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Local News Stations Engage in Covert Consolidation to Get Around Media Ownership Rules

11:34 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Americans who turn on their local news each night to get the latest on what is happening in their community probably do not ever stop to wonder if what they are watching is appearing on another channel. People tune into Fox, CBS, ABC, or NBC and expect to see reports conducted by just that news station. They assume each network operates independently and might value the news program they watch each night because it is different.

A new trend in news (particularly in local newsrooms) is changing the independence of news networks. A business practice of covert consolidation that consists of deals, loopholes and legal agreements between local television stations that allow them to outsource all the majority of their news programming and circumvent media ownership rules is being employed.

Free Press, a nonprofit that works to reform and further democratize media in the United States, is launching a “Change the Channels” campaign to draw attention to the practice of covert consolidation. They are calling on citizens across the United States to go into public files and find copies of legal arrangements in their community to see if news networks are engaged in covert consolidation.

The organization also is encouraging citizens to post footage from news networks in their local community to show how covert consolidation has resulted in news anchors reading the same story as another news network or the same news report footage being broadcast across multiple local news networks.

A video produced for the campaign clearly shows what is happening. In Asheville, North Carolina, two stations share the same reporter. In Columbus, Ohio, two stations share the same anchors. In El Paso, Teas, two stations share the same address.

Libby Reinish, a program coordinator for Free Press who works on the organization’s “Save the News” campaign, spent hours and hours doing research and work to put together this project. So far, she says research indicates at least eighty markets across the country have seen covert consolidation take place. Over two hundred stations have altered operations and consolidated yet for the most part Americans are largely unaware of this development in American local newsrooms.

One of the most egregious examples of covert consolidation, Reinish explains, happened in Peoria, Illinois and Syracuse, New York. Two media companies, Barrington Broadcasting and Granite Broadcasting, each controlled one station in the Peoria market and in the Syracuse market. No longer wishing to compete, they swapped stations so Barrington would control both stations in one market and Granite would control both stations in the other market.

Danilo Yanich of the Center for Community Research &  Service at the University of Delaware, produced a report on a “shared services agreement” in Honolulu, Hawaii. The agreement made in October 2009 between three of the five television stations in Honolulu resulted in KIVE, KHNL and KGMB combing operations to form a new entity Hawaii News Now. Media Council Hawaii (MCH) filed a complaint with the FCC to stop the agreement.

Yanich’s report compared newscasts before and after the agreement went into effect. From his research, he found that the three-station group was simply duplicating “their newscasts through the mechanism of a simulcast.” The number of “separate news voices” in the market was reduced.

Why should the public care about the state of local television news? As Yanich highlights, “over half of the public (55%)” prefer local television news as a medium for news and political information. Websites and the Internet are a close competitor, but, through search engines, local news television websites are most often the “frequently used source of news.”

Josh Stearns, an associate program director for Free Press on the “Save the News” campaign, suggests covert consolidation is a response to public interest groups and local citizens around the country, who have made it so hard for companies to consolidate.

“If you look back at 2003 when media ownership rules were going to be wiped off the books by the FCC, something like three million [people] fought back,” Stearns recalls. Citizens who fought back ensured that media ownership rules were preserved. Media consolidation was slowed down.

Now, news companies have found a way to get around the rules.

Covert consolidation contributes to the dismal state of local news. A recent FCC report found, “520 local TV stations air no local news at all (258 commercial stations and 262 noncommer-cial stations). Considering those, along with stations that air less than 30 minutes of local news per day, 33 percent of commercial stations currently offer little or no local news.”

There is a way to compel disclosure of covert consolidation agreements, given the fact that broadcast licenses are involved. Stearns notes news companies are keenly aware of their license obligations and no they must adhere to those obligations, which is why in one particular case of consolidation all the staff of a station was laid off except for two people (the minimum number of staff required to maintain a license).

Reinish compares the Comcast-NBC merger deal to covert consolidation saying, while there was likely evidence of supposed backroom conversations and infrastructure being put in place before the merger was eventually approved, covert consolidation is worse because no rules are being violated. New companies are able to erode principles of the press and violate tenets of competition, localism and diversity of viewpoints, which the FCC has been chartered to defend, without the FCC or public ever knowing they are committing any violations.

The FCC will be going through its quadrennial review of media ownership rules. Organizers with Free Press hope the FCC will raise the issue and take a strong stance against the practice.

Additionally, Free Press will be doing crowdsource reporting to uncover more instances of covert consolidation in the nation. They will be urging citizens to go into public files, find copies of legal arrangements, find comments people submitted on the agreement, research how many jobs were lost and how money changed hands, etc.

What has been uncovered is only the tip of the iceberg and they expect once Americans know covert consolidation is happening and begin to detect it while they are watching their local news, they will want to fight back against this practice.

***

To coincide with the launch, Free Press has posted this report on covert consolidation.

Again, news stations are making agreements called “Local News Service Agreements” to pool and share editors, journalists, equipment and content.

The report features various points from the Poynter Institute on the “pitfalls” of LNS agreements:

1. Stations that don’t have journalists on the ground may miss out on important sources or angles of a story.

2. The product coming out of a video pool may be devalued by the newsroom, because traditionally only routine or b-roll video was collected this way.

3. Pseudo-events and public relations stunts can take on false importance when one camera crew’s video and just one perspective ends up being re-used across multiple stations, creating an echo chamber and a misleading impression of real significance.

4. The deep context is traded for the quick shot, ignoring the “why and how” of an occurrence.

5. Journalists inevitably lose their jobs. Fewer are needed when one person and a camera covers a few beats for multiple stations.

6. Not all stations in a market necessarily take part  in a pool—which is a good thing in terms of not diluting a non-participating station’s coverage, but actually could make the sharing stations lose viewers in the long run.

Behind the Blogger Who Made the WikiLeaks Confidentiality Agreement a Top Story

9:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

David Allen Green, legal correspondent for the New Statesman out of the UK, has spent the last few days calling attention to a leaked WikiLeaks confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which he revealed in a blog post on May 11. Green has posted a second post on the agreement on his blog, Jack of Kent, and will be posting a summary to the New Statesmanwebsite on May 16, which last time I checked, he intends to glibly title, “NDAs for Dummies.”

I published an initial analysis of the leaked agreement on WL Central. The analysis was featured as a “Best Opinion” in an “Irony Alert” blog post on the agreement on The Week‘s website.

Green, who is the blogger who was the first to draw attention to the agreement, called it a “draconian and extraordinary legal gag that WikiLeaks imposes on its own staff” and, in particular, focused on Clause 5 of the agreement that “imposes a penalty of ‘£12,000,000 – twelve million pounds sterling’ on anyone who breaches this legal gag.”

In his follow-up post, which cites the analysis I wrote, he groups me with others who “sought to explain the document away: to normalize it and to contend that it is somehow unexceptional.” That is true. That is what I did.

He adds:

It may be well that for WikiLeaks partisans (like “the Birthers” in the United States), nothing – not even a disclosed document- will shift their adherence to their cause.

