Last week, as the temperature soared to 90 degrees in Detroit, Michigan suffered a major power outage after an unelected city official decided he needed to send a "strong message" by turning off a portion of the electric grid. This led to dozens of reports of people trapped in elevators and the evacuation of numerous buildings, yet not a single major national news outlet felt this story warranted coverage.
Detroit is currently under control of an emergency manager, not elected by the people of the city, but instead appointed by Governor Rick Snyder.
Gary Brown, the city's chief compliance officer who reports to the emergency manager's office, when asked by local Detroit Fox affiliate about the blackout seemed to imply that it was intentional and done to "send a strong message:"
We did start calling our customers prior to taking them down and asking them to comply and turn off their air conditioners, but they weren't responding as fast as we would have liked them to, and so we had to send a strong message by turning the power off.
Among the buildings that lost power was the courthouse that was on "high alert" after a prisoner escaped earlier in the week, and evacuating major public buildings on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks apparently wasn't considered. Even more disconcerting was that Brown seemed to be laughing as he answered this question.
Brown did claim that these were "precautionary measures" so that "large parts of the city" didn't go dark after two "main lines" on the power grid "went down."
But this story is about more than America's aging infrastructure -- its implications extend well beyond Detroit. The city's bankruptcy and financial situation has been national news for months, and the power of unelected city managers appointed across the country as cities face economic distress merits a broader conversation, particularly when these officials have authority over basic city services like electricity.
A Nexis search for Gary Brown's quote reveals only two stories, both of which were posted on the website for the Fox News Detroit affiliate that initially interviewed the city official.
A further search for "Gary Brown" and "Detroit" only reveals some local coverage of the controversy and mentions on a few disparate blogs, indicating that not a single major national outlet in the Nexis database covered this story. Given the implications of this tale, it is incredible that no national outlet felt it newsworthy enough to share with its readers.
One of the core Benghazi lies perpetuated by Fox News is that a U.S. military response could have saved the lives of those killed in the Benghazi attacks. Consistently, numerous Fox personalities and others in the conservative media have gone as far as claiming the administration left our men to die in Benghazi.
Some suggested that this was made as part of a "political calculation;" others suggested the administration decided the lives lost were "expendable" or that it was "probably a political decision not to rescue them."
These accusations, despite flying in the face of the facts -- most notably that Glen Doherty, who was killed by mortar fire on the roof of the CIA Annex was a member of the rescue team that arrived from Tripoli, shortly before the second wave of the attack began -- have continued unrelenting on Fox and in the conservative media.
This morning, Fox & Friends hosted the authors of Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz.
Co-host Brian Kilmeade hoped to continue to perpetuate the myth that no help was sent to those in Benghazi:
KILMEADE: When we saw Gregory Hicks last, he said that he did believe that they could have been saved, at least help could have been sent on the way sometime in the hours of the attack that went on. What did your research reveal?
Katz's reply was clear: "Help did go to Benghazi, and I think one of the untold stories of the attack in Benghazi a year ago today, was the fact that when word hit the embassy in Tripoli, the CIA staffers, the contractors, as well as two JSOC operators didn't hesitate for a moment."
Katz continued, "They made it there under Libyan circumstances, as quickly as humanly possible. ... The embassy relentlessly tried to figure out transportation. They used a Libyan air force C-130, and at Benghazi airport, controlled by one of the militias, they were held up in Benghazi for four hours."
The entire conservative line of attack fell apart in a single sentence: "Help did go to Benghazi."
Australians will head to the polls tomorrow to decide whether or not to reelect Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Rudd was not only forced to run against Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party, but also faced an avalanche of attacks from Rupert Murdoch, who used his newspapers to manipulate the election in such a heavy-handed way that even Roger Ailes and the Fox News editorial staff would blush.
The Hollywood Reporter noted:
Murdoch-owned papers, which control about 70 percent of the local market, have run covers featuring Rudd as a Nazi, as Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes and as Mr. Rude from the Mr. Men kids books. News Corp's Daily Telegraph in Sydney has dropped all pretense of impartiality, publishing a picture of Rudd under the headline, "Let's Kick This Mob Out!"
