Category Archives: Journalism/Media

Pentagon declares “unprivileged belligerent” journalists legitimate targets in new manual…

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The Pentagon has released a book of instructions on the “law of war,” detailing acceptable ways of killing the enemy. The manual also states that journalists can be labeled “unprivileged belligerents,” an obscure term that replaced “enemy combatant.”

The 1,176-page “Department of Defense Law of War Manual” explains that shooting, exploding, bombing, stabbing, or cutting the enemy are acceptable ways of getting the job done, but the use of poison or asphyxiating gases is not allowed.

Surprise attacks and killing retreating troops have also been given the green light.

But the lengthy manual doesn’t only talk about protocol for those on the frontline. It also has an extensive section on journalists – including the fact that they can be labeled terrorists.

“In general, journalists are civilians. However, journalists may be members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents,” the manual states.

The term “unprivileged belligerents” replaces the Bush-era term “unlawful enemy combatant.”

When asked what this means, professor of Journalism at Georgetown Chris Chambers told RT that he doesn’t know, “because the Geneva Convention, other tenets of international law, and even United States law – federal courts have spoken on this – doesn’t have this thing on ‘unprivileged belligerents’.”

This means that embedded journalists, who are officially sanctioned by the military and attached to a unit, will be favored by an even greater degree than before. “It gives them license to attack or even murder journalists that they don’t particularly like but aren’t on the other side,” Chambers said.

Even the Obama Administration’s definition of “enemy combatant” was vague enough, basically meaning any male of a military age who “happens to be there,” Chambers added.

The manual also deals with drones, stating that there is “no prohibition in the law of war on the use of remotely piloted aircraft (also called “unmanned aerial vehicles”).” Such weapons may offer certain advantages over the weapons systems. It states that drones can be designated as military aircraft if used by a country’s military.

The book includes a foreword from the General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Stephen Preston, who states that “the law of war is part of who we are.” He goes on to say that the manual will “help us remember the hard-learned lessons from the past.”

The manual is the Pentagon’s first all-in-one legal guide for the four military branches. Previously, each sector was tasked with writing their own guidelines for engagement, which presumably did not list journalists as potential traitors.

The Pentagon did not specify the exact circumstances under which a journalist might be declared an unprivileged belligerent, but Chambers says he is sure “their legal department is going over it, as is the National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.”

The rush to a new Cold War…

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A new Cold War has taken shape between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States with very little public debate, just a return to hostile rhetoric and military moves and counter-moves over Ukraine, an issue that journalist Robert Parry has followed over the past year and a half.

Parry, a longtime Washington-based investigative reporter and editor of Consortiumnews.com, was interviewed about the crisis by Dennis J. Bernstein for Pacifica Radio’s Flashpoint program.

DB: It looks like the U.S., with Barack Obama leading the charge, has entered what you call “the second cold war.” What do you mean by the second cold war?

RP: There has been a sharp increase in tension, obviously, between the United States and Russia. We’ve seen a very divergent way of looking at the problem. The United States and mainstream media have taken a very propagandist view of what occurred in Ukraine. The Russians have taken a very different view, which, perhaps to our amazement, is more accurate than what the United States is saying.

Because of these two divergent narratives, the countries have essentially plunged back into a cold war, where there’s a lot of hostility, threats of military escalations, with the U.S. sending military teams to essentially parade along the western border of Russia. Some of those countries are NATO allies, and others, like Ukraine, may want to become a NATO ally.

So these tensions are building up, that oddly don’t have much direct connection to U.S. national interests, but have become a kind of cause célèbre in Official Washington where everyone just wants to stand tough against the Russians and bash Putin. It’s become almost a self-perpetuating dynamic.

The Russians have taken a very different perspective, which is that the United States is encroaching on its borders and threatening them in a strategic manner. They also look at what happened in Ukraine very differently. They see a U.S.-backed coup d’état in February 2014 that ousted an elected president and put in a regime that is very supportive of free market, neo-liberal policies, but also includes very strong right-wing elements, including neo-Nazis and far-right nationalists. A crisis was created and tensions continue to spiral out of control.

DB: Let’s talk about the origins of this cold war rhetoric. First, we have Barack Obama leading the charge. He has become a real cold warrior, hasn’t he?

RP: He’s certainly allowed some of his underlings to use very aggressive rhetoric against the Russians, particularly Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who led the charge in supporting the coup in Ukraine in early 2014.

DB: When you say coup, most people don’t know that occurred. Was there a coup?