If so, that would present quite a paradox, as one claim for the WikiLeaks enterprise is that publishing original documents can undermine artificial and self-serving narratives.

So for WikiLeaks and its partisans, and for anyone else who is interested, what follows is a technical legal analysis of this extraordinary document.

This is the pejorative framing for Green’s legal analysis: others and myself are so fervently supportive of WikiLeaks that we are blind to the contents of this agreement. In fact, we are so biased that we are like the racist faction of people in the United States, who fought to get President Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate to prove he was American–a campaign that made some recall the days when the US government required African-Americans to take literacy tests in order to vote.

What about Green’s opinions on WikiLeaks? If one looks at each of his posts on WikiLeaks, it becomes apparent that Green is an iconoclast when it comes to WikiLeaks. He is a denouncer or skeptic, who only ever has something critical to say of WikiLeaks, and, while he will say something good about WikiLeaks here and there, he only does it to buffer the tartness of his posts on WikiLeaks.
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WSJ Launches WikiLeaks-Imitation Site to Further Solidify Role as Gatekeeper

10:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Several reports on the web security and privacy of the Wall Street Journal‘s new site, SafeHouse, which is inspired by WikiLeaks, have been published. Reactions centered around the “terms and conditions” on the website, which include a disclaimer that SafeHouse “cannot ensure complete anonymity.” It also states the leak portal “reserve[s] the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process.”

Web security and privacy experts will continue to scrutinize this new venture. Those like Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher and senior developer on the Tor online anonymity network, will continue to let others know the Journal is being negligent and that this is not a project to be beta-tested on an open Internet. In addition to the security questions, there is the larger question of the Journal’s role in the press and why anyone would ever consider leaking to a newspaper like the Journal.

For establishing a basic understanding of this news organization, this is how SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, characterizes the publication: “The Wall Street Journal, an influential international daily newspaper published in New York City, is owned by News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It does an abysmal job of informing its readers about climate change.”

External links on their page on the Journal lead to an article by David Carr that highlights the newspaper’s rightward turn under Murdoch. It covers two men, Robert Thomson, a top editor, and Gerard Baker, now the newspaper’s deputy managing editor. The article notes the two have adopted “a more conservative tone” and the paper has been “editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current [Obama] administration” with the support of the newspaper’s readers.

The issue of the newspaper being right wing is not all that bad if one considers working to maintain objectivity to be a foolish and often dangerous game for professional journalists to continue to play. But, there is the potential that leakers’ information submitted to the Journal would just be used to score points against the other side and against the vast “liberal media,” which the paper’s staff likely finds itself to be in a never-ending struggle against. (Recall, Karl Rove recently launched “Wikicountability,” a site that aims to collect government “dirt” that can be used against the Obama Administration to advance the agenda of Rove’s Crossroads GPS.)

A post by the Columbia Journalism Review indicates the Journal may not be all that interested in real journalism after the “greased exit” of Marcus Brauchli. The story covered how the “exit” indicated a new direction for the newspaper, a likely retreat from a focus on business and sophisticated in-depth reporting. It highlighted how the new owners wanted “newsier stories and more general news,” “shorter and more alluring” stories with a “heavy emphasis on scoops.” CJR suggested the newspaper was adopting an “Anglo-Australian newspaper model–straight, wire-service-type business news coupled with extensive and often smart analysis inside.”

No media organization in the past year has had more scoops than WikiLeaks. If the Journal indeed doesn’t have the manpower for investigative reporting, would it be looking to cut corners and just mine troves of information it hopes “sources” will feed this new portal? And would they hastily and shoddily go through all the material in the way the New York Times, meaning months down the road domestic or international events happen that could have been influenced if they had properly researched the information?

Forget whether it would seek to genuinely check power or not, does the Journal have the capacity to do the investigative reporting necessary to properly cover fraud, abuse, pollution, insider trading and other harms? And would this be anything more than an intelligence operation for Big Business in America?

With the creation of this new “leaks portal,” it appears the Wall Street Journal, like other traditional media, is setting this up because it believes it needs a digital platform for accepting news tips from sources instead of having sources go through a traditional system that may mostly exist offline. As the managing editor of WSJ.com, Kevin Delaney, quoted by Michael Calderone on Huffington Postacknowledges, “We all agree that WikiLeaks has had a huge impact on the journalism landscape over the last year or so.” And adds, “There’s been a discussion among editors that it made sense to create a system to receive information from sources digitally.”

The Journal like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are both considering setting up their own WikiLeaks-imitation sites, is seeking to solidify its role as a gatekeeper. It is hoping to get out ahead and ensure that WikiLeaks and new media does not make it wholly irrelevant and, in effect, impact profits. This, just like the decision to set up a paywall, is about surviving the current transformation that is rocking the world of journalism in the United States.

Greg Mitchell, who has been blogging WikiLeaks for The Nation for one hundred and sixty days, said at a panel on WikiLeaks at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform in Boston, “The traditional role of the press in America and elsewhere in the world has been to want to be the gatekeepers. They release the information. They decide what to cover. They decide how to cover it. And, in relation to leaks, very importantly, for every leak that made big news, there are dozens or hundreds or however many that went nowhere.”

What about the possibility that someone risks his or her life or livelihood by releasing information to the Journal and the Journal does nothing with the information but the newspaper decides to act on the information it received and forward it to law enforcement?

Julian Assange said this of direct-to-newspaper leak sites weeks ago:

[Newspaper] organizations could create such a site if they cared about it. But it’s our experience that at least the Guardian and New York Times don’t care so much to protect sources. In fact, for Cablegate the Guardian and the New York Times communicated over phones. They swapped cables over email. The New York Times approached the White House with its list of stories it was going to publish on the cables one week before publication, and campaigned against the alleged source of the cables, Bradley Manning. We also cannot be sure that they would even publisht the stories they receive. The New York Times sat on the story about the National Security Agency mass-tapping Americans for over a year. CBS sat on the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib for months.

Additionally, why leak to the Journal if what is ultimately published on your leak is going to be up behind a paywall and not be as easy to share as stories posted on other news sites? Why blow the whistle and put your self at risk for a story that people will only get to read a teaser for weeks or months down the line if not days after the story is published?

100 Revelations to Mark the 100th Day of Cablegate

11:12 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

*Special thanks to C-Cyte for recording my tweets and posting them online in a post for people to view if they do not normally use Twitter.

One hundred days ago, WikiLeaks began to release the US State Embassy cables. The release event, which continues, became known as Cablegate.

A future post will include a look at Cablegate and what its impact on journalism, international diplomacy, and human rights has been and what its role has been in world events like the uprisings and revolutions the world that are currently unfolding. For now, it is worth recounting what has actually been revealed because of the release.

One common denominator can be found in a majority of the cables: corruption. For all the talk of this country and that country being corrupt and that country being so corrupt it’s gone, the plain fact is that between all the countries of the world, perhaps as a result of American coercion and/or threat of force, the world is one corrupt planet.

Point blank, the fallacy that these cables revealed nothing new is utter bullshit. And anyone who says they have revealed nothing we didn’t already know deserves to hear you say or tweet that to their face.

