Full Nuremburg: Trump versus the Press

June 24, 2018

This week, after a quick stopover in Singapore, Donald Trump was keen to return to his favourite topic (beside his own greatness): his feud with the American news media. Political editor, Dr Martin Hirst, argues that journalists need to continue pushing back, or risk being swamped by Trump’s aggression.

[First published on Independent Australia]

ANYONE WHO’S HALF-AWAKE would know that Donald J. Trump has a very conflicted relationship with the American news media.

He loves Fox & Friends and is more than willing to sit down to be interviewed by his good friends on the Murdoch-owned network.

On his way back from the “tremendous” tete-a-tete with mass murderer Kim Jong-un, Trump did a one-on-one with Fox News. He hasn’t done a sit down interview with any other media outlet for over a year.

Despite the very controlled access, many U.S. (and Australian) news outlets were initially quite excited by the Trump-Kim PDA in Singapore. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the lipstick to wear off and the true piggishness of Trump to re-emerge.

Within 24 hours of touching down in the ever-deepening Washington swamp, Trump was up to his old trick of lambasting serious and critical journalism as “fake news”. Luckily, we have former journalist and current conscience-pricker Dan Gillmor to remind the shell-shocked American news media of their true purpose.

In fact, I was so drawn to this Trump tweet, I actually also retweeted it myself, with the appropriate commentary.

Yes, we’re all used to the Tangerine Fascist’s unhinged tweeting but, as I argued in July last year, we need to take Trump’s tweets seriously.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Supporters of the “ignore the tweeting” camp say that Trump is deliberately pumping out the outrage and confected offence in order to keep the media occupied and away from the more serious and nefarious plans he has to turn the United States of America into the Principality of Trumpistan.

On the other hand, there’s an argument that Trump’s tweets represent the “thoughts” of the United States President and should be taken seriously. His own staff are now also running with this line, arguing that President Trump is taking his message straight to the American people and needs to do this because the news media distorts his words and does not report the great things he’s doing to “Make America Great Again”.

As Trump himself wrote, nearly a year ago, his tweeting is “modern day presidential”.

Convinced yet?

Just take a look again at the last sentence in this week’s “fake news” broadside:

‘Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!’

Does this remind you of anything?

It is a not-so-subtle reference to a rallying call of his neo-Nazi supporters, who have adopted Trump as their Great White Hope.

This is very inflammatory language from the President, but it is also very deliberate. Trump is on record as saying he uses Twitter to make an end-run around a hostile media and to speak directly to his base in language that they will easily understand.

This is also clearly the reasoning behind his almost-daily tweeting about the Russia investigation being a “witch hunt”.

Nobody outside of his inner circle and his welded-on supporters actually believe any of this. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to just ignore Trumpers — they are heavily-armed, overwhelming angry white, and disenfranchised, and still capable of electing more Trump-like politicians to Congress and the Senate.

Trump’s base is increasingly limited to the hardcore – and quite ignorant – racist and conservative rump of the Republican Party, and a few Republican members of Congress, who are rightfully scared of decimation in the upcoming “mid-term” elections.

Trump needs the woke Nazis and the small but tight coterie of ordinary Americans who think that Mexicans are stealing their jobs, and that the European Union is most likely a George Soros-funded conspiracy to weaken America before it can become “great again”.

The Nazis are just cynical thugs with vague hopes that Trump would deliver them a racially pure homeland.

Trump has a history of appeasing them. Remember his disgusting support for the white supremacist cause following the Charlottesville murder of civil rights activist Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi fringe-dweller, who weaponised his American-made car in August last year.

Fake News is the new “Lügenpresse”

Trump supporters began calling the critical mainstream news media “lügenpresse” during the 2016 election campaign. It became a feature of his campaign rallies to direct the anger of his supporters towards journalists in the venue, leading to exchanges like this from October 2016.

Rosie Gray is a White House correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, which will certainly be a target of the Trumper’s hatred — it carries some good journalism and has taken a consistently anti-Trump line editorially.