RP: Of course there was. There was an armed uprising that involved some very far right neo-Nazi militias that had been organizing and penetrating into what became the Maidan protests against the decision by the elected President Yanukovych not to go ahead quickly with an association with the European Union. That became increasingly violent; including some mysterious sniper attacks killing police and demonstrators, and getting the two sides to go at each other.

There was a political effort on Feb. 21, 2014, where Yanukovych agreed to reduce his powers and have early elections so he could be elected out of office. It was signed by three European countries to guarantee it. The next day there was a coup. These right-wing groups surged forward, seizing buildings, and Yanukovych barely escaped with his life.

Very quickly, despite the very unconstitutional nature of this change of power, the United States and European Union recognized this as legitimate. But it was obviously something the ethnic Russians, especially those in the eastern and southern Ukraine, found objectionable. They were the bases of support for Yanukovych, so they began to rise up, and this coup d’état then merged into a civil war.

DB: You have previously said the U.S. played an active role in this “coup.”

RP: There’s no question. The U.S. was supporting, through the National Endowment for Democracy, scores of political organizations that were working to overthrow the elected government. There were other U.S. entities, like USAID, as well as members of the U.S. government. Sen. John McCain went to Kiev, spoke to this very right-wing group, and said the U.S. supports you and what you are doing.

Then there was the famous phone conversation that was intercepted between Assistant Secretary of State Nuland and Ambassador Jeffrey Pyatt where they discussed who was going to take over after the change of power. Nuland put forward that Yatsenyuk “is the guy,” who after the coup became the prime minister. There were all the markings of a coup d’état. More neutral observers, who have looked at this, including the head of the Stratfor think tank (George Friedman), have called it the most obvious coup he’s ever seen.

That was the reality, but the U.S. news media and U.S. government chose to present it in a very different way. The Yanukovych government just left the scene, or something, is how the New York Times presented it. That wasn’t real, but that’s how they sold it to the American people.

We have two very distinct ways of looking at this. One is the ethnic Russians of Ukraine who saw their president violently overthrown, and the other is the western Ukrainians, backed by the U.S., and in some degree the European Union, saying they got rid of a corrupt leader, through a revolution, if you will. That became the core problem between the U.S. and Russians. Instead of finding common factual points to agree on, there are these two distinctly different narratives about what went on there.

DB: In Germany, recently, Obama himself carried this forward.

RP: Obama has been all over the map on this. In May, he sent Secretary of State Kerry to meet with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov in Sochi, Russia. Those meetings, by all accounts, went very well in that Kerry was looking for Russian help on a variety of international problems, including Syria, Libya, the Iranian nuclear talks, and so forth. These are areas where Putin has been very helpful in the past in terms of U.S. policy. There was a general meeting of the minds, it seemed.

But after Kerry returned, Obama seemed to swing back, to go more with his hard-liners. That was followed by the recent G7 Summit in Bavaria, at which Obama pushed for a continuation of economic sanctions against Russia. He continued to blame Russia for all the problems of Ukraine. He pretended that the Russians were the problem for why the Minsk 2 Peace Accord had not been going forward, even though the accord was essentially Putin’s idea that he sold to the Germans and the French. It’s really the Kiev regime that has tried to derail the Minsk 2 agreement from the very time it was signed.

Yet Obama took aggressive positions in Bavaria, including personal insults directed at Putin. Now we are back into this idea that we must have a confrontation with Russia. We’re seeing this play out not just at the government level, but now also at the media level. At the more popular level, the New York Times and other major news organizations essentially are acting as propaganda agents for the U.S. government, by simply conveying whatever the government says as fact, and not something to be checked out.

DB: You are saying this as somebody who is based outside the Beltway, correct?

RP: No, I’m actually inside the Beltway.

DB: Good, I feel better now that you’re in there. Where could this kind of policy lead? You’ve expressed concerns that we are dealing with two major nuclear powers. We have a man in Russia who will not be fooled with public relations, given that he was a master of it as head of the KGB. So where is this going?

RP: It has very dangerous possibilities. One hopes, of course, that cooler heads will prevail. But we see that when people paint themselves into corners, they sometimes don’t want to get into the embarrassment of getting themselves out. The more rhetoric and propaganda you throw into this, the harder it is for people to come to some common ground, reach an agreement and work things out.

There’s been this idea among the neoconservatives in Washington, for some time now, that the real goal here is to oust Putin. As Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, said back in 2013, Ukraine is “the biggest prize.” But he made clear that it was simply a stepping-stone to removing Putin as the President of Russia, doing some sort of regime change in Moscow.