WikiLeaks has managed to partner with 50 media outlets over the course of the past months. 5,287 of 251,287 cables have been released so far. This not only means there will likely be a 200th, 300th and 400th Day of Cablegate but also means there will be many more revelations to come in the next year.

The following are 100 revelations, which this author tweeted this morning consecutively to mark the 100th Day. The one hundred tweeted revelations are dedicated to alleged whistleblower and hero Bradley Manning, who is currently being abused and humiliated in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia. He has been denied a right to a speedy trial. He has been issued charges but yet the military and government has taken its time with his case. And so, he has been detained and imprisoned since June and, most recently, the military started to force him to sleep naked at night.

If Manning released the material (and he is charged by the military with releasing the cables), it he who has given us the privilege of reading about what the US government and foreign leaders have been up to for the past years. Manning, if he is the whistleblower, has helped usher in an era of openness and transparency that has shaken the world of diplomacy, international relations and journalism.

Here are the one hundred, which were tweeted this morning:

100. Murdered Ugandan gay rights activist was mocked by Uganda politicians at UN-backed debate http://bit.ly/fEiSh8 #cablegate

99. US’ secret list of Allied countries it thinks should contribute more to Afghan war http://bit.ly/fLqsHI #cablegate

98. Panama president wanted US to wiretap his political rivals http://bit.ly/hS2M23 #cablegate http://bit.ly/fLqsHI

97. New Zealand did about-face on troops to Iraq, feared missing out on lucrative Oil for Food contracts http://bit.ly/i4rZES #cablegate

96. Obama pushed Spain to implement law to crack down on illegal Internet downloads http://bit.ly/iflhWB #cablegate

95. US pressured Spain to investigate Islamic centers http://bit.ly/fgzLZz #cablegate

94. Libya bought infected blood then accused Bulgarian nurses of infecting AIDS patients http://bit.ly/fVbB7i #cablegate

93. US thinks Sweden will play critical role in cyber warfare in future http://bit.ly/f4vhFm #cablegate

92. Sec. of Defense Robert Gates thinks Russia is oligarchy run by security services http://bit.ly/fEyqaJ #cablegate

91. US lobbied Russia to amend draft law so it would not disadvantage Visa, Mastercard http://bit.ly/gAtUbf #cablegate

90. Russian Orthdox Church pervades all aspects of Russian society and politics http://bit.ly/ighsI7 #cablegate

89. Saudi Arabia asked US to halt lawsuit against state company being sued for oil price fixing http://reut.rs/f6cCxq #cablegate

88. Libya placed billions of dollars in US banks http://reut.rs/i3rR1Y #cablegate

87. Revelation on Ivory Coast election that divided the country and has created civil war http://bit.ly/g0aE3M #cablegate

86. Deposed president of Madagascar “recruited mercenaries’ http://bit.ly/hzpDNC #cablegate

85. Egypt military had a ‘Plan B’ in the event of regime change http://bit.ly/dU4iWc #cablegate

84. Chamber of Commerce head in Nicaragua used his position to undermine President Daniel Ortega http://bit.ly/gNSHoU #cablegate

83. Rice wanted US diplomats to gather intelligence on Israeli communications tech & Palestinian leaders http://reut.rs/fSV4R1 #cablegate

82. Japan launching first post-war foreign spy agency http://yhoo.it/fJHISP #cablegate

81. China used US debt to pressure US on Taiwan http://bit.ly/gorONi #cablegate

80. Uribe authorized clandestine ops against leftist FARC in Venezuela http://bit.ly/dSWI6L #cablegate

79. US, UK & France considered delaying Internat’l Criminal Court investigation into Bashir http://bit.ly/gIjJbJ #cablegate

78. Karzai warned it would be near impossible to hold credible elections in Afghanistan http://bit.ly/e0PVwp #cablegate

77. A Baghdad zoo with booze-swilling bears and laser-enhanced fish http://bit.ly/ePGi3G #cablegate

76. Mubarak warned Cheney not to go to war in Iraq http://bit.ly/gwb4LI #cablegate

75. How Coca-Cola got embroiled in a feud between Gaddafi sons http://reut.rs/gsenWH #cablegate

74. Fighters in Eastern Libya willing to ‘die hard’ in Iraq War, fueled by Gaddafi-US link http://wlcentral.org/node/1369 #cablegate

73. Paraguayan president is a US agent http://bit.ly/fwz3It #cablegate h/t @MatrixWikiLeak

72. US concerned with Berlusconi-Putin tie http://reut.rs/id24oy #cablegate

71. Berlusconi entertains escorts at ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties http://bit.ly/hpHelx #cablegate

70. Russia a mafia state http://bit.ly/dJBhNP #cablegate

69. Impossible to prevent cartels from financing candidates in Mexico elections http://bit.ly/gAbjrl #cablegate

68. US cheered on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza http://bit.ly/dFwv1C #cablegate

67. Obama tried to persuade Saudi Arabia to sign Copenhagen accord http://bit.ly/ewaPHt #cablegate

66. Canadian officials were afraid Obama was too gung-ho on renewable energy http://bit.ly/dMQAr7 #cablegate

65. U.S. and China conspired to block reform on climate change at Copenhagen talks http://bit.ly/eu6l9o #cablegate

64. Dalai Lama thinks climate change should take priority over politics in Tibet http://bit.ly/fTuINF #cablegate

63. Late president of Gabon Omar Bongo embezzled funds, channeled $ to French political parties http://bit.ly/he008Y #cablegate

62. US played a role in a coup in Honduras that was illegal http://lat.ms/gnFJV5 #cablegate

61. US resentment toward unions uncovered in Mexico cable http://wlcentral.org/node/1351 #cablegate

60. Tunisia cables uncovered rampant corruption on Ben Ali or ‘The Family’ http://to.pbs.org/er6pSn #cablegate

59. US lied in cable about Michael Moore’s film ‘Sicko’ being banned in Cuba http://bit.ly/hSrdgZ #cablegate

58. Revelations on 9/11 gang that fled to London http://bit.ly/e50Om4 #cablegate

57. European feudalism in Azerbaijan no problem for US, oil makes risk of embarrassment worth it http://bit.ly/gQUscn #cablegate

56. UK secretly advised Libya on how to secure release of Lockerbie bomber http://bit.ly/iccGIa #cablegate

55. The Libyan frogman that couldn’t swim (truly, a cautionary tale) http://bit.ly/eHpFoK #cablegate

54. Bangladeshi death squad trained by UK officers http://bit.ly/gDlCUO #cablegate

53. Baby Doc Duvalier’s return to Haiti was a ‘concern’ for US http://bit.ly/eRj4hF

52. Saudi Arabia can’t pump enough oil to keep prices down, reserves 40% overstated http://bit.ly/e9774n #cablegate

51. US maneuvered to ensure Spanish High Court wouldn’t investigate Couso, Guantanamo & CIA flights http://bit.ly/igUQZ0 #cablegate

