Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth (of Ruth's Report): So another week passed and public radio was pretty disappointing. NPR's excuse can be that it is middle of the road. That may excuse some aspects but it does not excuse ignoring the two biggest stories of the week. Pacifica Radio is supposed to offer left programming. So, before I get to the biggest stories ignored by both, we should probably zoom in on one program.

CounterSpin is produced by the organization FAIR which also offers the bi-monthly magazine Extra! and FAIR identifies as a left organization. Listening Friday to CounterSpin, I had to keep reminding myself of that identification. That had nothing to do with the second interview, with an attorney on the Bilal Hussein case. It did have everything to do with the first interview.

Glenn Greenwald was the interview subject and he was there, as the introduction noted, to discuss Time magazine's Joe Klein who has been caught yet again in another truth-bending episode. "Yet again" because this is a pattern with Mr. Klein. So listeners may have been confused to hear Mr. Greenwald state that he did not want to personalize it. Part of the confusion falls back on CounterSpin which decided to go with Mr. Greenwald as the person to address the topic.

CounterSpin's a left program but apparently does not feel bound to seek out left guests. That is not an insult to Mr. Greenwald. He has himself, in other interviews, noted that he does not see himself as left or right. I was confused as to why he was selected to be interviewed about this when other outlets, such as Media Matters, and many bloggers had covered this issue. There is a whole cast of interview subjects on the left. Then I remembered Steve Rendall's problems with Air America Radio which included "bloggers" as experts when Mr. Rendall doubted they were.

Mr. Greenwald is an attorney. He is not a 'lowly blogger' and that, apparently, matters more to CounterSpin than having a guest speak from the left. Considering the nonstop complaints from FAIR about the lack of left voices featured in the mainstream media, possibly they should do more to make sure left voices are featured on their own radio program?

For a half hour, they offered no left guest. When you think about their criticism of PBS' NewsHour or the cable lineups or the Sunday chat and chews, you may be remembering that FAIR regularly takes them to task for not featuring left guests.

Another criticism FAIR likes to make is that people who are center or center-right are often presented as if they were left. I will assume most listening to the latest installment of CounterSpin grasped that the AP is not left but I do think CounterSpin left listeners with the impression that Mr. Greenwald was left. Honestly, I think the hosts assumed Mr. Greenwald was left.

Is it fair to 'personalize' the issue, something the centrist Mr. Greenwald was opposed to? You bet it is. It is more than fair. In fact, for the left it is required. Joe Klein is not a reporter. His entire career is about personalization. With a guest not worried about being seen as left, CounterSpin could have explored that. We are talking journalistic ethics and, with Mr. Klein, there are a huge mountain of issues to tackle which do not begin with his lying that he was not "anonymous" who wrote Primary Colors. Mr. Klein is a serial liar offering his personal tastes as universal takes, as objective ones.

By refusing to 'personalize' it, by refusing to touch on the many similar incidents with Mr. Klein, Mr. Greenwald wanted to make it about Time magazine refusing to issue a correction. That is only one aspect of the story. Since we are not talking about Susan or Stan Smith but about Mr. Klein and his long, abusive relationship with the truth, zooming in only on Time magazine takes a very specific problem and turns it only into Time's trouble with issuing a correction.

In fact, I should add, "Time's trouble with issuing a correction in this instance." Because apparently other examples of Time refusing to issue corrections would have been 'personalizing' the issue since Mr. Greenwald offered none.

So what listeners could easily have taken away from that bad interview was that Time magazine refused to issue a correction in this one instance and that the problem was not Mr. Klein's problem because a 'left' voice vouched that it was not.

Way to waste everyone's time with a lousy segment that refused to explore anything and, in the end, was such a huge disappointment that it could have been covered more clearly in a 'look at recent press' at the top of the show.

This is not a minor issue. FAIR makes a point to issue action alerts and to conduct studies on the number of left voices presented in the mainstream media. But, for a half-hour, they offered two guests who were not left voices and there really was not much to either interview.

The Associated Press interview was cursory glances and did not do a great deal to inform anyone of Bilal. I generally refer to people by their last name but I have noticed that C.I. has repeatedly used "Bilal" and I grasp that is because the U.S. military is attempting to turn him into this monster so I will use Bilal as well. Do you know that there is a petition in support of Bilal started by journalists around the world? If you do so, you may know it from this site but CounterSpin was not interested in referencing it. A real shame since Mr. Rendall asked a ridiculous question and the answer he was hoping to elicit could have been underscored by offering the Free Bilal web address.

Mr. Rendall wanted to know about the lack of support from other press outlets for Bilal. The reality is that other press outlets have covered the story but have refused to offer editorials in support of Bilal. Journalistic organizations have offered various degrees of support, but the editorial boards have been silent. That is shameful. Does Mr. Rendall really believe that in an ongoing battle, when there is the hope that editorial support will come at some point, an attorney can respond, "You are exactly right! We are getting zilch! I am mad and and I am offended!"? Of course he cannot. This lack of support from editorial boards is appalling but if you are attempting to explain the support Bilal does have, you need to note Free Bilal.

In terms of the lack of support, C.I. can call it out and has done so. Mr. Rendall could have done the same if he wanted to note it. Instead he asked a question that no attorney hoping his client will get some last minute support from editorial boards can answer in agreement while the issue is ongoing. If Mr. Rendall did not grasp that, I do wonder how aware he is of the situation? Since CounterSpin has not really focused on this issue and since Mr. Rendall repeatedly bungled the interview, I would guess Mr. Rendall is not overly familiar with the issue.

