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  • Free speech isn't just for pundits

    The pundit class vigorously defends its own First Amendment rights while other free-speech threats go overlooked

    Blog ››› ››› NOAH BERLATSKY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech." The text of the First Amendment is quite plain; no one's free speech, no matter who they are, should be threatened by the government.

    In practice, though, public discourse around the First Amendment often focuses on the free speech of people who speak the most -- pundits, journalists, politicians, academics. We see free speech as the prerogative of the chattering class. The result is that some of the people who most need their speech rights protected are silenced.

    One of the more recent media panics about free speech centered on CNN reporter Jim Acosta, whose White House press credentials were revoked in early November. Weeks later, and after his credentials were returned, Acosta's plight was still generating free-speech think pieces (like this one). And last April, conservative writer Kevin Williamson was hired and then quickly fired by The Atlantic because he said women should be hanged for getting abortions. The action unleashed a media firestorm. The Atlantic is not the government, and firing Williamson obviously did not violate the First Amendment. Nonetheless, as the New York Times said, the controversy “fell squarely into a burgeoning culture war over free speech,” with commentators insisting that his firing demonstrated “a crisis of free speech.” Bret Stephens in the Times said calls to fire Williamson were “illiberal,” and Williamson himself wrote multiple think pieces about how horribly silenced he was.

    Suggesting free speech is threatened because The Atlantic fired a columnist for saying ugly and inflammatory things is silly. But the White House retaliating against journalists is genuinely dangerous and worthy of outrage. Experts at the United Nations have warned that Trump’s attacks on reporters -- including encouraging chants of “CNN sucks” at rallies -- could lead to violence against reporters. The accused pipe bomber who sent explosives to Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and other critics of Donald Trump also appears to have targeted CNN. The threat to journalists is why, when Jim Acosta lost his press credentials, even right-wing, pro-Trump Fox News expressed its support for the CNN reporter. (Though Fox personalities attacked him.)

    Chattering-class free speech can be important. But it's telling that these controversies receive huge amounts of media attention, while threats to the free speech of people with smaller platforms -- and therefore more need for speech -- are given considerably less coverage. Threats to Jim Acosta and Kevin Williamson rally the class of people who are friends and colleagues with Jim Acosta and Kevin Williamson. Threats to people who do not have such friends and colleagues generate less attention and less outrage.

    For example, the media response to the Trump administration's decision to prosecute nearly 200 people arrested at the J20 Inauguration Day protest in 2017 -- including several journalists -- was muted. If taking away one reporter's press credentials is bad, then threatening journalists and dozens of protestors with decades in prison seems like it would have to be worse. Moreover, while Acosta's credentials were restored in less than three weeks, the J20 prosecutions dragged on for 18 months before all charges were dismissed.

    Yet mainstream pundits who cover free speech issues and were vocal about the first were oddly quiet about the second. CNN's weekly Reliable Sources program, which covers media and press issues, discussed Jim Acosta at length for three shows in a row in November. It provided no major coverage of the J20 prosecutions, even though the legal proceedings dragged on for a year and a half. And the show’s year-end wrapup of highs and lows for media in 2017 completely ignored the Trump administration’s prosecution of protestors, including journalists.The Atlantic followed the Jim Acosta story doggedly. In contrast, its only coverage of the J20 protests was a couple of articles about the government accessing IP addresses which mentioned the prosecution of participants in passing.

    Or consider the passage of SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) last April, around the same time that the Kevin Williamson firing touched off a frenzy of free-speech hand-wringing. SESTA makes websites legally responsible for hosting ads for sex work on their platforms, creating a hole in internet safe harbor laws. The law claimed to be directed against sex trafficking, but in fact its (predictable) effect has been to force consensual sex workers off platform after platform. Craigslist shut down its personals section; Reddit removed sex-worker-related subreddits. Sex-worker-run blog Tits and Sass shared anecdotal reports that pimps were taking advantage of the shuttering of online ad platforms to harass and exploit women who could no longer use the internet to vet clients. This is congruent with research showing that homicide rates for women drop when sex workers can find and suss out clients online.

    SESTA is an example of a restriction on free speech that literally gets people killed. But again, many mainstream pundits who write regularly about free speech issues didn't discuss it at all. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote a 4,000-word piece about the dangerous precedent of firing Kevin Williamson, hasn't written about SESTA.

