Archive for April 12, 2012
Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News Channel is, without question, the most biased news network in the United States. I am not talking about it’s shows of political talking heads which include Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, I am talking about it’s coverage of the news. Every story has a noted right wing slant, so much so, that I stopped using any material carried on the network some years ago. Recent reports of FOX News bias have been reported on this blog, GAWKER.COM and others and now Newt Gingrich is weighing in.
During a meeting with 18 Delaware Tea Party leaders here on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich lambasted The Fox News Channel, accusing the cable news network that employed him as recently as last year of having been in the tank for Mitt Romney from the beginning of the Republican presidential fight and singling out former colleagues for attacking him out of what he characterized as personal jealousy. “I think Fox has been for Romney all the way through,” Gingrich said during the private meeting at Wesley College to which RealClearPolitics was granted access. “In our experience, Callista and I both believe CNN is less biased than Fox this year. We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of Fox, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of Fox. That’s just a fact.”
Gingrich’s contract as a Fox News contributor was terminated last spring, as he was gearing up for his White House run. The former House Speaker’s blunt remarks about Fox came in response to a question from one of the Delaware Tea Party leaders about the manner in which his campaign has been treated by conservative media outlets. Gingrich did not pull his punches in accusing Rupert Murdoch — the chairman and CEO of the News Corporation, Fox News’ parent company — of pushing for Romney behind the scenes. “I assume it’s because Murdoch at some point said, ‘I want Romney,’ and so ‘fair and balanced’ became ‘Romney,’” Gingrich said. “And there’s no question that Fox had a lot to do with stopping my campaign because such a high percentage of our base watches Fox.”
Gingrich saved his most personal condemnation for George Will, a conservative columnist and frequent television commentator, who has been critical of the former Speaker throughout his campaign. Gingrich said that Will was among the conservative media figures who harbored “personal jealousy” against him. “In the case of Will, I was on [George] Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning with him, and it was kind of a ‘You’re not allowed to run for office — I mean, if you could run for office, why am I not running for office?’” Gingrich said. “And it’s almost like they were personally offended. You know, ‘This can’t be real, and how can this guy go do that?’ I got that reaction from Will a few years back about writing a book because I’m supposed to be a politician. He’s supposed to be the writer. Well, I’ve now written 24 books, and 13 of them are New York Times bestsellers. I mean there’s a morning when George ought to just get over it.”
Gingrich said that despite his having served two decades in Congress, he was the “least establishment candidate since Ronald Reagan” — another reason why he said he had not endeared himself to conservative media figures. “They know I don’t care about their opinions,” Gingrich said. “I don’t go to their cocktail parties. I don’t go to their Christmas parties. The only press events I go to are interesting dinners when the wife insists on it, so we’re going to go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner because she wants to. And we’re actually going to go to CNN’s table, not Fox.”
At one point in the meeting, Gingrich left the room to conduct a satellite interview with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer before returning to take further questions from the conservative activists who sat at four tables that had been pushed together in the middle of a room. Gingrich said that last June and July — a time when his campaign was widely considered dead in the water by political analysts — were “the two hardest months in 53 years of doing this” and lamented that people he knew personally at Fox News had written him off. “The sense of being shocked that somebody I’d talk to and worked with for 10 or 11 years would say some of the things they said, if you go back and look at the transcripts for June, it was amazing to me,” he said. “They all said, ‘He’s dead.’ This is part of why I laugh at them now. I say, ‘Is this going to be like the fourth cycle where I’m gone?’”
Gingrich also took a direct shot at the political party whose presidential nomination he continues to seek, calling the GOP “a party that’s inarticulate.” “The Republican Party is a managerial party that doesn’t like to fight, doesn’t like to read books,” Gingrich said. “This is why the Tea Party was so horrifying. Tea Partiers were actually learning about the Declaration of Independence. They wanted to talk about the Federalist Papers. It was weird. They could be golfing.” Despite having won only two states and continuing to trail Romney by a substantial margin in the unofficial delegate count, Gingrich vowed once again to take his campaign to the Republican National Convention this summer.
