Trump’s lies are a virus, and news organizations are the host

Derek Thompson writes:

The news media today face an epistemic crisis: how to publish the president’s commentary without amplifying his fabrications and conspiracy theories.

One flashpoint came several weeks ago, when President Donald Trump told Axios reporters that he planned to use an executive order to end birthright citizenship because, as he put it, “we’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen.” On Twitter, Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote, “Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship.”

As many journalists quickly pointed out, this was multilayered malarkey. The president was proposing an unconstitutional means of obliterating the Fourteenth Amendment on the basis of a falsehood; more than two dozen countries in the Western Hemisphere have unrestricted jus soli laws, like the U.S. Axios was treating as fact a haphazard plan, in search of an impossible outcome, justified by a false assertion.

Axios took about as much grief as it deserved. But as others have shown, it’s far from the only media outlet whose headlines and tweets are guilty of passing along Trump’s falsehoods as straightforward and noteworthy quotes. [Continue reading…]

Marie Colvin: Lindsey Hilsum’s revealing biography of courageous war reporter is compelling stuff

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Marie Colvin, who died after being targeted in a shell attack in Homs, Syria, in 2012.
Wikipedia

By Idrees Ahmad, University of Stirling

For Marie Colvin, it was Lebanon’s War of the Camps that brought home the power of journalism. In April 1987 Burj al Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp, was besieged by Amal, a Shia militia backed by the Syrian regime.

Colvin and her photographer Tom Stoddart paid an Amal commander to briefly hold fire while they ran into the camp across no-man’s land. The assault on the camp was relentless and women were forced to run a gauntlet of sniper fire to get food and water for their families.

One young woman, Haji Achmed Ali, was shot as she tried to re-enter the camp with supplies. As she lay there wounded, no man dared pull her to safety. But then, Colvin reported:

Two [women] raced from cover, plucked Achmed Ali from the dust and hauled her to safety. It is the women who are dying and it was women who tired of men’s inaction.

Despite the best efforts of volunteer medics, Achmed Ali would not survive. At the hospital another woman appealed to Colvin to tell the world the young woman’s story.

[Read more…]

Words and walkouts aren’t enough. CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta’s press pass

Margaret Sullivan writes:

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta is a smart, tough reporter. He can also be a grandstander who seems to thrive on conflict with President Trump and doesn’t always know when to stop his aggressive questioning.

But whether you like Acosta’s style, it’s clear the White House crossed a bright line Wednesday when it took away Acosta’s “hard pass,” which allows him the access he needs to cover the White House.

That action amounts to punishing a member of the press for doing his job of informing the public — and then creating a false pretext to justify that relatiation.

Trump’s dislike of Acosta is well known, and he took it to a new level at a wild news conference Wednesday, calling him “a rude, terrible person” whom CNN should be ashamed of employing.

To make matters worse, Sarah Sanders lied — and circulated a misleadingly edited video to back herself up — when she claimed later that Acosta was being punished for “placing his hands on a young woman.”

A White House staff member was directed to take a mic out of Acosta’s hands; he certainly didn’t readily give it up but he was polite, and he came into physical contact with her only for a brief moment as he moved his arm to shield the mic.

I’ve heard various suggestions about how CNN or the press corps should respond to this retaliation: There should be a boycott, a walkout, a news blackout. And I’ve read the strongly worded rebukes from the White House Correspondents’ Association, from CNN and others.

But mere words aren’t enough. And a boycott or blackout not only runs counter to the core idea that the reporters are there to inform the public, but it also would cede the briefings to the worst Trump sycophants.

No, something more is called for: CNN should sue the Trump White House on First Amendment grounds. And press-rights groups, along with other media organizations, should join in to create a united and powerful front. (Fox News, which benefited from the press corps’ united front on its behalf when the Obama White House tried to exclude it from some briefings in 2009, should pay that solidarity forward by getting on board.) [Continue reading…]

Trump’s attacks on the press are illegal. We’re suing

Suzanne Nossel writes:

President Donald J. Trump’s frequent threats and hostile acts directed toward journalists and the media are not only offensive and unbecoming of a democratic leader; they are also illegal. In the Trump era, nasty rhetoric, insults and even threats of violence have become an occupational hazard for political reporters and commentators. To be sure, a good portion of President Trump’s verbal attacks on journalists and news organizations might be considered fair game in this bare-knuckled political moment. The president has free-speech rights just like the rest of us, and deeming the news media “the enemy of the American people” and dismissing accurate reports as “fake news” are permissible under the First Amendment.

But the First Amendment does not protect all speech. Although the president can launch verbal tirades against the press, he cannot use the powers of his office to suppress or punish speech he doesn’t like. When President Trump proposes government retribution against news outlets and reporters, his statements cross the line. Worse still, in several cases it appears that the bureaucracy he controls has acted on his demands, making other threats he issues to use his governmental powers more credible. Using the force of the presidency to punish or suppress legally protected speech strikes at the heart of the First Amendment, contravening the Constitution. Presidents are free to mock, needle, evade and even demean the press, but not to use the power of government to stifle it.

That is why this week PEN America, an organization of writers that defends free expression, together with the nonprofit organization Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Clinic, is filing suit in federal court seeking an order directing the president not to use the force of his office to exact reprisals against the press. [Continue reading…]

Woodward missed everything that matters about the Trump presidency

David Frum writes:

The alleged killing of a Washington Post columnist on the orders of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has triggered many rethinks—and not least a rethinking of the lavishly flattering journalism that hailed the crown prince’s rise to supreme power.