    Perhaps the most glaring example of the way free speech concerns center the speaking class is the obsession with speech on college campuses. Even minor campus community conflicts involving professors quickly turn into national media feeding frenzies. As just one example, in summer of 2017, biology professor Bret Weinstein objected to Evergreen State College’s Day of Absence -- an event in which white students were asked to leave campus in a show of anti-racist solidarity. After confrontations with students, Weinstein went on Tucker Carlson’s far-right Fox News show, and the conflict metastasized. The New York Times’ Bari Weiss published an opinion piece on the incident, it was part of the evidence in a House subcommittee investigation of limitations on campus free speech, and Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt devoted substantial space to it in their book about creeping campus intolerance, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

    Compare this outpouring of interest to the response to a recent controversy at Stateville Prison in Illinois. In March 2018, a prison debate club presented a demonstration debate about “parole opportunities for prisoners with lengthy or life sentences” to a number of state legislators. After that, the debate club was arbitrarily suspended, and the debate coach, Katrina Burlet, was barred from the prison. After one prisoner, Eugene Ross, spoke by phone to reporters at a press conference about the debate club, he was taken into solitary confinement as punishment, he said, and he was released only after journalists and others advocated on his behalf. The New York Times did not cover this story; there have as yet been no congressional hearings. 

    Of course, many people argue that colleges are important venues for the cultivation of ideas, and that intolerance at Evergreen is therefore a story with national resonance. But prisons are also national institutions, and government silencing of speech inside them has broad implications for police power and law enforcement policy, and for what “liberty” actually means in the country with the largest imprisoned population on earth. Inmates who try to talk about conditions in prisons can be threatened with solitary confinement, as Washington State prisoner Arthur Longworth was after he published a novel criticizing prison facilities. Books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow are banned from many prisons. Even if you think college campuses are very important, it’s hard to argue that the free speech rights of heterodox professors are really under more serious assault than the free speech rights of prisoners.

    So why is the chattering class so fascinated with the free speech of the chattering class, rather than with the free speech of everyone else? The question is its own answer. People with power and large platforms tend to identify with other people with power and large platforms. Pundits are more likely to speak on college campuses than they are to be imprisoned. Therefore they worry more about free speech on college campuses than about free speech behind bars. You could call this chattering class solidarity -- the voiceful tend to stick together. Efforts to silence pundits and brand-name reporters and college professors are very serious. Efforts to silence everyone else matter less.

    At the foundation of chattering class solidarity is the idea that free speech is mainly important because it allows the chattering class to chatter. Free speech discussions about Kevin Williamson, or Jim Acosta, or Bret Weinstein are centered on the idea that we need free speech so that we can have a vibrant marketplace of ideas in which important, smart people express important, smart thoughts, or report on the important doings of the powerful to which only they have access. “The great strength of American liberalism is its permeability, its openness to evidence and diverse perspectives,” Jonathan Chait argues. He is concerned about restrictions of free speech on campus, in particular, because the strength of liberalism is in its flowering of multiple ideas. Speech is free so that professors and lecturers can lecture and profess, reaching together toward a multifarious truth.

    But if you take your eyes off the chattering class, free speech is less about opining and more about claiming the right to exist. For sex workers, being allowed to speak and advertise on the internet is the difference between a reasonably safe living and the constant threat of violence. When prisoners' free speech is restricted (as it generally is) they have no way to describe the conditions they live under, or the abuses they suffer. When ICE arrests immigration activists, they aren't able to criticize the government policies that target them. Jim Acosta was briefly barred from the White House, but without free speech, marginalized people often disappear altogether.

    The chattering class needs free speech. But if we view free speech only as it relates to the chattering class, we miss the most important and damaging threats to speech. It's people with the least access who need solidarity the most. When we defend free speech only for the chattering class, the most important speech is left unprotected.

    Noah Berlatsky is a guest contributor to Media Matters. He is the author of Chattering Class War.

  • The media are still talking about the National Climate Assessment, and for that we can thank climate deniers

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.

    First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."

    Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.

    Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.

    The good

    At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:

    MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them. 

    CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:

    All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.

    The bad

    Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.

    Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":

    Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.

    The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.

    The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.

    But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.

    Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.

