Woodward is truth’s gold standard

Jill Abramson writes:

It’s hard to imagine a more disturbing portrait of a president than the one Bob Woodward painted of Richard Nixon in his final days: paranoid, poisoned by power, pounding the carpet and talking to the portraits on the walls. But the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, as recounted by Woodward in his new book, “Fear,” are strikingly similar and in some ways even more gut-wrenching. Then, as now, the country faced a crisis of leadership caused by a president’s fatal flaws and inability to function in the job.

In both “Fear” and “The Final Days,” which he co-authored with Carl Bernstein, Woodward shows how a federal criminal investigation clouds and then comes to obsess a president and paralyze the operations of the White House. At a moment when feverish talk of presidential impeachment dominates the political discourse, “Fear” is full of Nixonian echoes, including Trump’s childishly short attention span and refusal to read briefing papers. Nixon’s aides were instructed not to give him anything more complicated than a Reader’s Digest article.

“Fear” is an important book, not only because it raises serious questions about the president’s basic fitness for the office but also because of who the author is. Woodward’s dogged investigative reporting led to Nixon’s resignation. He has written or co-authored 18 books, 12 of them No. 1 bestsellers; broken other major stories as a reporter and associate editor of The Washington Post; and won two Pulitzer Prizes. His work has been factually unassailable. (His judgment is certainly not perfect, and he has been self-critical about his belief, based on reporting before the Iraq War, that there were weapons of mass destruction .)

During Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein were often alone on the story. Now, the din of daily disclosure and opinion is almost deafening. But what was important about Woodward’s meticulous reporting in the 1970s is even more invaluable today: His utter devotion to “just the facts” digging and his compulsively thorough interviews, preserved on tape for this book, make him a reliable narrator. In an age of “alternative facts” and corrosive tweets about “fake news,” Woodward is truth’s gold standard. [Continue reading…]

How Assad made truth a casualty of war

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes:

On February 22, 2012, when the British photojournalist Paul Conroy survived the artillery barrage that killed Marie Colvin, he was rushed to a place of greater danger. Bashar al-Assad’s war of repression has killed civilians indiscriminately, but its targeting of medical facilities has been systematic. Hospitals are the most endangered spaces in opposition-held areas. Of the 492 medical facilities destroyed in the war, Physicians for Human Rights attributes the destruction of 446 to Assad and his allies. The UN Commission of Inquiry has charged the regime and its allies with having “systematically targeted medical facilities… and intentionally attacking medical personnel.” With a pierced abdomen and a fist-sized hole in his thigh, Conroy was carried to hospital under a hail of mortar fire. It was the only hospital in Baba Amr, the besieged Homs neighborhood Colvin and Conroy had been reporting from—and it had no anaesthetics. As the hospital’s only doctor cut away Conroy’s torn muscles and stapled his wounds, Conroy had to dull the pain with three cigarettes.

Conroy was where he wanted to be, but not in the manner he had intended. A day earlier, he had convinced Marie Colvin, the intrepid Sunday Times correspondent, that the situation in Baba Amr was too dangerous for them to stay. Colvin had agreed to leave on the condition that they visit the beleaguered hospital one more time. The day before that, Colvin had also made the fateful decision to speak to the BBC and CNN about the dire situation inside the siege. She was aware that the broadcast would reveal her presence to the regime, putting her life in danger. A Lebanese intelligence officer had earlier warned them both that regime troops had orders to execute any Western journalists on the spot. (New information suggests that Colvin was indeed actively targeted by the regime.)

The regime had failed to thwart their entry, but it was determined to prevent their exit. Early the morning after her last broadcast, the regime started its assault on the activist-run media center where Conroy and Colvin were housed. A former artillery gunner in the British Army, Conroy quickly judged that the barrage was targeted at the media center. But before he could warn Colvin, the center had taken a direct hit, killing Colvin and the French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, wounding Conroy and others.

The incident was a turning point. It signaled the regime’s willingness to use deadly violence to thwart independent witness to its slaughter. [Continue reading…]

Scientists aren’t impressed with New York Times’ new feature story on climate change

Joe Romm writes:

The New York Times Magazine is hyping a massive new story claiming that the period from 1979 to 1989 was “The decade we almost stopped climate change.”

But the just-released, roughly 30,000 word article by Nathaniel Rich is already being widely criticized by leading scientists, historians, and climate experts. As physicist Ben Franta, who studies the history of climate politics, put it, “Rich’s exoneration of fossil fuel producers as well as the Republican party seem based on logical non sequiturs.”

Bob Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist and author of numerous studies on climate politics and lobbying, said in a media statement, “This article strikes me as a highly selective historical account that omits key facts that run counter to its overall narrative.”

In particular, “its treatment of industry actors is limited to their official statements, and neglect their political actions,” Brulle said. Those political actions have always been to oppose action on climate change and spread disinformation.

