Monday, October 29, 2012

J'accuse: NPR, NYT, CNN and all the rest

by Libby Sternberg

Pity the parent whose child dies as the result of the feckless decisions of a popular leader (popular with the media, that is). He will receive scant attention, let alone interest in the decisions that led to his son’s death.
Such is the case with poor Charles Woods, father of Tyrone, a former Navy SEAL killed in the attack on the Benghazi consulate that took the lives of three others, including that of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, on September 11, a memorable date in recent American history.
Oh, there is the occasional story here and there—sometimes focusing on whether Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney “politicized” the Benghazi attack, sometimes mentioning how the issue follows the president on the campaign trail.

Michael Ramirez cartoon from Investors Business Daily
But where are the investigative reports about what really happened, what the president knew and when he knew it and whether a statement about no one “denying” aid to the besieged is merely a slyly worded way of saying the president did nothing even though he knew of the cries for help.
Except for a few references, the issue has been in the background or media have made excuses for the president. In one presidential debate, the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, rose to the president’s defense to correct what she perceived at that moment to be a false statement by Romney, who declared that the president hadn’t labeled the Benghazi attack as one of “terror” in a Rose Garden statement. Upon reflection, she conceded Romney wasn’t really so off the mark after all. Her epiphany occurred after the debate when mega-millions were no longer watching.
During the final presidential debate, focusing on foreign policy, the moderator, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, hardly pursued the Libya question at all. Romney, perhaps wise to the fact that the media were eager to take the president’s side no matter what he said on the topic, didn’t pursue it either. About the toughest media interrogation has come from a local reporter who pressed the president on the Benghazi attack, getting few straightforward answers and lots of “we’ll get to the bottom of this” spin.
I’ve written before about the media’s disinterest in the president’s defense policies and other stumbles. But now I’m beginning to believe that the media’s reluctance to cover the Benghazi situation with any real zeal makes them accomplices to the wrongdoing. Think about it: a father cries out for answers on why military aid was not sent to help his son—a legitimate question from anyone, but a particularly devastating one from the father of the fallen. The media’s reaction? Shrugs and disinterest.
I recently participated in a reading of T. S. Eliot’s verse play, Murder in the Cathedral, about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. At the end of all the mystical and magical poetry, Eliot uses straightforward prose so that those responsible for the crime can argue their case to the audience. The First Knight declares:

“…there is one thing I should like to say, and I might as well say it at once. It is this: in what we have done, and whatever you may think of it, we have been perfectly disinterested.”

He goes on to declare: 

“We know perfectly well how things will turn out. King Henry—God bless him—will have to say, for reasons of state, that he never meant this to happen; and there is going to be an awful row….”

Ordinarily, when scandal erupts—especially if it involves the loss of life, especially when it involves the possible resurgence of a terrorist group that attacked us on an unprecedented scale more than a decade ago—one can count on “an awful row,” as journalists rush to uncover what really happened, and public opprobrium falls on those responsible. This is no meaningless exercise. It serves a double purpose: uncovering valuable information that allows the public to assess the worthiness of a leader up for re-election and as a warning to future leaders to avoid similar mistakes.
In the Benghazi case, however, the media has accepted the king’s president’s excuses—“he never meant this to happen” –and has been curiously incurious in finding out more. Or, in the words of the Becket murderer: “perfectly disinterested.”

Imagine if George W. Bush were president during the Benghazi debacle. Can any journalist look himself in the mirror and claim truthfully that he would have been equally disinterested in this event had George W. Bush been president? The headlines, in that case, would have written themselves, and reporters would have stumbled over each other to determine what Bush knew and when, and why wasn’t he sharing it with the American public.
In Murder in the Cathedral, the Second Knight goes on to explain his role in the assassination of Becket and why he was justified. At the end of his declaration, he stares at the audience and says:

“…and if there is any guilt whatever in the matter, you must share it with us.”

