we know it? Ha!

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How the Media Manipulated the Democratic Primary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Everyone But the Media Saw Trumpism Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a stunning admission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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