There’s something bizarrely inane about so-called news reports whose content consists entirely of stating that someone tweeted something. Tweets aren’t news. They’re tweets. And tweets don’t need to be reported. They are their own micro-reports.
Originally published by ANewDomain.net:
The guy who took the video that caught a South Carolina cop shooting Walter Scott in the back is telling news outlets that they’ll have to cough up $10,000 to post or broadcast it.
Good. Good for him.
For the record: Passerby Feidin Santana, who took the cell phone video that shocked the nation and landed the police officer in jail awaiting a murder trial, gave it away for free to the family so they could pursue legal remedies, and to media organizations in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
“Now they will have to pay,” Max Markson, the publicist, said.
Let’s get one thing straight: News is big business. The CEO of NBCUniversal makes $31 million a year. Last year – which relatively sucked – brought in $91 million in operating profits to The New York Times. So it’s not like major news outlets can’t afford to shell out a few bucks.
As long as I can remember – in other words, too long – American news organizations have raked in handsome profits and paid exorbitant salaries to their executives, while monetizing video footage and other news assets created by ordinary citizens who gave them away for free. They claim that their refusal to “pay for news” is motivated by the purely noble desire not to allow money to corrupt the process.
The truth is, they’re just cheap. Newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets all around the world routinely pay for interviews, photos and videos; there’s no evidence that the ABC in which the A stands for Australia is any less trustworthy than ours. I have some experience with this: When I agree to an interview with a non-American news organization, it is not rare for me to receive an honorarium to compensate me for my time. Believe me, those foreigners aren’t getting anything different from me than the outfits based here in the good old U.S. of A.
In 2002, two French brothers sold the rights to their exclusive footage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11 to CBS for $1 million. They caught a lot of flak for profiting from tragedy, but CBS got 35 million viewers to tune in to their riveting documentary of the attack on New York City. You can be damned sure that CBS made a handsome profit on that.
To reiterate, I would come down on the other side of the argument if we didn’t live in a world of corporatized mass media that keeps thousands of fat white guys, and a few fat white women, in penthouse apartments and Hamptons vacation homes. As long as they’re making money from news, why can’t the rest of us?
Just over one year ago, billionaire eBay cofounder Pierre Omidyar issued one of the most dramatic announcements America’s beleaguered journalists had experienced in their lifetimes. After decades of closing newspapers, shrinking newsrooms, vanishing foreign bureaus and the near extinction of investigative reporting due to brutal, relentless budget-cutting, Omidyar would endow a new company, First Look Media, with a staggeringly large sum of cash – $250 million – to be deployed in the service of a breathtakingly ambitious attempt to reinvent advocacy journalism in everything from investigations of financial corruption to sports coverage.
Even better, from the standpoint of progressives living in the political wilderness since the rise and fall of George McGovern, First Look Media would be edited by leftist pundits and advocacy journalists like the legal columnist Glenn Greenwald, to whom former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked more than a million classified US government documents, the documentarian Laura Poitras, also involved intimately in the Snowdon saga, and the respected anti-militarism critic Jeremy Scahill.
As some cynics opined, it all sounded too good to be true. (Disclosure: for just shy of a month earlier this year, I worked for Pando Daily.) Why would a billionaire like Omidyar bankroll a bunch of antiestablishment types like the financial reporter Matt Taibbi – hired away from Rolling Stone – whose mission in life is in large part to undermine global capitalism?
Although it’s too soon to declare First Look dead and gone, and Omidyar claims to be as committed to his utopian company as ever, things have gone from bad to worse over the last year. Omidyar’s $250 million pledge shrunk to $50 million. The mission to fund hard-hitting journalism and commentary was recast as, among other things, possibly a “platform” expected to generate significant revenue. Tales of shrinking budgets, diminished expectations, shrinking ambitions and staffers leaving after complaining of managerial incompetence appeared with increasing frequency in the trade press.
From the outside, it quickly became clear that First Look was less than a well-oiled machine, or even a reasonably functional journalistic startup. Fellow writers and cartoonists who responded to First Look’s repeated calls for resumes (disclosure: I was one of them) described treatment ranging from unprofessional snubbing of award-winning pros to outright rude, such as going silent after asking them to come in for an interview.