The former Speaker said that his candidacy has helped compel Romney to “accommodate reality” on issues that are important to conservatives. “I’m prepared to go all the way to Tampa, and I’m prepared to make the case for a Republican platform that is dramatically more conservative than the Etch A Sketch commentsthat Romney’s communications director made,” he said. Gingrich has singled out Delaware as his best chance of notching a victory in one of the five states that hold Republican primaries on April 24. Several of the Tea Party activists in the room had already endorsed him or said that they were planning to do so. “That’s why if you will help me carry Delaware, it will be that big a jolt because it breaks up their narrative so decisively, and it actually says, ‘Oh Gosh, people actually get to make a decision, not just the power structure,’” Gingrich said. “And so I’d be very grateful if any of you feel comfortable endorsing me in public, doing it on Facebook, doing it on Twitter — I mean whatever techniques you want to use — issuing a press release. I think we have a real shot to pull this off.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Gingrich spoke to a crowd of about 150 people at the Newark Senior Center in northern Delaware where he did not mention Romney’s name until prompted by reporters in a brief scrum following the event. “We’re working very hard to talk to people here and get as many votes as we can,” Gingrich said in Newark. “My experience in history is it’s not over until it’s over and that currently it’s very clear that Romney does not today have a majority of the delegates.” Gingrich said that Rick Santorum’s exit from the raceon Tuesday had given him hope of doing “much better” in places like Delaware, North Carolina, and Louisiana — a state that already held its primary but is still in the midst of its delegate-awarding process. “I just had 15 people say ‘thank you’ for staying in,” Gingrich said. “We had 3,500 people send money to Newt.org online after 2 o’clock yesterday saying, ‘Please stay in.’”
Breaking news! North Korea launched a rocket and it failed in flight crashing into the sea. Actually, a real “breaking news” story would have been if it had stayed airborne for more than a minute or even entered the earths orbit. The reality is that Pyongyang is not capable of a serious rocket launch and everyone knows it. The CIA, the Mossad and South Korean intelligence all know damn good and well that it will be decades before the Kim’s can pose a serious threat with a rocket. Why do we pay such attention to this? Because it suits our regional political goals in Asia. Why don’t the Chinese condemn it? Because they know it’s not going to happen and see little to gain from piling on a regime that is little more than an isolated relic of the Cold War.
Defying warnings from the international community, North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Friday, but it broke apart before escaping the earth’s atmosphere and fell into the sea, officials said. “It flew about a minute, and it flew into the ocean,” said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. He added that Japanese authorities “have not identified any negative impacts, so far,” though he said the international ramifications could be significant. “This is something that we think is a regrettable development,” he said.
Joseph Cirincione, president of the global security foundation The Ploughshares Fund, told CNN that the launch’s apparent failure “shows the weakness of the North Korea missile program” and suggests that the threat from North Korea has been “exaggerated.” “It’s a humiliation,” he told CNN. “I wouldn’t want to be a North Korean rocket scientist today.” “Our government strongly criticizes their action,” said South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Sung Hwan. “They have ignored the starvation of their people and spent money on missiles. It is very unfortunate.” NHK Television of Japan, citing an official with the Japanese Defense Ministry, said the rocket broke into four pieces before falling.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command officials tracked the missile, which they identified as a North Korean Taepo Dong-2 missile. “Initial indications are that the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 km west of Seoul, South Korea,” they said in a news release. “The remaining stages were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land. At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat.” The incident demonstrates an “unblemished track record of failure,” said a U.S. official, who credited international sanctions for preventing Pyongyang from obtaining needed materials.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement that Pyongyang “can expect a strong response from the international community if it continues to develop its missile and nuclear capabilities.” South Korea’s Yonhap Television News, quoting a South Korean defense ministry official, said debris appeared to have landed 190 to 210 kilometers off Gunsan’s west coast, near the Yellow Sea. The U.N. Security Council will meet Friday on the launch, two U.N. diplomats and a U.S. official told CNN. The meeting had previously been scheduled, U.S. officials said. At the United Nations, diplomats had warned that Pyongyang would face further isolation if it went ahead.