As far as I’m concerned, that knight is addressing today’s media when it comes to Benghazi—if there is any guilt in the matter, they—the “perfectly disinterested” journalists of 2012—must share it with the administration. They have the resources to determine what really happened. Yet they are perfectly content to look away.
For this, they become actors in the drama, not mere observers. J’accuse.

Media bias: worse than EV-AH

by Libby Sternberg

(This post originally appeared at Hot Air's Green Room on September 28, 2012.)

When my son was deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year (he’s home now), I used to look for news of that country’s goings-on. It was hard to find. Eventually I lit on a site with the grim address that covered both Operation Enduring Freedom (for those who’ve forgotten, that’s the name of the operation in Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom. A left-hand column contains a news-feed about what’s going on in that part of the world.

I’ve not done an empirical study of news articles past and present, but it seems to me that one didn’t have to search as hard for news of Afghanistan and Iraq when George W. Bush was president. Why did these operations cease being as newsworthy once he was followed by Barack Obama? It’s hard not to suspect that once casualties couldn’t be laid at Dubya’s feet, media didn’t find such news … as newsworthy. (Neither, it seems, does the anti-war crowd, which has faded into the background despite the fact that President Obama has continued many policies they opposed.)

The lack of regular Afghanistan coverage isn’t the only thing missing from most news coverage today, while other stories receive attention for days on end (and by “days,” I mean round-the-clock coverage followed by more of the same). Watching the news (MSNBC) recently, I was confronted with the most pressing problem our country faced at this moment, surely shaking the citizenry to its core: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s alleged comments suggesting that 47 percent of folks don’t pay taxes and thus won’t vote for him. Even the president himself was so distracted by this earth-shattering statement that he couldn’t remember the exact number for the national debt when asked about it on an appearance on the David Letterman show.

Meanwhile…the Mideast was in flames, our Afghanistan policy was crumbling, Israel trembled at the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the U.S. Department of Justice was using a left-wing group to spin the news and the unemployment rate was abysmal along with most other financial indicators. Oh, and one more not-so-small thing: the president’s party, as demonstrated during its convention, seemed to be shifting ever leftward toward an anti-Israel, atheistic, aggressively pro-abortion platform.

Yet most in the media greeted those stories with a yawn. Does anyone doubt similar stories would be covered with gleeful alacrity if a Republican were in the White House?

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not looking at these stories as bits of “gotcha” politics. They’re news, by any definition of that word. They’re important. They tell us something about the current administration’s approach to policy. Americans should know about them in order to make informed decisions. Even Obama supporters might want to know them to try to push the administration in different directions.

In their defense, the news media’s unrelenting interest in political horse race stories is somewhat understandable during a presidential campaign. But why then did so many of them all but ignore a major political debate within the Democratic party? The very fact that the Democratic platform removed references to God and Jerusalem and making abortion “rare” should have received some discussion prior to its leap to center stage during the Democratic convention. Instead, it was brushed under the rug, especially after a hastily arranged vote to reinsert at least God and Jerusalem references into the document. That vote, too, should have been bigger news when it was clear that the convention chairman overrode the will of the attendees.

Nope, just more of the same “not really a story worth covering” from mainstream journos. Any story that might reflect negatively on the president and his party seems to be falling into the “not really news” category these days, bringing to mind a piece sharply satirizing the media’s slavering attitude toward Barack Obama from several years ago on the satiric site, The Onion: Media Having Trouble Finding Right Angle on Obama Double Homicide.

Conservatives are used to media bias, used to hearing excuses made for “out of context” gaffes by Democrats and the collective gasps of horror at similar stumbles by Republicans. We’re used to the stories of Democratic errors being turned into Mean-Republicans-Point-Out-Democratic Mistakes headlines. But ignoring real news literally blowing up in reporters’ faces seems to me a new low and probably accounts for why fewer and fewer people subscribe to mainstream newspapers or rely on broadcast news.

