On May 31st the Israeli military attacked a flotilla of boats full of civilians attempting to deliver humanitarian supplies to the Gaza strip, and to call attention to the impact of Israel’s blockade. At least 9 and as many as 16
activists were killed—we don’t know in part due to Israel’s tight control over the flow of information. We’ll talk with James Zogby of the Arab American Institute about Gaza.
Also on CounterSpin today: A new U.S. report says that most of the detainees held on
Guantánamo since Obama took office, should be released. That’s after nearly three fourths of those originally held had already been released under the Bush administration. This has enraged many on the right who are conducting a campaign targeting the detainees and even their U.S. lawyers. We’ll talk to Scott Horton, contributing editor at Harper’s, and the magazine’s No Comment blogger.
All that’s coming up, but first we’ll take a look back at the week’s press.
—You might remember the infamous ACORN videos, where right-wing
released heavily edited and misleading tapes of themselves visiting offices
the community organizing group. The hoaxers said they told ACORN that they
a pimp and a prostitute, and ACORN gave them advice on how to cheat on their
taxes. The slightest bit of checking revealed that was a lie—checking
corporate media almost never bothered to do.
But the video maker, James O’Keefe, is still being treated seriously,
his June 1 appearance on ABC‘s <span
class=”media_outlet”>Good Morning America. Host George Stephanopoulos
introducing the interview this way: “James O’Keefe became a media sensation
after he and a friend posed as a pimp and a prostitute and secretly recorded
ACORN workers giving them advice on how to cheat on their taxes.” Again,
false—you’d think by now journalists would know this. But
went out of his way to praise O’Keefe: “I have to give you credit for this,
ACORN, you did expose people doing things they shouldn’t do.” Journalists
normally don’t give “credit” to people who lie to them—or at least
they’re not supposed to. O’Keefe’s publisher Andrew Breitbart was also on
and when it was mentioned that none of the ACORN workers did anything
he protested: “Is it legal to help set up a prostitution ring in every
But Stephanopoulos let that slide too.
It’s worth pointing out that the point of the <span
class=”media_outlet”>ABCinterview was to tout O’Keefe’s latest
attacking Census workers. So, the guy who created hoax videos that were
like real journalism by a gullible media has a new batch of videos that are…
being taken seriously again by a gullible media.
—For many people the incredible devastation of the Deepwater Horizon
spill and the revelation of patently inadequate oversight of the company and
the process by regulatory agencies are undeniable: Something has to change.
not so fast, say corporate media wise men like the <span
class=”media_outlet”>New York Times’ David Brooks; it’s all much more
complicated than you sorts understand. Brooks’ May 28 column sighed that the
debate over the disaster has fallen into “predictably partisan and often
puerile categories,” one of which is the “liberal” view that the government
should have more control over industry. Actually, Brooks explains, “the real
issue has to do with risk assessment. It has to do with the bloody
where complex technical systems meet human psychology.” He goes on to offer
line, that Matthew Yglesias pointed out is largely cribbed from a 1996 <span
class=”media_outlet”>New Yorkeressay by Malcolm Gladwell, about
psychological pitfalls that contribute to accidents.
So what we really need to do is work on “helping people deal with
catastrophic complexity,” so we can “improve the choice architecture.”
Meanwhile back on earth, the Times ran a
May 27 headlined “BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Well Before Blast,” about
the oil company chose to use a cheaper casing for the well, even though this
could lead to a buildup of explosive gasses—as it seems did happen.
BP make this decision because as human beings they have trouble
complexity? Or did they make that choice because they are trying to pump oil
cheaply as possible so they can maximize their profits? And does that
they need an outside authority watching over them to ensure that their money
grubbing doesn’t lead to disaster? Or would that be puerile?
—Newsweek‘s website featured an
by correspondent Stefan Theil, dated May 28, declaring climate change to be
“Uncertain Science.” Giving the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the
warming denialist case, Theil refers to “e-mails and documents suggesting
researchers cherry-picked data and suppressed rival studies to play up
warming”—without mentioning that after the media sensation, subsequent
academic investigations cleared the researchers of wrongdoing.
