Category Archives: Journalism

Despicable: LA Times’s Robin Abcarian’s Coverage of Trayvon Martin case

How desperate are some journalists to paint George Zimmerman as a racist murderer of Trayvon Martin, no matter how weak the evidence of Zimmerman’s guilt? Consider the despicable conduct of Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian.

While musing today whether police are helping Zimmerman’s defense, Abcarian asks her readers this question:

If, on the night he put a bullet through Trayvon Martin’s heart, Zimmerman is heard telling a police operator, “These … always get away,” does that demonstrate the ill will, hatred or spite required for a second-degree murder conviction? [Ellipsis in original.]

What word did Zimmerman use to describe Martin that was so foul as to be unfit for the eyes of Abcarian’s readers?

Guys. That’s right: “guys.” Zimmerman told police officer Doris Singleton “These guys always get away.”

The shameless Abcarian wanted her readers to use their imaginations to fill in the blank with a racial epithet. But unless I am completely out of touch with colloquial speech, “guys” is not a racial epithet, and those who use the word betray no signs of bigotry.

Why it is so important to Abcarian to portray Zimmerman as a racist, I know not. But I do know that this cheap stunt makes Abcarian a…journalist.

FBI Concocted Bomb Plot Against NYSE to Mute NSA Surveillance Criticism

Federal Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Sean M. Joyce mislead the American people last week when he testified before Congress that NSA’s various programs for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens had thwarted an Al Qaeda plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.

Joyce cited this supposed plot and its interception by NSA as evidence that mass-surveillance programs protect Americans from terrorism. Joyce claimed the NYSE bombing plan was one of fifty terror plots that these programs have interrupted. But in fact, Joyce manufactured the threat against the NYSE.

According to Joyce, NSA surveillance led to the discovery of Khalid Ouazzani of Kansas City, a conspirator helping to plan the NYSE bombing. When a member of Congress asked Joyce whether Ouazzani’s bomb plan posed a serious threat, Joyce – speaking of Ouazzani and his alleged co-conspirators – testified “I think the jury considered it serious since they were all convicted.”

Joyce’s answer was doubly deceptive. Ouazzani never faced a jury. Instead, he entered into a plea agreement [PDF] with the U.S. Department of Justice, in lieu of trial. And neither that plea agreement nor the FBI’s press release contained any reference to bombs, the NYSE, or even New York more broadly. Rather, Ouazzani pled guilty to bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

In reality, the FBI has charged no one in connection with this supposed NYSE bomb plot. And, at least according to the FBI’s sentencing memorandum for one of the supposed bombing conspirators, there was no plot. Rather, a mysterious Yemeni codenamed the “Doctor” allegedly asked Sabirhan Hasanoff, former accountant for KPMG and PwC and apparent acquaintance of Ouazzani, to report to the Doctor on security measures surrounding the NYSE and other locations. According to the FBI’s memorandum, Hasanoff disappointed the “career jihadist” Doctor by providing only useless, publicly available information concerning the exchange’s surroundings. Further, the memorandum says nothing about a prospective bombing of the exchange, but instead refers more vaguely to a possible “attack.”

Before trumpeting Joyce’s claims concerning the efficacy of the NSA programs, news organizations could have learned easily that his testimony was dubious. A Google search for “Khalid Ouazzani” would have yielded both his plea agreement and the FBI press release in the first page of results, both dating to 2010. Within minutes and with minimal effort, reporters could have learned that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department had even alleged a link between Ouazzani and any kind of plot against the NYSE or any other target for that matter. At the very least, such due diligence would have given news organizations pause about the truthfulness of Joyce’s testimony.

To date, neither the FBI nor the Justice Department has produced any evidence that anyone planned to bomb the stock exchange. Similarly, neither organization has produced any evidence that NSA’s mass surveillance programs prevented such a crime. But Joyce’s deceptive testimony had a pronounced effect.

Newspapers and television news operations jumped on the NYSE bombing tale. Headlines blared that NSA’s secret spying operation thwarted an attack on the exchange. These reports buttressed government claims that mass-surveillance programs keep the American people safe and countered criticism of the programs from those concerned about violations of individual rights.

Though Joyce’s testimony was deceptive, it pleased NSA Director General Keith B. Alexander, who appeared at Joyce’s side in the same congressional hearing.

When the hearing concluded, an open microphone captured an ebullient Alexander telling Joyce appreciatively, “Tell your boss [FBI Director Robert Mueller] I owe him another friggin’ beer.

The Joyce deception is evidence that the government is terrorizing New Yorkers and Americans more broadly in order to justify its warrantless surveillance program. Whether the purpose of these fanciful claims is to justify social control measures or the enormous budget for “national security” is anyone’s guess. A combination of motives is most likely at work.

From the government’s standpoint, conjuring terror plots in New York – the media capital of the world – makes perverse sense. They alarm those individuals in the best position to amplify the supposed threats. In turn, the news reports induce fear that iconic institutions may be destroyed.

But these false alarms have devastating effects aside from the fear and anxiety they induce. They cause customers of the NYSE, the people of New York, and people everywhere to suffer unnecessary security costs. And they divert enormous resources from other, more productive uses.