The U.S. official said that, despite the launch’s failure, “it will not change our response.” The White House press secretary, in a statement, said the failed launch “threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments.” The statement added, “North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry.” “This was supposed to be associated with (Kim Jong Un’s) ascension to power. So for this thing to fail … is incredibly embarrassing,” said Victor Cha, former director of Asian affairs for the U.S. National Security Council and now a Georgetown University professor.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the rocket remained in the air for slightly more than a minute and did not affect Japanese territory. After the failure, the Japanese government held a security meeting. The launch occurred at 7:39 a.m. Friday, NORAD said. Immediately afterward, the South Korean military dispatched helicopters and ships in an attempt to find debris related to the rocket launch, according to YTN. The one country that had no immediate response was North Korea itself. In Pyongyang, state television made no mention of the incident. The United States, South Korea and other countries see the launch as a cover for a ballistic missile test. International leaders had urged North Korea to cancel the launch, but Pyongyang refused to back down, insisting the operation is for peaceful purposes.
The North Koreans said the rocket was needed to launch a weather satellite into orbit. In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney had said the launch would be a “significant and clear demonstration of bad faith” on the part of the North, making it impossible for the United States to follow through on the food-aid deal.South Korea described the planned move as a “grave provocation” and said it would respond with “appropriate countermeasures.” Meanwhile, the Philippines and South Korea ordered commercial planes and fishing boats to stay clear of the rocket’s proposed path. “This launch will give credence to the view that North Korean leaders see improved relations with the outside world as a threat to the existence of their system,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week. “And recent history strongly suggests that additional provocations may follow.”
A recent report from South Korean intelligence officials said that North Korea is planning a new nuclear test in the area where it staged previous atomic blasts. The South Korean intelligence report noted that the two previous rocket launches that Pyongyang said were intended to put satellites into orbit were followed a few weeks or months later by nuclear tests. The last time Pyongyang carried out what it described as a satellite launch, in April 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned the action and demanded that it not be repeated. That rocket traveled 2,300 miles before its third stage fell into the Pacific Ocean. And in 2006, a missile failed after about 40 seconds into flight.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, told reporters outside the Security Council chambers that members don’t have “clear agreement” about what steps to take if the launch goes ahead. “But one thing I can tell you: We have unanimity of understanding that if it were to happen, that would be a clear violation of two Security Council resolutions.” And Rice warned, “Every time they go down a path such as this, their isolation intensifies, the needs of their people increase and they become more and more out of the bounds of the international community. That will be the case if they do so.” Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said countries need “to do everything possible to defuse tension rather than inflame the situation there.” China is North Korea’s leading ally.
The launch came amid North Korean preparations to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea who ruled the Communist state for more than four decades. His birthday on April 15, known as the “Day of the Sun,” is a key public holiday. On Wednesday, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party held a special conference that helped firm up the position of Kim’s grandson, Kim Jong Un, the secretive state’s new leader. Korean television showed a somber Kim standing beneath two towering statues of his grandfather and his late father, Kim Jong Il, while receiving applause from party functionaries and the military. Kim Jong Il was given the title of “eternal general secretary” of the Workers’ Party, while Kim Jong Un was named the party’s first secretary.
The title appears to be a newly created position that sets the stage for a virtual coronation of Kim Jong Un, says North Korea watcher Jonathan Pollack of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “Creating this new position is sort of like retiring a jersey number for a famous baseball player,” Pollack said. “It shows a deference to his father and to the old guard, while still cementing his control on power.” North Korea announced other titles for Kim Jong Un, including making him a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Kim Jong Un was already being described as the supreme leader of the party, state and army. But it is unclear how directly the young Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, is involved in policy decisions.
The leadership transition bears similarities to the previous transfer of power from one generation of the Kim family to another. “Kim Jong Il is now venerated at the same level as his father, buried in the same tomb, and they are making statues of them riding together on horseback,” Pollack said. “But Kim Jong Un never got the on-the-job training his father did, so he may have this title to allow some mentoring or sharing power and decisions with his elders.”
It’s pretty clear why North Korea insists on making it’s neighbors mad. It is an isolated regime whose soul claim to fame is it’s million man army. It’s power is all it has and even that is largely perception. U.S.–North Korea relations recently enjoyed 16 optimistic days: between February 29, when Pyongyang signed the “Leap Day” arms control agreement with the United States, and March 16, when it announced plans to conduct the very kind of rocket launch that it had just forsworn. Reacting to the announcement of the satellite launch, which is intended to commemorate the centenary of founding father Kim Il Sung’s birth, U.S. President Barack Obama warned North Korea about the consequences of provocation and called on China to stop “turning a blind eye” to the North Korean nuclear program.