The article’s thesis is that the reason we failed to act during this supposedly “decisive decade” was neither Republican intransigence nor Big Oil’s efforts to downplay the issue and block action, but just human nature. [Continue reading…]

‘He doesn’t like bullies’: The story of the 37-year-old who took over the New York Times and is taking on Trump

The Washington Post reports:

The new reporter was sharp, humble and eager to learn. Arthur had snazzier shoes than his colleagues at the Oregonian, but this was the only hint that he was a Sulzberger, the family that has owned and published the New York Times since 1896.

He was 25 years old at the time he arrived in Portland in 2006, and Arthur Gregg Sulzberger fit right in even as his name stood out. Within months, he was aggressively reporting on the blustering and embattled sheriff of Multnomah County, who fought back publicly against the coverage.

In 2008, after Sulzberger had written more than 60 stories focused on the activities and missteps at the sheriff’s office, its leader resigned.

“The sheriff tried to paint him as a pretty-boy son of the Times publisher, and his attacks on Arthur did get kind of personal,” said former Oregonian reporter Anna Griffin. “And Arthur was absolutely unflappable. . . . He’s not somebody who backs down. He doesn’t like bullies. He does not like people who abuse power.”

Ten years later, Sulzberger, who turns 38 next week, is grappling with another adversary, this time at a much higher level and with much higher stakes. On Sunday, Sulzberger, now seven months into his tenure as publisher of the Times, released a polite but stern statement responding to President Trump’s characterization of their July 20 meeting at the White House. [Continue reading…]

Europe shouldn’t fear Steve Bannon. It should fear the hype that surrounds him

Cas Mudde writes:

If Steve Bannon didn’t exist, the media would have had to invent him. And, in fact, they largely did. US coverage has turned Bannon into Donald Trump’s Rasputin, single-handedly responsible for his shock election as the 45th president of the United States. And now, as Bannon crosses the Atlantic, breathless reports speak of his “Plan to Hijack Europe for the Far Right”. His meeting with the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson was apparently convened to plot “new moves that could have a significant impact on European politics”.

The notion of the evil genius, particularly one on the far right, is seductive. It helps externalise the evil. Rather than accepting that nationalist and populist ideas are part of the mainstream of society, their success is presented as the outcome of a devious plot, constructed by a political mastermind, in which a gullible population is seduced by a charismatic leader.

While this might be an attractive narrative, it is dangerous for at least two reasons. First, it is wrong, and leaves people poorly informed about the most significant danger to liberal democracy today. Second, it exaggerates the importance of the far right, which can, ironically, lead to an actual increase in its power.

Bannon is neither Trump’s Rasputin, nor a political prodigy. If anything, he is a master at selling himself as a successful entrepreneur and political operative to both investors and journalists. His early support for Trump was also not a stroke of genius but of luck, coming as it did after he had backed almost every other radical right movement or politician in the previous decade, from the Tea Party movement to Sarah Palin. [Continue reading…]

The liar’s dividend, and other challenges of deep-fake news

Paul Chadwick writes:

Do the notes taken by the interpreters at the recent Helsinki summit include the words “Snowden” and “swap”? We could ask the Russians to check their (assumed) audio recording and let us all know whether Presidents Trump and Putin discussed such a prospect during their long private chat. Trump wrong-footing his own country’s intelligence community by delivering their most-wanted, Edward Snowden, seems precisely the trolling that Putin would enjoy.

What else might leak soon, in the form of audio of the authentic voices of two familiar public figures speaking to each other through the only other people in the room, the US interpreter and her Russian counterpart? What other mischief could be coming in this dawning era of astonishingly realistic “deep fakes”?

Artificial intelligence is becoming more proficient at using genuine audio and video to help create fake audio and video in which people appear to say or do what they have not said or done. Celebrities seeming to read aloud their own tweets and fake video of Barack Obama are two examples. Some developers indicate awareness of the ethical implications.

The issues are analysed in a new draft paper, Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy and National Security, by two US law professors. Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron unflinchingly yet constructively explain the potential harms to individuals and societies – for example to reputations, elections, commerce, security, diplomacy and journalism – and suggest ways the problem can be ameliorated, through technology, law, government action and market initiatives. The paper reflects and respects both experience and scholarship, a style familiar from the Lawfare blog that Chesney co-founded. The specifics in the paper are mostly American but its relevance is global. Deep fakes are aided by the quick, many-to-many spread of information, especially in social media, and by human traits such as biases, attraction to what’s novel and negative, and our comfort in our filter bubbles. [Continue reading…]

The media’s failure to connect the dots on climate change

Emily Atkin writes:

A record-breaking heat wave killed 65 people in Japan this week, just weeks after record flooding there killed more than 200. Record-breaking heat is also wreaking havoc in California, where the wildfire season is already worse than usual. In Greece, fast-moving fires have killed at least 80 people, and Sweden is struggling to contain more than 50 fires amid its worst drought in 74 years. Both countries have experienced all-time record-breaking temperatures this summer, as has most of the rest of the world.

Is this climate change, or merely Mother Nature? The science is clear: Heat-trapping greenhouse gases have artificially increased the average temperature across the globe, making extreme heat events more likely. This has also increased the risk of frequent and more devastating wildfires, as prolonged heat dries soil and turns vegetation into tinder.