What the neo-cons often fail to understand, as we’ve seen very painfully in places like Iraq, is they think things are going to be easy, they can simply put in somebody like Chalabi in Baghdad and everything will work out fine. But that often isn’t the way it goes. In the case of Russia, the great danger is that if the U.S. could de-stabilize Russia, somehow create a political crisis there, it’s very possible that instead of an easily manipulated person like Yeltsin, there would be a super hard-line nationalist taking over, taking a harder line than Putin. Then you can get into a situation where a nuclear confrontation would become a very real possibility.

To deal with that kind of dangerous reality and be reasonable, the U.S. needs to realize that the ethnic Russians in Ukraine have a legitimate beef, and they are not simply part of a Russian invasion or aggression. Both sides have some argument here. All the truth does not rest in Washington DC and I would argue that less of it rests in Washington DC. If you don’t deal with people honestly and straightforwardly, and try to understand their concern, a manageable crisis can turn into one that spins out of control.

DB: I have always thought that to some degree that the New York Times and Washington Post, on foreign policy issues, particularly East and West, have often acted as a wing, an arm, a public relations division of the State Department. Is that getting worse?

RP: Yes, it’s been a problem. In 2002 and 2003, the Washington Post and New York Times essentially led the drive for believing that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and the only answer was to invade Iraq. We’ve seen what that led to. The great irony here is that as much as the Washington press corps pretends it stands for truth and all these good things, there was virtually no accountability assessed upon people who misreported that story.

It’s true that there’s safety in numbers. All the important journalists got the story wrong and almost none of them were punished. They were allowed to go on, many in the same positions that they held then. Michael Gordon is still the Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times. He was one of the co-authors of the famous aluminum tube story, that these tubes being used for nuclear centrifuges, when they weren’t fit for that at all. Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, said as flat fact that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction back in 2002 and 2003. He’s still in the same job.

There’s a problem of no accountability, so many of these news organizations go from one catastrophic inability to report honestly about what is going on in the world, to the next. Now they’ve upped the ante to a possible confrontation between nuclear-armed Russia and nuclear-armed United States. We are now back into the cold war mentality. The New York Times had a piece this week essentially suggesting that anybody who doesn’t go along with the U.S. version of events must be working for Moscow.

We are starting to see McCarthyism rear its ugly head as well. Once you get into these kinds of propaganda wars, anyone who challenges or questions them has their patriotism questioned. We saw that somewhat in Iraq when people who questioned the WMD story early were called Saddam apologists. Now we’re seeing something similar happening. If you point out some of these inconvenient facts that don’t make the Kiev regime look too good, you’re accused of being a stooge of Moscow.

DB: I am concerned that this kind of policy is going to continue. And it’s not Saddam Hussein now, but Vladimir Putin, who has extreme experience, about how to play public relations games. And he has a nuclear arsenal, so it’s a whole different game here.

RP: The American propaganda barrage has not at all swayed the Russian people and government. Of course, the U.S. says they are all being propagandized by Russia Today and other Russian networks. Frankly, one can argue with some ways some things have been reported by RT or other Russian sources, but they have been doing a more accurate, on-the-ground job than the U.S. press corps has been.

You can point to a number of egregious major mistakes made by the major US news organizations. The New York Times went along with a bogus photograph from spring 2014 supposedly showing Russian troops in Ukraine. It turned out that some of the photographs were misrepresented and did not show what they were supposed to show. They [the Times writers] were forced to retract that.

You can point to factual errors on both sides, but it’s not something where the U.S., as the New York Times tries to present it, is perfect and hasn’t presented anything improperly, while the Russian media are all lies and propaganda. It’s not true. But it’s getting to the point where you cannot be a reasonable person, or look at things objectively, because you are pushed into taking sides.

That’s where journalism is a very dangerous thing – especially here. There was a lot of dangerous reporting during the cold war that in some cases pushed the two sides into dangerous confrontations. That can happen again. We were lucky to escape the 60’s without a nuclear war. Now we are rushing ourselves back into something that William Polk, a writer and former diplomat of the Kennedy administration, has called a possible Cuban missile crisis in reverse. This time we’re the ones pushing our military forces onto the Russian border, rather than the Russians putting missiles onto a place like Cuba. We know how Americans reacted to that. Now the Russians are facing something very similar.