50. Gordon Brown was concerned about use of bases for US spy planes http://bit.ly/dSOdtQ #cablegate

49. BP had a blast similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in Azerbaijan http://bit.ly/fabXL8 #cablegate

48. Pfizer used “dirty tricks’ to force Nigeria gov’t to drop legal action against controversial drug trial http://bit.ly/hDWjeI #cablegate

47. US, Nato & Red Cross colluded, downplayed number of Afghani civilian deaths in Bala Baluk massacre http://bit.ly/fM1TD2 #cablegate

46. US threatened military action against China during secret “star wars” arms race http://bit.ly/fRIzOT #cablegate

45. Libya pressed oil firms to reimburse terror costs http://reut.rs/gOVobd #cablegate

44. US wanted derogatory information on Bahraini royals http://bit.ly/i0VWVD #cablegate

43. Coca Cola revealed corrupt Israeli tax collectors http://bit.ly/iiDEfu #cablegate

42. Egyptian torturers trained by the FBI http://bit.ly/fY8eHO #cablegate

41. David Letterman does more to dissuade Saudi youth from militancy than US propaganda http://bit.ly/dLzfqJ #cablegate

40. US suggested India send Bollywood stars to Afghanistan to help stabilize country http://bit.ly/gvq3bg #cablegate

39. McDonald’s tried to delay US legislation to aid lawsuit in El Salvador http://bit.ly/eNr0tQ #cablegate

38. Shell Oil in main ministries in Nigerian gov’t, knows everything http://bit.ly/fJlnpq #cablegate

37. Foreign contractors hired to train Afghan police paid for young “dancing boys” http://bit.ly/gu4b32 #cablegate

36. US, UK conspired to get around British cluster bomb ban http://bit.ly/hJb9sj #cablegate

35. US maneuvered to ensure Spanish High Court wouldn’t investigate Couso, Guantanamo & CIA flights http://bit.ly/igUQZ0 #cablegate

34. Millions in US military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents diverted to gov’t coffers instead http://bit.ly/gZe2HB #cablegate

33. US diplomats ordered to spy on UN, obtain iris scans, fingerprints & DNA http://bit.ly/dE1mTt #cablegate

32. US pressured Germany to not pursue 13 CIA agents that abducted Khaled el-Masri http://bit.ly/i9qAmC #cablegate

31. Somali pirates blew cover off weapons deal between Kenya and Sudan http://bit.ly/i7LRsJ #cablegate

30. Iraq War provided few advantages for US oil but plenty advantage for Halliburton http://bit.ly/fbfxiB #cablegate

29. Chinese leaders ordered cyber attack on Google http://bit.ly/g1uBb0 #cablegate

28. Yemen President Saleh fights proxy war for US against Houthi rebels http://bit.ly/eD8Zvz #cablegate

27. Yemen covered up US drone strikes, claimed bombs against al Qaeda were own http://bit.ly/ifjG17 #cablegate

26. Blackwater flouted German arms export laws, transported aircraft to Afghanistan http://bit.ly/guBdwJ #cablegate

25. Omar Suleiman considered halting elections in Gaza to prevent Hamas victory http://bit.ly/gHrtCv #cablegate

24. US mole in NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s office uncovered http://bit.ly/gXNoVh #cablegate

23. Germany and US cover up Siemens shipment to Iran, 111 containers left at Dubai port http://bit.ly/ekzD8T #cablegate

22. Turkey’s role in CIA rendition flights to Guantanamo http://bit.ly/dL6oSO #cablegate

21. German communities fear loss of millions as US reduces troop presence http://bit.ly/ifHOZF #cablegate

20. President Kibaki of Kenya probably didn’t brazenly steal election http://bit.ly/gbyo9j #cablegate

19. Francis Mathaura described as being “shadow president’ of Kenya http://bit.ly/ea9mst #cablegate

18. US officials surprised at how easy it was to get Russia-Germany gas pipeline grant from Finland http://bit.ly/eDBZ8r #cablegate

17. Finland traded votes with Israel to get spot on UN Security Council http://bit.ly/hjlueQ #cablegate

16. GPS & detailed map feature made Nokia smartphones favorite for Iraqi rebels http://bit.ly/eQWsPf #cablegate

15. Sudan president Omar al-Bashir stashed $9 billion from Sudan in British banks http://bit.ly/hsYaCK #cablegate

14. Qatar adapts Al Jazeera coverage to suit foreign leaders http://bit.ly/hy96Sw #cablegate

13. Gaza wall, valued at $40 million USD, was to be completed December 2010 http://bit.ly/gL2hEu #cablegate

12. Egypt considered nuclear arms if Iran managed to acquire atomic weapons http://bit.ly/ifwKvq #cablegate

11. Uruguay linked to trafficking of arms to Venezuela to former guerrillas for possible coup http://bit.ly/dZlFco #cablegate

10. Danish gov’t played double game when pressured to investigate CIA rendition flights http://bit.ly/eomwJg #cablegate

9. US forced Denmark to have armed guards on airplanes http://bit.ly/dHGoMb #cablegate

8. Secret collusion between Swedish and US military and civilian intelligence http://bit.ly/dVFxX2 #cablegate

7. US Embassy in Costa Rica trained, funded security forces used at anti-FTA protests http://bit.ly/fGcN9Z #cablegate

6. Vertical Aviation disqualified from supporting Colombia forces in Afghanistan by State Dept http://bit.ly/hgIvj9 #cablegate

5. US suspected Brazil pres. Dilma Rousseff would “outlaw’ antiterrorism bill for “ideological’ reasons http://t.co/39bEb9E #cablegate

4. Peruvian Armed Forces still greatly influenced by drugs http://bit.ly/dLWHEo #cablegate

3. US pushed foreign govts to buy aircrafts from Boeing rather than European rival Airbus http://bit.ly/h6rmZi #cablegate

2. Israel’s plans for a big war in Middle East against Hamas or Hezbollah exposed http://bit.ly/eZN0Bu #cablegate

1. Monsanto fought off environmentalists/farmers in Argentina, got USG to represent interests http://bit.ly/hqKYrS #cablegate

If you would like to continue to mark the day, see Greg Mitchell’s blog on The Nation . He has been live blogging WikiLeaks and covering Cablegate revelations for the past 100 days. So, today, he marks his 100th day live blogging WikiLeaks (and writes about the day that Cablegate swung open).

The Nation has put together this slide show to also mark the day.

And, if that’s not enough, there’s WL Central, where you can get more of the latest news and updates on Cablegate, protests/uprisings, and more.

Follow me on Twitter @kgosztola to stay up to date on Cablegate revelations and WikiLeaks.

When Warriors Commandeer Freedom Flotillas

9:04 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by plasmastik

  

I wasn’t one of the Americans who watched a parade of military and civilian officers on Memorial Day one week ago just hours after Israeli commandoes attacked the Freedom Flotilla. I did not go to a march and celebrate the past histories of American wars and the soldiers who had fought in them, but let’s suppose for one moment that I had.