Gray interviewed Trump supporter and avowed white supremacist Richard Spencer following the incident she tweeted out from the Cleveland rally and he gleefully told her that lügenpresse had become a buzz word among the so-called “Alt-Right”.

The term has a long history in Germany, where it emerged in a government propaganda booklet during the dying days of World War One. The Nazis appropriated it after their ascension to power in the mid-1930s. It was a powerful weapon used to mobilise the Nazi party supporters behind anti-Jewish pogroms.

It is regarded as a taboo word in Germany today, but it is still used there by the hard-right nationalist parties. Trump has cleverly adapted it by using the term “fake news”.

He thinks this gives him plausible separation from the neo-Nazis, while dog-whistling them and gaslighting the more gullible members of his base.

He’s fooling nobody. The links between Trump’s use of “fake news” and the neo-Nazi chants of lügenpresse are blindingly obvious. Or at least they should be.

However, it seems that, to some extent, Trump’s constant attacks on the news media are working for him.

The strategy is designed to raise doubts in the public mind about the credibility of the news media. Trump knows that most of the critical reporting about him is based on extensive research and – often – interviews with some of his closest advisors. He is also a proven leaker in his own right, often creating the narrative thread that he then denounces as fake.

But Trump doesn’t have to disprove the facts; by simply throwing chump bait into the water, the feeding frenzy takes over, amplified by Trump-friendly outlets like Fox and the other conservative outlets, who either support him or see value in exploiting his presidency for their own white nationalist ends — think Breitbart and so forth.

These are indeed difficult times for the news media trying to cover Trump. However, there are lessons to be learned and past mistakes not to be repeated.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that the news media needs to be aggressive in its coverage of the Trump White House and the many Trump surrogates – such as Rudy Giuliani – who do the rounds of the talk shows blowing smoke and covering for their master’s gaffes.

If journalists try to treat the Trump presidency as anything but abnormal, they risk giving him the control he craves. We saw the normalising of Trump begin to take hold during and just after the Singapore summit.

Headline-hungry reporters were offering their praise and hot-takes about peace on the Korean Peninsula; I was one of the few who held out against this by carefully parsing his media conference and pointing out the obvious anomalies.

The 60 per cent of Americans who instinctively know that Trump is a monster and underserving of his elevated position need to know they can rely on journalists to continue to pursue the stories of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and sheer idiocy that emanate from the Washington swamp under Trump’s watch.

The Mandarin Maniac is yet to go “full Nuremberg” (though we have seen the tiki torch rallies), but we might see something of it when he makes the inevitable rhetoric-heavy speech during the planned $30 million military parade that is being prepared for him on Veterans’ Day in November.

If “chaos is the new normal” then the news media has to cut through, stand tough, take Trump’s hits and keep asking the difficult questions.

Fortunately, there are a handful of brave journalists and correspondents who are willing to stand up for what’s right and show no fear.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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Chaos is the new normal: Trump and Kim PDA in Singapore

June 14, 2018

The mainstream media will now try to normalise Trump’s abnormal behaviour by focusing only on the “optics” of this week’s “historic” Singapore meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-un, writes political editor Dr Martin Hirst.

TUESDAY 12 JUNE 2018, will go down in history as the day that a U.S. President sat down with a North Korean dictator to attempt a settlement of a 70-year-old conflict that has bedevilled the world.

It is impossible to say, just 48 hours later, if there will be success, or if there will be nuclear annihilation when the peace efforts crash and burn. But what is clear so far is that the Tangerine Fascist met his “Mini-Me” in the North Korean Supreme Leader.

Chaos is the new normal. Both Donald J Trump and Kim Jong-un are highly unpredictable, we cannot know what either of them will do next. Both of them thrive on chaos and a dangerous delusion of authoritarian narcissism.

However, this might not be immediately obvious. That’s because this simple truth has been forgotten in the rush to celebrate, deify and mythologise the few hours that Trump and Kim spent together this week in Singapore.

I spent a few hours watching coverage of the “historic summit” on Fox News.