Even more damning was the company’s egregious violation of Jeff Bezos’ axiom: always underpromise and overdeliver. One year after declaring itself a left-wing media monolith to rival Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, all First Look has to show for itself is a crappy WordPress blog with less basic functionality than many private individuals feature on their personal cat-photo websites. Updates have been scattershot and infrequent. Coverage has been anything but wide-ranging. And the journalists gone wild implied by Omidyar’s original big splash either never got hired or, if they did, never saw print.
Where, everyone wanted to know, did the $250 million go?
A couple of months ago, a First Look staffer emailed me to find out how much it would cost to run my syndicated cartoons. When they got the quote – which was lower than much larger websites pay, certainly we’re not talking about websites backed by a quarter billion dollars – they said they wouldn’t be able to afford cartoons. I’m paraphrasing here, but not by much: we were under the impression, the staffer replied, that cartoon content is cheap.
Aside from the terrible politics – if a billionaire can’t pay decent prices for content, who can? – I began to wonder whether Omidyar was starving First Look.
Media outlets, understandably interested in an experiment that, if successful, might have led to a new model for public interest and advocacy journalism in the digital age, have speculated and reported obsessively on last week’s departure of Taibbi, hired to run what was going to be First Look’s second “magazine,” or “vertical,” in industry vernacular, after The Intercept, where Greenwald writes about the Snowden revelations.
As always, when there’s a disaster there are numerous causes. But all of the coverage I’ve read so far has missed the biggest flaw of all in First Look’s business model: the fact that Pierre Omidyar kept, and is still keeping, tight control of the purse strings.
It amazes me that people as savvy as First Look’s top editors didn’t insist, before leaving respectable publications like the UK Guardian and Rolling Stone for a start-up, that Omidyar put the $250 million (or $50 million, or single-digit millions now) in escrow, or at least under the control of a group of trustees of whom Omidyar would be just one, and would include top editorial staff like Greenwald.
I met with a high-level First Look official during the summer to discuss the possibility of working together. I asked: “Where’s the $250 million?” He didn’t know. He couldn’t say.
A structure that allowed Omidyar complete control of the company’s finances was bound to put a crimp on editorial independence, which was apparently the main reason Taibbi left. Who wants to be a billionaire’s plaything? No matter how well the job pays, it only ends badly. Given Omidyar’s reported authoritarian control freak personality, which apparently even extends to personally signing off on – and denying – taxi receipts, it seems even more insane to take a job leaving him in complete charge of the money.
I wasn’t there (though I would’ve loved to have been), but this looks to me like a group of writers working in a profession that had been mistreated for so long that they were exceptionally vulnerable to the seduction of a smooth-talking charmer who passed himself off as an angel investor in the future of liberalism and journalism. Of course, this might all work out in the end. I hope it does.
Hell, Greenwald is supposedly going to meet his boss Omidyar in person for the very first time.
Better a year late than never.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
I know a secret.
I know the identity of the man who was CIA Chief of Station in Kabul until one month ago.
The name of the top spook in Afghanistan was disseminated via email to 6,000+ reporters as part of an attendance list of senior U.S. officials participating in a meeting with President Obama during his surprise visit with U.S. troops. The government spotted the error and asked journalists not to post it.
They agreed. Still, it’s all over the Internet.
What I found via Google during a few hours of searching made me 98% sure it was him; sources in Kabul covered the two percent of doubt.
Until last week I was working this story for Pando Daily, where I was a staff writer and cartoonist. We intended to publish the name — not to endanger him (which in any case would not have been possible since Langley had yanked him off his post), but to take a stand for adversarial media.
Journalists ought to publish news wherever they find it, whatever it is, damn the consequences. Credible media organizations don’t protect government secrets. They don’t obey spy agencies. Real journalists don’t cooperate with government — any government, any time, for any reason. My editor and I believed that, by demonstrating a little fearlessness, we might inspire other media outfits to grow a pair and stop sucking up to the government.
There is no longer a “we.” Pando fired me over the weekend, along with the investigative journalist David Sirota.
Stripped of the institutional protection of a media organization willing to supply legal representation and advice, I cannot move forward with our/my original plan to reveal the name.
Nevertheless, I think it valuable to draw attention to an absurdity: thousands of journalists representing hundreds of press and broadcast media outlets, all of whom agreed to keep a secret that wasn’t much of a secret in the first place, which ceased being secret the second they received it, which remains easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection — in order to curry favor with a government that routinely lies to reporters like them.
