Is Reuters right: Covering Trump is like covering Third World dictators

February 9, 2017

The Reuters news agency says covering Washington DC is now on a par with reporting from dictatorships. Is this the right thing for journalists? Doc Martin reviews the advice being given to reporters facing Donald Trump’s shock doctrine tactics.

IT DIDN’T take long. About ten days. But now it is very clear that the White House is at war with large sections of the American – and, indeed, the global – news media.

Trump incessantly tweets about the “failing” New York Times, this week suggesting it should be sold and its print edition shut down. The White House is also refusing to send Trump “surrogates” to CNN talk shows as a way of bullying the organisation. This tactic seems to be working, CNN has dropped its initial decision not to broadcast Sean Spicer’s press briefings live.

This is a war the news media knew was coming. It’s not like Trump kept his hatred of the New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN secret. He’s been tweeting his bile and outright lies about the media for months now.

Trump’s cultivated hostility to certain sections of the news media – he is very benevolent towards the pro-Trump media – is causing conniptions among executives and editors. It is prompting deep soul-searching and even causing some outlets to reconsider their whole Washington DC news coverage.

Globally-respected journalism academic, Jay Rosen, has told IA that the White House approach to controlling press briefings is

“… as bad as I thought it would be, with ‘the media’ getting blamed for what the White House or Trump screwed up.”

 

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Refugee relocation? “No deal”: Turnbull is a laughing stock at home and abroad

February 3, 2017

I wrote this piece for Independent Australia three days before we heard that Donald Trump had hung up on Malcolm Turnbull, outraged over the “lousy deal” struck by Obama to take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island in exchange for Latin American asylum-seekers in the US.

[Why we would get involved in human trafficking like this is another horror story, for another day. Suffice to say it seems to me to be a revival of the slave trade. Something that decent human beings should condemn as a matter of principle.]

The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) has condemned Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States — unlike our weak PM and his craven cabinet. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst reports.

Ian Rintoul from the RAC told IA:

Both Labor and Liberal have built their own Mexican wall around Australia; they were guilty of Trump-like policies even before Trump took office.”

Rintoul says the Coalition’s refusal to condemn the ban is even more appalling when you consider the list of global leaders who have voiced their disgust.

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Confessions of a gay, Muslim Trump supporter

January 27, 2017

I have been curious for some time about Trump supporters. We tend to think of them stereotypically as being white, male redneck types, with a few women along for the ride. So, I was a bit surprised to find an openly gay, gun-loving Turkish migrant from a Muslim background who is a loyal and vocal fan of the newly-installed American president.

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Ahmet Demirici has recently graduated with an MA in International Relations and is now looking for work. He is also considering joining the US Army Reserve and says he is unfazed by Vice President Mike Pence’s public statement that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.

I have been in touch with Ahmet and he agreed to be interviewed for Independent Australia with the stipulation that he use a pseudonym and is not identified in pictures. He is travelling back to Turkey soon and did not want his sexual identity or political activity to come to the attention of Turkish authorities.

Ahmet told me that his main media sources are the very pro-Trump Breitbart News, the Daily Caller, and Fox News. The only non-Trump media he checks out are the Russian network RT, CNN and occasionally Huffington Post.

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Figure 2: Ahmet’s voter ID, he is a registered Republican

IA: Please don’t be offended but I’m really curious. Are you “out” with family & friends? You identify (somewhat) as Muslim, are you religious or observant!

Ahmet: Everyone in my family and friends know, because it’s kind of obvious from my behaviour, but I keep it to myself and remain reserved. So, I’d say I am not publicly out.

I do not engage in most religious demands, like dietary restrictions, prayers, and obviously, sodomy, (kind of out of my control). I just believe in and love God, and hope for salvation through good deeds.

I come from an Islamic background, yes, and my parents and entire family self-identify as Muslim, true. Yet, I’m not one to follow organized religion, especially not one that bans alcohol. So, I’ve been to mosques a few times in my life… but mainly for free food. Turks tend to be pretty secular, that’s one good attribute that sets us apart from the rest.