The Newsweek reporter talks about a U.S.
scientist “under investigation for allegedly using exaggerated climate data
obtain public funds”—without mentioning that the scientist, Michael
is being investigated by Virginia’s Tea Party-aligned Attorney General Ken
Cuccinelli, whom the Washington Post has
described as having “declared war on reality.”
Theil also claims that there is a real scientific debate “over the extent
time frame” of CO2‘s greenhouse effect—while glossing over
fact that the actual debate in climate science circles is over whether the
consensus predictions have underestimated how much and how quickly
Earth will warm as a result of the burning of fossil fuels.
—There were protests recently at the Maryland homes of several bank
executives, along with follow-up rallies in Washington, D.C., at bank
and offices. The events organized by the National Peoples Action and the
went largely uncovered by the local daily, the <span
class=”media_outlet”>Washington Post, which led <span
class=”media_outlet”>Postombud Andrew Alexander to wonder why the
missed a major labor and activism story that was covered by <span
class=”media_outlet”>Mother Jonesand the <span
class=”media_outlet”>Nation, among others.
But when you read how Alexander imagines the paper might’ve approached the
story, you might be glad they didn’t do more. Wrote Alexander:
class=”media_outlet”>Postcould have gotten back in the game on the
story. For example, how did Chevy Chase neighbors react? Did protesters
trespass laws? When does First Amendment expression infringe on residential
privacy? Does President Obama, who enjoyed SEIU electoral support, sanction
these types of protests? And is a blitz on private residences a new protest
Gee, somewhere in there he could’ve suggested a few differently-angled
questions, like: What were the protesters talking about? Do their complaints
about excessive cronyism between Wall Street and Washington have foundation?
And did people’s loss of their homes, jobs and retirement savings ever
interrupt their dinner time? Just some ideas….
—And finally, witless commentary and breathtaking hypocrisy are no
strangers to Fox News, but Bill O’Reilly
in rare form on June 1. Discussing Joe McGinniss, the journalist who moved
door to Sarah Palin’s family home in Alaska in order to write about her,
O’Reilly declared the move “immoral” and maybe even unconstitutional:
the life of her family. He’s doing that that without a doubt by his presence
there, a malevolent presence for them, because they know he’s going to
do—write bad things about them.
Bernard Goldberg: Right.
BO: He’s intruding upon them, all right? Their pursuit of happiness,
which is guaranteed by the Constitution, basically has dropped 100 percent
because he’s there. And it’s—and you use the word creepy. You know,
in a public eye. And if there’s somebody who doesn’t like me around my home,
call the police.
(The “pursuit of happiness” phrase actually appears in the Declaration of
Independence, not the Constitution.)
About now, listeners who have followed O’Reilly’s sordid career are probably
recalling the Fox host’s practice of
his camera crews ambush news subjects at their homes, on vacation, even when
they are with their children—in other words, “intruding on them, all
right?” Of course, by O’Reilly’s lights, only intrusions targeting those he
cares about raise moral or “constitutional” questions. This is the beauty of
being utterly un-self aware.
CounterSpin: The New York Times
for Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. But the paper’s reason seemed to be
blockade’s failure to weaken Hamas, as much or more than its success at
impoverishing and punishing Gaza’s one and a half million people. Is this
best the U.S. press corps can muster, in the wake of the storming of six
humanitarian aid ships headed for Gaza by Israel military commandos, killing
least nine civilians and injuring many more? What ideas, and facts, are
from mainstream reporting and how could coverage be refocused?
We’re joined now by James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab-American
Institute and also a cofounder of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination
Welcome back to CounterSpin, James Zogby!
James Zogby: Thank you. I’d say nice to be back, but it’s actually
be back because when I’m on it’s because some horrific event is unfolding.
CS: Exactly, we were speaking with you in 2006 about Gaza, and I’m
to say I could almost have cut and pasted that interview into this one, so little
changed, in terms of media. Well, in a June 1 report the <span
class=”media_outlet”>New York Times’ Isabel Kershner wrote, “Despite
sporadic rocket fire from the Palestinian territory against southern Israel,
Israel says it allows enough basic supplies through border crossings to
any acute humanitarian crisis.” I wonder what you make of the paper of
if you will, contextualizing this event by saying Gaza is not in crisis?