On May 25th President Obama paid a visit to the U.S. airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul, which includes an expanded torture facility for Muslim detainees. Sixteen “senior” U.S. officials were invited to Bagram to give Obama a briefing on the military situation. Among them was the Kabul Chief of Station (COS) — the CIA’s top man in occupied Afghanistan.
An Obama Administration PR flack mistakenly included the COS’ name on a list of meeting attendees that was emailed to more than 6,000 journalists around the globe.
From The Washington Post:
The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.
In this case, the pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.
What happened next is notable both for farcicality worthy of the movie “Brazil,” and what it reveals about the slavishly submissive posture of reporters and their editors and producers to the U.S. government in general and the CIA in particular.
Though CIA Chiefs of Station are secret agents, in practice they often maintain such a high profile — working out of the local U.S. embassy, being seen at ex-pat hangouts and coming and going from major events (c.f., meeting with the president) that their identities are widely known in their host countries. They may be “secret” — but their names aren’t. The predecessor of the Kabul COS outted in May, for example, had previously been identified on Facebook.
The Taliban and other adversaries have superb access to intelligence throughout Afghanistan, including widespread infiltration among the police and Afghan military. They are sophisticated Internet users. They can target a COS any time they feel like it. But they probably won’t. Like other guerilla armies, tracking such figures reveals years of useful information that is far more valuable than the one-off propaganda value of assassinating him.
The CIA recognized that its Station Chief’s cover had been blown and pulled him out of Kabul. According to Senator Rob Portman, he is safe.
Now things get ridiculous: the White House asked 6,000+ reporters — reporters! — to forget what they’d learned. And all 6,000+ did.
“The name and title of the station chief were removed in a later pool report that urged reporters to ‘please use this list’ of attendees at the president’s briefing instead of the previous one,” reports The New York Times.
Such is the state of America’s fierce free press: All 6,000+ reporters and their media employers adhered to the White House request to redact the outted COS’ name from their reporting.
It’s not that the former Kabul Station Chief’s name isn’t out there. It’s on a bunch of websites, particularly blogs that specialize in coverage of spy agencies.
Meanwhile, corporate media has spent the last month playing online Whack-a-Mole, censoring the outted COS’ name whenever it pops up. Whenever his name appears in an aggregated piece copied from an original version of the White House email by a bot, or in a comment thread, it stays up a few days before vanishing down the memory hole.
Why do they do it? Because the Obama Administration asked nicely. And in order to avoid offending the CIA.
Even though the name is not secret. In this case, kowtowing to the government has no practical effect. The guy is no longer in Kabul. Anyway, America’s enemies knew/know all about him.
They know, as I do, about the ex-COS’ previous postings. They know, as I do, about the cars he drives, the sports he enjoys, his address history in the States and overseas, the names of his family.
Everyone leaves a digital trail — even spies. No one has privacy — not even spies.
Anyone can find this stuff.
We should be holding the Fourth Estate accountable for their failure to hold government accountable. The Kabul Chief of Station fiasco exposes the subservience that shows why corporate media can’t be trusted to challenge the powers that be.
Why isn’t one journalist out of 6,000 — unlike me, protected by lawyered-up media organizations — willing to publish a government secret that the government gave away?
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
No Context, But Propaganda Is Amusing
Try as they may to make the news as boring as possible, U.S. media outlets keep churning out hilarious “news” stories. Hardly a day passes without the release of some piece whose content is so ridiculous, its tone so absurdly credulous, that it makes us feel as if we live in a bizarre reincarnation of the propaganda-soaked Soviet Union.
Remember “Baghdad Bob”? Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraq’s information minister during the 2003 U.S. invasion, kept denying reality, insisting that Saddam’s regime was winning even as attacking tanks appeared in the background of his camera shots. I had a Baghdad Bob flashback moment earlier this week while listening to NPR’s afternoon news program “All Things Considered.”
“President Obama toured the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington today joined by Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Mr. Obama said the U.S. must never again allow such atrocities to take place,” said Melissa Block.
The implication is that Obama cares about protecting innocent people from state-run mass murder. That the U.S. has moral standing. But…but…
The U.S. is currently the world’s leading perpetrator of atrocities!
American wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have slaughtered at least two million people and injured many millions more. The U.S. maintains a network of “black site” secret prisons and concentration camps around the world. President Obama claims the right to assassinate anyone, including U.S. citizens, anywhere in the world, without having to explain himself to a court. We’re the #1 arms dealer on the planet. And, as a British newspaper has learned, the military maintains dozens of secret drone bases here inside the U.S., obviously for future use against the enemies of our increasingly oppressive police state.