The election was so important to Murdoch that, according to Australian media, he decamped Col Allan from the New York Post halfway around the world to inject some of the metropolitan tabloid's hard edge into his Oz publications.
Murdoch's behavior was so over the top that the head of the Australian Press Council felt the need to step in. "Newspapers that profess to inform the community about its political and social affairs are under an obligation to present to the public a reasonably comprehensive and accurate account of public issues," said the group's chair Julian Disney. "As a result, the Council believes that it is essential that a clear distinction be drawn between reporting the facts and stating opinion. A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns."
Murdoch's power was so vast that when Getup.org, one of Australia's largest progressive grassroots organizations, decided to run an ad criticizing the mogul, it was banned from all major television networks in the country.
GetUp was told directly by some of the networks that "they're not running the ad because they don't want to criticize Rupert Murdoch."
The events happening halfway around the world should be at the forefront of our thoughts. With rumors swirling of Rupert Murdoch's desire to buy more large media properties in the United States, News Corp's interference in the Australian election serves as a reminder of the damage Murdoch could wreck in the U.S. as well. Fox News' abhorrent behavior in 2010 and 2012 is benign when compared to the pressure exerted in this year's Australian election.
As the anniversary of the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya approaches, the conservative media seems to be salivating over the release of Under Fire, the new book by former diplomatic security agent Fred Burton and journalist Samuel M. Katz that details the assault, minute-by-minute. It's the latest salvo in conservatives' year-long campaign to politicize and demagogue the tragedy. But conservatives may want to read the book first. The authors discredit the narratives conservative media figures have perpetuated about the attack in order to criticize the Obama administration, most notably the claims that there could have been a larger and faster military response or that resources were intentionally withheld from those under fire in Libya.
The lack of a timely military response was never an issue of lack of resolve or determination to help Americans in danger, Burton and Katz write. It all came down to logistics:
There was never a question concerning U.S. resolve or the overall capabilities of the U.S. military to respond to Benghazi. There was, however, nothing immediate about an immediate response. There were logistics and host-nation approvals to consider. An immediate response was hampered by the equation of geography and logistics.
The authors go into great detail describing the various factors that prevented additional military response teams from arriving in Benghazi in time, and in the process completely dismantle the notion that available military assets could have made a difference but were held back for political reasons.
On page 138, Burton and Katz discuss the availability and response time of the Marine Corps' Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST), which was ordered by the Pentagon to get to Libya "as fast as you can":
"The FAST unit closer to Benghazi was FAST Company Europe, which reported to the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment, II Marine Expeditionary Force. Based at the Naval Station Rota, Spain, FAST Company Europe was no stranger to crisis and response work in the Mediterranean. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that appropriate forces respond. A task order flowed from the Pentagon to NAVSTA Rota, Spain: "Lean forward and get there as fast as you can." The marines mustered into their transport aircraft on the tarmac in their combat fatigues and full battle kit. However, logistical challenges such as airspace and overflight clearances are not easily sorted out, especially involving a nation like Libya. Sending armed U.S. Marines into a sovereign nation became a complex foreign policy decision with multiple moving pieces between Libyan Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon, and the State Department. The marines waited on the tarmac for their orders. The FAST platoon wouldn't make it to Libya, to augment security at the embassy in Tripoli, until the next evening.
Fox News' Jana Winter was granted a delay yesterday in a court hearing that will determine whether she will go to jail for doing her job as a reporter, a story that has been largely ignored in the media.
In July 2012, while reporting on the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting, Winter broke the story that alleged shooter James Holmes "mailed a notebook 'full of details about how he was going to kill people' to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack, and the parcel may have sat unopened in a mailroom for up to a week before its discovery [in July of 2012]." Her reporting was based on statements from "a law enforcement source."
Because this leak violated a judge's gag order issued in the case, Holmes' defense team is now demanding she reveal her sources. Judge Carlos Samour noted in yesterday's opinion that there exists "the real possibility that Winter may face indefinite jail time in this case as a remedial sanction for her refusal to disclose her confidential sources."
A decision like this, while local in scope, has the potential to stifle necessary and real reporting on the criminal justice system. As National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane noted:
[A]ttempting to get that information by subpoenaing reporters in order to learn their anonymous sources goes too far. It jeopardizes a value of greater significance. If anonymous sources believe their identities can be dredged up in court, they will be less likely to disclose to the press information of vital public importance. That's not a risk worth increasing.