JZ: They are reflecting talking points, liberal talking points, not
more hardline pro-Likud talking points, and pretty much the poles of the
here in this country have wavered between the two. The Palestinian side of
narrative is not found, and basically has almost never been found in
circles, and by that I mean mainstream press and among political leaders. So
the best you do is you sort of get the argument that you gave in the
about how the difficulty here is that it hasn’t worked; it hasn’t weakened
Hamas, that it’s only harmed the people—but not all that bad because,
know, there’s really no major crisis, it’s just an inconvenience and a
The problem is is that if you think about the way that’s framed: “there’s no
crisis because basic subsidies are getting through,” what you’ve got is a
strategy designed to limit the caloric intake of people in Gaza to the bare
minimum. And fundamentally it’s a racist concept. They’ve trapped 1.5
people in a reservation of despair and poverty, and they allow in, like an
eyedropper, enough to keep them alive. What you’ve got is 80-plus percent of
the people today get their food subsidy simply from the United Nations. It’s
welfare state. Secondly, you get 48 percent of the children in Gaza are
And poverty levels have climbed into the 80 percent range. People are living
bombed out houses because construction material hasn’t been in. It’s a
disaster. But, technically, the Israelis are right and the <span
class=”media_outlet”>New York Timesis right: people are surviving.
if survival is what’s acceptable, then I guess the <span
class=”media_outlet”>New York Timescan be happy.
CS: This has been a popular take on the assault on the boats: that it
couldn’t “really” have been about aid—the flotilla—because they
aid. I wonder, would other routes of possible access for materials, in any
event, justify Israel’s assault, to your mind?
JZ: No, I mean look, the fact is that a year ago the president spoke
Cairo and encouraged the Palestinians to pursue nonviolence. This was a
nonviolent approach. The Washington Post
didn’t get that. The Washington Post and
members of Congress made the argument that the Israelis were ambushed. I’m
quite sure that coming down from helicopters with black hoods and weapons
constitutes tripping into an ambush. But, you know, the fact is that this
largely a nonviolent effort. Sure, some people attacked the folks who
the boat, but I think that’s a purely logical response to fear, to anger, to
frustration on the part of some. But what the Israelis have done, cleverly,
control the narrative, so this was an Al Qaeda supporting ship. They used
language, that 50 people were Al Qaeda supporters; they were extremists.
Interesting that they ended up freeing them all and sending them away. I
that means that Israel is now complicit in Al Qaeda in letting go some of
terrorists. But that has been echoed here by Congress and by some of the
newspapers who’ve argued, as the Washington
Postdid, that these were terrorists of borders and that they were a
dangerous group of people and the Israelis were defending themselves. That’s
the way that they shaped the story, and that’s the way the story ends up
CS: Well, let’s do a little bit of history here. The <span
class=”media_outlet”>Associated Pressreported June 1, that “Israel
Egypt sealed Gaza’s borders after Hamas overran the territory in 2007,
control from Abbas-loyal forces”—that referring to Fatah forces
with Mahmoud Abbas. Should readers accept that explanation, that history?