The Obama Administration isn’t killing as many people as were killed during the Holocaust—but that’s not saying much. Does NPR think we’ve forgotten that the hands of our political leaders are dripping with blood? Or is NPR trying to compete with Comedy Central?
The report included an Obama sound bite: “And when innocents suffer, it tears at our conscience. Elie alluded to what we feel as we see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence simply for demanding their universal rights. We have to do everything we can.”
When innocents suffer. Well, not all innocents, right, Mr. President? Like, we’re not supposed to lose sleep over the thousands of detainees—including children—in U.S. concentration camps at Guantánamo, Bagram, Diego Garcia, Thailand, and Bulgaria. All of who are, under U.S. law, innocent of any crime (because they’ve never been charged, much less convicted, in court).
Anyway, it’s not like the U.S. is doing “everything we can” for the Syrian resistance. Not that we should. But coverage like this—it really does hearken back to the glory days of Pravda and Izvestia.
It’s bad enough to be fed propaganda. But at least make an effort when you lie. This crap is insulting.
In the same report, Don Gonyea let loose this howler: “Mr. Obama announced new sanctions against nations that commit grave human rights abuses through technology that includes cell phone tracking and monitoring citizens on the Internet.”
What a kidder! Such awesomely dry delivery!
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The President took aim at Syria and Iran, whose leaders have tapped compliant phone companies and Internet services to hunt down dissenters.”
Listening to and reading that, you could almost forget that Obama voted for FISA, which retroactively legalized Bush’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, which was carried out by the National Security Agency and—ahem—compliant phone companies such as AT&T. FISA also radically expanded the federal government’s right to listen to your phone calls and intercept your email without a warrant.
Obama’s own commission of “grave human rights abuses through technology that includes cell phone tracking and monitoring citizens on the Internet” is context worth mentioning in a story about Obama imposing sanctions on other countries that do the same things. Maybe something like this: “Mr. Obama, whose Administration vigorously asserts its right to track Americans’ cell phones and track them on the Internet, announced sanctions against other countries that do the same thing.”
They wouldn’t be telling us anything we didn’t already know. But here’s the thing—as ignorant and stupid as the American public is, the media thinks we’re even stupider and more ignorant!
If nothing else, our neo-Soviet media sure is funny.
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)
Stifling Liberal Dissent Under Obama
After they called the presidency for Obama, emails poured in. “You must be relieved now that the Democrats are taking over,” an old college buddy told me. “There will be less pressure on you.”
That would have been nice.
In the late 1990s my cartoons ran in Time, Fortune and Bloomberg Personal magazines and over 100 daily and alternative weekly newspapers. I was a staff writer for two major magazines.
Then Bush came in. And 9/11 happened.
The media gorged on an orgy of psychotic right-wing rhetoric. Flags everywhere. Torture suddenly OK. In a nation where mainstream political discourse was redefined between Dick Cheney on the right and libertarian Bill Maher on the not-as-right, there wasn’t any room in the paper for a left-of-center cartoonist. My business was savaged. Income plunged.
My editor at Time called me on September 13, 2001. “We’re discontinuing all cartoons,” she told me. I was one of four cartoonists at the newsweekly. “Humor is dead.” I snorted. They never brought back cartoons.
McCarthyism—blackballing—made a big comeback. I had been drawing a monthly comic strip, “The Testosterone Diaries,” for Men’s Health. No politics. It was about guy stuff: dating, job insecurity, prostate tests, that sort of thing. They fired me. Not because of anything I drew for them. It was because of my syndicated editorial cartoons, which attacked Bush and his policies. The publisher worried about pissing off right-wingers during a period of nationalism on steroids.
Desperate and going broke, I called an editor who’d given me lots of work at the magazines he ran during the 1990s. “Sorry, dude, I can’t help,” he replied. “You’re radioactive.”
It was tempting, when Obama’s Democrats swept into office in 2008, to think that the bad old days were coming to an end. I wasn’t looking for any favors, just a swing of the political pendulum back to the Clinton years when it was still OK to be a liberal.
This, you have no doubt correctly guessed, is the part where I tell you I was wrong.
I didn’t count on the cult of personality around Barack Obama.