If Jana Winter goes to prison, this would be a case of criminalizing journalism. Every journalist who picks up a note pad and files a crime report bears the same risk.
Sadly, a Nexis search for "Jana Winter" reveals only a handful of TV segments on CNN and Fox News and less than 100 newspaper stories. With this level of threat to First Amendment rights, Jana Winter should be a household name.
Regardless of one's feelings about Winter's employer, it is incumbent upon all of us who value a free press to speak up on her behalf.
The Washington Post published a problematic op-ed by Betsy Karasik, a Dupont Circle artist described by the Post as a "writer and former lawyer," that argued for the legal acceptance of consensual sexual relationships between teachers and their underage students.
Karasik's column centered on a widely discussed Montana case in which a 49-year-old teacher was sentenced to 30 days in prison after the statutory rape of a 14-year-old student, who several years later committed suicide. This sentence, which many feel was far too lenient and which came after the judge stated that the student was "older than her chronological age," led to a national public outcry.
Karasik, however, found herself "troubled for the opposite reason":
I don't believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized.
Karasik does acknowledge that "that teachers who engage in sex with students, no matter how consensual, should be removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation."
Responding to yesterday's strike by fast food workers across the country seeking better working conditions and a living wage, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly decided their own stories of working low-wage jobs would do these workers more good.
Limbaugh told his audience about his former job selling tickets for the Kansas City Royals in 1979. That year he was paid $12,000. Limbaugh claimed on that income he "couldn't afford [his] house payment and food." For a family of two -- Limbaugh was married to his first wife at the time -- his income was nearly three times the 1978 baseline federal poverty level of $4,366 and nearly double the poverty line for a family of four, $6,612.
As Limbaugh himself pointed out, his $12,000 salary was the equivalent of $38,610.91 in today's dollars. Currently the poverty threshold for a two-person family sits at $15,510, less than half of Limbaugh's converted salary. The poverty line for a family of four is $23,550.
The workers Limbaugh was lecturing? Their median yearly salary is $18,500, barely above the poverty line for a family of two and $4,500 below the threshold for a family of four.
Limbaugh's experience in 1979 was vastly different than the one faced by low-wage workers today. Limbaugh concluded by claiming that "life is life and we all have self-determination and Martin Luther King understood it."
One of the demands of the 1963 March on Washington was a $2 per hour minimum wage, which according the Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI inflation calculator is the equivalent of $15.27 in today's dollars -- nearly exactly what the workers going on strike yesterday were demanding.
Bill O'Reilly began with his story of scooping ice cream for minimum wage in his teenage years. In 1966, when O'Reilly was 17-years old, the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour or $9.01 in today's dollars -- nearly 24 percent more than minimum wage workers currently make -- putting a then-single O'Reilly well above the 1966 poverty line and nearly reaching the threshold for a family of four. Perhaps O'Reilly should return that 24 percent because according to his rant, guaranteeing a wage is "called socialism" and "the USA is a capitalist country."
Limbaugh and O'Reilly are two white men blessed with amazing communications ability. Neither was born wealthy but they were both able to parlay their talents, combined with some luck, into the upper economic echelons. From those heights they look down at the bottom opposing the concept that employers should pay a living wage and at the same time opposing food stamps, public housing, and other programs that would help bridge the gap for low-income workers. They offer no policy solutions other than if you're not making enough to get by, get another job.
From a position of extreme privilege, they point to their lowly beginnings and ask workers to survive on the same incomes they did. If only those who went out on strike yesterday were fortunate enough to receive the modern-day equivalent of the wages they did.
There is an odd excitement in the right-wing media over an exchange between MSNBC host Karen Finney and conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. The right-wing talker invited Finney on his program after she linked the rhetoric of Ted Cruz to that of Joe McCarthy, an unsurprising comparison considering the Texas senator's previous hunts for communists on the Harvard Law School faculty.
Instead of discussing Cruz's behavior, however, Hewitt decided to discuss the history of McCarthyism, ostensibly defending the Wisconsin senator.