JZ: No, but if you control the history and define the starting point
the history, then basically the rest of it flows perfectly. There was a
war, and to some degree it was prompted by the United States that thought
we could encourage and support Fatah into winning and Hamas ended up
You know, they won an election, they’ve been punished for winning. I believe
that Hamas behaved very badly once they won. They should’ve acted more
responsibly as a government and they didn’t. But aside from that, the fact
that what the U.S. did was it couldn’t take yes for an answer. There was a
Hamas-Fatah agreement on how to move forward in Mecca. The U.S. refused to
honor the agreement. Aid was frozen. The closure of Gaza did not begin in
of 2007. In reality, the closure of Gaza and the sort of eeking, the letting
limited amounts of aid in and limited amounts of people out began in the
mid-1990s. And it has continued ever since. It was kind of a stranglehold in
2007, and it did come after Hamas beat Fatah in what had amounted to a
mini-civil war. The Egyptian role, however, needs to be understood, and it
not been understood, in part because Egypt is in a bind and doesn’t know how
explain itself and feels awkward about explaining itself. I’m not a fan of
they’ve handled their situation, but nevertheless the Egyptians understand
what Israel has tried to do is seal off Gaza as the occupying power, control
sea lanes, dominate the airspace, and control all access and egress, and
say to the Egyptians, you know what, you got it, it’s yours. And the
have said, we don’t want to take control of Gaza; Israel has the
as occupying power. We’re not willing to relieve them of the burden of
with this. And so the Egyptians are in kind of a bind. If they open it up
free it and link it economically and every other way to their territory,
they’re going to own it, and the Israelis will simply walk away. And 20
from now, it’ll be absorbed into Egypt, and it will have nothing to do with
Palestine. Israel thinks in the long term, and the Egyptians are trying to
avoid this becoming a fait accompli.
CS: Finally, one of the things most characteristic of U.S. coverage
its focus on what the Israeli assault or even the blockade itself mean for
“U.S.-Israel relations” or for the Obama White House. We would always say,
course, it should start and end with human beings and human rights, but if
we’re going to follow that diplomatic angle, well, the news today says the
White House finds the blockade “untenable”—that’s not exactly a
call. Do you, briefly, see change in the U.S. role?
JZ: I see the U.S. today, one week later, being where they should
been on the first day, and they should have been evolving since then. They
started in a horrifically ambiguous place, they end up a little bit better
today, but they have a long way to go. The blockade has to end, Israel has
be held accountable for what they did, and the Palestinians have to be able
breath free. All three things must occur if the U.S. is to deliver on the
promise of the president’s speech in Cairo. I don’t hold any hope for that.
I think that if there’s any clarion call, it’s that Palestinians should be
the blockade should end, and Israel should be held accountable for its
And it’s murder on the open seas, of nine innocent people.
CS: We’ve been speaking with James Zogby, president of the
Institute, and author of the forthcoming book, Arab Voices: What They Are
Saying to Us, and Why it Matters.
Thank you for being with us today on <span
JZ: Thank you very much.
CounterSpin: The U.S. detainment camp at
Guantánamo is in the news
On May 29 the Washington Post ran a story
about a new U.S. report that concludes that most of the remaining
detainees should be released, and recommending that only about a third of
be held for trials, military commissions, or indefinite detention. These
findings, which echo earlier reports and studies, have not gone down well
many on the right, who insist on the old Bush propaganda line that
is still home to the terror war’s “worst of the worst.” Indeed former Bush
officials and supporters have mounted a formal campaign targeting the
and even the lawyers who have represented them.
Joining us to talk about
Guantánamo, the government report and the right’s
response, is Scott Horton. Horton follows the
Guantánamo story closely at
Harpers legal issues blog, No Comment.
Welcome back to CounterSpin, Scott Horton!
Scott Horton: Great to be with you.
CS: Well, I’d like to begin with the detainees. This latest report is
really concerned with the 240 or so detainees that have been held since
became president. But you did a story recently on your <span
class=”media_outlet”>Harper’sblog that looked at the disposition of
779 detainees who have been held on
Guantánamo since it opened. What did you
SH: Well it’s really a fascinating case study because though we find
579 of them have been released, and most of those releases were by the Bush
administration itself, which is a tacit accepting of the fact that they
shouldn’t have been detained in the first place. And then with respect to
balance, we have a large number of habeus corpus cases pending. So far we’ve
had 50 of them decided, and the government has lost 36 out of those 50
So that means 72 percent of the cases going against the government. And
with respect to just the little bit less than 200 remaining detainees who
not released. So that suggests that the government’s case against the
population overall is extremely weak. Although we do have to recognize after
September 2006, President Bush took the worst of the worst, who were not
Guantánamo but in fact in black sites operated by the CIA, and he
Guantánamo. So of those since 2006, we have had a population of 16
serious terrorist offenders in
CS: Well by now there’ve been several studies and reports suggesting
the great majority of
Guantánamo detainees were far from the worst of the
But the right won’t let go of this. Former Bush aide Marc Thiessen, for
instance, attacked the new government study in a <span
class=”media_outlet”>Washington Postcolumn that began like this:
Guantánamo detainees are really innocent goatherds and dirt farmers wrongly
swept up in the war on terror. In an interview last year, Admiral A.T.
