At RNC, Media Put a Happy Face on Suppression of Speech

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Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

News media could either be our ally or our enemy—we wanted them as an ally,” Laurie Pritchett said in a 1985 interview about his strategy as police chief in Albany, Georgia, during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s desegregation efforts in 1962.

Pritchett famously ordered his officers to enforce the city’s segregation laws nonviolently and arrest as few protesters as possible. He knew that if he had acted as other police departments had—like Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses in Birmingham (1963) and Jim Clark’s Bloody Sunday in Selma (1965)—news media would show the country how brutally oppressive police were, inspiring greater public support for King’s cause. In short, he beat nonviolent protesters at their own game by exploiting the media.

At the Republican National Convention this past week, none of the fears about a violent disaster bore fruit. Journalists and private citizens who worried about Ohio’s open-carry gun policy and the recent increase in public tension between cops and protesters were relieved that the week passed without a single gunshot fired or tear gas canister thrown. Like Pritchett’s officers in Albany, police in Cleveland—whose department was found to have practiced a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations in a Justice Department investigation—exercised restraint compared to how police have handled protests in Ferguson (military trucks, sound canons, tear gas, rubber bullets) and Baton Rouge (hundreds of arrests).

Just as Pritchett expected in 1962, media jumped to praise law enforcement. “Credit where it’s due: The police nailed it,” Vox staffer German Lopez (7/22/16) wrote. In a list that reads like a police officer’s handbook, he offered three detailed explanations for why the police “nailed it”:

Read the rest here.

What Gets Asked at Debates–and Who Gets Asked It?: A FAIR study of presidential primary debate questions

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Moderators at the presidential primary debates. First row: Bret Baier (Fox), Megyn Kelly (Fox), Chris Wallace (Fox); second row: Anderson Cooper (CNN), Jake Tapper (CNN), John Dickerson (CBS); third row: Nancy Cordes (CBS), Don Lemon (CNN), Gerard Baker (WSJ)

Originally published at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted at Common Dreams.

It’s not 2016 yet, but the 2016 presidential election cycle has already seen two Democratic primary debates, four Republican primary debates and four Republican “undercard” debates (for the GOP candidates who weren’t considered ready for primetime). A fifth pair of Republican debates will be held tonight, December 15.

With all this debating, you might think voters were getting a broad view of the policies that the major-party candidates were offering. But as in past elections (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/26/12), the establishment media figures who have moderated the debates have thus far focused the discussion on a narrow range of topics, a FAIR analysis of debate questions finds.

The 536 questions asked in the first four Republican debates, four Republican undercard debates and two Democratic debates were divided into six categories: economic, social, international, immigration, environment and non-policy questions. If the same question was asked to multiple candidates, it was counted each time, but clarifying and follow-up questions to the same candidate were not counted.

FAIR also studied the percentage of questions each candidate was asked. While moderators clearly took candidates’ positions in opinion polls into account when distributing questions, some seemed to get asked more—or less—based on media assumptions about who was and was not a serious contender.

What Was Asked About

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CNN partnered with Salem Media in the 9/16 debate and with the New York Times and Des Moines Register in the 10/13 debate; in the 11/10 debate, Fox Business Channel partnered with the Wall Street Journal.

One hundred sixty-four (31 percent) of the questions were categorized as non-policy related. A subset of these questions—14, or 3 percent of total questions—involved questions about candidates’ records in public or private life, as when Marco Rubio was asked about “your absentee record in the Senate.” Six of the 14 questions regarding candidates’ records involved Hillary Clinton’s handling of email as secretary of State.

The non-policy category also included questions about electability (of Bernie Sanders, “How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?” or to Lindsey Graham: “How do you explain why so many of your constituents would rather have Donald Trump as the Republican nominee than you?”), general questions about other candidates (“Would you feel comfortable with Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear codes?” or  “Do you want to tell Secretary Clinton why she shouldn’t get the crown?”), personal questions (“Which enemy are you most proud of?” or “What is your biggest weakness?” or “What experience would you draw on in a crisis?”) and questions about party loyalty (including the first question asked in the entire debate season: “Is there anyone on stage who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican Party?”).