"Was Alger Hiss a communist?" Hewitt asked. Finney responded, "I think that's distracting from the point I was trying to make."
Finney continued, "And the point I was trying to make was, you had Joe McCarthy was on a mission to root out communism in the government, and he did it in such a way that created a hysteria that was very unhealthy for this country. Do you really disagree with me on that?"
Hewitt refused to engage with Finney's question and refused to discuss the damage McCarthy had done, just like he refused to acknowledge the damage to our discourse caused by Ted Cruz's behavior. This is after Finney explicitly stated, "Obviously, spying on this country and betraying this country is absolutely wrong. Of course it is."
Hewitt somehow views Finney's hang-up as a victory. However, what this interview demonstrated was Hewitt's inability to defend the rhetoric Cruz and others use within Hewitt's own party. Instead he chose to engage in a 50-year-old conversation involving Alger Hiss that has no relevance to today's discussions.
Finney later tweeted that she hung up because Hewitt "was interested in a shout fest not an honest conversation." And she was absolutely right.
The Washington Post's David A. Fahrenthold hyped the size of the federal government out of context, presenting an excellent example of how to construct a misleading statistic.
Writing on the size of the federal workforce, Fahrenhold claims:
Measured another way -- not in dollars, but in people -- the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian. That's more than the populations of 24 states.
Wow, 24 states. That's almost half the country. Clearly the federal behemoth has grown too big.
Other ways he could have phrased this statement include:
That's less than the population of the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area.
That's less than half the audience that viewed America's Got Talent last week.
Or more accurately:
That's approximately 1.3 percent of the total U.S. population, handling all government business, including delivering our mail, serving in the military, inspecting our food, fighting terrorism, etc.
Farhenthold's statistic was clearly designed to imply to readers that the federal workforce had grown too large and therefore more spending cuts were necessary. Even more misleading than his statistic was his failure to mention that further cuts could actually harm the economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, "the United States had proved too aggressive in carrying out budget cuts, given its still-sluggish rates of growth and high unemployment levels."
Wednesday morning, Benghazi whistleblower attorney Victoria Toensing appeared on Fox News' Fox & Friends as part of a long standing campaign among conservatives to discredit the findings of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the Benghazi attacks, authored by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.
Toensing delivered what has become the standard conservative myth -- the claim that the ARB report was a "corrupt cover-up to protect Hillary Clinton." She asserted:
Because they were not thorough. There are all kinds of people they didn't interview. They made false statements and they framed four State Department employees to take the blame away from the higher-ups. They did not interview Hillary. They did not interview her top deputy for security, Pat Kennedy.
That is a lie. Pat Kennedy was interviewed by the ARB, a fact Pickering, one of the authors, has made clear. On May 12, Pickering explicitly told CNN's Candy Crowley, "We interviewed Pat Kennedy." This was also pointed out during the May 8, 2013 House Oversight hearing on Benghazi. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) addressed the room, stating:
By the way, defend in statements that Undersecretary Kennedy was not interviewed by the ARB by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen. That is a misstatement of fact. He most certainly was. You can look it up. It is documented. He was interviewed, and he provided evidence. And that evidence was evaluated.
So it is not true that Undersecretary Kennedy was not part of that process. He most certainly was, and I would ask Mr. Chairman that the record so reflect.
In fact, Fox News Host Greta Van Susteren tweeted out this exchange:
So why tell such a blatant lie?
Because Toensing thinks she can get away with it and the right needs to discredit the ARB. Prepared in the aftermath of the attacks on our diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, the report detailed more than two-dozen recommendations on improving security for our State Department personnel overseas. It did not cast blame on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama nor did it conform to the narrative conservatives and their allies on Capitol Hill -- namely Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) -- have been selling to the media about Benghazi.
Because both Pickering and Mullen are public servants with reputations beyond reproach, the right has had to work overtime trying to discredit their report.
The simplest way to attack the ARB is to claim their work was incomplete because they failed to interview specific witnesses.
And because the complete list of witnesses who spoke with the ARB remains classified, most often there is no way to respond to these accusations, unless a name was at sometime placed in the public record. Conservatives will continue to make claims about the ARB process, but without citations, the media should keep a watchful eye on which sources they trust.