Category Archives: Politics

BU Prof: The Benghazi tragedy was caused by the CIA station chief

By Christopher B. Daly

Get ready: the Benghazi controversy is about to get a big new dose of fuel. My friend and B.U. colleague Mitch Zuckoff has a new book coming out next week that tells the story of the tragic assault on the U.S. compound in Libya from the perspective of five American commandoes who were there. The five men have teamed up with Zuckoff to write their jpegeyewitness account in a book titled “13 Hours.”

The release of the book is already reviving the arguments over who was to blame for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others during the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. Most Republicans (including the Republican Party news outlet known as Fox News) are hoping to lay the blame on Hilary Clinton, on the grounds that she was U.S. Secretary of State at the time and therefore responsible for every bad thing that happened anywhere in the world during her entire tenure. The Republicans would like to use this tragedy to damage her politically as she gears up to run for president in 2016.

Most Democrats, meanwhile, would like to just see the whole thing disappear.

Most journalists, like Mitch, would like to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. Operating in a fact-based world, journalists (and historians, for that matter) need to establish a reliable, factual sequence of events before we can even have a political discussion. That’s what has been largely missing. Based on knowing Mitch Zuckoff for almost 30 years and working with him when we were both reporters at the AP and working with him since we have both been journalism professors at B.U., I can say that I would expect his version to be definitive. 

The debate is flaring up, as you can see from these accounts from MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the NYTimes (which somehow “obtained” an advance copy of Mitch’s book). Fox News jumped with a “special report” by Bret Baier. The book’s release also just happens to coincide with the start of hearings into Benghazi by a special House committee. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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News comes from far away. . .

By Christopher B. Daly

Do we get too much information about distant conflicts, or too little?

The New York Times offers two very different answers.

One comes from Anjan Sundaram, a former stringer for The Associated Press in Congo. So, he should know. He laments the withdrawal of American correspondents from many countries, the shuttering of overseas bureaus, and a general decline in the coverage of wars, violence, and the politics of many nations.

News organizations need to work more closely with stringers. Make no mistake: Life as a stringer, even for those eager to report from abroad, is daunting. It’s dangerous, the pay is low and there is little support. For years after I left Congo, my position with The A.P. remained — as it is now — vacant. The news from Congo suffers as a result, as does our understanding of that country, and ultimately ourselves.

The other view comes from my Boston University colleague David Carr, the Times‘ media columnist. In his Media Equation piece today, Carr describes the sensation of information-overload that he has been experiencing lately as social media bring him a flood of data about a rocket war in Gaza, plane crashes, and the other disasters.

Geopolitics and the ubiquity of social media have made the world a smaller, seemingly gorier place. If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.

In my view, they are both right, at least to a degree. Sundaram is correct that many U.S. news organizations have retreated (usually for economic reasons) from their commitment to covering international news. In particular, they have lost the budgets to pay for keeping full-time staffers in locations around the world that are not boiling over. I’m talking here about trained journalists who have the time to become multi-lingual, to learn about other cultures and societies, to develop good sources, and to roam about developing a good first-hand sense of the place they are covering. These are the kind of people you want to be able to in a crisis, to explain a self-immolation in Tibet, or a riot in Indonesia, or a drug war in Central America. And, yes, there are too few of those.

But that’s not the same issue David Carr was identifying. He is describing the flood of images, information, and opinions that come streaming at Americans from the hotspot of the week. And yes, he’s right about. In a country or region that America is paying attention to, the flow of news is usually pretty abundant. That doesn’t mean that it’s always very useful, only that there is a lot of it.

This general problem was identified almost a century ago by Walter Lippmann — journalist, author, and media theorist — in his landmark book about journalism, propaganda, and politics, Public Opinion.

News comes from a distance; it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable imgresconfusion; it deals with matters that are not easily understood; it arrives and is assimilated by busy and tired people who must take what is given to them.

That is, for passive news consumers, the picture of the rest of the world is fragmentary, random, and often blurred or blacked out. I dare say that I am not the only avid consumer of U.S. news reporting who could not tell you a single meaningful thing about Indonesia (the fourth most populous country on Earth and the largest Muslim-majority nation). I don’t know anything about it, because no U.S. news organization has a single full-time correspondent there. I cannot say I am bombarded by social media (or any other kind) about Indonesia. But if something should happen there that draws the attention of the United States, we can be sure the firehose will be turned on, and we will start to absorb a torrent of images, facts, and opinions. Until our attention shifts.

Thurber-Lippmann screenshot

by James Thurber

 

 

 

 

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Filed under blogging, broadcasting, CNN, computers, Fox News, Journalism, journalism history, New York Times, Photojournalism, Politics, publishing

Rove on Iraq: “We create our own reality”

By Christopher B. Daly

As U.S. policy-makers argue over what to do next in Iraq (How about doing nothing?), it is worth recalling how this all came about. One source of the current situation that is worth recalling can be found in a rare moment of candor in the Bush White House. Thanks to the estimable journalist Ron Suskind, we have a glimpse into the interventionist mindset that propelled U.S. forces into ground action in Iraq. In a New York Times magazine piece from October, 17, 2004, Suskind reported on a conversation he had had in 2002 with a person he could not name but could only identify as a “senior adviser to Bush.” Later, Suskind was able to reveal the identity of that source: turns out, it was Karl Rove, the top political brain in the entire Bush operation.

Here’s what Karl Rove said:

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This is why we need journalists — not just to “study what they do,” but to hold them accountable.

(h/t to Larry Houghteling)

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A pox on “A pox on both their houses”

By Christopher B. Daly 

I spend a lot of my waking hours at the intersection of Journalism and History, two empirical fields that share a lot of DNA. It’s an interesting place to hang out, and I wish more of the residents of each street would roam around more on the other street.

Today, a story in TPM about an item on a blog known as the 20Committee, nicely frames an issue that highlights one of the distinctions between the disciplines of journalism and history. The upshot is that journalists do us all a disservice when, in the name of non-partisanship or “fairness,” they throw up their hands and blame Democrats and Republicans equally for behaving in ways that are partisan, counter-productive, hypocritical or the like. As a former political journalist myself, I know this phenomenon well, and I know where it comes from: it is an adaptation to the pressure many American journalists feel to write as if they have no stake in the outcome, to show an aloof indifference to cause or candidate or party.

Many journalists, particularly in the mainstream media who work in the reporting tradition, apply this technique to coverage of hard problems like Obamacare or fracking or political spending. This is the problem often referred to as “false equivalence” or “false balance.”

But, I would submit, no historian who studies our current period in the future would be caught dead doing that. Every historian of our present situation will look at essentially the same facts and will exercise judgment.

[I will further predict that 95 percent of them will conclude that our current messes are the fault of Republicans. But, to use another favorite journalistic evasion, Only time will tell.]

Shutterstock/ Christos Georghiou

Shutterstock/
Christos Georghiou

 

 

 

 

 

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Inside the meme factory: The Clintons figured this out long ago

By Christopher B. Daly

When Hilary Clinton complained back in 1995 of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” trying to bring down her husband, she was not wrong. In fact, she and her husband’s political advisers were onto something: the interlocking network of conservative institutions set up since WWII to American politics to the right. As the Clintons realized, the right-wing think tanks and the right-wing media were mutually supportive in their campaign to concoct conservative political themes and inject them into the mainstream media. (Whether this system qualifies as a “consipracy” is a fine point, but Hilary was right to be paranoid: people were out to get her.)

A new batch of disclosures from the Clinton presidential library lay out the Clintons’ grasp of this phenomenon, circa 1995. They rightly identified Richard Mellon Scaife as a major source of funding for both conservative think tanks and media.

Scroll down past the heading sheets for a fascinating glimpse inside this usually hidden world.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.01.39 AM

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Filed under history, Journalism, journalism history, media, Politics, publishing, Uncategorized

Inside the meme factory: GOP discovers “imperial presidency”

By Christopher B. Daly

In today’s NYTimes, a story purports to have discovered a trend among Republican congressmen, who are depicted as suddenly deciding to accuse President Obama of creating an “imperial presidency.”

Hmmm. . .

Whenever Republicans start using the same phrase for the same purpose, it behooves political journalists to dig a little deeper and figure out where the new phrase/slogan/soundbite is coming from. Usually, it has been hatched deep in the bowels of the conservative “meme factory” — that set of interlocking think tanks, consultants, and media that serves the conservative movement by providing it with a constant supply of talking points, slogans, and rallying cries.

Today’s story, by Ashley Parker, traced the new “meme” as far upstream as a recent report from the office of Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the House, but that’s as far as she got. I suspect there are more tributaries to explore, even further upstream.

An excerpt:

Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, recently released an addendum to a 33-page report his office had already put out on the “imperial presidency.” And both Mr. Broun and Mr. Loudermilk used similar phrases when talking about the role they believe government should play.

“Our founding fathers truly believed that government should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people — not a government over the people,” Mr. Broun told a gathering of supporters recently.The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

Imagine that — Loudermilk “offered a nearly identical refrain.” What a coincidence!

 

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Filed under Journalism, New York Times, Politics, President Obama

Math for journalists (Koch edition): Free spending is not free speech

By Christopher B. Daly 

Kudos to The New Republic for this takedown of a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. The Murdoch newspaper was trying to gin up sympathy for the Koch brothers, the fossil-fuel billionaires who pour big money into the conservative Meme Factory and into political campaigns. The Journal tried to make the case that the Kochs have actually been outspent by organized labor — without noting that there are two Koch brothers and 14.5 million labor union members. When the Kochs are treated as individuals (as the Constitution would indicate), the TNR piece calculates that each Koch brother is exercising the same level of “political speech” as about half a million union members.

Can anyone really argue that amplifying those two voices by the millions of dollars they have to spend makes the country a better place? Does their wealth make their ideas more worth listening to? Does their wealth make them wiser? Does it mean they love their country more than others? Why should they have a megaphone that their neighbors do not have? If they want to speak, let them speak. If they want to publish, let them publish. And let them do so without limitation. But spending money is not protected by the First Amendment (and nor should it be).

As a First Amendment militant, I believe speech should be free. It shouldn’t be paid for.

[Note: the following graphic is merely suggestive. For it to be accurate, it would have to include hundreds of thousands of separate tiny images for union members.]

koch2-article

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