Since the newspapers that generate over 90% of the news began tanking in the 1990s, we have repeatedly been told that some magic bullet, usually technological but not always, was going to save the industry.
“The 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.)
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?
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
What is ISIS thinking? Last week’s release of a video depicting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) execution by the burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot has many in the West wondering if the self-proclaimed restoration of the Islamic caliphate has lost its collective mind.
Certainly there is something novel about this cruelly medieval killing being presented using the latest modern technology, filled with high-resolution cameras and disseminated via social media outlets backed by billion-dollar corporations.
Furthermore, the political implications have been explosive. In just one week of executions ISIS’ leadership has managed to rile up the populations of two countries: Jordan, whose “Arab Street” had previously been less than wildly enthusiastic about the Hashemite kingdom’s role in the US-led anti-ISIS air campaign and is now screaming for revenge; and Japan, whose citizens were so shocked and angered by the beheading of two journalists that popular opinion is calling for re-militarization for the first time since the Second World War.
But it’s safe to say that ISIS’ leadership, though more than willing to embrace small-scale murder as well as ethnic cleansing, has made a calculated decision in which Jordan, Japan and indeed the Western world are relatively minor considerations compared to their main objective: defining themselves as the world’s leading, and strongest, opposing force to the United States and its allies in what since 9/11 has been dubbed the Global War on Terror.
Western media outlets have limited their coverage of the execution of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh to the way he was killed: placed inside what looks like a bear cage, soaked in kerosene, a line of kerosene leading out to a spot where, like a villain in an old movie, a masked executioner lights it with a torch.
The camera follows the flame to the doomed pilot, who screams and flails before succumbing to his horrific death.
What these reports leave out is the way that the video frames this dénouement: as righteous, just retribution against a man they describe as a traitor against Islam, a volunteer lackey of the United States and the West, who had rained death and destruction upon innocent men, women and children via bombs dropped from his fighter jet safely soaring thousands of feet overhead.
The video is not a depiction of wanton violence meant simply to terrorize, but rather an indictment, an attempt to lay out the case to justify the execution.
“The fiery death of pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh is the relatively brief climax in a 22-minute film narrative that imitates the production values of documentaries aired on outlets like the History Channel,” Loren Thompson writes in Forbes. “It is crafted as a morality play featuring an extended monologue by the captured pilot in which he details how the coalition of Western countries and local Arab states wages its air war against ISIS. After describing the military systems being used and the bases from which they originate, the video shows searing images of civilians who allegedly have been killed or injured by coalition bombs — many of them children.”
The 22 1/2 minute video opens with the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, being interviewed by Charlie Rose about the anti-ISIS air campaign. (He is described as a “taghut,” an Arabic word that roughly translates to “apostate.”)
“We said to all the pilots, for the airstrikes against ISIS, we are only looking for volunteers,” Abdullah says. “So anybody who wants to volunteer, please step forward. Every single pilot raised his hand and stepped forward.”
The implication is obvious: the lieutenant we are about to watch being immolated wasn’t drafted. He wasn’t just following orders. He voluntarily agreed to be part of an air campaign that, to date, has included at least 16,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which have killed and wounded an unknown number of fighters as well as civilians. He is thus responsible for his actions.
This is justice, they imply.
Next we see a series of quick cuts of war, some apparently from Hollywood film productions. Then we move to an image of King Abdullah next to President Barack Obama.
This is part two of ISIS’ indictment: against Jordan as a nation, for aligning itself with not a non-Muslim country, but one that has invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and waged bombing campaigns against Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, not to mention kidnapping and torturing Muslims at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and elsewhere. This reminder, it is safe to assume, plays well among many Muslims.
We see images of Jordanian generals and other members of the armed forces palling around with their American counterparts, firing missiles and dropping bombs and shooting at Muslim civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As a narrator continues to read calmly, the pilot makes his first appearance in a series of newscasts pulled from throughout the region, subtly noting the panic in those descriptions of his crashed plane, lost in ISIS-controlled territory.
As usual, the ISIS captive is forced to wear an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of those that became famous because detainees captured by the Bush administration were forced to wear them at Guantánamo Bay and other extrajudicial detention facilities. Make no mistake: this is a direct attempt at equivalence. More to the point, for the Muslims they are hoping to recruit using these videos, they are extolling the virtues of revenge: After 14 years of repeated humiliations by the US against Muslims, they are finally striking back, an eye for an eye, a jumpsuit for a jumpsuit.
At length and in great detail, Lt. al-Kaseasbeh describes his target, the mission, the specific laser guided bombs he was charged with dropping, and the other countries – the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia – that participated in that sortie.