Twenty-eight of the non-policy questions (5 percent of all questions) might fairly be categorized as silly, e.g., “What would you want your Secret Service codename to be?” or “What are the three apps that you use most frequently on your cellphone?” or “Should the day after the Super Bowl be a national holiday?” Even the more substantive questions in this category, though, tended to illustrate Paul Waldman’s observation in the Washington Post (10/29/15) that “the defining characteristic of almost every debate in recent years is that the journalists doing the questioning go out of their way to try to create drama.”

The next largest category was economic policy, whose 143 questions constituted 27 percent of all questions. Taxes (42 questions) dominated those discussions, followed by social spending (21) and economic growth (21). The questions about social spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) were often framed to Republicans as a question of bootstraps (“How do you get Americans who are able to take the job instead of a handout?”) or in terms of costs (“Considering the mounting cost of Medicare, was [President Ronald Reagan] right to oppose it?”).

Some economic questions did address more progressive concerns: There were eight questions about the minimum wage, six about inequality (“Are there specific steps you would require from corporate America to try and reduce the income inequality?” or “In all candor, you [Clinton] and your husband are part of the one percent. How can you credibly represent the views of the middle class?”) and three about corporate crime.

The 96 questions about social issues comprised 18 percent of all questions. There were 12 questions in this category about surveillance, sometimes unhelpfully personalized (“Edward Snowden, is he a traitor or a hero?”) and other times policy-focused (“Would you shut down the NSA surveillance program?”). Questions about women’s health (12) were often in the context of Planned Parenthood (“Would you be willing to shut down the government when it comes to defunding this group?”) and sometimes about appointing Supreme Court justices (“Is it time for conservatives to impose a litmus test on abortion?”). The 11 questions on gun control were sometimes framed from the right (“Would encouraging more people to be armed be part of your response to a mass shooting?”) and sometimes from the left (“Is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?”). There were seven questions about marijuana, seven about marriage equality and five about education.

In the international policy arena, whose 90 questions constituted 17 percent of all questions, the 37 questions about the Syrian civil war, the Islamic State and the “War on Terror” more broadly took center stage. These questions were largely asked from the right, seemingly urging candidates to adopt more hawkish positions: “Under what circumstances would a President Sanders actually use force?” or “How do you propose we screen [Syrian refugees] to keep citizens safe?”

This pattern was particularly pronounced in the CBS Democratic debate the day after the Paris attacks, as when Sanders was asked, “In the previous debate, you said the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Do you still believe that?” or when Clinton was queried: “A couple of days ago you were asked if you would declare war on ISIS and you said no. What would you say now?”

Other international questions dealt with general policy (“When are we going to get some names on your military and your foreign policy advisers?” or “Is [Clinton] too quick to use military force?”), Iran (12 questions) and, unsurprisingly, Benghazi (5).

Thirty-six (7 percent) of all questions were about immigration—counted as a separate category because of its mixed domestic and international aspect. Many questions in this category were framed in the context of unauthorized immigrants (“What do you say to the family of illegals? Are you going to break them apart?”), how immigrants affect the economy (“At the heart of this issue is the effect that illegal immigrants are having on our economy. What will you do about it?”), healthcare and education (“Do you support the undocumented immigrants getting Obamacare?”) and birthright citizenship (“Ms. Fiorina, the vast majority of countries do not have birthright citizenship…. Donald Trump is right about that. Why is it pandering when he says this?”).

What Was Not Asked About

Some topics deemed important by large segments of society got quite little—if any—attention. Although climate change is often regarded as the single greatest threat to humanity, moderators asked only nine questions about it—less than 2 percent of all questions. None of the six questions regarding campaign finance asked what candidates would do about the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, or their plans to limit the influence of money on politics; they focused, rather, on whether candidates can personally be trusted, given their contributions from wealthy donors.

There were more questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails (6) and Benghazi (5) than about police brutality (2). Questions regarding institutional racism, including police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement (phrased in the unhelpful binary: “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?”), came up less than 2 percent of the time. The only question about the rights of transgender people was not about healthcare or the increasingly disproportionate rate trans people are being murdered, but rather about how trans people serving in the armed forces affects the “definitely changing culture of the American military.”

None of the economics questions mentioned organized labor, or the US’s $500 billion trade deficit.