There was wall-to-wall gloating and waves of “I told you so” and “fake news media were wrong about him” smarm as the Fox presenters lined up to kick the non-reverential American news media and bow down before Trump.

It was sickening. But, to be fair, the coverage was not much better on the ABC.

What Fox and the ABC shared was an overwhelming desire to normalise Trump’s self-aggrandising and far from normal behaviour.

The “optics” and the “atmospherics” of Singapore were endlessly replayed because there was very little else to actually report right up until Trump’s extraordinary news conference at the end of the day.

It was extraordinary, but unless you watched it, you are unlikely to get the full weirdness of it. It lasted for just over an hour and Trump’s impatience to talk about himself meant that most reporters didn’t even get to finish their questions before Trump talked all over the top of them.

And it was all about Trump.

He lambasted all the previous U.S. administrations who had not been able to handle the North Korea situation. It didn’t matter that Trump’s historical knowledge is negligible, he just kept on repeating the few simple lines he’d managed to practice with his advisors/enablers.

On the whole “peace regime” thing, (former President) Obama couldn’t do it, but Trump could because he’s such a good deal maker. “That’s what I do”, he reminded the assembled journalists — and by extension the entire planet!

Read the rest of this piece at Independent Australia.


Nasty, brutish and short: Thomas Hobbes and the Coalition’s politics of exclusion

June 3, 2018

Political editor Dr Martin Hirst has been musing on recent political news while re-reading Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. His outlook is bleak.

First published on Independent Australia 2 June 2018.

I’m doing a course at my local TAFE this year; it’s a mixed group. I’m one of three oldies (I’d describe myself as a late baby boomer). Apart from a couple of students in their mid 20s, the rest of the group are all in their late teens. We had a discussion this week about what constitutes the zeitgeist — the “spirit of the Age”.

Some of the responses from the millennials in the class got me thinking. In part, I reflected on what I was like when I was 18; I also began to think about Thomas Hobbes and those famous lines from Leviathan about war of “all against all” and the bleak lives – “nasty brutish and short” – that some of us are forced to live.

I was reminded of these passages – from Chapter XIII, ‘Of the natural condition of mankind’ – by some of the fears and concerns expressed by millennial classmates.

For them, the overwhelming zeitgeist is fear. They are scared about the future that is facing them. More importantly, perhaps, they feel powerless to do anything about it.

They talked about how difficult it is for them to find work — even the precarious work of casual shifts in the hospitality or retail industries. They talked about feeling like they’d never be able to afford to buy a house, and their fear of global warming and the damage that we’re doing to the planet.

But most of all, they felt like they could do nothing about the problems confronting them.

I thought about it for a few days afterwards. Something was niggling me. I finally figured it out. For many millennials, it feels like they are being deliberately excluded from society and from decision-making.

Then it hit me: our whole political culture is built on exclusion and fear.

It is actually blindingly obvious.

Australia is a nation built on exclusion

Read the rest of this entry »


The News Establishment is broken and Michelle Wolf exposes its flaws

May 4, 2018

A comedian made fun of Donald Trump and his inner circle and sections of the liberal U.S. news media wet themselves with anxiety. As political editor Dr Martin Hirst explains, it means the news establishment is losing its grip on reality.

First published on Independent Australia.

YEP. The doyens of the liberal media were upset that a comedian’s monologue might have put Trump’s nose out of joint, or poked fun at his lackeys and enablers.

But, you know, I love it when the backlash suffers a backlash.

At the annual White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner this year, a comedian – Michelle Wolf – did the usual and customary monologue, in which the incumbent President, those close to him and some of the news media’s high profile “stars” are given a traditional roasting.

The jokes are sometimes a little “off colour”, sometimes not really very funny and nearly always right on target. Occasionally, the comedian oversteps some imaginary line in the sand and ruffles the feathers of America’s media elite.

This year, some members of that exclusive club got their Dolce & Gabbana nickers in one almighty twist.

You see, Michelle Wolf told a couple of fairly lame jokes about Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

This so upset some members of the Fourth Estate that they immediately took to social media to condemn Ms Wolf’s apparent poor taste.