Reporter who wrote that Edward Snowden files compromised intelligence agents admits he was just writing what government officials told him without verification…

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So we’ve already written about the massive problems with the Sunday Times’ big report claiming that the Russians and Chinese had “cracked” the encryption on the Snowden files (or possibly just been handed those files by Snowden) and that he had “blood on his hands” even though no one has come to any harm. It also argued that David Miranda was detained after he got documents from Snowden in Moscow, despite the fact that he was neither in Moscow, nor had met Snowden (a claim the article quietly deleted). That same report also claimed that UK intelligence agency MI6 had to remove “agents” from Moscow because of this leak, despite the fact that they’re not called “agents” and there’s no evidence of any actual risk. So far, the only official response from News Corp. the publisher of The Sunday Times (through a variety of subsidiaries) was to try to censor the criticism of the story with a DMCA takedown request.

Either way, one of the journalists who wrote the story, Tom Harper, gave an interview to CNN which is quite incredible to watch. Harper just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know what’s actually true, and that he was just saying what the government told him — more or less admitting that his role here was not as a reporter, but as a propagandist or a stenographer.

This is a claim that he repeats throughout the interview, pleading ignorance to anything factual about the story. In short, his argument is that he heard these allegations through a “well placed source” within the UK government and he sought to corroborate the claim… by asking another source in the UK government who said “that’s true!” and Harper ran with it.

Some more highlights. CNN’s George Howell kicks it off by asking how UK officials could possibly know that the Chinese and Russians got access to the files, and Harper immediately resorts to the “hey, I just write down what they tell me!” defense:

Um… well… I don’t know the answer to that, George. Um…. All we know is that… um… this is effectively the official position of the British government. Um…. we picked up on it… um… a while ago. And we’ve been working on it and trying to stand it up through multiple sources. And when we approached the British government late last week with our evidence, they confirmed, effectively, what you read today in the Sunday Times.

Again: government official tells them stuff, and they confirm with another government official — and that’s the story. Note that he says he showed the UK government “evidence” yet there is no evidence in the article itself. Just quotes and speculation. He goes on, trying to downplay the entire point of journalism, which should be to ferret out the truth. But, to Thomas Harper, if you question his report, you should be asking the government about it, not him. That’s not his job.

It’s obviously allegation at the moment, from our point of view. And it’s really for the British government to defend it.

So, you publish an explosive story based on anonymous quotes and already proven falsehoods, and then you refuse to defend it, saying that it’s the government’s job to do so? Do you even know what a journalist is supposed to be doing, Harper?

Howell digs deeper, questioning how the UK government even knows which files Snowden took — and questioning if the UK government has been able to decipher that as well. Harper, again, pushes it aside, saying he has no idea and they avoided such tricky questions altogether:

Again, that’s not something we’re clear on. So, we don’t go into that level of detail in the story.

It’s then that he makes the “we just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government” claim. Howell then points to one of the many contradictions in the story: the idea that Russia/China hacked into the Snowden files… and the claim that they were just handed over. And again, Harper pleads ignorance. He’s just the stenographer:

Again, sorry to just repeat myself, George, but we don’t know, so we haven’t written that in the paper. Um… you know, it could be either. It could be another scenario.

I mean, it could be that the great fairyland dragon from the 6th dimension dreamed up the Snowden documents and then gave them to Russia and China. Who the fuck knows? I’m just a reporter, man. Why would you ask me for evidence or facts? I’m just rewriting what some government guys told me!

Howell then points out that his story is just the British government’s claims, and then asks about the MI6 “agents” that were supposedly moved, and again, Harper pleads ignorance:

Um…. Again, I’m afraid to disappoint you, we don’t know. There was a suggestion, um, that some of them may have been under threat. Um. Er. Um. But… the um… statement from senior Downing Street sources suggests that no one has come to any harm, which is obviously a positive thing from the point of view of the West.

Huh. So now he’s the spokesperson for “The West?” Fascinating.

Again, Howell, somewhat nicely, points out that Harper is doing nothing more than stenography: “So, essentially, you’re reporting what the government is saying, but as far as the evidence to substantiate it, you’re not able to comment or to explain that at this point.” And, Harper basically agrees.

No. We… we picked up on the story a while back, from an extremely well placed source in the Home Office, um… and then… um… carried on trying to substantiate what was going on through various sources in various agencies throughout Britain. And then finally presented the um… um… story, to the government, and they effectively confirmed what you read in today’s Sunday Times.

In short: one government official told them this, and they asked other government officials, who all had a personal interest in having the answer be “yes” and after enough government officials all agreed on the same talking point, good boy Tom Harper wrote it all down and presented it as fact.