  

A good amount of Americans probably had this experience as they celebrated the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces and paid tribute to those who have fought for America. They probably celebrated the right they believe America has to use military force to protect itself (and maybe even the right to use force without having to be questioned by international bodies or coalitions like the United Nations, etc). And, so, let’s suppose that I was part of a celebration of American warriors who had served in past wars one week ago, and that I had been presented with this story of Israeli warriors commandeering a ship, which was supposed to be a part of a peaceful humanitarian convoy delivering aid to Gaza.

 

Like American warriors of past wars, I might presumably think that this act may have been poor judgment but ultimately Israeli warriors did what they had to do. And like past American quagmires like Vietnam or past atrocious invasions like Grenada or past secret military operations like Operation Ajax in Iran, which involved a democratically elected government being overthrown in 1953, I might have found this to be a part of doing what must be done so Israel can maintain its place in the world.

 

I probably would not have had much frame of reference for the activists that were on board. Knowing that they came from the Free Gaza Movement would only have confused me because I would not have known what Gaza needed to be freed from. I would probably have thought, "If Israel is protecting Gaza from terrorism, wouldn’t Gaza be safe?" So, this news of a blockade would be new to me because usually I had heard about Israel defending itself from Hamas or Hezbollah or other Islamists. (And that to me had always been justifiable.)

 

On a larger level, I might have applied my rationale for supporting the troops to the Israeli soldiers. I suppose it would depend on the struggles and threats that I believed Israel had faced and may continue to face. Since several countries that want to blow it off the face of the Earth surround it, supposedly, I would probably have thought Israel has a right to defend and protect its self like America does. I would have thought it even more important that they have the right because they are regularly being shot at with rockets that Hamas fires off because it does not want to recognize Israel’s right to exist (supposedly). Plus, Israel is an American ally.

 

I would probably not have understood exactly why a group of people so often operates in a manner supportive of rocket attacks. The atrocities against Israel would have taken place in a vacuum in much the same way that atrocities against America tend to take place in a vacuum. (And, how great is it that our media help us consume information on atrocities in a nutshell that excludes certain contexts that would blur lines between good and evil, right and wrong and reinforce this vacuum?)

Unless I knew where to go for an alternative viewpoint, I would have seen over and over again footage showing commandoes clearly facing premeditated assault as they dropped on to the ship. White circles that could have been drawn by John Madden singling out Israeli soldiers being brutalized and thrown off the ship would have jumped out in the one sole video that Israel was able to get media organizations all over the world to play. I would not have known there was a Turkish video of the incident showing a different side. And, why would I need that side if all I wanted to do is just know more information on how connected the activists had been to terrorism and how this never was really a peaceful humanitarian convoy seeking to deliver aid?

 

The activists trying to deliver the thousands of tons of goods to the Gaza Strip might have seemed respectable to me until they were found to possibly be connected to terrorists, which news channels I consumed consistently suggested or inferred. Of course, I would have wound up thinking Israel offered to let them go to port, take the aid and deliver the aid to the starving and hungry Palestinians who needed the aid. So, why, did the flotilla have to go through a blockade that was keeping Israel secure and deliver the aid them selves? Did they want credit? Maybe, Israel could have said this is from the Freedom Flotilla that wanted to break the blockade of Gaza.

 

It’s here that logic breaks down. Reason becomes lacking. Thought requires one to doubt the actions of Israel at least a little bit. Role playing and imagining the thought processes of others becomes difficult to continue onward.

 

Of course, Israel would not allow humanitarian aid in; that would admit there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, a situation where 80% are now depending on external aid to survive. Yet, you can see that the story and justification of warriors commandeering a ship from the perspective of a citizen of American empire is easy to support and go along with.

 

This mentality to understand other people’s countries from a military perspective and not a humanitarian perspective is part of what allows the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians to continue. This country has trained its citizens to sympathize with warriors for the nation, warriors trained by military and political interests to go in and take action that may or may not be lawful or unlawful, humane or inhumane. Politicians and foreign policymakers promote support for these questionable actions with commitments to public relations or propaganda campaigns after the actions have taken place. Do first and ask questions later. (And, why not? This country is number one, so I’m told.)

 

The country has trained Americans to believe in the justifications political leaders and foreign policymakers supply to us. Weaved into the narrative and mythology of this country, the impact of military action on civilians and soldiers abroad is of no significance, the legality of no significance, and the effect–the way in which actions radicalize a people to commit what this country regards now as "terrorism"–entirely disregarded.

 

Israel’s warriors will tell this war story, the ambush of the Freedom Flotilla, to their children, who they will be proud of when they serve in the Israeli military, just like America’s warriors have told stories of war to their children, who have now gone on to join the military for pure economic reasons. It will become part of Israel’s military history channel and their history books and placed within the context of a history rife with Israeli hubris just like wars have become glorified, recounted, and immortalized through American history television specials and history books and place within the context of a history rife with American hubris.

 

Many would like to impress upon others the fact that a population is experiencing what they call collective punishment as a result of Israel’s blockade and as a result of military actions that have intermittently taken place and killed Palestinians throughout the past few years. They are shocked when others do not grasp the reality that Israel is punishing a population and so they should be held accountable in addition to any terrorists from Hamas.

 

Those that don’t understand why a number of people do not place the starving Palestinians ahead of the military or political security of a country, however, can be excused for being confused. When one is taught to celebrate the military so often, taught to treat it like the well from which freedom springs forth, the humanitarian becomes hard to understand; in fact, it becomes assumed that the military could have simply done the humanitarian and people ask, "Why did the concerned activists not choose to just ask the military to deliver the aid instead of going and getting killed and wounded like they did?"

 

Israel’s Campaign to Discredit Attacked Humanitarian Convoy

8:20 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Israeli censorship of activists and journalists coupled with what Israeli authorities consider the official story has successfully pushed media organizations in the U.S. and other countries to frame the story in a way exclusively beneficial to Israel. The official story usually includes the story of the Free Gaza Movement at the bottom and frames the attack as a public relations nightmare for Israel instead of a disproportionate attack on a righteous humanitarian aid initiative.

 

Numerous articles have given Israel the benefit of the doubt and published Israel’s description of the Free Gaza Movement especially the IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization Israel claims has ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups at odds with the country of Israel.

 

FOX News (and other news organizations) published reports on the raid leading with the perspective of the Israeli prime minister who said he gave "full backing to military in deadly raid against aid flotilla sailing to Gaza" and Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador Daniel Carmon who said, "What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and fire from weapons stolen from soldiers to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?"

 

Carmon’s suggestion that Israel’s attack followed international law is very disputable, and the idea that peace activists caught ambushing Israeli commandos severely off guard seems patently absurd. Yet, Fox News provides little additional context to this notion expecting people to believe Israeli forces that landed on board the ship were somewhat impotent and incapable of taking on peace activists despite the fact that they may have received military combat training none of the activists have had.

 

Fox News specifically repeated Carmon’s claim that the activists were with a group with a "radical anti-Western’ orientation that supports terrorist organizations like Hamas and al Qaeda" (in fact, al Qaeda was in the Fox News headline).