And yet, despite these facts, there’s no climate connection to be found in much news coverage of extreme weather events across the globe—even in historically climate-conscious outlets like NPR and The New York Times. These omissions, critics say, can affect how Americans view global warming and its impact on their lives.

Major broadcast TV networks are the most glaring offenders. Media Matters reviewed 127 segments on the global heat wave that aired on ABC, CBS, and NBC this summer, and found that only one, on CBS This Morning, mentioned the connection between climate change and extreme heat. This fits a long-running pattern. As Media Matters noted, its latest annual study of broadcast coverage found that “during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.” [Continue reading…]

The Capital Gazette shooting and the true value of local newspapers

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes:

On Thursday afternoon, a thirty-eight-year-old man named Jarrod Ramos killed five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper, in Annapolis, Maryland. He fired a gun into the newsroom, then stopped, reloaded—members of the staff now cowering under their desks—and then started firing again. After a mass shooting, there is usually both sadness and a sense of dread, as the country waits to discover the shooter’s identity and the nature of his grievance. But in this case the staff of the Capital Gazette already knew all about Ramos. He had been the subject of a story in the paper in 2011 that detailed how he had stalked a high-school classmate on Facebook. Ever since, he had mounted a relentless campaign of harassment and menace against the paper and its editors. Ramos sued the Capital Gazette for defamation, and lost; he maintained a Twitter feed exclusively devoted to ranting against the paper. He threatened the paper often, and some of his threats “indicated violence,” the local police chief said Thursday. Tom Marquardt, who had been the newspaper’s publisher and editor until 2012, told the Los Angeles Times last night that, “if it’s him, I’m gonna feel responsible for this. I pray it’s not him.” It was. This time there was no mystery about the killer’s motivation, no chance for opportunistic politics to creep in. His story was already laid out in the memory of the local reporters and in their newspaper’s archives.

On Thursday evening, after Ramos was in custody, I read the article about Ramos and the woman from his high school, published on Sunday, July 31, 2011—the one that set off the unravelling. The story, written by a columnist named Eric Thomas Hartley, is a small masterpiece, one that shows exactly what local newspapers can do. Its tone is terse and alarmed; no paragraph is more than three sentences. Its subject is an outwardly unexceptional criminal case in Anne Arundel Court, in which Ramos pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment. The headline, ominous and artful, was “Jarrod Wants to be Your Friend.” [Continue reading…]

Fox News once gave Trump a perch. Now it’s his bullhorn

The New York Times reports:

In 2011, Fox News announced that a new guest would appear weekly on “Fox & Friends,” its chummy morning show. “Bold, brash, and never bashful,” a network ad declared. “The Donald now makes his voice loud and clear, every Monday on Fox.”

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Seven years later, the symbiosis between Donald J. Trump and his favorite cable network has only deepened. Fox News, whose commentators resolutely defend the president’s agenda, has seen ratings and revenues rise. President Trump views the network as a convenient safe space where he can express himself with little criticism from eager-to-please hosts.

Now, the line between the network’s studios and Mr. Trump’s White House is blurring further. Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president who helped create the look and feel of the channel’s conservative programming, is expected to be hired as the president’s new deputy chief of staff, overseeing communications.

He was recommended to Mr. Trump by a mutual friend: Sean Hannity, the Fox News star who has become a confidant of the president and promoter of the administration’s message to his average nightly audience of about 3.4 million viewers, the biggest in cable news. [Continue reading…]

The escalating hatred faced by journalists

Julie Beck writes:

The majority of Americans do not trust the news media. There are many complex reasons why, and there’s enough blame to go around to many different parties, journalists included. So it’s hardly surprising that they get some rude messages. “But I’m not talking about the rudeness. I’m talking about intimidation,” says Elana Newman, a psychologist who works with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. “I’ve been working for the Dart Center for 20 years in some capacity, and when we used to ask people what the most stressful parts of journalism are, they would talk about the hours, or getting it right. They would talk about all sorts of things. Now what comes up is really this kind of stuff.”

According to research by the psychologist Kelsey Parker in 2015, 63 percent of journalists from several English-speaking countries said they had experienced occupational intimidation in the past 12 months. Globally, almost two-thirds of female journalists “experienced acts of ‘intimidation, threats and abuse’ in relation to their work,” a report from the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute found. Another study, of Swedish journalists, found that a third had experienced a threat in the past year. A far greater number—74 percent—had received “abusive comments which are unpleasant but do not involve any direct threat.”

Journalists have had their families harassed, had their addresses and other personal information published (a practice known as doxxing), and had SWAT teams sent to their houses by trolls.

“Raise your hand if you know (or are) a journalist who has received a death threat in the last year,” Sam Escobar, the deputy director of Allure magazine, tweeted on Thursday after the shooting. The tweet received replies from journalists on every beat imaginable—health, politics, music, gender, tech, beauty—and a cartoonist. [Continue reading…]