The denunciations Obama and others have been making sound like a familiar refrain. “Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something,” Obama said in his now-famous Prague speech, in which he condemned North Korea’s April 2009 rocket launch. But the rules aren’t binding, North Korea’s violations aren’t meaningfully punished, words are mostly just words, and China does little. North Korea’s saber rattling today represents only the most recent episode in a long history of unpunished provocation. In 1968, North Korean forces seized a U.S. Navy ship and its crew, and in 1976, they killed with an axe two U.S. servicemen who were trying to trim an overhanging tree in the demilitarized zone. (The Americans responded to the latter incident by dispatching the most heavily armed landscaping operation in world history, with tree-trimmers in the DMZ accompanied by jets flying overhead.) Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the regime repeatedly attempted to assassinate the South Korean president; in 1974, South Korea’s first lady was killed when a suspected agent from the North tried to shoot President Park Chung Hee.
In another presidential assassination attempt, in 1983, North Korean operatives planted a bomb in Rangoon that killed several South Korean cabinet members and other government officials. Four years later, agents bombed a civilian airplane, killing all 115 aboard. More recently, the North Korean military torpedoed the South Korean frigate Cheonan and shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. In every instance, the joint U.S.-South Korean command, Combined Forces Command (CFC), has let North Korea get away with its misbehavior. One sanctions regime after another has not deterred aggression. Restraint in the face of such provocation is unusual, in particular for the United States, which has not been shy about using military force when it or its allies are attacked. For example, Manuel Noriega’s military forces harassed Americans in Panama and killed a U.S. marine; the United States invaded and deposed Noriega. In 1986, Libya bombed a West Berlin disco frequented by U.S. servicemen; the U.S. military launched air strikes in Libya, killing Muammar al-Qaddafi’s daughter.
North Korea escapes such punishment thanks to a powerful deterrent. The first leg of Pyongyang’s strategic triad is its “madman” image: the idea that the country might react to retaliation by plunging the peninsula into general war. North Korean officials are not irrational, as so often depicted in the media. Rather, they are following in the tradition of U.S. President Richard Nixon, who spoke of feigning irrationality in order to intimidate his adversaries. Through its wild rhetoric and behavior at home and abroad, Pyongyang has told the world that in the international game of chicken, it will not swerve – that it is so ready to fight that it will starve its people and devote a quarter of its economy to defense, hack up enemy soldiers with an axe, and even try to assassinate presidents. This reputation has helped convince CFC’s leaders that they cannot rely upon the normal rules of deterrence, that with such an opponent, tit-for-tat retaliation is too risky and too likely to lead to all-out war.
Make no mistake: no one thinks that North Korea would actually win that war. The country is dwarfed economically by South Korea, and the military balance long ago shifted against the North. In the late 1990s, military analysts concludedthat CFC would prevail should a war ever be fought, and the ensuing two decades of famine and energy shortages have only weakened North Korea’s position. But even though Pyongyang would lose this war, no one wants to fight it, either. North Korea can still inflict terrible pain on South Korea (and possibly, with its ballistic missiles, on nearby Japan).
The city of Seoul, home to more than ten million people, lies well within range of North Korean artillery. North Korea’s leaders know that a second Korean war would be an existential war – that neither the regime nor they themselves would survive a defeat – and so they would have an incentive to use every weapon in their arsenal, including weapons of mass destruction. Is North Korea so crazy that if CFC carried out an act of limited retaliation, the country would start a war that would end in its own certain destruction? No one wants to find out.
The second leg of the North Korean triad is the specter of its own collapse. Because of its economic weakness and uncertainty about its political leadership since the recent power transition, the country looks like a house of cards that a nudge will send crashing down. Neighbors fear that the regime’s collapse would upend the country’s food distribution network, ushering in a humanitarian crisis and sending refugees (and perhaps some loose nukes) streaming across borders. CFC and China may each intervene to find the missing nuclear weapons or to stabilize a chaotic North Korea, which could escalate the crisis.