III—the former Navy inspector general who investigated detainee
Guantánamo—told me this charge was “bull crap.”
Now, Thiessen goes on to say that there’s proof that 95 percent of those
detained are confirmed terrorists. Now of course the right’s
campaign is far bigger than a column or two. Can you tell us a little bit
the right’s campaign and why former Bush people like Thiessen, Bill Kristol,
the Cheneys seem to see so much at stake here?
SH: Well, I think we have to go back to the original idea for
and we know now from documents released from the Bush era that as the
plan was formulated for this prison camp, it was designed to hold roughly
600-800 commanders, serious leadership figures from Al Qaeda and the
And these plans were concluded early in 2002, and in fact late in 2001,
American forces believed that they have surrounded exactly this population,
people who should be held in
Guantánamo. In two redoubts in
Afghanistan—one was at Tora Bora, and the other, where the larger
were, was in the city of Kunduz. Kunduz was encircled, it was being
and then something strange happened: the U.S. bombardment ceased, an air
corridor was opened, and Pakistani transport planes came in and evacuated
of Kunduz a number of people, probably about 1,500 altogether. We now know
information that’s been collected from the Pakistani ISI—a large part
it the work of Ahmed Rashid, prominent journalist—that that included
600-800 Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, in fact the very people for whom the
Guantánamo camp was built. Who authorized this evacuation? Well, we know the
answer. Dick Cheney did. So Dick Cheney made the decision basically to allow
these people to escape and hide out in Pakistan, where most of them still
today, the target of this drone campaign. That’s the dark secret that sits
the background of the
Guantánamo camp’s history. In fact, the administration
stepped in and began filling the camp with nobodies—I mean with people
who certainly were not the sorts of Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership figures
whom it was built. And the Bush administration itself acknowledged that when
released 500, I think about 540 of these prisoners, the majority of the
historical prison population.
CS: So you’re saying that Thiessen, Bill Kristol, and the Cheneys are
hanging on to this because they’re afraid of that dark secret getting out.
tell us a little bit more about the campaign. What are Kristol and the
and Thieseen doing here?
SH: Well, it’s definitely vulnerability. In fact I think if you look
Cheney and his own attempts to address this issue, he’s always adopted the
position that the best defense is an offense, but his position clearly is
extremely defensive. He knows that there are these dark secrets, which are
highly embarrassing, highly embarassing to him. And I think this agressive
campaign is designed to cover. And Mark Thiessen, I think one of the
fascinating points here, he is sprending pretty much all his time working on
this project. His work and his writing parallels perfectly work that the
America Safe group, which is headed Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol, he writes
column after column backing up what they do. How does Mark Thiessen earn a
living? Well we know when he left speechwriting for the White House, he set
a publicist office, Oval Office Writers, and he’s not disclosed who his
are, but I think if you look at what he writes and what he advocates, it’s
obvious for whom he’s working. But he’s not disclosing this client
even though he seems to be devoting all of his energy and his writing at the
Washington Post to the service of his
CS: Scott Horton, what is the lesson of the U.S.’s
of letting the White House decide who our enemies are, while discarding due
process and the rule of law?
SH: Well, I think the original concept of
Guantánamo is a completely
defensible and reasonable concept, that is holding 600-800 leadership
there. The problems began when political figures began to dictate how it
be operated, and moved to a rejection of traditional military rules and
military procedures. So it was the intense politicization of
detention process that’s lead to all of our headaches and embarrassments.
CS: We’ve been speaking with Scott Horton, a contributing editor at
class=”media_outlet”>Harper’smagazine and the No Comment blogger on
Thanks again for joining us today on <span
class=”media_outlet”>CounterSpin, Scott Horton!
SH: Great to be with you.