Considering that FAIR includes supporting journalists who are "muzzled" among its stated intentions, I do find it sad that the organization which can issue an action alert this week on former President Bill Clinton lacks the time, or maybe just the interest, to issue an action alert on Bilal.

Bilal has been held by the U.S. military since April 12, 2006. He is a prisoner though the U.S. military prefers the 'softer' sounding term 'detainee.' One would assume over nineteen months of imprisonment would qualify as "muzzling" and, therefore, would require FAIR to make the time to issue, at the very least, an action alert. Is that not the purpose of a 'watchdog'?

Sidenote, added at my granddaughter Tracey's request. Tori Amos has a song entitled "Cooling" where she sings, "Peggy get a message to Jesus." At Tracey's request, "Jim get a message to Jess." That is a private message at this point, however, 2008 may find it to be a very public one at this site. As they say on KPFK's Uprising Radio, "Yeah, I said it."

So to recap, CounterSpin offered two segments and, despite decrying the lack of left voices in the media, offered zero guests from the left. If you are thinking the interviewers themselves could have injected left commentaries during the interviews, you have obviously not listened to the program. The two interviews could have been conducted by Charlie Rose for all they offered. For instance, a left interviewer could have challenged the assertion by Mr. Greenwald that Mr. Klein's serial abuse of the truth was not worth 'personalizing.' But, of course, that did not happen. When you self-present as a left watchdog and you regularly castigate the mainstream media for failure to present left voices, possibly it is not a good idea to waste an entire week's program without offering a left voice?

It is probably not a good idea for left radio programs or NPR radio programs to not address two very serious issues. First up there is the much hyped "Great Return" of Iraqi refugees, which C.I. has pointed out for weeks, is from Syria which refuses to match the efforts Jordan provides in schooling to the refugee children and which has not only has instituted a policy that translates as no new visas but has also begun cancelling the visas of a large number of refugees who have attempted to start over in Syria. When your children cannot go to school, when you cannot get work, when your visa is cancelled, it is not a surprise that you might consider returning to Iraq. While FAIR, in all its formations, has remained silent, C.I. has called it out and has called out the ever shifting numbers being provided by the U.S. military and the Iraqi puppet government and C.I. has repeatedly noted that relief agencies have called out the numbers. Two Thursdays ago, C.I. noted that the trickle of returnees were resulting from the fact that the Iraqi government was both busing them in from Syria and bribing them to return.

When you consider that the lies of the "Great Return" work both domestically (lulling U.S. news consumers into the belief that Iraq is now 'safe') and internationally (lulling refugees into believing they need to consider returning), it is appalling that independent media has refused to call the lies out. Possibly, common sense is in short supply among out left voices. If so, they could have hid behind the paper of record to begin telling some truths about the myth of the "Great Return" this week. Monday, Damien Cave's "Pressure for Results: The Politics of Tallying the Number of Iraqis Who Return Home" (New York Times) which noted not only the bribes being offered to returnees, not only the fact that they were bused in, but also that the Iraqi government "continued to publicize figures that exaggerate the movement back to Iraq".

"Culpable" is the term C.I. used yesterday and I would argue anyone wasting all of our time with a lengthy segment allegedly devoted to Joe Klein's lies with a guest who refuses to call them that and insists we must not 'personalize' the issue is being culpable in the deaths of Iraqis.
The same Friday CounterSpin wasted everyone's time, even Michael Gordon could offer a tiny sliver of truth. Paired with the paper's Stephen Farrell for "Iraq Lacks Plan on the Return of Refugees, Military Says," he co-penned this tidbit: "After the lengthy journey, the tired Iraqis were ushered into the white marble affluence of the Mansour Melia Hotel in Baghdad to receive a promised government payout to people returning to the capital." But instead of exploring issues that have life or death consequences, CounterSpin offered a look at Joe Klein's journalistic malpractice that quickly devolved into a guest insisting we should not 'personalize' it. Who was served by that nonsense?

I have actually been ignoring CounterSpin because I have found them so disappointing for months now; however, they tape their show on Thursdays and, as Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot" noted, the big news should have been the then just released report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism's survey of over one hundred mainstream reporters who cover Iraq. The report is entitled [PDF format warning] "Journalists in Iraq: A survey of reporters on the front lines" and contains a treasure trove of findings that go to mainstream coverage of Iraq. As program after program avoided the report on Wednesday and Thursday, I thought, "Well surely CounterSpin has to cover this on Friday." I thought wrong. Somehow the revelations that most reporters are not even speaking to the Iraqis they quote in reports, that their bosses are not interested in their filing reports on the ongoing violence was not worthy of attention from CounterSpin. For that matter, it was not worthy of attention from other programs as well.

As the myth of 'safe' gets increasingly attached to Iraq, the illegal war lasts even longer and apparently public radio, be it Pacifica or NPR, does not see it as their role to provide the truth. If bosses are conveying their lack of interest in coverage of violence to mainstream reporters, does that not go to the lack of coverage we are seeing in the mainstream? Yes, it does. If reporters are appearing on various shows claiming things have improved but they still cannot speak to Iraqis to gather the quotes for their stories, does that not need to be noted?

It does need to be noted. If FAIR truly sees itself as a watchdog for the left, if it truly feels that not enough left voices are presented to the public, it has one half-hour each week to improve the situation. When it fails to do so, it becomes increasingly difficult to take seriously their action alerts and studies. Despite the realities of Iraq and the rare brave reporting by people such as IPS' Ali al-Fadhily, the lies of 'safe' have so entered the dialogue that even left voices now repeat them. I do hold independent media responsible for that and you should as well.