While there were zero questions about Sub-Saharan Africa, the only questions about Latin America were in the context of Trump’s claims that the Mexican government is sending rapists and drug dealers and criminals across the border. South Asia was ignored, while the only questions about East Asia were five that brought up China in the context of cyberwar and currency manipulation. Despite the heavy focus on the Middle East, no questions dealt directly with the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Whom Was Asked

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Predictably, some candidates got asked more questions than others. In the Republican field, Donald Trump led the way, taking on average 16 percent of the questions in the main GOP debates, followed by Ben Carson and Jeb Bush (12 percent each). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, with 7 percent each, got the lowest percentage of questions in the major debates they took part in. The two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, got nearly the same percentage of questions (33 vs. 31 percent), while the fewest questions on the Democratic side went to Lincoln Chafee, with 13 percent of the questions in the one debate he participated in.

Clearly, the moderators took the candidates’ relative positions in opinion polls into account when distributing questions, but there seemed to be other factors at work as well. We compared the percentage of questions asked each candidate to their average standing in polls at the time of each debate (using the Huffington Post’s poll-tracking feature). These two percentages aren’t directly comparable, since the polling positions of all the candidates on stage didn’t add up to 100, but they do give a basis for comparing popularity and debate attention.

One striking outlier is Jeb Bush; though Ben Carson polled on average more than twice as well as Bush (17 percent vs. 8 percent), they each were asked about the same percentage of questions (12 percent). Similarly, while Ted Cruz polled almost twice as well as Rand Paul (7 percent vs. 4 percent), moderators asked Paul a slightly larger portion of questions than Cruz (10 percent vs. 9 percent). (Paul’s share of questions got a boost in the third Republican debate, which focused on economic issues–topics where Paul is more in line with the Republican establishment than he is on other issues.)

On the Democratic side, the less-crowded field allowed for a somewhat more egalitarian distribution of questions. Martin O’Malley, for example, got approximately two-thirds as many questions as the front-running candidate, Clinton, who outpolled him 25-to-1. On the Republican side, the lowest-ranked candidates on the main stage got about half as many questions as frontrunner Trump, with about one-tenth as much support in polls. Although Jim Webb complained repeatedly about how few questions he was asked in his first and only debate, in terms of percentages it was almost as many (15 percent vs. 16 percent) as Trump was asked on the more crowded GOP stage.

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Pundits Thought Clinton Beat Sanders – But Did Viewers?

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Originally published at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted at Common Dreams.

A New York Times article (10/14/15) by Alan Rappeport about who won last night’s Democratic presidential debate reported today that “Hillary Rodham Clinton was the clear victor, according to the opinion shapers in the political world (even conservative commentators).”

The Times quoted National Journal columnist Ron Fournier (“Hillary Clinton won,” 10/13/15), Slate writer Fred Kaplan (“She crushed it,” 10/14/15), New Yorker staffer Ryan Lizza (“Hillary Clinton won because all of her opponents are terrible,” Twitter, 10/13/15), Red State blogger Leon Wolf (“Hillary was (astonishingly) much more likable and personable than everyone’s favorite crazy socialist uncle,” 10/13/15), pollster John Zogby (“Mrs. Clinton was just commanding tonight,” Forbes, 10/13/15) and conservative radio host Erick Erickson (“I’m still amazed the other four candidates made Hillary Clinton come off as the likable, reasonable, responsible Democrat,” Twitter, 10/13/15). If these so-called “opinion shapers in the political world” declare Hillary the winner, then Hillary must be the winner, according to the Times.

What the Times and these pundits failed to mention is the fact that every online poll we could find asking web visitors who won the debate cast Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the winner—and not just by a small margins, but by rather enormous ones.

Who Won the October 13 Democratic Debate?Seventy-one percent of participants in Slate’s online poll, for example, favored Sanders, while only 16 percent preferred Clinton. Time’s web poll of nearly 235,000 had Sanders at 56 percent and Clinton at 11 percent (Webb: 31 percent).

At Daily Kos, which caters to hardcore partisan Dems, 56 percent of nearly 22,000 participants said that Sanders won, vs. 38 percent for Clinton. MSNBC’s poll of 18,000 had Sanders at 69 percent and Clinton at 12 percent.