In the 1990s it was OK to attack Clinton from the left. I went after the Man From Hope and his centrist, “triangulation”-obsessed Democratic Leadership Council for selling out progressive principles. Along with like-minded political cartoonists including Tom Tomorrow and Lloyd Dangle, my cartoons and columns took Clinton’s militant moderates to the woodshed for NAFTA, the WTO and welfare reform. A pal who worked in the White House informed me that the President, known for his short temper, stormed into his office and slammed a copy of that morning’s Washington Post down on the desk with my cartoon showing. “How dare your friend compare me to Bush?” he shouted. (The first Bush.)
It was better than winning a Pulitzer.
It feels a little weird to write this, like I’m telling tales out of school and ratting out the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. But it’s true: there’s less room for a leftie during the Age of Obama than there was under Bush.
I didn’t realize how besotted progressives were by Mr. Hopey Changey.
Obama lost me before Inauguration Day, when he announced cabinet appointments that didn’t include a single liberal.
It got worse after that: Obama extended and expanded Bush’s TARP giveaway to the banks; continued Bush’s spying on our phone calls; ignored the foreclosure crisis; refused to investigate, much less prosecute, Bush’s torturers; his healthcare plan was a sellout to Big Pharma; he kept Gitmo open; expanded the war against Afghanistan; dispatched more drone bombers; used weasel words to redefine the troops in Iraq as “non-combat”; extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich; claiming the right to assassinate U.S. citizens; most recently, there was the forced nudity torture of PFC Bradley Manning and expanding oil drilling offshore and on national lands.
I was merciless to Obama. I was cruel in my criticisms of Obama’s sellouts to the right. In my writings and drawings I tried to tell it as it was, or anyway, as I saw it. I thought—still think—that’s my job. I’m a critic, not a suck-up. The Obama Administration doesn’t need journalists or pundits to carry its water. That’s what press secretaries and PR flacks are for.
Does Obama ever do anything right? Not often, but sure. And when he does, I shut up about it. Cartoonists and columnists who promote government policy are an embarrassment.
But that’s what “liberal” media outlets want in the age of Obama.
I can’t prove it in every case. (That’s how blackballing works.) The Nation and Mother Jones and Harper’s, liberal magazines that gave me freelance work under Clinton and Bush, now ignore my queries. Even when I offered them first-person, unembedded war reporting from Afghanistan. Hey, maybe they’re too busy to answer email or voicemail. You never know.
Other censors are brazen.
There’s been a push among political cartoonists to get our work into the big editorial blogs and online magazines that seem poised to displace traditional print political magazines like The Progressive. In the past, editorial rejections had numerous causes: low budgets, lack of space, an editor who simply preferred another creator’s work over yours.
Now there’ s a new cause for refusal: Too tough on the president.
I’ve heard that from enough “liberal” websites and print publications to consider it a significant trend.
A sample of recent rejections, each from editors at different left-of-center media outlets:
• “I am familiar with and enjoy your cartoons. However the readers of our site would not be comfortable with your (admittedly on point) criticism of Obama.”
• “Don’t be such a hater on O and we could use your stuff. Can’t you focus more on the GOP?”
• “Our first African-American president deserves a chance to clean up Bush’s mess without being attacked by us.”
I have many more like that.
What’s weird is that these cultish attitudes come from editors and publishers whose politics line up neatly with mine. They oppose the bailouts. They want us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. They disapprove of Obama’s new war against Libya. They want Obama to renounce torture and Guantánamo.
Obama is the one they ought to be blackballing. He has been a terrible disappointment to the American left. He has forsaken liberals at every turn. Yet they continue to stand by him. Which means that, in effect, they are not liberals at all. They are militant Democrats. They are Obamabots.
As long as Democrats win elections, they are happy. Nevermind that their policies are the same as, or to the right of, the Republicans.
“So what should I think about [the war in Libya]?,” asks Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. “If it had been my call, I wouldn’t have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I’d literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he’s smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted.”
Mr. Drum, call your office. Someone found your brain in the break room.
Barack Obama and the Democrats have made it perfectly clear that they don’t care about the issues and concerns that I care about. Unlike Kevin Drum, I think—I know—I’m smarter than Barack Obama. I wouldn’t have made half the mistakes he has.
So I don’t care about Obama. Or the Democrats. I care about America and the world and the people who live in them.
Hey, Obamabots: when the man you support betrays your principles, he has to go—not your principles.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL