Glenn Greenwald excoriates Dems for assailing free speech

February 25, 2021 • 12:30 pm

As I’ve said before, I find Glenn Greenwald a mixed bag, but it’s worth checking his Substack site to see what he has to say. This week’s column is a critique of the Democrats’ new drive to single out media venues as a possible way of suppressing conservative speech. The fight between government and social media/regular media is not something I follow regularly, but Greenwald does, and he’s angry about the use of government to intimidate those who provide news. He’s not particularly concerned about regulating news as being “fake” because, he says, authoritarians have always used the excuse of “fake and harmful news” to suppress their opponents.

Click on the screenshot to read: (it’s free, but you should consider subscribing if you read often):

Democratic intimidation, says Greenwald, has taken several forms: calling people like Zuckerberg before Congressional committees (three times in less than three months), a hearing that started yesterday before part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called “Fanning the flames: disinformation and extremism in the media,” and the fact of House Democrats sending letters to the nation’s largest cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and to distributors like Amazon, Apple, and Google, with a list of demands. I have to say, this list is pretty heavy-handed:

But you say that these companies are damaging the country by promulgating “fake news” (invariably conservative news)? Here’s Greenwald’s response:

The way Democrats justify this to themselves is important to consider. They do not, of course, explicitly acknowledge that they are engaged in authoritarian assaults on free speech and a free press. Not even the most despotic tyrants like to think of themselves in that way. All tyrants concoct theories and excuses to justify their censorship as noble and necessary.

Indeed, the justifying script Democrats are using here is the one most commonly employed by autocrats around the world to silence their critics. Those they seek to silence are not merely expressing a different view, but are dangerous. They are not merely advocating alternative ideologies but are destabilizing society with lies, fake news, and speech that deliberately incites violence, subversion and domestic terrorism.

In her boastful posting, Rep. Eshoo says her efforts targeting these cable outlets are necessary because “misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse.” This is the rationale invoked by virtually every repressive state to imprison journalists and ban media outlets.

The Democrats sound a great deal like the Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel el-Sisi. Just two weeks ago, Sisi’s regime finally released an Al Jazeera journalist who had been imprisoned for four years based on accusations that he had “spread false news” and was guilty of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.” Sound familiar? It should, since that is precisely what House Democrats are saying to ennoble their multi-pronged assault on free expression.

And, avers Greenwald, it’s not like liberals don’t pollute the waters with fake news:

Are there conspiracy theories and disinformation sometimes found on the conservative cable outlets which House Democrats want taken off the air? Of course there are: all media outlets disseminate conspiracy theories and fake news at times. MSNBC and CNN spent four years endorsing the most deranged conspiracy theory imaginable, one with very toxic roots in the Cold War: namely, the McCarthyite script that the Kremlin had taken over control of key U.S. institutions through sexual blackmail over the President, invasions into the nation’s heating system and electric grid, and criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the Trump campaign to hack into Democrats’ emails.

He shows a screenshot:

So what’s Greenwald’s solution? Let the companies say whatever they want? (This would be close to my solution, so long as what they say doesn’t transgress the First Amendment.) But he offers another palliative, and one that, if you’ll forgive me, doesn’t seem very workable:

. . . as much as I loathe so much of what those outlets do, it is not the role of the government to regulate let alone silence them. The corrective is for journalists to rebuild trust and faith with the public by exposing their misinformation and proving to the public that they will do accurate and reliable reporting regardless of which faction is aggrandized or angered.

He’s right about the government keeping its hands off the press, but do journalists really have any desire or incentive to rebuild public trust and faith by exposing information? I don’t see that happening with either the Right- or Left-Wing media (I’m not as familiar with the Right, as I don’t read them so much, but who at the New York Times is policing the paper? Not the executive editor, that’s for sure!)

Some readers won’t like Greenwald’s comparison in the last paragraph, but, like Rod Serling, I submit it for your approval:

But corporate media outlets and Democrats (excuse the redundancy) who spent the last four years posturing as virulent defenders of press freedoms never meant it. Like so much of what they claimed to believe, it was fraudulent. The proof is that they are now mute, if not supportive, as Democrats use their status as majority party to launch an assault against press freedoms far more egregious than anything Trump got close to doing.

As I said, this isn’t exactly an area I follow, so I’d be especially interested in readers’ comments. Are the Dems hypocrites in this respect?

Weatherman’s snowfall meltdown

February 6, 2021 • 2:45 pm

UPDATE: This is a very good hoax, but it’s not real, as a commenter notes. I wuz had!

Here we have a real-life example of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.” A weatherman, forced to stand in shirtsleeves in the snow, bridles at having to suffer for the sake of a live weather shot. And then he questions his whole life, saying that he didn’t spend $120,000 on an education to be made into a performing snow-monkey.

The Great Science Publishing Scandal

May 4, 2019 • 10:30 am

by Matthew Cobb

Earlier this week, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme I made, along with producer Deborah Cohen, about how scientific publishing works, the problems associated with it, and why everyone should be concerned about it. Click on this picture and you will be able to listen to the programme from anywhere in the world.

You might think this is a fairly niche issue, but if you or anyone in your family has a disease and you want to read up on the latest treatments, you will find that, unless you work or study at a rich university, you may not have access to the material, which is behind a paywall.

The programme is not primarily about the massive profits of the publishers* but about something much more interesting – how we got to this situation, and how academics (not just scientists) are complicit in the system. We also explore various alternatives, including Sci-Hub, a site run by a Kazakh hacker, which has stolen the whole of the academic literature, pretty much, and gives it away for free. But as one of my interviewees put it in a quote we didn’t use – “Stolen from whom?”

The programme is only 28 minutes long, and the response so far has been very positive. Those who are particularly keen on one or another Open Access option have been disappointed that the programme is not either more polemical or more focused on one solution. I felt that explaining the complexities of the problem to the general listener would be more interesting.

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* For example, in 2017, the largest academic publishing company, Elsevier, made £913 million profit, up £60 million from 2016. Its 2017 profit margin was 36.8%. The raw material underlying that profit – the academic articles and their reviewing – was provided free of charge by academics, often from research that was funded by the public either through taxes or through donations to charities.

In which I visit Woke Left websites

April 9, 2019 • 1:00 pm

It’s really time I stopped looking at HuffPost, as my friends tell me repeatedly. But I still like to look at Woke Left websites, just like I look at conservative and centrist or center-Left websites: just to see what’s going on.

I’ve managed to break the habit of looking at Salon, though, spending a bit of time there today, I was appalled to see how mindlessly authoritarian it has become: it’s almost a caricature of Authoritarian rhetoric. One example: I saw the movie Green Book on the plane to Europe, and thought it was pretty damn good, though I was of course aware that the family of the black protagonist Don Shirley objected to its factual inaccuracies. But it was a movieand not a biography. Liberties were and are taken in movies like this.

Salon‘s objection, though, was the familiar one that Green Book was a “white savior movie.” That I don’t quite get, as it’s a movie in which a black man weans a white man from his racism, and a white man helps a black man come out of his shell. If there was any saving, it was mutual. But I prefer to think of it as the story of two very different men finding their common humanity. The story was absorbing, new to me, pretty much if not wholly true, and the acting was superb. Andit by no means whitewashed the racism of the South in the early Sixties.

But if you read Salon‘s house critic’s review of the movie, you’re thrust into a world where the quality of a work of art depends entirely on whether it corresponds to the critic’s intersectionalist ideology. Here, for instance, is the end of (t.v.) critic Melanie McFarland’s splenetic review of Green Book:

It’s much simpler, however, to spit-shine escapist Social Progress tales drawn from a mythologized version of history. These reassure mainstream white audiences of how far we’ve come as a nation despite the headlines about a spike in hate crimes, the rising white nationalist presence within law enforcement and in politics, racially motivated mass shootings and widening wealth gaps between whites and non-white minority groups.

None of this is to say that Farrelly has no right to direct “Green Book” or that Vallelonga should not have told his father’s story. But it would have helped, perhaps, if someone from within Shirley’s family circle had been consulted, if only to prevent “Green Book” from being a story about a white man’s flirtation with racism by way of witnessing a black man’s strained effort to survive and succeed in spite of it.

So in this way “Green Book” transforms racism into something that, you know, really makes you think, something terrible happening to other people, something that’s really too bad, instead of an ever-present structure in America from which people either specifically or unwittingly benefit. Racism is awful, but it doesn’t force Tony to risk anything aside from punching out a few people threatening the guy who’s paying him.

And that’s soothing. It sells the idea that as long as a person doesn’t behave like a violent criminal from Sundown Town, Alabama, when confronted with a person whose skin is darker than theirs, that’s enough. The passage of time will take care of the rest, assisted by a few take-out meals and road trips along the way.

“Green Book” is a manual for an outdated mode of thinking, in other words, and a mode of moviemaking that needed to end yesterday. But we’ll take 2019. That would be a fine time for fresh start.

The underlying theme of this vitriol is that racism in America hasn’t gotten any better since 1962—a palpably ridiculous claim, but one that makes me realize why people objected to Steven Pinker’s last two books on progress—and that making racism personal elides the fact that it’s a structural, endemic, and omnipresent feature of America. Unfortunately for McFarland, we’ve made a lot of strides in the last 57 years, and although racism still pollutes America, the purpose of the movie was to tell the story of two men embedded in a time when bigotry was an unquestioned feature of the American South. It is the story of two men, not a polemic about the racism of modern day America, which is what McFarland wanted. She reviewed the movie not as it was, but in comparison to the movie she would have made, which would be the equivalent of art under Stalin.

But I fulminate. I liked the movie. I will not be going back to Salon any time soon.

If you want to see a calm refutation of all these criticisms of Green Book, including the erroneous claims of Shirley’s family, watch this video.

On a happier note, HuffPost continues to go down the tubes, at least judging from its analytics seen here. Viewership seems to have dropped about 50% just since October:

 


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In comparison, The New York Times, flawed as it is but still not fully Woke, is holding pretty steady over that period:

It will be a happy day for me when HuffPost closes up shop.

 

Tuesday: Hili dialogue – cats & Twitter

March 21, 2017 • 6:30 am

by Grania

It’s the birthday of Twitter (2006).

I love and hate it, sometimes at the same time. Depending on who you choose to follow – sometimes as a pure voyeur – it can be an echo chamber or a place of discovery or a place of facepalming frustration. It also is far from balanced in how it doles out Internet Justice, and much like Facebook has a real problem on its hands in trying to balance free speech without becoming a platform for genuine abuse as may prove to be the case with Kurt Eichenwald.

One of Twitter’s strong points is you often get to see the news before the major media outlets get to it.

But it can be a bewildering place. For example, although I don’t know whether this was a real or spoof account, this can pretty much summarise the Twitter experience in under 24 hours.

Twitter also pokes advertising at you, which is fair enough, they’ve got to pay the rent too. But their algorithms need some tweaking. This advert was aimed at me in spite of the fact that my bio clearly says atheist. (You don’t have to state your religion, or lack thereof. I’m just obnoxious*.) Maybe they’re just that desperate.

 

Then there are moments of comedy. I first noticed this floating by and wondered what on earth Wikileaks was whining about as it clearly has the Verified blue tick.

 

Being verified is not a big deal – there are some users with fewer than 2000 followers who get verified accounts, so the bar is not particularly high. Then it became clear who the tweet was really about. Evidently he operates both accounts. Why does he need TWO blue ticks?

 

Of course, once you show injury you are pretty much a bleeding lamb cutlet in a piranha tank. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer cutlet.

Anyways, happy birthday Twitter.

Its also the UN International Day of Forests, which is a far more important thing and one can only hope that forests outlive us, Twitter and humanity in general.

In Poland, Hili is suffering from a common felid affliction. Fortunately it is rarely fatal, although some cat staff have had to resort to tags to ensure that the household god in their midst does not go the way of Six Dinner Sid.

Hili: I can’t remember?
A: Remember what?
Hili: Whether I already had my breakfast.

In Polish:

Hili: Nie mogę sobie przypomnieć.
Ja: Czego?
Hili: Czy ja już jadłam śniadanie.

Bonus tweet, offered by Jerry (of course). Jerry is doing well and en route to Nelson.

We have a bonus appearance from Gus.

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*Actually, I put it in back in the day when I was with Atheist Ireland, and I just never really got around to changing it.

Mr Rubin, I’m ready for my close-up

January 16, 2017 • 1:03 pm

When in Hollywood. Blending with the indigenous population. They won’t suspect a thing.

Note by JAC: The pictures and text above were posted by Grania, to whom I sent the photos for posting. It was great fun meeting Dave Rubin and his coterie—an amiable and helpful bunch—and being on the Rubin Report. Dave and I had an hourlong conversation that, as I recall, was mostly about evolution, with a tad of atheism thrown in. The hour flew by, and I think it went well. I’ll send the link when it goes up.

Now I’m cooling my heels in LAX, ready to fly back to Chicago; I dare not look up the temperature there!

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After the taping. I love this sign!

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When the Lunatic Fringe gets Mainstream attention

November 25, 2016 • 8:45 am

by Grania Spingies

So a guy almost nobody ever heard of before last Saturday holds a meeting where approximately 200 members show up—the size of a large-ish knitting club or a small-ish local atheist group—makes some benightedly stupid hand gestures, and scores the media coup of the century.

While one should probably not completely ignore people publicly championing a range of nasty and obsolete views that are predictably vomited by the mouths of white nationalists, a group that small certainly doesn’t merit the wall-to-wall coverage lavished on them by the media. However, if you are a white nationalist with delusions of grandeur and a modicum of intelligence and a complete lack of inhibition, you can probably work out a way to troll the world and make everybody pay attention.

Since then, there has been the predictable avalanche of op-eds in which people generally agree that Nazis (even wannabe Nazis) are bad (this is good) and other op-ed responses that complain about the tone of the first op-eds for not being condemning enough and “normalising”—normalising is the new buzzword du jour —these fools and their acolytes. The problem, however, is not the daftly headlined and faintly breathless piece in Mother Jones describing the self-appointed Leader’s dapper clothing (and there was me thinking that only women were described in terms of the clothes they wear) and skills with chopsticks. [JAC: The headline, “Meet the dapper white nationalist who wins even if Trump loses”, has now been changed.] What might normalise them though is having their faces and ideas plastered everywhere.

So what should the media do? Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has an opinion on this. The whole thread is worth a read, but  pay attention to points 15 and especially 16.
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Douthat’s point is that it isn’t Spencer that merits attention, but rather Trump, who courted his ilk whenever it was expedient during the election cycle, and might continue to do so in the future. It is Trump and his regime whose feet need to be held to the fire whenever they make common cause with such groups.

I’ve read a couple of pieces by conservatives who make similar points. In The New Republic, Jacob Bacharach, who had a teenage flirtation of his own with Nazi fanciers, argues that they are a distraction, but points out that Trump and Bannon have used such groups as “an instrument of media relations”.

An even more revealing piece in Slate by Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart—and once a colleague of both Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos—offers an insightful analysis of white supremacist groups, the “alt-right”, and their links to Bannon and Trump.

So they’ve tried to broaden the definition so they can suck people into believing they’re alt-right, and then make themselves seem indispensable by saying, “Look at all these alt-right people. They’re all out here, and if the Republican Party pushes them to the side, then they’re going to pay an electoral price for that.” And then you have people winking and nodding at them because they think they’re an important constituency. So it’s a couple-step process, and glomming onto Trump has been part of that because Trump, I don’t think, is alt-right. I don’t think that Trump is particularly racist. I think he’s an ignoramus. I think that more than anything, Trump is willing to pay heed to and wink at anybody who provides him even a shred of good coverage. So if the alt-right, which worships at the altar of Trump—if they provide him good coverage, he’s willing to wink and nod at them and not wreck them.

Shapiro also has things to say about the partisan divide between the Left and Right and where some common middle ground can be gained by moderates from both sides.

I think that the more the left focuses on the things that are actually serious regardless of your politics—like corruption, like policies that are self-directed, that kind of stuff—that will have more of an impact than just going around shouting, “Racist, racist, racist!” I think one of the big problems here is that if you called Mitt Romney a racist in 2012—as Bill Maher said, if you turned it all the way up to 11 for Mitt Romney—it’s very difficult for people to hear you when you turn it up to 12 for Trump.

The common thread here seems to be: don’t get distracted by the antics from the monkey cage. There may be very serious issues soon that will need to be confronted and challenged. It is Trump and his official advisors and their forthcoming policies who should be scrutinised.

 

If you’re skeptical of FEMEN, you should watch this

March 4, 2016 • 9:45 am

by Grania Spingies

FEMEN and Inna Shevchenko are often treated as pariahs by the very people who claim to champion the causes this group fights for. FEMEN was born in Ukraine as a reaction to that country’s exploitation of women in the sex industry, as well as to other global issues: dictatorships, oppression of women by religions, and the entanglment of church and state.

The group has at times come in for a lot of criticism—not only from their natural enemies (the women in FEMEN have been arrested and tortured) but also from their natural allies who (let’s be frank here) appear to be overcome by an attack of Victorian prudishness.

The Rubin Report on Ora TV has just released an interview with Inna Shevchenko; you can catch it on their website or on YouTube. Inna is passionate and articulate, and covers a range of subjects. She describes the lowly origins of the group and admits to initially having had serious reservations about FEMEN’s decision to go topless. She and Dave Rubin also discuss subjects ranging from the Charlie Hebdo massacre (she knew all the cartoonists) to the recent attacks in Cologne—as well as the baffling response to these events by certain supposedly liberal and left-leaning people.

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The interview is very much worth your time, and might change your mind about FEMEN. Oh, and if you’re not following The Rubin Report, you should be. It’s a refreshing change from most Left-wing and Right-wing channels, as Rubin favors discussing ideas above promoting ideologies.

Part 1 (14 minutes):

Part 2 (23 minutes):

Part 3 (16 minutes):

And since reader infiniteimprobabilit reminded me of this photo in the comments below, I’ll sneak in some self-aggrandizing. This was in Paris Match:

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Chicago television station screws up big time wishing viewers a Happy Yom Kippur

September 24, 2015 • 1:30 pm

I rarely watch channel 9 in Chicago; my staple is NBC for the news and CBS for “60 Minutes,” and that’s about the entirety of my television diet. But reader Amy reported to me that when wishing its Jewish viewers a happy Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement and the most sacred of Jewish holidays—someone at WGN didn’t do their homework. As reported by TPM, here’s the image the station broadcast:

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If you don’t know where that wildly inappropriate image of the Star of David is from, you need a history lesson! (Go here for one.)

At any rate, the station was alerted by a tw**t from an editor, and issued an apology:

“Last night we ran a story to recognize Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  Regrettably, we failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol.  This was an unfortunate mistake.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake.”

Certainly there’s nothing nefarious here—just a photo editor who was regrettably ignorant of history. But really, folks, that editor could have reserached just a teeny bit after finding a symbol that seemed appropriate because it was a Star of David. It’s actually funny in a macabre sort of way.

The tw**t that alerted WGN:

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David Carr, 1956-2015

February 17, 2015 • 3:45 pm

by Greg Mayer

David Carr’s funeral was held earlier today in New York. He died last week of complications from lung cancer, collapsing and dying in the newsroom of the New York Times, where he had been a media reporter and columnist since 2002. A media columnist for the New York Times might seem a bit far afield for WEIT, but our interests here are varied, and, in many ways, much of Carr’s journalism addressed questions at the heart of WEIT as an online enterprise: in a digital age moving away from physical print media, how are the means of gathering and disseminating information to change, and how can authority and reliability be earned and represented in digital media? The questions might sound a bit grand, but since starting his website 5 years ago, Jerry has been very much actively involved in defining what a website for discussion and presentation of science to the general public can be.

David Carr, 1956-2015
David Carr, 1956-2015

Carr, while embracing virtually all forms of digital media, clearly saw the virtues of “legacy” media, and insisted on the importance of news-gathering versus news-aggregating. In a memorable moment captured in the film Page One, he was once on stage with a vacuous dot com executive who hailed a brave new future where newspapers would be gone and people would produce their own news, to which Carr replied:

The New York Times has dozens of bureaus all over the world, and we’re gonna toss that out and kick back, see what Facebook turns up? I don’t think so.

I first found Carr through his Carpetbagger column at the Times, and began to regularly read all of his Times contributions. His back story, which I learned only after reading him for awhile, was amazing. A Minnesotan by birth and upbringing who had worked at a number of “alternative” weeklies, he had been a crack addict who, as he liked to put it, was a single parent on welfare. But in a remarkable second (or third or fourth) act to his life, he became one of the nation’s leading journalists– a paean to the second chance. He told this story in his memoir Night of the Gun and in a NY Times Magazine article (which is where I first read the story).

I saw him give a live TV interview last week, just a day or so before he died, on the Brian Williams affair. I was shocked to see how ill-fitting his suit was—he had lost a tremendous amount of weight, probably one of the complications of the cancer that was to soon end his life. I thought his remarks about Brian Williams a tad ungenerous: he referred to Williams’ “bad decisions”, but having taught for 20 years about the unreliability of sincere eyewitness testimony and the constructive nature of memory, I could not see Williams’ errors as “decisions”, but as an all too frequent result of how human memory works (an aspect of the Williams story well covered by the Times).

Despite my different take on Brian Williams, I always appreciated and frequently agreed with Carr’s analyses. Margaret Sullivan has gathered together links to much of the coverage of Carr in the Times and throughout the media in her Public Editor column, so I won’t place any here; go take a look at her column and follow the links to sample some of Carr’s work and the tributes that have poured in.