It’s pretty simple, really: when you cease delivering the product promised—real news—customers go elsewhere.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Libby's Hot Air posts

by Libby Sternberg

Until recently, I regularly posted at Hot Air's Greenroom. But they've changed their format, going to a "conversation" with their home page contributors, so the Greenroom contributors were set adrift! Not to worry. I've collected those posts here. URLs are below. I'll be reposting them individually as time goes by.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Obama ad reminds Republicans to vote, too

 by Libby Sternberg

Is this ad a) an act of desperation, b) good campaign strategy, or c) a public service announcement about the need to vote?    
Narrator: 537, the number of votes that changed the course of American history.
News announcer: Florida is too close to call...
Narrator: The difference between what was and what could have been. So this year if you're thinking that your vote doesn't count, that it won't matter...well, back then there were probably at least 537 people who felt the same way. Make your voice heard. Vote.
The president: I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message.
  The Huffington Post reports that the president's team is running this ad in swing states. The campaign, according to the article, is not worried about voter enthusiasm but decided to run the ad because.... Well, maybe because they're really what the president thinks Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is. Coming on the heels of the "I finally have an agenda" move, this latest message seems like one more desperate attempt to nudge tepid Dem voters, perhaps turned off by the president's negative campaigning but leaning his way, to go ahead and hold their noses but still vote for Obama.

However, this ad is a double-edged sword. Just as it reminds Democrats of the 2000 vote-counting debacle in Florida, it also probably sends a shiver down Republican spines, too, prompting them to get out and cast their votes before ballot-counting nightmares recommence.

So my answer to the question posed at the outset of this piece: This ad is -- a) an act of desperation and c) a public service announcement that will surely jazz up GOP sentiments, as well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why Susan Rice? Why that narrative?

by Joseph Sternberg

Why was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice sent around to the Sunday talk shows to tell a (false) story?

Susan Rice has no responsibility for the protection of embassies, nor for U.S. policy towards Libya. She was not directly involved in the development of intelligence of events in Libya. But how did the events in Libya affect what she was responsible for at the UN? Why would the White House think that she was the right person to promote the story they were trying to sell?

President Obama has had two foreign affairs priorities. One was to defeat Al Qaeda. The second was to improve relations with the Muslim world, which has taken the form of developing close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Susan Rice is directly involved in the second of these objectives in her role as UN Ambassador.

The U.S. is working as a member of the UN Human Rights Council as its Muslim members seek to produce a statement that restricts speech critical of Islam. The U.S. should not be party to such activities as any such statement would be in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But it is an active participant.
An unstated conclusion following from Rice’s story was that if the video could have been repressed, there wouldn't have been any demonstrations. So sending her out to the Sunday shows would makes sense for Obama as an attempt to advance this second objective, which was a logical outcome of his 2009 speech in Cairo. The offensive video story would also serve to divert attention from the fact that, contrary to what was claimed exhaustively at the Democratic Convention (Al Qaeda has been smashed), Al Qaeda is still a serious problem in the Middle East and North Africa.

Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh” serving a life sentence for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing) also played a part in the Cairo Demonstration on Sept. 11. The first demand of President Morsi, upon taking office, was that the U.S. release the Sheikh from prison. I don't know whether they are claiming he was unfairly convicted (in a NY trial—Attorney General Eric Holder, please note). At a minimum they are seeking his release on "humanitarian" grounds. It has been reported that a member of an Egyptian Jihadist group banned from entering the United Sates had been admitted to the White House on this issue. If Obama is reelected, who would like to take bets on whether the Sheikh would be released in furtherance of Obama's second objective?

We don't know what Susan Rice knew about the events in Libya. Since the State Department knew, you would think she would have given them a call before telling her story. So she was either lying or negligent. But we do know that her appearances were authorized by the White House.
Dr. Joseph Sternberg was Scientific Advisor to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 1971-1974

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Libby Sternberg