    The backlash

    Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.

    The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."

    New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.

    Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.

    WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.

    Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.

    ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:

    The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.

    Fox opts for footwear coverage

    Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.

    Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.

  • On WNYC's On the Media, Lisa Hymas explains what the press got right and wrong in covering the National Climate Assessment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lisa Hymas, director of Media Matters' climate and energy program, went on On the Media to discuss coverage of the National Climate Assessment -- the good coverage as well as the problems that cropped up on the Sunday morning political talk shows and CNN.

    From the November 30 edition of WNYC's On the Media:

    BROOKE GLADSTONE (HOST): So the National Climate Assessment dropped on Black Friday.

    LISA HYMAS: It looked like a pathetically blatant attempt by the Trump administration to keep it out of the public eye. But it didn't work.

    A lot of the print media did better than TV. The New York Times and The Washington Post, they have really strong climate teams; they did great coverage. But you saw it in smaller papers all around the country. The Columbia Journalism Review found that at least 140 newspapers around the country put it on their front pages. That includes places like The Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald, 20 different papers in California. And many of those papers also looked at the local impacts. The Portland Press Herald in Maine, they had a big story about the national implications, but they also, on their print front page, had a big story about the impacts in New England, specifically.

    But I think TV was a mixed bag: Sometimes the coverage was good, and sometimes it was not. And in cases where the coverage is poor, we probably would have been better off without it.

    GLADSTONE: You said that Sunday was the first time this year that the five major Sunday shows discussed climate change on the same day. We're talking about ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC's Meet the Press -- they all had segments. The most talked-about one on Sunday was probably on Meet the Press.

    HYMAS: Yes. NBC's Meet the Press featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that's supported by the Koch brothers. She used a favorite climate denier line ...

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    DANIELLE PLETKA (SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE): I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen, and I see it, so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures, that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: No. Climate scientists have been very clear that the global climate has consistently been warming, and the hottest years have been the most recent ones.

    GLADSTONE: Yeah. NOAA said that 2015, ’16, and ’17 were the warmest on record, but 2017 was only the third-warmest.

    HYMAS: I don't really find that comforting. You know, if you're not a scientist, you ought to listen to scientists. To say, "I'm not a scientist, but I don't believe this," that's nonsense.

    I mean, one thing that was frustrating about this last episode of Meet the Press: Host Chuck Todd later in the same show interviewed Tom Steyer, who got his start as an activist by focusing on climate change, and Todd didn't ask him anything about the report. The focus was just on the 2020 presidential race.

    GLADSTONE: Let's look at how Fox News handled the report on the day it was released. Here's CNN's Brian Stelter with a recap.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    BRIAN STELTER (CNN MEDIA CORRESPONDENT): The network actually spent more time talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's shoes on Friday. Now to be fair, the networks' newscasts did air several segments about climate change, about the crisis, on Saturday. But on the president's favorite talk shows, nada, not a word.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace also did not invite a climate scientist on to discuss the report. He spoke with Republican Senator of Nebraska Ben Sasse, who dodged the topic of climate action and spoke vaguely about the need for innovation.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    SASSE: Because you can't legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future. And right now you don't hear a lot of the people who put climate as their No. 1 issue, you don't hear a lot of them offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future. It's usually just a lot of alarmism.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: You know, notably, Fox's big-name personalities didn't dig in on the report at all. They just stayed focused on their pet issues. So you had Sean Hannity, this past week, ranting about Hillary Clinton's supposed scandals and crimes. I mean, he's still doing that more than two years after she lost the presidential election. And you had Lou Dobbs scaremongering about the migrant caravan. And the Russia investigation is a witch hunt -- that got a lot of coverage this past week, but the climate report didn't.

    GLADSTONE: Margaret Brennan of CBS' Face the Nation did speak to a scientist about the report, NASA's Steven Clarke, but that exchange was very brief, and it was buried in a segment that was almost entirely about NASA's Mars probe.

    HYMAS: Yes. So, on the one hand, I was glad to see that Face the Nation actually asked a scientist about the climate report. We track how often the Sunday shows incorporate or talk to scientists when they're discussing climate change, and it's been almost three years since any Sunday show has asked a scientist about climate change.

    GLADSTONE: What? Seriously?

    HYMAS: Yes, the last time was in December of 2015. It was also on Face the Nation.