Among the biggest media boosters of the Saudi crown prince was Bob Woodward in his new book, Fear. Woodward observed that a National Security Council staffer, Derek Harvey, believed that “MBS was the future. MBS saw that transformative change in Saudi Arabia was the only path to survival for the Kingdom.” This is but one of the encomia to MbS in Woodward’s pages—all of them traceable much less to Woodward’s feelings about MbS than to Woodward’s apparent indebtedness to Harvey.

Woodward doesn’t publicly identify his sources, but much of his account of the inner workings of the National Security Council in the first six months of the Trump administration is relayed from Harvey’s perspective. (Harvey, a Michael Flynn appointee, would be fired by H. R. McMaster in July 2017. Harvey now works on the staff of Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.) No person in Woodward’s book is more lavishly praised than Harvey:

One of the premier fact-driven intelligence analysts in the U.S. government … a soft-spoken, driven legend … In some circles he was referred to as “The Grenade” because of his ability and willingness to explode conventional wisdom.

More valuable than such compliments is Woodward’s endorsement of Harvey’s big project: his determination, backed by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to forge a region-transforming partnership against Iran in alliance with the Saudi crown prince. [Continue reading…]

To tackle the climate crisis, human civilization must transform faster than ever before

The New York Times reports:

A landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming.

The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change.

The new report, however, shows that many of those effects will come much sooner, at the 2.7-degree mark.

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely. [Continue reading…]

Margaret Sullivan writes:

Just as the world, especially the United States, needs radical change to mitigate the coming crisis, so too for the news media.

Journalists and news organizations all over the world — but especially in America — need their own transformation.

This subject must be kept front and center, with the pressure on and the stakes made abundantly clear at every turn.

There is a lot happening in the nation and the world, a constant rush of news. Much of it deserves our attention as journalists and news consumers. But we need to figure out how to make the main thing matter.

In short, when it comes to climate change, we — the media, the public, the world — need radical transformation, and we need it now. [Continue reading…]

Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance spreads fear worldwide, but we won’t be silenced

Manal al-Sharif writes:

The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, the prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor, has reverberated among journalists, activists and critics of authoritarianism all over the world.

My first encounter with his writings was in 2011, year one of the Arab Spring, in Al-Hayat, the Saudi newspaper that we both wrote for. In his columns, he called for seizing the moment and pushed for reforms within Saudi Arabia. For his courageous views, he was banned from writing and tweeting for more than a year. After declaring allegiance to the new crown prince in his first tweet after a year of silence, he was banned again for good in September 2017 for tweets deemed empathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, and for questioning the arrests of some of the prominent Saudi clerics, and others, that were carried out that same month. Things then escalated and resulted in Khashoggi’s departure from Saudi Arabia for fear of arrest and imprisonment.

I don’t know if it was fate or coincidence that we were both given the opportunity to voice our views in the same newspaper again, this time the Washington Post. Finally, we could write uncensored. The power of self-imposed exile is that you can finally write openly without fear of prosecution. Little did we know that safety was still not guaranteed, that it could lead to a disappearance. [Continue reading…]

The male cultural elite is staggeringly blind to #MeToo. Now it’s paying for it

Moira Donegan writes:

First, it was Harper’s. In their October issue, the magazine published an essay by John Hockenberry, the disgraced former public radio host who was accused of sexual harassment and racially inappropriate comments by women he worked with. He sent them emails asking for dates, made comments on their appearance and made sex jokes. In August 2017, after multiple complaints about his behavior were made to WNYC management, Hockenberry quietly retired from his program, The Takeaway. His behavior was only made public later, in reporting by Suki Kim for The Cut.

Hockenberry’s Harper’s piece, titled Exile, reached nearly 7,000 words – extraordinarily long for a personal essay – and details the suffering that Hockenberry claims to have endured since his behavior was made public. In the essay, Hockenberry relies heavily on the notion that his disability is exculpatory of his behavior – Hockenberry uses a wheelchair – and compares himself to Lolita, the teen girl who is kidnapped and raped in the Vladimir Nabokov novel.

He claims that he has reached out to his accusers and has been ignored or rebuffed, an assertion denied by the women, who say that they have not heard from him. Later, Hockenberry likens the Me Too movement to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, and characterizes his harassment of colleagues as “courtship”. “Do I dare make a spirited defense of something once called romance from the darkness of this exile, at the nadir of my personal credibility?” He does dare.

Then, there was the New York Review of Books. In an issue titled The Fall of Men, centered on what editor Ian Buruma called “Me Too offenders who had not been convicted in a court of law but by social media,” the magazine ran a similar piece, entitled Reflections from a Hashtag, by the Canadian former broadcast star Jian Ghomeshi.

The piece, like Hockenberry’s, was a first-person account from a man accused of sexual misconduct – in Ghomeshi’s case, sexual assault – that detailed the suffering he said he had endured as a result of his behavior being made public. Like Hockenberry, Ghomeshi seems not to have much considered the impact that his actions had on the women he targeted, and like Hockenberry, he downplayed the allegations against him and distorted the facts in a self-serving and myopic piece that is short of self-reflection and long on solicitations for pity. [Continue reading…]

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…]