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Among the first to complain on Twitter was the New York Times’ Washington correspondent, Maggie Haberman:

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Another prominent female journalist, Mika Brzezinski, weighed in with a tough defence of Huckabee Sanders:

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However, I am not alone in finding it a bit strange that Haberman and Brzezinski – themselves targets of Trump’s insults and personal jibes – rushed to defend the White House in general, and Huckabee Sanders in particular. Trump accused Haberman of being a “third-rate reporter” in the way he’s also attacked many other reporters by name. Even worse, his insults of Brzezinski included dreadful comments about her “bleeding from the face” following a facelift.

Read the rest of this entry »


Malcolm Turnbull’s protection racket for incompetent Ministers and MPs

May 4, 2018

There was a time where prime ministers insisted that their cabinet colleagues, junior ministers and backbenchers met certain standards of behaviour but today, the Ministerial Codes of Conduct are not worth the paper they’re printed on. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst explains.

First published on Independent Australia.

Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons.

YOU COULD SAY this is a fable — a tale of two Malcolms.

Malcolm Fraser – the former Liberal Prime Minister who is reviled on the left for his role in former PM Gough Whitlam’s dismissal – was a saint and a man of great virtue compared to his namesake, Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Fraser sacked two cabinet ministers in 1982 for bringing a colour television into Australia, but declaring it was black and white to avoid customs duty, Michael MacKellar was sacked for this relatively minor offence and Customs Minister John Moore was dismissed from his portfolio for his poor handling of the whole issue. A few years earlier, then MP Andrew Peacock offered to resign because his wife appeared in a television commercial for Sheridan Sheets.

As an aside, 20 years ago, even the disgraced war criminal former PM John Howard had the decency to sack two ministers over a travel rort over the paltry sum of $9,000.

In contrast, today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is running a protection racket, not a government. His ministers break convention and hide their actions from public scrutiny, and sections of the backbench seem completely feral, but Fizza does nothing to rein them in.

Lucky for us, the glitter is washing off and the machinations of the protection racket are being forced to endure the cleansing sunlight of public scrutiny.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the recent outrages, in no particular order.

Michaelia Cash

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash has been hiding from the media for several months, constantly dodging questions about her portfolio and the circumstances under which her office tipped off journalists about an AFP raid on the offices of the Australian Workers’ Union. Four of Cash’s staff have left her office under an unresolved cloud of suspicion in the wake of the scandal. Her office is also using the excuse of the AFP investigation of the leaks to stall Freedom of Information requests by journalists trying to uncover the truth.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bombing Syria – to restore “democracy”

April 14, 2018

The bombing campaign and missile attacks on Syria began a few hours ago. Supposedly targeting military sites, there is no word yet on civilian casualties, but its certain there will be plenty. Assad, like most dictators, likes to keep his military bases close to civilian centres and no matter how “smart” Trump’s missiles are, a few will surely miss their targets.

I wrote this before the bombing began, but it is still relevant.

First published on Independent Australia

Neither Washington, Moscow, nor Damascus — long live the Syrian Revolution

U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed the world to the edge of a new conflict by threatening a missile attack on Syria. Russia has responded with threats of its own, foreshadowing a new Cold War. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst examines the potential fall-out from the escalating rhetorical duel between rival superpowers.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result (Image by Alisdare Hickson via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0])

THIS WEEK, I was reminded of the life and work of one of my Marxist heroes, Tony Cliff. Cliff was a founding member and leading theorist of the International Socialist Tendency and famously coined the term “state capitalism” to characterise the degraded socialism and despotic regime in the Soviet Union. The politics of Russia have changed, it is now a rampant capitalist oligarchy, but “state capitalism” remains the economic policy of the Putin regime.

Thinking about Tony Cliff also prompted me to note that he would have taken a very firm position on the conflict in Syria and he would have been vehemently opposed to the Trump regime’s threats to rain down ‘nice and new and “smart”‘ missiles on Damascus.

