• Major Errors by Major Networks

    For anyone who cares about accurate reporting, the past week was truly disastrous.

    Since democracy depends on transparency and some measure of justified trust in our basic institutions, these journalistic failures are damaging to the country.

    The misreporting comes on top of well-documented sexual harassment and abuse allegations that led to Matt Lauer’s firing and raise questions about how much his bosses knew and covered up over the years. One, Andrew Lack, is still at NBC. The other, Jeff Zucker, runs CNN.

    We also heard Cokie Roberts, long-time reporter for ABC News, say on the air that female reporters knew not to get into elevators alone with some Congressmen and Senators. She didn’t seem to notice that neither she nor anyone else considered that worthy of investigating or reporting.

    As for last week’s errors, Glenn Greenwald cites chapter and verse here:

    The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened (The Intercept)

    CNN also illustrates how these organizations offered only lame apologies for BIG errors:

    Misreporting the date, which both CNN and ABC did, was not a minor matter. It went to the heart of charges that candidate Trump worked with Russia and Russian-backed organizations to win the election. In fact, the accurate dates were after Trump was elected.

    Some people have attributed the errors to sloppy reporting, others to deliberate efforts (presumably by the leakers) to harm either Trump or the networks that reported.

    There is no doubt the reporting was sloppy, the retractions mealy-mouthed.

    But I have an additional observation, albeit purely speculative. First, note that the leaks came from classified settings, such as the House Intel Committee. Second, we know that the Department of Justice has established a high-priority task force to identify the sources of classified leaks. So, I speculate, could DOJ (working with US intel agencies) given specific people some documents seeded with misinformation to see if that identifiable info was leaked? If it was, then the source would be obvious to DOJ or the CIA.

    That technique is a familiar one. Intelligence agencies sometimes alter each document slightly for each individual recipient. That way, if some portion ends up in the newspaper, it might be possible to identify which recipient leaked it. I wonder if that’s what happened here? The fact that two sources confirmed CNN’s erroneous story makes me wonder if a Congressman or two received a deliberately altered document.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 20

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Pres. Trump’s speech to the UN was blunt and aimed squarely at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela 

    It combined two main elements:

    1. A traditional Republican assertion of US military strength and global engagements
    2. Trump’s own nationalist, anti-globalist agenda, praising “strong sovereign nations” (not international institutions) as the basis of global order

    The blunt language attracted a lot of attention. Conservatives (including many who don’t support Trump) were positive. Liberals cringed, longing for Obama’s soft tone, soft policies, and strategic patient.

    He called the nuclear deal with Iran “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.”  He spoke of Iran’s aggressive support of terror and expansion in the Middle East. He specifically spoke about the threat from “Radical Islamic Terror,” words his predecessor never used (and that Trump himself has used less often in recent months).

    He said nothing about “democracy promotion,” a centerpiece of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

    His comment on Venezuela was equally blunt, saying they had turned a rich country into an impoverished failure and done so not because it misapplied socialist policies but because it applied them exactly as they were intended.

    Without using the term “axis of evil,” his speech clearly echoed those themes from Pres. Bush’s War on Terror.

    As CNN put it, “No American President has ever spoken to the world like this,” calling terrorists and some nations “evil.”

    The best comment about the speech came from

     

    Rich Lowery in the National Review Online:

    As someone said on Twitter, never before has been there so much murmuring of “holy sh**” in so many different languages.

     Two natural disasters: 

    1. Cat 5 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds, the second major hurricane within a month
    2. Mexico suffers a 7.1 magnitude quake.

    Numerous casualties and fatalities from both, unfortunately.

    Comment: The best way to keep up with news about each is with your favorite breaking-news site online. The cable channels will show you the gritty aftermath but take hours to give you the hard news you can get in a few minutes reading.

    Republicans on the hill embrace big tax cuts, even if they increase the deficit (New York Times)

    Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

    The Republican lawmakers, under mounting pressure to score a legislative win on taxes, say a tax cut of this magnitude will stimulate economic growth enough to offset any deficit impact.

    Yet critics say a deficit-financed tax cut is at odds with longstanding Republican calls for fiscal discipline, including that tax cuts not add to the ballooning federal deficit.

    Comment: Tax bills must originate in the House, which is dribbling out some information but not the key details. Those should come in the next week or so.

    Former Chicago cop, wanted for shaking down drug dealers, has been arrested in Detroit after 15 years on the run (Chicago Tribune)

    He and his gang of corrupt officers were tripped up in 2001 when they tried one ripoff while the dealer happened to be on the phone with his girlfriend. She mistakenly thought another drug dealer was the robber and called the cops. Honest cops showed up, saw what was happening, and that was the beginning of the end.

    Turkey increasingly uses its thuggish, dictatorial tactics in Western democracies. It did it again this week

    They did it in May, 2017, when Turkish security officers assaulted peaceful demonstrators in Washington, DC. (New York Times report here.)

    This week, they tried to stop a speaker at a conference in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, known as NATO-PA.

    NATO PA organizers asked that MEF remove a speaker, Emre Çelik, from the program in response to a demand issued by the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. MEF removed the speaker from the program, but invited him to address the gathering anyway.

    When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation grew visibly agitated and acted quickly to shut down the event. –Middle East Forum

    Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, spoke plainly about the incident, which was captured on video:

    President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it. –Daniel Pipes

    The MEF report on the incident is here.