Thus Seoul hesitates to hit North Korea hard: not only because it worries about this kind of instability in the short term but also because it dreads the longer-term problem of having to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. North Korea’s infrastructure is crumbling, and its unhealthy population is ill equipped to function in a modern state. Cleaning up North Korea’s mess would consume the time and treasure of a generation of South Koreans. From China’s perspective, the potential nightmares of collapse playing out on its border (and in the longer term, the thought of a unified Korea aligned with the United States) explain why Beijing has been unwilling to discipline Pyongyang.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons constitute the third leg of its deterrence strategy. For many years, CFC refrained from retaliating because it feared another costly conventional war. Pyongyang’s acquisition of nuclear weapons has made the thought of a second Korean war even more horrific. But Washington can’t acknowledge that North Korea’s nuclear deterrent is working: after all, the Obama administration’s campaign for a world free of nuclear weapons is founded on the assertion that they are useless. Still, even though the United States will never admit that it is being deterred by a weak adversary with a handful of malfunctioning nuclear devices, North Korea knows it – and so do Iran and other nuclear aspirants that fear regime change.
Thanks to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other countries deplore North Korean belligerence but confine their retaliation to a barrage of rhetoric. Countries tend to be extraordinarily cautious when dealing with nuclear-armed adversaries. India, for example, has been forced to tolerate Pakistani terrorism, most prominently after the Mumbai attacks of 2008. In the wake of an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 (reportedly carried out by groups harbored in Pakistan), the Indian cabinet resolved, “We will liquidate the terrorists and their sponsors wherever they are, whoever they are.” But it never did so, because that would have involved military actions that could have led to nuclear war. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, like North Korea’s, give it a get-out-of-jail-free card.
It is tempting to presume that there is some limit to the world’s tolerance of North Korean aggression – some point at which South Korea and the United States, despite fears of a war and collapse, would conclude that North Korea is too dangerous a country to live with and that regime change is the less terrible option. But that presumption could be wrong. As intolerable as it is to absorb North Korea’s assassination attempts and other provocations, it is also hard to imagine what could possibly prompt Seoul and Washington to gamble on regime change in a wrecked, nuclear-armed disaster of a country. And so the games continue. North Korea continues to play rowdy and undisciplined neighbor in Asia and we pretend to care while in reality all any of us in the west are really concerned about is a humanitarian crisis that we are all woefully unprepared for.
CNN and Jennifer Lind an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College contributed to this report.
SEOUL, South Korea — (DMN/Al-Jazeera) – North Korea has launched a ballistic rocket carrying a weather satellite, the South Korean defence ministry said. Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters the rocket had been launched at 7:39am local time on Friday (22:39 GMT on Thursday). The launch has drawn international criticism due to concerns it could further the state’s ability to deliver a nuclear warhead. The Unha-3 rocket took off from a new launch site on the west coast of North Korea, near the Chinese border, and if successful would enhance Pyongyang’s ability to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, critics say. But Japananese authorities have said that the North Korean “flying object” fell into the ocean.
The three-stage rocket’s flight path was expected to take it over the sea between the Korean peninsula and China, where the first stage is due to splash down. A second stage is due to land in waters off the Philippines. A US official confirmed North Korea had launched a long-range rocket despite warnings from major powers that the move would trigger further sanctions. “I can confirm they’ve carried out a launch,” the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency. Announcements about the launch had provoked threats to shoot down the rocket and cancel planned food aid from the US.
The launch had been planned to take place at any point between April 12 and 16, to commemorate the 100th birthday on April 15 of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said, “It followed its southern trajectory. That’s what local media are reporting.” Our correspondent added: “Everybody is now waiting for confirmation of whether it all went to plan. The big question is whether it has been a more successful launch than [a previous launch] in 2009.” South Korea’s presidency was due to hold an emergency meeting immediately following the launch, as officials in Seoul and Washington attempted to verify its success. But there was no word from the North regarding the send-off. The UN Security Council has also said it will meet in an emergency session on Friday to discuss the situation in North Korea.
Journalists hate to be accused of bias worse than anything but the reality is that we all…every single one of us…have a degree of bias. The difference is whether we admit the bias or not and how we choose to go about the business of reporting. My pledge on this blog is that news items are free of slant, no bias and no opinion. I only share my views or opinions in segments titled REPORTERS NOTEBOOK or COMMENTARY. I figure this gives my readers the opportunity to ignore my rants and formulate their own opinions or, perhaps, read my take on any given news item. The problem I have are with news agencies, which claim some higher legitimacy, but are actually hacks for the left or the right.