 

CNN reported this as well and named the IHH Humanitarian Relief Association claiming the IHH has ties to terrorism and is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But, there was zero context to this assertion; no explanation of how this piece of information is known except for the fact that Israel is claiming this link exists.

 

The Washington Postpublished a story on June 1st, a day after news of the incident, titled, "Israel says Free Gaza Movement poses threat to Jewish state; Aid flotilla was run by member charity with alleged ties to Islamists." Of IHH, the article reported, "Israel has been concerned about the participation of IHH, or Humanitarian Relief Fund, a large Turkish charity that raises some of its money from Islamic religious groups." But, despite the fact that the focus is the threat the Free Gaza Movement poses to Israel, there is little hard evidence published in this article to prove that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or al Qaeda has been using this charity that had members on board the flotilla to effectively carry out terrorism against Israel.

 

Another story published by the Telegraph in the UK titled, "Gaza Flotilla: The Free Gaza Movement and the IHH," repeats the Israeli official story and also cites an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, who claims the organization has had ties to Hamas for a long time. Unfortunately, Hamas was democratically elected in 2005 and has controlled Palestine since. They have made several attempts to sustain truces with Israel. They are guilty of acts of state-sponsored terrorism but so is Israel.

 

The Jerusalem Post published a story, "What is the IHH?" explaining that the charity "may be linked to jihadist groups." It The story listed the Israeli NGO, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, as a source for its claim that the IHH is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Union for the Good. The Jerusalem Post, however, does not explain that the center is "dedicated to the memory of members of Israel’s intelligence community who fell in the line of duty" and puts out weekly disinformation reports on Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Hizbullah, and Iran and has close ties to Israel’s military leadership and maintains an office at the Defense Ministry.

 

A published article by Reuters on IHH, "Factbox: Turkish charity group behind Gaza-bound convoy," lists no details suggesting the humanitarian relief organization has terror ties.

  

Finally, BBC News‘ article,"Q&A: Israeli raid on aid flotilla," describes the Free Gaza Movement as:

A group called Free Gaza, an umbrella organisation of activist groups from numerous countries, and a Turkish group called the IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief). The Israeli government says the IHH is closely linked to Hamas, and is a member of another organisation, the Union of the Good, which supports suicide bombings. However, the Turkish government regards the IHH as a legitimate charity, and urged Israel to let the flotilla through.

 

The link to Hamas and the suicide bombing-supporting organization Union of the Good are only listed because the Israeli government has said so. This has to be just another tidbit from Israel’s propagandistic storyline being spread to make people around the world believe the humanitarian convoy aimed to attack or delegitimize Israel.

 

If one conducts a LexisNexis searches for articles published before May 31, 2010 that contain the words "Free Gaza," zero results appear in connection to the Freedom Flotilla. Even though the Free Gaza Movement publicized its intentions and what countries/organizations were participating, there were no alerts put out by any news organizations that this humanitarian aid initiative had terror ties to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda, which one can reasonably presume means no one following this movement considered them to be a threat.

 

Prior to the raid, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Navy was preparing to block the fleet of 9 ships and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were awaiting orders from the prime minister. Also, according to YNet, Israel also was preparing a media blitz similar to what the world is witnessing now:

Israel is also preparing for the media blitz certain to follow the flotilla, which many believe will harm the state’s already floundering reputation. Foreign Ministry, IDF, and PR spokespersons are preparing interviews for global news agencies in order to explain Israel’s position, mainly that the flotilla serves the terror organization ruling Gaza and not its residents.

 

Public relations officials said Israel is also attempting to expose the true face of the organization behind the flotilla, and the fact that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

 

"This is a media-related provocation, and we have made it clear to the organizers that Israel is prepared to convey the supplies to Gaza itself following a security check," a Jerusalem official said.

James Marc Leas dissects Israel’s disinformation campaign against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, with close ties to the Israeli military and an office in the Defense Ministry, is the source of much of the talking points on the Free Gaza Movement’s so-called ties to terrorism. Here is the Center’s complete list.

These talking points are what is being repeated. Their aim is to make the people of the world forget that Israel took this action against the Freedom Flotilla with the intention of deterring future attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to the starving civilians suffering under an Israeli blockade in Gaza.

Israeli Raid Censored: Journalist Ban Gives Israel’s Official Story “Head Start”

3:29 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

Immediately following a deadly attack by Israeli commandos on the Freedom Flotilla, a humanitarian aid convoy seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Israeli authorities put in place, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a ban on media preventing any information about the dead and wounded taken to hospitals in Israel from being reported by journalists. Such censorship has made it possible for Israel to promote a claim that the Free Gaza Movement behind the Freedom Flotilla has participants allied with al Qaeda.

The international organization for press freedom released this statement on the attack on the flotilla that was carrying aid, 750 pro-Palestinian activists and several journalists to the Gaza Strip:

"We deplore this assault, which left a heavy toll of dead and wounded. The journalists who were on the flotilla to cover the humanitarian operation were put in harm’s way by this disproportionate reaction. We urge the Israeli authorities to release the detained journalists and allow them unrestricted access to the Gaza Strip. The international community needs accurate information about this Palestinian Territory."

 

Robert Booth with The Guardian, a newspaper based in the United Kingdom, wrote, "Shortly after the assault, all communications with the flotilla were blocked. Mobile phones, satellite phones and Internet access all went down, making it all but impossible to glean any account from the passengers about what happened beyond the few minutes that were captured on film. Israel’s version of events became the only one available in any detail." [Booth's editorial went on to explain what The Guardian thinks has happened based on information they have been able to piece together.]

Israel’s censorship of information has made it possible for authorities and officials to get out in front on this story. Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah appeared on Democracy Now! hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and urged those reading stories of the raid to put it into context.

AMY GOODMAN: "Ali Abunimah, can you talk about the videotape? And again, we have to stress, in the brief coverage that we see in US media right now, because we do not even know the names of the dead or the injured, not to mention hundreds of people who are now in jail in Israel, we’re only getting one side here. But the videotape that the Israeli government is showing of what happened on the lead ship, on the Turkish ship, Ali?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. I mean, what we have to do is put all this in the context of Israel’s propaganda strategy. What they’ve done is imposed a total news block-outblackout. Hundreds of people are detained. They’ve had no access to lawyers, certainly no access to media. It was reported there was one Al Jazeera cameraman, of the six Al Jazeera staff who were kidnapped with the ships, who was released. And what he said is that all the passengers were allowed to leave the ships only with their passports, with no other personal belongings. He was personally attacked by Israeli soldiers while he was filming, and his camera smashed. In any case, no journalists were allowed to leave the ships with any film or any recordings whatsoever. We don’t know the names of the dead. The families of all those passengers are anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones. Why is this? So that the Israeli narrative can get a long head start. This is all about the Israeli propaganda strategy to give the Israeli propagandists, like Mark Regev, a free run. They’ve had more than twenty-four hours. And, Amy, it’s working in the mainstream media, because they’re only reporting, you know, the atrocious reporting on National Public Radio and on the BBC, which is taking mostly the Israeli version. [emphasis added]

Reinforcing Abunimah’s comments is a list from RSF recently published which indicates, of the foreign journalists on board the flotilla, at least fourteen are still unable to be reached.