    Paul Manafort wants investigations of leaks, which may have come from Special Counsel Mueller’s office, which is trying to rachet up the pressure on Manafort (Reuters)

    “If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” [Manafort’s spokesman said].

    “The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.

    The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort. –Reuters

    Comment: There are several disturbing aspects of this story, all requiring serious investigation. Manafort’s role is obviously one. So is the apparent release of secret information, the presence of a government wiretap on the manager of a political campaign, the possibility President Trump was picked up on the surveillance, and the statements by several Obama administration intelligence officials that they knew of no such surveillance. It is unclear if those officials made false statements under oath.

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  • Chelsea Mourning: Harvard Students in a Snit over Her Cancellation as a Fellow

    Well, maybe “fellow” isn’t such a good title, either.

    In any case, Harvard students know oppression, imperialism, capitalism, and heteronormativity when they see it, and they are shouting back.

    Here’s the headline in the student newspaper:

    Outcry After Chelsea Manning Dropped from IOP Fellowship (The Crimson, Harvard)

    Controversy enveloped the Kennedy School of Government this weekend as critics on campus and around the country castigated the school for rescinding Chelsea Manning’s appointment as a visiting fellow this fall.

    Facing criticism on-campus and nationwide, Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas W. Elmendorf rescinded Manning’s invitation in a statement issued in the early hours of Friday, calling her selection a “mistake.”

    Now the school faces a fresh wave of controversy as commentators lambast Harvard’s decision to disinvite Manning, a transgender activist whose prison sentence former President Barack Obama commuted in 2017. –The Crimson

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    The Aggrieved Left Pushes Back

    They and Chelsea Manning are “Victims”

    The pushback from the campus left, which now sees itself in its preferred position of “blameless victim,” includes a letter condemning the university for dropping the Manning offer:

    In light of her selfless sacrifices as a whistleblower, her dedication to the truth, and her commitment to human rights, we call upon the Harvard Kennedy School to reinstate Chelsea Manning’s designation as a fellow at the Institute of Politics,” read the letter, signed by the Trans Task Force, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and the Anti-Islamophobia Network, among several other groups. –Letter from student organizations supporting Chelsea Manning appointment at Harvard, quoted in The Crimson

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    The Crimson’s Reporting: Fair and Competent

    The Crimson article, it should be noted, is fair-minded and includes on-the-record quotes from university members on both sides of the controversy.

    Its reporting on a disputed left-right issue is actually superior to that of the NYT, Washington Post, and other media.

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    Framing This Issue is Contentious

    Comment: This dispute is framed in quite different ways by the opposing sides–and that framing matters.

    The left sees it as primarily a snub to Manning because of her gender reassignment.

    The right sees it as a reasonable decision about someone who leaked classified information.

    The left sees the leaking as a valuable public service.

    The right sees it as a crime that was properly punished by a court-martial.

    Both sides see the designation as a “Fellow” of the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics as an honor. One sees it as well deserved, the other as an endorsement of espionage.

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    FYI: The headline of this post, “Chelsea Mourning,” is a nod to Joni Mitchell:

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    Thanks to the wonderful Belladonna Rogers for this story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, August 6

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    UN bans key North Korean exports because of missile tests (Reuters)

    Could cut up to 1/3 of the state’s meager $3 billion export revenue.

    Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the UN, offered a weary, pessimistic assessment:

    We should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. Not even close. The North Korean threat has not left us, it is rapidly growing more dangerous. –Amb. Nikki Haley to UN Security Council

    Meanwhile, China and Russia sharply criticized US deployment of anti-missile systems in South Korea.

    Related Story: US tells China it will be watching closely to see if Beijing actually executes the promised sanctions (Associated Press)

    Comment: This will only get more dangerous.

    Administration leakers should not be hard to catch, says Washington Post.

    The headline news has been Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepping up the number of investigations and saying that journalists who receive classified information should not be immune if lives are endangered (a questionable argument, in light of Supreme Court precedents).

    The Post, citing cyber-security experts, lists four steps in the investigations:

    1. Find a pool of suspects
    2. Shrink your pool using digital tools
    3. Subpoena and grab personal data
    4. Question and prosecute

    Comment: The key thing to notice about these leaks is that they are not whistle-blower leaks, designed to expose wrongdoing. They are designed either to damage the President or his administration or, alternatively, to win internal battles over policy. Neither is tolerable when the information is classified. The damage to the country should be obvious.

    Gang Warfare: Arch-rivals of MS-13, the Barrio-18 gang are equally lethal (Daily Mail)

    Barrio-18 was founded in Los Angeles and has now spread across the US, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. It has “an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 members across 20 US states and is linked to drugs, murder, kidnappings and other violent crime from Central America to Canada.”

    ◆◆ Two “Dumb Criminal” Stories so breathtaking in their stupidity, I have to include both

    Meth dealer walks into a bank with a $1 million dollar bill (fake, of course) and a deposit slip. What could possibly go wrong? (Daily Mail)

    Comment: Such a carefully thought-out plan, too. Where did he trip up?

     Anthony Thomas is an impressive co-winner of “perp of the day” (New York Daily News)

    Comment: “Does this mean I don’t get the job?”

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