    GLADSTONE: So many opportunities. So many national conferences, so many elections, so many extreme weather incidents, and nothing?

    HYMAS: There are climate scientists who are really good public speakers and who do a really great job of explaining the science in terms that normal people can understand, but they don't get the airtime.

    GLADSTONE: I think the winner of the week's booby prize, though, would probably be CNN.

    HYMAS: I think that's true. Rick Santorum was on CNN claiming that scientists are in it for the money.

    [AUDIO CLIP]

    RICK SANTORUM (FORMER SENATOR): If there was no climate change, we'd have a lot of scientists looking for work. The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive ...

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: The next day, we saw Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.

    [AUDIO CLIP]

    TOM DELAY (FORMER REPRESENTATIVE): The report is nothing more than a rehash of age-old, 10- to 20-year assumptions made by scientists that get paid to further the politics of global warming.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: He's the disgraced former House majority leader who had to resign after he was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Why is this guy qualified to discuss a scientific report about climate change? We saw Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving economist, making the same ridiculous claim on CNN.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    STEPHEN MOORE: Billions and billions and billions of dollars at stake. A lot of people are getting really, really, really rich off the climate change issue.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: Then on Tuesday morning, John Avlon did a good segment on CNN where he completely debunked this notion that there's a big climate-industrial complex and that scientists are just doing it to get rich.

    [BEGIN AUDIO CLIP]

    JOHN AVLON (CNN POLITICAL ANALYST): Now, that talking point you're hearing is a classic bit of distraction and deflection. In fact, one of the scientists who worked on the climate change report, Katharine Hayhoe, confirms that she and her colleagues were paid, quote, “zero dollars” for their work and could easily make 10 times their salaries by working for something like Big Oil.

    [END AUDIO CLIP]

    HYMAS: But, later that same day on Tuesday, just hours after Avlon's fact-checking segment ran, CNN again had on Stephen Moore to make that same claim. And what was so frustrating about CNN having these climate deniers on to make ridiculous claims is they didn't disclose the fact that Rick Santorum and Tom Delay, when they were in Congress, they got more than $700,000 each from the oil and gas industry in campaign contributions. Stephen Moore works for a number of groups that are funded by the Koch brothers. Last month, Stephen Moore gave a speech to the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. These things were not disclosed, but those men were allowed to accuse scientists of being in it for the money.

    GLADSTONE: Why does CNN pay people like Rick Santorum to lie to the public it's supposed to be serving?

    HYMAS: I will never understand why CNN pays Rick Santorum.

    Cable TV likes to have conflict, and they like to have sparks fly. But there’s much better ways you can do it, even if you do want the conflict. I mean, it's absurd, in 2018, for a discussion about climate change to include someone who contends that we're actually in a period of global cooling. Get people who all recognize the challenge of climate change but propose different responses and solutions to it. There are plenty of conservatives who propose carbon taxes. Let's see them discuss and debate people who are proposing a highly progressive Green New Deal, or a carbon-fee-and-dividend approach. There's a lot to debate. It just doesn't have to be a denier against someone who accepts the reality of climate change.

  • Alex Jones: Phone call with threat to shoot CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon is a false flag

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones called a death threat against CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon that was phoned into C-SPAN a “false flag” during a video posted on August 5 to Jones’ YouTube channel. The video was one of the last posts uploaded to Jones' channel before YouTube terminated his account on August 6.

    On August 3, a person identified as “Don from State College, PA,” called into C-SPAN to falsely claim that Stelter and Lemon had called all Trump supporters racist. The man ended his call by saying, “They started the war. If I see ’em, I’m going to shoot ’em. Bye.” Stelter covered the threat on his show Reliable Sources on August 5.