The treatment of foreign press is another reminder that Israel does not adhere to core principles of press freedom. Israel frequently bans foreign journalists from entering Gaza. This is because Danny Seaman, head of Israel’s government press office, believes, "When you have hundreds of journalists coming in, most haven’t the faintest idea about the war or the situation…Take the UN school [where 42 people were killed by an Israeli shell] for example. There’s a lot of questions as to what actually happened. If the foreign media had been there it would have had much more of an impact on the conflict than it has at the moment. For the first time, when Israel raised questions, journalists had to address these issues and not get caught in feeding frenzy of reporting the story."

 

 

Decision Forces Filmmaker to Turn Over 600 Hours of Footage to Chevron

9:13 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Federal District Court in New York granted Chevron’s request for a subpoena, which demands access to over 600 hours of footage from "Crude," a documentary that chronicles a legal battle being supported by 30,000 Amazonian settlers hoping to hold Texaco (now owned by Chevron) responsible for environmental devastation in Ecuador.

Joseph Berlinger, the filmmaker behind "Crude," claimed he was protected by "journalistic privilege," but, according to the New York Times, he qualified for the privilege but "the conditions for overcoming that privilege had been met" by Chevron.

Berlinger plans to ask the judge to "stay the subpoena" so the decision can be appealed.

Many in the documentary filmmaking community have indicated that they will support Berlinger’s effort to appeal and resist this decision. Filmmakers understand what this decision could mean for the future of documentary filmmaking.

Gordon Quinn, artistic director and founder of Kartemquin Films in Chicago, said, "My experience is that the ‘outs’ of a film usually show the big and the powerful to be worse than they are portrayed in our films, but if we have to turn over footage and spend time in court and defend ourselves for expressing our First Amendment rights it can be an overwhelming burden for a small organization like ours."

Quinn added, "It has the feel of intimidation and using the legal process to let us know don’ttake onthe big guys or they can drive you crazy and drain your resources by tying you up in court."

Documentary instructor at Columbia College Chicago and director of "The Return of Navajo Boy," a film that touched upon the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo, Jeff Spitz, had not heard about it. He noted from his experience making "Navajo Boy, "The extraction industries have absolutely no interest in the safety and/or benefits of their work for indigenous people. Indigenous people pay the hidden price of our energy."

An Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with forty years of documentary filmmaking experience, Russell Porter, reacted, "The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment."

"The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism," said Porterin fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal."

New York Times writer for the ArtsBeat Blog diligently followed this story conducting interviews with filmmakers Michael Moore and Ric Burns (the director of "Andy Warhol" and PBS’ "New York") on Thursday.

Burns reacted, Chevron is "really saying ‘O.K., pal, drop your drawers, and with it, 600 hours of film.’" And added, "That’s insane. That’s a weapon so blunt that it’s impossible not to feel that Judge Kaplan doesn’t care about the impression that is conveyed."

Burns added this "contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism" and next time someone goes to make a "Crude" the group that provides information on the subject will be a "much leerier group of informants."

Michael Moore had "never heard of such a ruling." Moore told the ArtsBeat Blog he never had to deal with any corporation suing him to find out how he gathered his information.

"Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom," said Moore.

Moore hoped the decision would be overturned on appeal and, if not, Berlinger should "resist the subpoena." He also said that "hundreds of filmmakers" would support Berlinger’s fight to not turn over his footage to Chevron.

Documentary as Journalism?

The New York Times put together an article that suggested this decision re-ignites a debate over whether a documentary filmmaker should have journalistic privileges or not.

In his interview with ArtsBeat Blog, Moore said, "Documentaries are a form of journalism."

The lawyer for Chevron, Randy M. Mastro, according to the New York Times, firmly believes that "Crude" should not be considered journalism. And, Mastro claimed that this decision is not about "the First Amendment" or journalistic privilege.

Mastro said, "This is about a plaintiffs’ lawyer who decided he wanted to star in a movie and gave a sympathetic filmmaker extraordinary access to the plaintiffs’ case and strategy."

Porter said of this statement, "The cynical dismissal of the film "Crude" as ‘…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star’ would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue."

A key problem is the fact that documentary filmmakers are expected to have subjects sign releases that they agree to appear in the film. With "Crude," pact agreements were actually formed between the filmmaker and the settlers and those agreements would clearly be violated if Chevron was able to use the footage for their own agenda.

What are documentary filmmakers supposed to do in the future if this stands? What will filmmakers need to look out for and do to protect themselves? What additional amount of self-censorship will filmmakers have to engage in?

Will filmmakers have to begin to destroy all of their footage that they have left over once their film is complete? How are filmmakers going to handle a reality where corporations can force filmmakers to compromise their sources and turn over unused footage to them?

At a time where BP is responsible for the leaking of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, what should those documenting the destruction be weary of if a precedent is set that corporations like Chevron can subpoena unused footage to take down plaintiffs who are challenging business practices and suggesting corporations should be held responsible or accountable for their actions?

There are many more questions about the ramifications of this decision on filmmaking. The issue of journalistic privilege and documentary should be the subject of conversation for the next months especially if filmmakers unite and mount a visible effort in support of Berlinger’s right to not hand over the footage to Chevron.

———————————————————————————————

The following is Associate Professor of Columbia College Chicago and documentary filmmaker Russell Porter’s full response to the decision.

I am an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with almost forty years experience as a documentary filmmaker, journalist and teacher on five continents. I have extensive experience of working with indigenous people and their struggles to maintain their traditional ways of life in the face of ever more destructive encroachment by extractive and environmentally damaging industries.

I first visited the upper Amazon region of Ecuador in 1969-70 when I lived and traveled through the then pristine Amazon regions bordering the Napo River, and was privileged to visit several indigenous communities (including the Huaorani/ Waorani and Achuar people).

I returned to the region on a research trip in 1999 to see for myself how this unique world had changed during my lifetime. I was appalled buy what my Huaorani hosts showed me as a result of the impact of oil exploration and extraction on their health and environment. I traveled with them to several sites that were at least as damaged by oil spills and dumps (in "piscinas") like those shown in the film "Crude" – which, in my my view, if anything understates the impact on the culture, environment and the ecosystems that have sustained these communities for millennia.

The Huaorani community I visited (in the remote Shiripuni region) had been forced to relocate there since their traditional homeland had become unsustainable as a result of the massive intrusion of oil industry machinery and associated contamination and deforestation. I also visited the regions around Lago Agrio featured in the film, and witnessed the total transformation that the oil industry has cause to the environment integrity, health and well-being of traditional indigenous people there, with the associated often violent social destruction of their way of life.

The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment. The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism – in fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal.

Without such scrutiny, It is my opinion that the ever-increasing corporate malfeasance would go unchecked, to the detriment of society as a whole. It is an intrinsic facet of our democratic system that such independent scrutiny is allowed the full protection of the law.

The cynical dismissal of the film "Crude" as "…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star" would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue.