However, Cliff’s opposition to a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime – supposedly in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians in the rebel-held enclave of Houda – would not be based on misguided love for the criminal Assad. Nor would it be based on the mistaken view that Russia is somehow “better” than the United States in terms of the Syria conflict.

(In case you’ve not been paying attention, Russia is committed to propping up the Assad Government while ostensibly fighting Islamic terrorism. In retaliation for Trump’s provocation, Russia threatened to shoot down any U.S. missiles fired at Syria.)

Tony Cliff was an International Socialist and, therefore, would not be advocating for taking the side of either of the imperialist powers in their proxy war being fought in Syrian airspace. Understanding Cliff’s background is important here.

Cliff was born Yigael Gluckstein, a stateless Jew from what was then Palestine. He was born in 1917 – coincidentally the first year of the Russian revolution. In his youth, Cliff was a member of the Revolutionary Communist League in Palestine and left for Britain in 1947, effectively exiled for his anti-Zionist political activity.

At the height of the Cold War, when it seemed that the Soviet Union and the United States might actually launch an all-out nuclear strike on each other, the International Socialist Tendency adopted the slogan, ‘Neither Washington, nor Moscow, but international socialism’.

(Image via National Museum of Australia / nma.gov.au)

Today, Tony Cliff would be urging all progressive people to unite behind a similar slogan when it comes to the conflict in Syria. To round out the political message, he would perhaps suggest the following edit:

“Neither, Washington, Moscow, nor Damascus.”

To explain this clearly, a little bit of history is necessary.

The conflict in Syria began with an uprising against Bashar Al-Assad during the ill-fated Arab Spring of 2011. At the heart of the Syrian resistance was a largely secular working class movement which drew strength and inspiration from events in Egypt and elsewhere.

The Syrian revolution grew quickly, and Assad’s response was swift and brutal. He reasoned – as most desperate despots do – that it would be better to destroy large swathes of the nation than see Syria fall into the hands of the rebels.

Assad’s brutality extended to indiscriminate mass murder of civilians through air strikes on some of Syria’s largest cities; the imprisonment and torture (often to death) of his opponents and the deliberate targeting of foreign journalists bravely covering the conflict from behind rebel lines.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Chinese base in Vanuatu, or another Fairfax beat up?

April 13, 2018

Should Australia be concerned about a rumoured Chinese military expansion in the Pacific? Or is it yet another distraction from the Government’s domestic problems? Political editor Dr Martin Hirst investigates.

First published on Independent Australia Wednesday 11 April

ON MONDAY this week. the Fairfax papers and websites ran an “exclusive” story with the alarming headline ‘China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications‘ — but is the story accurate? The lead par was an insistent and alarming allegation that China was planning a naval base in Vanuatu,

‘… that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep.’

However, in typical fashion – that we’ve come to expect from mainstream journalists covering the “security” round – the next two pars walked back the suggestion and sourced it to “senior security officials” in Canberra. In other words, the reporter, David Wroe, had been given a “drop” a background briefing by an Australian spook, because the Government wanted to float the idea and get a reaction.

‘While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu’s government, senior security officials believe Beijing’s plans could culminate in a full military base.’

The tell that this was a planted story is in the lack of detail and the vague sourcing:

‘The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.’

The Vanuatu Government was quick to issue denials and even labelled the Fairfax reports as “fake news”.

Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said rumours of discussions with China over a military base were false.

We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” Mr Regenvanu told the ABC.

However, David Wroe’s story still had the effect desired by the Australian “security officials” who briefed him. Within hours, PM Turnbull was able to front the media to express Australia’s concern at the – still unproven – rumours.

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours,” Turnbull bloviated.

This is an interesting position and an even more puzzling definition of “foreign”. The United States operates more than 20 military bases across the Pacific – from Hawaii to Japan and many ports in between – so why isn’t this alarming to our Prime Minister?

And this is what is really ironic and cynical about Turnbull’s concern: there is – as yet – no Chinese military base in Vanuatu, yet the United States operates permanent military bases throughout the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan (21 bases), Guam and South Korea. Read the rest of this entry »