While General Alexander and Robert Mueller chortle over their “friggin’ beer,” the rest of us should begin taking government reports of terror plots with a grain of salt. There is strong evidence that many of these are manufactured, usually with the assistance of government informants.

The world has enough problems without creating new ones. And causing people to live in a state of fear only harms their ability to enjoy their lives.

Congress should hold Mr. Joyce to account for his deceptions, and we should all hold the media to account for rushing stories into the public consciousness that simple fact checking would have shown to be suspicious, if not false. The FBI routinely denies employment applications on grounds of apparent deceptiveness. A fair question is whether Mr. Joyce can be credible as the chief operating officer for the FBI when he has been deceptive himself. He has a history of holding agents he commands to account for their shortcomings. Certainly he deserves to be held to the same standards.

Finally, if the Yemini “Doctor” the FBI memorandum describes was indeed a “career jihadist,” the NSA should have had no difficulty obtaining a legitimate search warrant and authorization to monitor his communications. Lawful means alone would have led to those communicating with him about any plots. It would not have been necessary for the personal information of hundreds of millions of innocent people to stolen in the process.

NY Times comes clean on “fiscal cliff” deal

After lying about the tax consequences of the Senate’s New Year’s Eve legislation to avert the manipulatively-named “fiscal cliff,” The New York Times finally admits the deal means “A Bigger Tax Bite for Most.”

Predictably, the Times waited until after the House voted its assent to the tax increase to tell the truth to its readers.

The great mass of the American people are now mere spectators in a political theater. Elected Republicans and Democrats pretend to fight on a stage built for them by their patrons in the banking, defense, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and energy guilds, as well as their spiritual allies in the big private and public unions. Big media reviews the actors and the scripts in a way that keeps the theater seats filled, but without ever disclosing who produces the plays.

Only after the theater closes for the night, when it is too late to boo the actors on stage, do we spectators learn that this particular play will add $4 trillion to the deficit according to CBO estimates, provide billions in subsidies for the producers of the play, and cut our paychecks immediately.

National press deceives readers of “fiscal cliff” coverage

As its readers on the east coast awoke on New Year’s Day, The New York Times greeted them with news of overnight action by the U.S. Senate to avert the so-called fiscal cliff: “Senate Passes Legislation to Allow Taxes on Affluent to Rise.”

Under Jonathan Weisman’s byline, the Times explained in its lead paragraph that the legislation “would allow tax rates to rise only on affluent Americans.” This was a blatant lie.

Those who stuck around for Weisman’s twelfth paragraph learned the truth. Contradicting both its headline and lead paragraph, the Times admitted “the two-percentage point cut to the payroll tax that the president secured in late 2010 lapsed at midnight and will not be renewed.” Weisman neglected to explain that the increase in the payroll tax would apply to substantially all working Americans, not just the affluent.

The Times had company in spinning the Senate action as a tax increase only on the wealthy. The Associated Press account of the legislation claimed in its lead paragraph that the Senate action “negated a fiscal cliff of across-the-board tax increases.” Later, the Associated Press story lied that “taxes would remain steady for the middle class but rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.” Nowhere did Associated Press disclose the immediate increase in payroll taxes that would hit not just the middle class but even the poorest, working Americans.

Not to be outdone in hiding the truth from its readers, The Washington Post featured what it called “a special edition of Wonkbook for the New Year’s Eve ‘fiscal cliff’ deal,” titled “Everything you need to know about the fiscal cliff deal.” The lede proclaimed, “Tax rates will permanently rise to Clinton-era levels for families with income above $450,000 and individuals above $400,000. All income below the threshold will permanently be taxed at Bush-era rates.”

Apparently the Post‘s resident wonks Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas have a strange definition of “income.” Most Americans consider what they receive in their regular paychecks to be income, checks which will most assuredly be smaller if the Senate’s legislation becomes law. But Klein and Soltas were careful to cover themselves, however vaguely, in their eighth paragraph, noting that “the payroll tax holiday will be allowed to expire.” Never mind that it had already expired at midnight. The Senate deliberately failed to extend it, though did find time in its last-minute rush to extend dozens of tax breaks for special interests.

The downplaying or outright omission of coverage of the Senate’s determination to increase payroll taxes was typical of press reporting I saw today. In truth, should the bill become law, that increase will hit millions of Americans before the first month of the new year is done, leaving them less money for groceries, gas, their savings, and everything else.

Why was the coverage slanted to create the impression that the Senate action would hurt only the wealthiest Americans? I suppose one explanation is simple, journalistic malpractice. But I suspect that the real reason is more malicious.

Had headlines blared this morning, truthfully and most pertinently to the greatest number of readers, “Payroll taxes to rise under Senate’s fiscal-cliff vote,” or words to that effect, phone lines of House members would have been burning with complaints by midday, while their email boxes filled with demands for relief. By slanting the coverage as they did, leading newspapers suppressed opposition to the Senate bill, giving House leaders time to call a vote on the measure before the people realized what it would really mean for their paychecks.