    Jones reacted to Stelter’s coverage by calling the death threat a “false flag” and “phony as a three-dollar bill.” According to Jones, the call “sound[ed] completely fake” and was part of a plot to “hype everything up and get it ready for civil war.” Jones also called Stelter a “little monster hunchback” and “ugly twisted lying filth”:

    Jones has used his YouTube channel to heap abuse upon Stelter in recent months, including posting videos (since removed when his account was terminated) with the titles “Brian Stelter And Michael Wolff Are The True Faces Of Evil,” “Alex Jones Challenges CNN's Brian Stelter To Fight For $1,000,000!,” and “Internet on Fire Comparing Subway Spokesmen Jared Fogle With Brian Stelter.” (Fogle is serving a 15-year prison sentence for possessing child pornography and having sex with minors.) During a January broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones went on a bizarre rant where he claimed Stelter “runs your kids, he runs the schools, he runs the banks” and drinks children's blood. During the rant, Jones addressed Stelter: “You will pay. Yeah, you don’t think I see your face, scum? You don’t think I don’t see you, Stelter? I see you, you understand me?”

    On the evening of August 5, it was reported that Apple had banned Jones from its iTunes platform for violations of its content policies. Facebook followed suit on August 6, removing the four primary pages where Jones shared content. Last month, YouTube deleted four videos Jones posted and banned him from livestreaming for three months because of content violations. On August 6, YouTube removed Jones' channel from its platform.

  • Who cares if Trump’s reckless, dangerous Syria announcement is hypocritical?

    Pundits zero in on the least important aspect of Trump’s pledge to bomb Assad

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    This morning, the president pecked out an especially unglued Twitter tirade in which he announced that the United States would be taking military action against the Syrian government. According to Donald Trump, who very likely made this announcement because the lackwit bobbleheads on his favorite morning cable TV show were talking about Syria, his plan is to fire “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles as punishment for “Gas Killing Animal” Bashar Assad’s recent alleged chemical attack on the town of Douma.

    To add still more unnecessary drama to the announcement, Trump packaged it as a taunt to Russia, which backs the Assad government in its brutal war against Syrian opposition forces and vowed to intercept any U.S. missiles fired at Syrian government targets.

    It would be dangerous for any president to unilaterally escalate U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war, but for an erratic and unthinkingly bellicose president like Donald Trump to go down this path is reckless beyond measure. Trump promised to attack the Syrian government with no hint of strategy, no attempt at legal justification, and not even a whisper about what such an attack is supposed to achieve (the last time Trump bombed Syria, it was meant to deter further chemical attacks, which apparently didn’t work). The only things we know for sure about this planned military action is that Trump plans to go ahead without Congress’ input, and that he intends it to be a deliberate provocation of the nuclear-armed regional power that is deeply immersed in the Syrian civil war.

    Trump’s dashed-off pledge to strike against Syria raises critically important questions about U.S. Middle East policy, the power of the president to make war, and the dangers of a manifestly incompetent commander-in-chief making war plans based on what Fox & Friends chooses to cover. Faced with these weighty issues, however, the immediate reaction from the press was to focus on the least important aspect of Trump’s planned military action: whether he is a hypocrite for announcing it ahead of time.

    Immediately following Trump’s tweet, Twitter was full of pundits and reporters whose first reaction to the president’s announcement was to wryly poke at his past criticisms of presidents who telegraphed their attacks.

    NPR’s early reaction to Trump’s tweet was to focus on the hypocrisy angle. “This is a president who has made a big deal of not showing his hand, especially when it comes to really important decisions as commander-in-chief,” NPR’s David Greene reported shortly after Trump made the announcement. “He’s doing exactly what he criticized Obama for doing,” NPR’s Mara Liasson agreed.

    The reason reporters and pundits defaulted to the hypocrisy angle is because it’s an easy criticism that is ultimately meaningless and thus safe for them to have an opinion on. And it indicates how alarmingly comfortable much of the mainstream press is with the idea that the president can just up and decide to initiate military hostilities whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason -- even when there is no actual reason at all. It’s just another political game.

    The Trump administration has not offered a compelling legal rationale for its attacks on the Syrian government. It hasn’t secured or even asked for authorization from Congress. The administration hasn’t garnered the support of the U.N. or the international community. Instead, the White House is just barreling forward with the longstanding executive-branch practice of initiating hostilities and then slapping together a retroactive pseudo-justification that it confidently assumes won’t be seriously challenged.

    Few people seem especially bothered by this, and just about everyone is ready to accept that oafish hothead Donald Trump can bumble ass-first into another Middle Eastern quagmire because he’s the president and the president can do that. But as missiles careen into Syria and the U.S. lurches aimlessly into a broader military conflict involving Russia and Iran, at least we can say we called out Trump on Twitter for being inconsistent.