Sanders also showed appeal among the visitors to right-leaning sites: The conservative Drudge Report found that of more than 315,000 people, Sanders polled at 54 percent and Clinton at 9 percent (former Sen. Jim Webb got 25 percent). A poll by KSWB-TV, Fox’s San Diego affiliate, found that 78 percent of 45,000 respondents thought that Sanders won, as opposed to 15 percent who favored Clinton. The Street, a financial news website, found that 80 percent of 13,000 respondents dubbed Sanders the winner, while only 15 percent thought Clinton won.

Although these polls only represent the views of these sites’ visitors who volunteered to participate, the consistently high share saying that Sanders prevailed in the debate, across a range of websites with wildly varying audiences, is striking.

Adam Johnson, associate editor at AlterNet and frequent FAIR.org contributor, pointed out (AlterNet, 10/14/15) that not only had Sanders won every online poll “by at least an 18-point margin,” he also was picked as the winner by various media-convened focus groups: “Sanders won the CNN focus group, the Fusion focus group and the Fox News focus group; in the latter, he even converted several Hillary supporters.”

Another, more rigorous gauge of Sanders’ debate performance came from an analysis of Google searches. According to Google, Sanders was the most-searched candidate for almost the entire debate. After the debate was over, he was the most-searched candidate in all 50 states.

GoogleDemDebateThere is one outlier in the data about the Democratic debate, but it’s one that should carry some weight, given that it’s the only poll so far ask a random sample of respondents about debate performance. This poll, conducted via automated telephone calls by research firm Gravis Marketing (One America Network, 10/14/15), found that 62 percent thought Clinton won, while 30 percent gave it to Sanders.

The poll, however, is described as a “random survey of 760 registered Democratic voters across the US”—not as a survey of people who actually watched the debate. Given that there are some 43 million registered Democrats in the country and 15 million people who watched the debate, not all of whom are Democrats, it’s highly likely that a large majority of the poll’s respondents got their impressions of who won the debate secondhand.

If they relied on corporate media to tell them about the debate, as no doubt many of them did, it’s no wonder that most of them thought Clinton won.

Marginalizing the Momentum of the BDS Movement

Originally published at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted by In These Times.

Despite increasingly frequent victories for the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement confronting the state of Israel, and the heightened panic expressed by its critics, the New York Times virtually ignores the movement’s momentum. When attention is paid to BDS, coverage doesn’t focus on the role of the movement in the struggle for Palestinian rights, but instead amplifies critics of BDS and focuses on charges that the movement is a form of antisemitism.

The BDS movement, initiated in 2005 by Palestinian intellectuals and activists, is a nonviolent resistance movement that calls for economic pressure on the state of Israel to recognize the rights of Palestinians.

In a New York Times article (7/2/15) about two failed divestment efforts that, according to the story’s lead, “dealt a blow” to “a pro-Palestinian economic campaign against Israel,” reporter Rick Gladstone acknowledged that BDS “has been gaining traction in the United States.” That throwaway line is the end of the story for readers, since the Times rarely covers successful BDS efforts, either in the US or abroad.

Although the Times did cover both the United Church of Christ’s vote (6/30/15) and the Presbyterian Church’s vote (6/20/14) to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine, here are seven recent BDS victories that were ignored by the Times:

  • September 2015: The Icelandic capital Reykjavík’s vote to boycott Israeli goods and the backlash from pro-Israel groups that led the city to severely limit the boycott.
  • August 2015: The Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine that “wholeheartedly endorse[d]” BDS, signed by over 1,100 black scholars, activists, artists, students and organizations, including Cornel West (mentioned by the Times 34 times in the last two years), Angela Davis (14 times), Mumia Abu-Jamal (nine times) and Talib Kweli (19 times).
  • June 2015: The United Nations’ annual World Investment Report, which found that foreign direct investment in Israel plummeted by half after Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza in 2014.
  • April 2015: French multinational Veolia’s decision to sell most of its business assets in Israel after seven years of pressure from BDS activists.
  • February 2015: Stanford University student government’s vote to support divestment (though see below).
  • January 2015: University of California/Davis student government’s vote to support divestment, making it the seventh of ten UC schools to do so.
  • October 2014: Anthropologists’ statement to boycott Israeli institutions, signed by over 1,000 scholars.

When the Times does cover campus activism on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it opts to focus on the debate about antisemitism instead of focusing on the role of divestment and boycott resolutions in the campaign for Palestinian rights.