Enter Chuck Todd political director and chief White House correspondent at NBC News. In an interview with Politico, Todd says, “To me, the ideological bias in the media really hasn’t been there in a long time. But what is there that people mistake for ideological bias is geographic bias. It’s seeing everything through the lens of New York and Washington.” I would agree. What most people in the rest of the country don’t realize is that the sources reporting the news from the nations media capitals have no clue how the rest of us live…nor do they care. Chuck Todd at least seems to be acknowledging that there was, once upon a time an ideological bias in the mainstream media. To say it “hasn’t been there in a long time,” acknowledges that it was there, once. This is something a lot of journalists would never admit.
Bernard Goldberg writes that to Chuck Todd, bias in the news simply stems from too many elite journalists living in too few places, Manhattan and DC. But what Chuck Todd doesn’t quite seem to understand is that geography influences culture and culture influences ideology. People on the Upper West Side of Manhattan don’t see Obamacare, for example, the same way people in Alabama see it. That’s not because of geography. It’s because of ideology. Or to put it another way, there are a lot more liberals on the Upper West Side than there are in Montgomery. Todd is hard on political journalists, but only up to a point, and makes sure we understand that they’re not slanting the news in favor of liberals because they themselves are liberals. The reason, he says, has a lot more to do with zip codes than party affiliations.
“I think sometimes there are too many people who cover politics that don’t understand the grassroots of the Republican Party,” he correctly tells Politico. And why don’t they understand? Because they cover America from a safe distance, embedded in the nation’s two media capitals – Washington and New York. “Part of what animates them [political journalists] is if [Middle Americans are] pushing it, I’m against it. But also that we don’t understand their day-to-day lives. That we don’t respect the fact that they go to church twice a week. That when we look down our noses upon Wal-Mart, they see it as the only place to shop.”
Those are valid points indeed but they are hardly owned by the left. Joe Muto writes for the GAWKER that Sean Hannity’s interviews are a source of embarrassment for many of us at the FOX News network. Even those ideologically sympathetic to him joke about the ostentatiously friendly treatment he routinely gives Republican candidates. Not that anyone at the network is in the business of grilling GOPers, of course. But Bret Baier and Chris Wallace have been known to make politicians on the right squirm in their seats every once in a while. Hell, even O’Reilly seems to know that you’ve got to give the interviewee a little bit of chin music, if only to give yourself cover later when someone questions your credibility.
But that lesson seems to have escaped Hannity. And despite the derision it earns him from the Lamestream Media, it’s probably been mostly beneficial for his show. The reason he’s able to book so many GOP luminaries is that they know that they have a safe space, a child-proofed room where they’ll be able to talk at length without interruption, state falsehoods without challenge, and reach the Republican base completely unfiltered. Hannity’s welcoming cocoon even extends to fake-conservative Mitt Romney. If you listen to Sean on a regular basis, you can tell that he’s suspicious of Mitt—rightfully so, because now that Romney has sewn up the nomination, he’s going to attempt to pivot away from conservatives so fast and hard that Ronald Reagan’s tombstone is probably going to crack in half. But Hannity can read the writing on the wall, so he invites him on the show and makes nice with him.
A favorite target of right wing talk show fanatics is CNN but sometimes CNN gets it right. After saying Ann Romney had never worked a day in her life, Democratic activist Hilary Rosen was trying to spin her way out of the firestorm over her comments. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer would have none of it on Thursday’s The Situation Room as he reprimanded her, forced her to apologize, and asked her how it felt to be thrown “under the bus” by Democratic allies. Blitzer grilled Rosen for upwards of ten minutes and ripped her “awful way of saying” what she intended to say about Romney. He then made her “look into the camera” and talk to Romney, and after she dodged an apology a deadly serious Blitzer called her out on it.
I remind my audience that my blog is not owned by any corporation. It is not held by any of the media giants and I generally try to go to the source in my reporting. DMNEWSI frequently uses international news organizations like the BBC, NHK, Guardian, Telegraph, Deutsche-Welle, ANSA and Al-Jazeera to name a few. Why? Because all of those news organizations have bureaus in the United States but not one of them is held by U.S. interests. Editors and producers are not answering to any American corporate hacks and the reporting shows it.