IA: Lovely, thanks, made me laugh about the sodomy bit.

Ahmet: Yeah, haha. I’d be thrown off a roof in any other Muslim country. Turkey’s a lot more tolerant of sex.

IA: I see from your profile that you were at the Mall for the inauguration and loved Trump’s inaugural speech, can you tell me why?

Ahmet: There were several parts that were met with a roar from the crowd, such as the parts where he said ‘this day is about you’, and ‘this election has transferred power from Washington back to you, the American people’, as well as the part where he promised to ERADICATE Islamic terror from the face of the earth.

These parts sent chills down my spine. You could tell that, having won the national and electoral elections, he meant every word he said. But the part that affected me most was the one that brought tears to my eyes. After quoting the bible, and mentioning that he’d do his best to protect us (he mentioned the military), he stated “we will be protected by God!”. This was just amazing, it was something that had never been said before. It was pure power. The confidence to say such a thing! The audacity! Whether someone believes in a religion or is an atheist, it’s still hard to listen to that phrase without sensing the strength and power of the man who could make such a claim in front of the world. You could tell from his previous speeches that Trump is a dynamic man who is energetic and enthusiastic about making America great, yet now that the elections are far behind us, his words carry much more meaning.

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IA: I can see that you’re still a true believer, I’m curious how you reconcile that with the dissonance in the media over the inaugural numbers and [Trump Advisor] Kellyanne Conway saying that there are ‘alternative facts’.

Ahmet: I’m a believer in the promises that Trump made. Even if he fails, I am confident that he will at least try to appoint a conservative SCOTUS nominee, cut taxes, make peace with Russia, protect our borders and bring back industry to save the working class people, etc etc. seeing CNN’s record, I find it hard to believe their claims, and I’m skeptical of Kellyanne Conway as well. The inaugural numbers should be released by the agency that has them.

IA: How was DeploraBall? I’m sure you had a good time inside, tell me a bit about that and what it was like meeting your heroes and also how you coped with the protestors.

Ahmet: The entry to the Deploraball was perhaps the first time I came in contact with the regressive left, and it was very scary. There was also a lot of media photographing people as they approached the door, and so I hid my face to avoid being recognized in the news (I had only realized that morning that the Deploraball had gained national coverage). I remember looking around me at the people waiting to get in, Asians, a few blacks, lots of older women, and even men in military dress uniforms. I thought it was odd to see so many different people there, after the media made it seem like I was going to some NPI conference.

[IA Note: NPI is Richard Spencer’s white nationalist National Policy Institute.]

The party was fun. The friendliness, the sense of accomplishment and achievement, the speeches and such, everything had a message of hope. There were lots of celebrities there. James O’Keefe agreed to take a photo with me, shook my hand and asked me my name and how I was. I was honoured that he’d spend that time with me. I think he’s a man who deserves being seen as a hero by both right and left, after all of his hard work.

[IA Note: James O’Keefe is a notorious Alt-Right figure behind the Project Veritas group which makes misleading pro-Trump propaganda. He was recently accused of paying people to join anti-Trump protests as part of an ongoing sting operation.]

I was really upset later on once I found out that the riots outside had escalated to violence.

Read the rest of this interview at Independent Australia.

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News from #Trumpistan: who can we trust?

January 27, 2017

LAST WEEK, I reviewed the coverage of #WatersportsGate and the supposed dossier on Trump compiled by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele. I ended by suggesting that it will be hard to filter media coverage of Trump’s presidency because of confusion around what we mean by “fake news”, and because Trump and his associates see no moral boundaries that prevent them from flat out lying.

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If the lie is in danger of being exposed, then don’t admit — just double the efforts at covering your tracks and, when necessary and whenever possible, just keep on lying.

It is clear that this will be the modus operandi of the 45th President and his entourage of bankers, wankers and general ne’er-do-good followers, who are now going to infest the “swamp” in Washington DC.

If you’re keen to follow the twists and turns of the Trump presidency and to see the most reliable news about the goings-on in #Trumpistan, then take note of the following guide to news sources.