A May 2015 front-page article by Jennifer Medina and Tamar Lewin, “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities” (5/9/15), centered on the idea that Jewish students are threatened and marginalized by BDS activism. Ali Abunimah later reported in the Electronic Intifada (5/12/15) that Medina only asked Safwan Ibrahim, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA, questions about claims of antisemitism—ignoring the BDS movement’s tactics or motivations.

David McCleary, a Jewish member of SJP at UC Berkeley, said he felt like he was being given a Jewish “litmus test” by contributing reporter Ronnie Cohen, who apparently questioned McCleary’s Judaism in light of his involvement with SJP. “For them to find out that SJP at UC Berkeley is disproportionately Jewish interferes with that narrative that they are trying to invent,” McCleary told the Electronic Intifada.

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An earlier story by Medina, “Student Coalition at Stanford Confronts Allegations of Antisemitism” (4/15/15), also focused on the “debate over what constitutes antisemitism” in light of the Stanford student government’s vote to support divestment—an event that the Times did not cover in its own right, but only as an opportunity to run a piece about a Jewish student’s experience of being asked about divestment.

Times reporter Adam Nagourney ended an article (3/5/15) with a quote from Natalie Charney, student president of the UCLA chapter of the Jewish student organization Hillel:

People say that being anti-Israel is not the same as being antisemitic. The problem is the anti-Israel culture in which we are singling out only the Jewish state creates an environment where it’s OK to single out Jewish students.

Despite the reference to “the Jewish state,” the territory controlled by the government of Israel contains more Arabs than Jew –– though most of the Arabs are excluded from political participation. Why does only activism in support of Israel’s disenfranchised majority, and not the defenders of Israel’s system of ethnic apartheid, prompt questions of campus bias in the New York Times?

Iran’s ‘Nuclear Ambitions’ Go Unquestioned in Coverage of Iran Deal Momentum

Originally published at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Reposted at Common Dreams.

As Democratic senators declared their support for the deal struck between Iran and six world powers–an agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–corporate media coverage of this momentum is leaving out at least one crucial detail: the lack of evidence that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

A New York Times  article (9/2/15) cited two main reasons for why many Democrats were persuaded to support the Iran deal: 1) the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has technology that “could catch even the most minute trace amounts of radioactive material, and help expose any cheating on the deal by Iran,” and 2) the senators “heard from experts who said that a 15-year limit on fissile material, the makings of a nuclear weapon, would do more to slow Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon than a military attack.”

Reporters Carl Hulse and David Herszenhorn could have pointed out, as James Risen and Mark Mazzetti did on the Times‘ front page three years ago (2/24/12; FAIR.org, 2/9/15),  that “American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.” Or quoted, as Seymour Hersh did (New Yorker, 6/6/11), longtime IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s statement that he had not seen “a shred of evidence” that Iran was trying to weaponize its uranium. Or at least included, as basic balance, the fact that Iran had consistently maintained that it has no intention of building a nuclear weapon (FAIR.org, 9/30/13).

None of this stopped USA Today‘s Erin Kelly (9/2/15) from describing the deal as an effort to “curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions”–a phrasing that assumes such ambitions exist.  Or to summarize the deal by saying it “calls for the United States to lift economic sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s agreement not to develop nuclear weapons”; if that were all Iran had to do, the agreement could have been reached years ago, as Iran has long insisted they don’t want an atomic bomb. (The deal actually severely restricts Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to levels that are useful for nuclear power and medical applications.)

The Washington Post (9/2/15) also had an uncritical reference to “Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” It said opponents objected to the deal because it “doesn’t do enough to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and, at best, only delays its pathway to becoming an armed nuclear state.” Again, there was no mention of the widespread doubts or Iran’s vociferous denials that that nation is seeking a nuclear weapon.

When the Post turned to give proponents’ view of the deal, reporters Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello wrote: “But Obama and his proxies have argued that the deal is the best agreement they could have secured, that there is no alternative to it but war with Iran.” In other words, if the deal with Iran fails, then the US must go to war with Iran, because war is the only means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. So the entire spectrum of debate allowed by the Post accepts an Iranian quest for an atomic bomb as an article of faith–and the “left” edge of the debate endorses the legitimacy of preemptive war  (FAIR.org, 8/20/15).