His “testimony” accounts for almost half of the video. What follows is a series of images interspersed images: videotapes of bombs being dropped as seen from in-flight computers, a severely wounded Arab child, more bombings as seen from above, another wounded child, over and over again. The message is clear: this Jordanian pilot is guilty of wounding and killing innocent children.
Finally, seven minutes before the end of the video, we see the lieutenant walking by himself past a line of masked ISIS fighters. Lest you miss the point, this last walk is interspersed with images of bombs falling on civilian targets, pilots climbing into their jets, rubble, civilians being pulled out from shattered buildings. The impression is of the condemned man experiencing his sins through flashback as he prepares to meet judgment.
Things get quiet. Aside from random background noise, wind, there’s no talking. Cinematically, the video’s producers slowly bring up the sound of a beating heart, faster and faster. He’s already covered with kerosene. The executioner lights his torch.
The death is, as reported elsewhere previously, gruesome and horrible.
Afterwards, an earthmover dumps soil and debris on top of the cage and the charred corpse, and pushes them into the ground and covers them up. The video’s producers are crystal clear in their message: Just as the anti-ISIS bombing campaign is reducing buildings in their territory to rubble, and killing people, they’re doing the same thing to the pilot that they captured.
Finally, the narrator notes that ISIS has the names and photographs of pilots and declares them wanted men, going so far as to offer an award of “100 gold dinars to whoever kills a Crusader pilot.”
Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, a member of an anti-Assad militant group inside Syria told the International Business Times: “Today when I saw the video I was really, really shocked. I didn’t imagine ISIS would do that. There is nothing like this in Islam and the ISIS say they are just living under the rule of Islam. But they judge you like this: ‘If someone bombs your families and women and children and burns them with these bombs, you must burn him.’”
No matter where they stand on this issue, Americans should understand that ISIS sees itself not as aggressors but as victims. In the territory that it controls, yes, they have carried out numerous atrocities. But they have never attacked the West. There has never been an ISIS-backed terrorist act anywhere in the world.
As they see it, the West is attacking them for challenging corrupt secular regimes in Syria and Iraq, and for trying to restore a fundamentalist caliphate that returns Islam to its pure original form.
While it is easy to dismiss ISIS as wild-eyed extremists for whom violence is its own reward, as many Western commentators do, that’s neither the way that they see themselves or – more importantly – the way that they seek to be portrayed to their target audience, Muslims are angry at the West but have not yet undertaken the path of radical jihad against it. This execution video is merely the latest entry in a propaganda war that, like it or not, ISIS appears to be winning.
A New York City grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer despite videotape that clearly shows Eric Garner, an African-American father of six about to be arrested for selling untaxed loose cigarettes, being strangled to death by the cops. Takeaway: symbolic changes like an African-American president won’t change the system itself.
I am one of several cartoonists who contributed work to a new video called “Cartoonists Demand Action,” which calls for increased gun control in the wake of the Newtown shootings in Connecticut. Organized by the brilliant Ruben Bolling, the other cartoonists who participated include Tom Tomorrow, Garry Trudeau, Mo Willems, Lalo Alcaraz, Steven Brodner, Peter Kuper, Stephan Pastis, Lincoln Pierce, Mike Luckovich, Mike Peters, Jerry Scott, Dan Piraro, Roz Chast and – get this – Art Spiegelman.
This is definitely the first-ever joint Spiegelman-Rall appearance.
My participation may come as a surprise to readers who know I am a strong advocate of the Second Amendment. History teaches us that revolutionaries and those to seek to resist foreign invasion rely on guns that were in circulation before the conflicts they fought against oppression and tyranny. This is why I believe that it’s important for Americans to have the right to own weapons.
Guns, it hardly need be said, are dangerous. So I believe that they need to be controlled and regulated the same way cars are. Motorists are required to receive training before they are allowed to drive. They must carry insurance to cover people they injure or kill with their car. They must take new tests, such as vision, to ensure they are qualified to drive. And of course cars are regulated. No one would suggest that cars be unregulated.
Like a car, guns can kill and maim. So people who buy guns should be required to pass a safety test, receive proper training, register their firearms and carry insurance in case they shoot someone or something they shouldn’t.
There is an argument that regulation is a first step toward government seizure. If they know who has guns, they can take them away. Which is true.
I don’t trust the government. No one should. But I’m counting on the fact that, if and when the time comes for armed resistance, it will be possible for patriotic Americans to keep their weapons out of the hands of government agents who seek to take them away. The situation will likely be chaotic and anarchic.
Moreover, we have to live in the present. Right now, as things stand, we have hundreds of millions of firearms in the hands of anyone with a couple of hundred dollars. That’s madness.
I believe in cars. But I also believe in regulation of cars.
Guns are no less lethal than cars.