I’ve listed a number of pro-Trump sources here too, including the most notorious of them because, while their coverage is likely to be wildly inaccurate at times, they provide some useful clues to the thinking and strategy development in the Trumpian hive mind.

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Mainstream sources — compromised from the start

If you’re a regular reader to IA then you probably have a well-developed scepticism when it comes to the mainstream news media (MSM). There are several good reasons why you should maintain this sceptical approach to MSM coverage of Donald Trump in office.

When it comes to the Australian news media, the two major outlets – Fairfax and News Limited – are compromised, but for different reasons.

Fairfax newspapers and websites are so understaffed and under resourced that they cannot afford much, if any, original coverage of the U.S. any more. We still get the occasional piece by veteran foreign correspondent Paul McGeough, but let’s be honest: his best days are behind him and he will struggle to keep up with the intricacy and detail of American political news even if he were to be full-time in DC. McGeough travels the globe for Fairfax and he won’t have the access to Washington insiders that other media have. So what, if anything, is Fairfax planning to do about this?

It seems that the cheap and cheerful fix for Fairfax is going to be buy-ins from The Washington Post and The New York Times (and maybe a few others). That’s OK, as far as it goes, but it means that the problems inherent in these two solid stalwarts of American journalism will be imported, unfiltered, into the Fairfax coverage.

Why is this a problem? Well, there’s generally a problem (or several) with the way that the American establishment media is going to cover the Trump White House and administration.

Read the rest of this story at Independent Australia


What’s wrong with journalism today: Part 1 – Fake News

December 21, 2016

The sudden global interest in “fake news” sparked by the US elections and allegations of Russian interference to support Trump’s campaign has led several IA readers to contact me asking why both the mainstream media and the alternative social journalism sphere both seem to lie with impunity, or at least are prepared to promote unverified rumour as actual news.

I’ve attempted to provide some answers in recent weeks in terms of the so-called “post-truth” media landscape, the widespread dissemination of propaganda in the guise of independent reporting and the deliberate misinformation spread by both the Clinton and the Trump camps during the election season.

But it seems that these are only partial explanations that deal with the surface issues and practicalities, without delving deeper into the psychological, philosophical and intellectual roots of the problem. This week I thought I might attempt to answer some of these more puzzling questions.

It must be true, it’s on Facebook

A good example of the confusing feedback loop between journalism and social media is this illustration, which was sent to me by a friend on Facebook. How do we account for this deliberate attempt to tailor perspectives and expectations when it is done by a so-called “respectable” publication, the Wall Street Journal?

The ‘Trump softens his tone’ headline was for the New York market, which is more soft-l liberal and therefore inclined not to like the idea of Trump’s wall. The ‘Trump talks tough on wall’ headline was for the Texas edition of the WSJ. In Texas there is likely to be more support for the idea of a wall on the border with Mexico. This manipulation might be simply about pandering to a particular demographic and, given the headline is always bait to hook the casual reader, in this case it’s straightforward: a “gung-ho” headline for the rednecks and a softer tone for the liberals of New York.

However, it’s not true. The meme circulating on social media with the photograph shown here was itself faked. The WSJ copies in question are from 31 August this year and, according to the myth-busting website Snopes, they represent and early (on the left) and late edition (on the right).

So, who is fooling whom? It is difficult to tell. We trust our friends and when they circulate material into our newsfeed on Facebook, we want to believe them, we assume the information they present to us is true.

But what if they don’t check? The original tweet alleging the WSJ scam was retweeted more than 2000 times.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://twitter.com/ScottAdamsSays”>@ScottAdamsSays</a&gt; Same paper, same day, same article. Different areas = different title <a href=”https://t.co/5lD9o4KN3S”>pic.twitter.com/5lD9o4KN3S</a></p>&mdash; John Ryder (@KHyperborea) <a href=”https://twitter.com/KHyperborea/status/771715650033029120″>September 2, 2016</a></blockquote>

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As you can see from the comment thread this tweet generated, plenty of people – and especially Trump supporters – were inclined to believe it. The belief comes because the prejudice of conservatives (Of course, the WSJ is lying, it supports Hillary) are confirmed and they are more than happy to accept it as gospel, without checking. But Hillary supporters also want to believe that the WSJ was secretly aiding the Trump campaign. Both lies can’t be true.