A few times in the interview Harper makes the accurate and reasonable point that when you’re dealing with the intelligence community, getting evidence is often quite difficult. That’s absolutely true. But then there’s a way of presenting that kind of story and it’s not the way Harper did so. When you have a story like this, where many of the details seem highly questionable, you don’t just talk to government officials, but you try to reach out to other sources who can further the story. But Harper admits that they had no interest in doing this — they were just presenting the government’s side of the story. Even that can be done in a journalistic manner, in which case the article should not present itself as presenting factual information, as it does, but the idle speculation of government officials who won’t put their names or positions behind what they’re saying.

Harper concludes the interview by saying that it’s very difficult to say things with “certainty” when reporting on national intelligence issues — but if that’s the case, why did the Sunday Times report present its findings with exactly that kind of certainty? Wouldn’t the reasonable thing to do be to highlight the questionable claims and to detail what was known and what was no actually known? But that’s not how Harper and the Sunday Times did it at all. And now he’s trying to pass off the blame, saying that it’s the UK government who needs to defend the “journalism” that he supposedly did. Given that he’s admitting he just scribbled down and republished their thoughts, perhaps that’s true concerning defending the facts of the story. However, it does seem quite reasonable to ask Harper to defend what sort of journalism he’s actually doing.

CNN is now selling ‘advertorial’ programming…

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You may not know that sometimes the “news” that you are reading in a newspaper, online, or watching on television is not really “objective” news at all: it’s paid-corporate PR that is known as native advertising.

The reason that you might not realize that you are reading an article or whole section that is nothing more than an ad disguised as news is that often the disclaimers that “this content is paid for” (or some variation in wording) are in such small type, you can hardly see them. Add that to the fact that regular news consumers are now often reading information at a dizzying pace so that even if there were a large disclaimer, it might go unnoticed by readers surfing through news sources.

In short, the line between the already corporate-influenced and self-serving mass media news coverage and ads is becoming increasingly blurred. It’s hard to imagine that the corporate imprimatur on what is news and the frame in which it is presented could get worse, but it is.

Take for instance Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s (FAIR) commentary on how CNN is now going to sell air time to corporations. The reports will look and feel like news (with the requisite generally ineffective disclaimer, one assumes), but will represent a corporation’s PR goals and narrative.

FAIR reveals the sucker-punch ironic name of this eventual CNN advertorial program is “Courageous”:

It’s hard to see what’s particularly courageous about CNN‘s move, even if you see the destruction of journalistic boundaries as a heroic struggle. As a report about CNN‘s foray into “news-like content on behalf of advertisers” on a Wall Street Journal marketing blog (6/8/15) notes, “news companies from the New York Times to BuzzFeed to the Wall Street Journal have units that create advertiser content….”

So advertisers will come to Courageous because CNN‘s “trustworthiness” and unwillingness to “blur the lines” will be transferred by viewers to advertising content that is “similar” to CNN‘s news but “clearly label[ed] and differentiat[ed].”

Don’t count too much on the “differentiation.” Even if viewers will see a disclaimer, it is likely that in their memories the “native advertising” and the so-called news will become a jumble that will be hard to retroactively separate. In fact, you can bet CNN is selling “Courageous” air time with a wink and a nod about the program being labeled as paid for.

As The Wall Street Journal blog entry, which FAIR refers to, about advertorials indicates, expect the blending of the editorial side of corporate news and corporate-purchased news content (albeit with an alleged “disclaimer” alert) to accelerate.

In a world of global corporate brands, anticipate that increasingly the only news that you will be able to get that you can really trust is from sources that don’t accept corporate money or advertising, sources such as Truthout.

WikiLeaks publishes leaked Sony documents, some concerning ties to Rand Corporation…

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WikiLeaks on Thursday published a searchable database of more than 30,000 documents and 173,000 emails leaked from the Sony Pictures Entertainment breach last year.

WikiLeaks, which publishes leaked, secret and classified information, posted the files in an easily searchable format.

It said they were important to keep in the public eye because of Sony’s ties to the White House, its extensive lobbying efforts on behalf of copyright law as well as its “connections to the US military-industrial complex,” the group said in a release on its site…

“This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation. It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there,” said Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder.

The documents and emails give an easily-accessible picture of what’s normally hidden at a large multinational corporation.

They include connections between Sony and the Democratic Party, an email asking executives to donate to a $50,000 for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his anti-piracy work and links to the RAND Corporation, which WikiLeaks calls a part of “the military-industrial complex.”