HOUSTON, Texas — (DMN) – Former Houston Police officer Leslie Aikenswas sentenced to 188 months in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted of corruption, including using his squad car to protect drug loads, authorities said Thursday. A statement released by prosecutors notes that during a November trial, the majority of testimony came from the FBI agent who testified that Aikens escorted a load of seven kilograms of cocaine. The following day, he received the $2,000 bribe payment for his services. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake, who presided over the trial, sentenced Aikens to 188 months on each of the two counts of conviction, to run concurrently, according to the statement from prosecutors. Assistant United States Attorneys John Jocher and Jim McAlister prosecuted the case.
Houston, Texas this afternoon.
SANFORD, Florida — (DMN/Guardian) – George Zimmerman has made his first appearance in court, less than 24 hours he was arrested and charged with the murder of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman appeared before Judge Mark Herr in a short hearing at the Seminole County jail in Sanford. His arraignment was set for 29 May, when his formal plea of not guilty will be entered. There was no application for bail during Thursday’s hearing. It is likely that his attorney will apply for a bond hearing before the arraignment. Speaking before the hearing, attorney Mark O’Mara said Zimmerman, 28, was planning to plead not guilty. His client, O’Mara said, had “been through a lot” since he shot and killed Martin, 17, during a confrontation in a gated community in Sanford on 26 February.
Special prosecutor Angela Corey ended 44 days of uncertainty on Wednesday when she announced that Zimmerman would be charged with second-degree murder, an offence that carries a sentence from 25 years to life in prison. Zimmerman was not arrested at the time because police believed his claims of self-defence, enraging Martin’s family and sparking six weeks of mass protests in central Florida and elsewhere. “I would like to get him out. I need to get him out to assist me in going over all the evidence and preparing our defence,” said O’Mara, who met his new client for the first time on Wednesday evening. “He is stressed. He’s tired. He’s been through a lot with the way this case has been handled to date. I’m just hoping that his mental health stays well and that we can move forward in getting this case figured out.”
Zimmerman has been held in protective custody since his arrest on Thursday, with his brother Robert declaring that the family was disappointed by the severity of the charge. “They [prosecutors] have thrown the book at him,” Robert Zimmerman told CNN. “I would have hoped the more courageous decision would be to say we’re not prosecuting, and here’s why. Our brother could have been dead, our brother had to save his life by taking a life. “The incident has been weighing on my brother in a way I couldn’t possibly describe. As a family we’re devastated. We are a strong family and we have been living a somewhat altered reality for some time.” “I trust that the system, the judge, the prosecutor and I will be able to, should the need arise, to get ourselves a fair and impartial jury to hear the case,” he said.
Some legal analysts believe it might be difficult for state attorney Corey to make a murder charge stick against a defence under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, which allows for the use of deadly force if a citizen perceives his life to be in danger. Zimmerman has claimed he was under attack from Martin, who was unarmed, and fired in self-defence. “The only hurdle I see is a stand-your-ground motion to dismiss that will have to be made,” Kenneth Nunn, a senior professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, told the Guardian. “The burden is on the defendant to show stand your ground applies, but the standard is only a preponderance of the evidence. If Zimmerman shows that then it is dismissed and Ms Corey’s case goes away at that point. The prosecutor should be able to overcome that – but it’s going to be a very difficult case.”
Prof Nunn said he believed Corey might also have had a possible plea bargain, or a jury’s “propensity to compromise” in mind when she decided to file a murder charge. “Going in high and settling for manslaughter would be preferable to a manslaughter charge then settling for something like a gun charge,” he said. Earlier on Thursday, Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said she believed that the shooting was “an accident”. “One of things I still believe in is a person should apologise when they’re remorseful for what they’ve done,” she told NBC’s Today show. “I believe it was an accident. I believe it just got out of control and he couldn’t turn the clock back.”