Documentary filmmakers of course have the right to include, structure and interpret their raw material in any way they chose – just as a journalist will draw on his or her research notes to compile a coherent narrative story. Film material is edited in just this way, and for whatever reason some footage may be left out, it remains the intellectual property of the filmmaker and he or she is under no obligation to hand it over to anyone. It is a right – just as that held by journalists – protected under the First Amendment. Whatever the legality of the case against Chevron, the principle is unchanged.

Media Coverage of Reid Deepens America’s Illiteracy, Fear, and Anxiety Toward Race

10:11 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr photo by Vermin Inc

 

The media spent a full day on Monday, January 11th, dissecting and reconstructing the surface meaning of Sen. Harry Reid’s remarks on Obama, which most pundits and political leaders have characterized as racist. It’s a good thing the media was given this distraction because with health care slipping into oblivion and the CIA bomber in Afghanistan and the botched bombing on Christmas Day the media was probably getting uncomfortable (one wonders how far away some newsrooms were from exploring the real motivations of the CIA bomber more closely or discussing how an "Israeli firm "failed to detect would-be bomber").

 

The remarks from Reid became the subject of discussion over the weekend as it became evident that Reid was quoted saying that Obama was a good choice because he was "light skinned" and described him as someone "with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one" in Mark Halperin’s and John Heileman’s Game Change, a book that provided the media a fantastical opportunity to divert attention away from real issues to personalities they long and yearn to cover once again but can’t because the 2008 Election is over.

 

Reid’s remark was almost immediately placed alongside Trent Lott’s remark on Strom Thurmond that contributed to his political demise. Lott said in 2002, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either."

 

The discussion became focused on whether Lott’s "racist remark" and Reid’s "racist remark" were comparable or not. And, the debate was trotted out and rehashed on all the biggest and best news shows.

 

On January 9, 2010, Mark Preston, CNN’s Political Editor, appeared on CNN Newsroom at 5 pm ET and said, "This is a huge embarrassment. It’s a big deal because it will always dog him." Preston added that he would be in "deep trouble of not winning re-election" as a result of this remark.

 

Author of The Breakthrough, Gwen Ifill, was on NBC News at 7 am ET and agreed with Matt Lauer that dark-skinned African-Americans who speak in a way that some would consider more stereotypical would not be electable." Ifill added, "If the person is very much different from who they are or what they perceive," it’s almost a political science that "they [Americans] are less likely to vote for that person."

 

As a member of Sean Hannity’s "Great American Panel," Tucker Carlson essentially agreed that what Reid had said was true. But, then the panel had a problem because if it was true they would have to explore whether America was a racist country or not so the discussion quickly took a turn in another direction more comfortable for Deirdre Imus, whom Hannity had on the panel to remind Americans of the insanity that Don Imus faced after he made a racist remark.

 

Eugene Robinson appeared on Countdown on MSNBC and said, "I don’t think I would disagree with what he said about light-skinned versus dark-skinned African-Americans and their acceptance by the larger society. But, clearly he didn’t—whatever he was trying to say—he didn’t say it the right way. " 

 

A commonality from these discussion emerged. Lott’s statement was racist but Reid’s was only racist to a point. Actually, it wasn’t really racist because it was a comment on political reality in America. So, Reid wasn’t necessarily wrong but he said it in the wrong way. What a lousy idea for Americans to think about?

 

Thinking about how Reid said what he said "the wrong way" does nothing to advance the conversation on race in America. And, perhaps, that was the intention. Certainly, the media has become trained at talking about race in a manner that conveniently skirts the inequalities that all people of color face when it comes to jobs, housing, education, voting, etc.

 

The way markets and other systems in our society take advantage of poverty prevalent among African-Americans can easily be supported with facts and figures that one might find in Tim Wise’s Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama or Paul Street’s Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.

 

But, the media are probably more comfortable with exploring the advantages of a "color-blind society," the kind of society that the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s Communications Director Brian Walsh would like to "one day live in" but feel they cannot so long as people like Harry Reid are out making public remarks that allude to racial inequality in America.

 

Media pundits would rather pontificate on what’s a racist remark and what isn’t. And, in that case, what is a racist remark? Was Reid’s comment even close to a racial slur, as many would suggest?

 

Well, since Reid’s remark doesn’t come close to equating Obama to a porch monkey, spook, spade, moolie, jigaboo, or nig-nog, it’s not overtly racist. He wasn’t like George Allen and didn’t use the word "macaca" to describe Obama.

 

Was the remark subtly racist? No more racist than the census, which will give African-Americans an option to classify themselves as "Negro" when they fill out the 2010 Census.

 

No more racist than Joe Biden’s comment on how Obama was the "first mainstream African-American who [was] articulate and bright and clean and a nice-talking guy" to be successfully campaigning for the White House.

 

It’s certainly not as racist as Newt Gingrich’s comment that "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country, and so they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

 

Or, this comment from MSNBC Political Analyst Pat Buchanan:

"White men were 100 percent of the people who wrote the Constitution, 100 percent of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks. If I look at the U.S. track team in the Olympics and they’re all black folks, I don’t automatically assume it’s discrimination."

 

Or, this comment from Vice President Joe Biden, "You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian Accent."

 

This nation hasn’t just been exposed to a range of racist remarks from political leaders and political pundits in recent years (which Rachel Maddow incorporated into her segment on Reid’s remark on January 10), but this nation has heard football commentators like Howard Cosell liken football players to monkeys and heard people like Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder complain about how black people were taking coaching jobs from white people.

 

This nation has seen Michael Richards become enraged and go off on a seemingly racist rant after he could no longer take the heckling coming from a table of four African Americans and heard Don Imus remark on "nappy-headed hos" and Rush Limbaugh comment about slavery and how the streets were safer 100 years ago.

 

If I have to pick one comment that sticks out from the media coverage of Reid’s remark, Brown University African Studies Department Chair, Tricia Rose, wins.

 

After Maddow played a montage of racist comments on her show January 10, Rose responded, "I’m actually kind of flabbergasted by the degree to which these vastly different statements with entirely different meanings, contexts, and intents can be collapsed. And it’s really quite dangerous, frankly. It’s only enhancing what is already a deep level of illiteracy and fear and anxiety about really addressing race."

 

I wholly agree with it and think all Americans should consider what she said.

 

To the extent that we define our understanding of racism in this country by what people say and what we think we mean, we fail to recognize the real elements of racism in America. We miss the underlying subtle structures that have elements of institutional racism, which managed to survive after the civil rights movement in the 1960s and which have perhaps became more strong and robust after Third Way president Bill Clinton made his changes to welfare and other social policies in the 1990s.

 

As a culture, we miss the way these elements of racism now ensure the production of non-white political leaders who care more about their careers and the corporations that will be funding their election and re-election campaigns and less about the social and environmental injustices, which eat away at the soul of communities filled with low-income and unemployed Americans, particularly Americans who are people of color.

 

We also doom ourselves and ensure we will fixate on why people like Reid are cosmetically wrong to say what they say on race instead of allowing the ideology of such comments on race to supersede the remarks’ cosmetic failings.