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Figure 1: We believe what we want to, but is it true?

What really happened is that Trump was presenting two different messages on the same day, which was a hallmark of his campaign. The original headline referred to a meeting Trump had with Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto in which he took ‘a remarkably subdued and cooperative tone’, according to reports. The WSJ story was updated following a speech by Trump, later the same day, in which he made the yet-to-be-tested promise/threat that he would make Mexico pay for the infamous “wall” he pledged to build on the USA’s southern border. The speech was after, but close on the heels of his visit to Mexico.

In this example, the problem was not the Wall Street Journal, it was (and is) Donald J Trump. In this case the WSJ was legitimately updating its coverage of Trump’s campaign and quite rightly highlighted the shift in his rhetoric – a softer tone for the Mexican president and a belligerent outburst for his domestic supporters. Both Trump and Clinton supporters were prepared to believe that the WSJ had doctored its coverage, and social media helped both sides to spread misinformation to their own supporters and followers. However, there are clear cases where, for whatever reason, journalists get it wrong.

Read the rest of this story at Independent Australia.


Fake news: did it help Trump get to Washington, and The Oz bash the ABC?

November 19, 2016

Did fake news help the deplorable Mr Trump get to Washington?

[First published on Independent Australia 17 November]

Much has been made of the argument that fake pro-Donald news sourced from Ukraine overwhelmed American voters leading them to put a billionaire reality TV ‘star’ in the White House.

But is it actually true? And what is ‘fake news’ anyhow?

There are two, maybe even three, main types of so-called ‘fake news’.

The first, but not necessarily the easiest to spot, is the sort of fake news supplied by The Onion, or The Chaser. This is spoof news and it is usually only the really dumb and gullible who get taken in by it.

The second is the ‘fake news’ produced during the 2016 US presidential race, allegedly on Ukranian websites and allegedly to help Donald Trump. This is a hard story to crack, but the gist of it is that Ukraine and Russia are at loggerheads and there is an undeclared shooting war going on between Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) and Moscow. The US election has been collateral damage in the media war between these Ukraine and Russia.

Trump is seen to be pro-Russian and has praised Vladimir Putin several times for his strong nationalist rhetoric. It seems that pro-Russian websites hosted in the eastern (Russian-dominated) part of Ukraine have been helping the Trump campaign. But just how successful they have been is hard to gauge.

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Trump’s Aussie friends are a bunch of deplorables

November 13, 2016

Given the US election result, you might be in the mood for a joke; it goes like this.

Set Up: Which one of Australia’s biggest media bullies who pretends to moral outrage at the use of profanities has just broken their own rules.

Punchline: Andrew Bolt.

Yep, Australia’s ‘most read’ columnist calumnist, who howls like an offended snowflake when anybody swears in his presence or anywhere near him, began his column on the Trump victory with this classic line:

DONALD Trump’s win is the biggest “f— you” to all his enemies — the media, the politicians and Wall Street.

Don’t be so coy, Andrew. A f—ing 12-year-old can read those dashes. Why pretend you don’t like dropping the F-bomb?

Bolt goes on to write that the ‘whole world’ and ‘our political class’ has been given ‘a shock and a warning’.

The shock is easy to register and now it’s had time to really sink in, we can begin to process the meaning of it: Donald J Trump, billionaire and reality TV ‘star’ is the 45th President of the United States of America.

But what is this ‘warning’ that Dutchie is warning his readers about?

Stop bullying and patronising the silent majority or they will rise in terrible revolt.

It’s a pity that the worst types patronising bullies are often the last people to heed their own advice.

Like all good NewsCorpse writers, Bolt is wilfully blind to his own position in the media elite. He and they have to pretend that they are not part of the establishment, otherwise their wise words would just read like hypocrisy and cant.

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