Frederica Wilson, the Miami congresswoman whose constituency includes Martin’s home, said that Thursday’s court hearing for Zimmerman was an important first step for the family following their protracted battle to have him arrested. “I am thankful that the wheels of justice will continue to turn. This is just the beginning and we have a long process ahead of us,” she said. “The evidence influenced [Corey] to charge him but the outcry helped bring the case to justice. This case would never have been brought without that outcry. It was a case that almost slipped through the system without the public ever knowing about it.”
North Korean residents of the capital city mingle on the side of the street in Pyongyang, North Korea on Thursday, April 12, 2012. (AP Photo)
Very few images of North Korea…the real North Korea exist in the West. Visits to the last vestige of the Cold War by foreign journalists are normally heavily scripted, heavily handed affairs with minders whose job it is to tell you how wonderful life in North Korea is…but it’s not. The Associated Press and CBS News have an incredible piece running this afternoon about a mistake and a bus of foreign journalists. It is revealing and disturbing.
The press bus took a wrong turn Thursday. And suddenly, everything changed in the official showcase of North Korean achievement. A cloud of brown dust swirled down deeply potholed streets, past concrete apartment buildings crumbling at the edges. Old people trudged along the sidewalk, some with handmade backpacks crafted from canvas bags. Two men in wheelchairs waited at a bus stop. There were stores with no lights, and side roads so battered they were more dirt than pavement. “Perhaps this is an incorrect road?” mumbled one of the North Korean minders, well-dressed government officials who restrict reporters to meticulously staged presentations that inevitably center on praise for the three generations of Kim family who have ruled this country since 1948.
So as cameras madly clicked, the drivers of the three buses quickly backed up in the narrow streets and headed back toward the intended destination: a spotlessly clean, brightly-lit, extensively marbled and nearly empty building that preserves digital music recordings and makes DVDs. It was at the Hana Music Information Center, a guide told the reporters, where North Korea’s longtime leader, Kim Jong Il, made one of his last public appearances before his December death. “I hope that the journalists present here report only the absolute truth,” said Ri Jinju, her voice trembling with emotion, her flowing hair frozen with hairspray. “The truth about how much our people miss our comrade Kim Jong Il, and how strong the unity is between the people and leadership, who are vigorously carrying out the leaders’ instructions to build a great, prosperous and powerful nation.”
In North Korea, it’s hard to know what’s real. Certainly, you can’t go looking for it. Anyone who leaves the press tour, or who walks from the few hotels where foreigners are allowed, can be detained by the police and even threatened with expulsion. But even in such a controlled environment, reality asserts itself. Is reality the cluster of tall buildings within view of the main foreigners’ hotel, where long strings of bright, colored lights are switched on when the sun goes down, illuminating entire blocks like some gargantuan Christmas decoration? Or is it the vast stretches of Pyongyang, by far the most developed city in impoverished North Korea, that go deathly dark at night?
Is the reality along Pyongyang’s drab-but-spotless main roads, the only streets that journalists normally see, with their revolutionary posters urging North Koreans to struggle toward a Stalinist paradise? Or is reality on the streets near the music center? “They’ve left very few stones unturned in North Korea,” said Anthony Brunello, a professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, who has studied totalitarian propaganda methods. He said officials will go to nearly any extreme to create a system that will keep the Kim family in power.
If that means using propaganda that seems insensible to outsiders, few of whom believe the official version of Pyongyang as a communist idyll, it is very logical in Pyongyang. After all, the Kims still hold power. “They’ve managed to create a process of control that works,” he said. Most foreign visitors to Pyongyang never encounter a pothole, a traffic jam or a piece of litter larger than a cigarette butt. There see no people with physical disabilities, and no graffiti. They normally see only the clean streets outside their bus windows, and the showcase buildings — the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, the palace commemorating the Kims’ “juche” philosophy of self-reliance, the computer labs at Kim Il Sung University — filled with people that the minders insist are everyday North Koreans.
The students in the classrooms don’t glance up as dozens of reporters rumble in, and the professor’s lecture continues without pause. The young people in the university pool careen down the plastic slide, in front of TV cameras, as if they are completely alone. Perhaps they are real students. But look straight into the eyes of these people, and their pupils dance around you like you’re not there, as if they’ve been trained to pretend you are not. Only the official guides, always beautiful women in flowing polyester gowns in ice-cream colors, will talk readily. Always, those talks center around the Kims: the Great Leader Kim Il Sung; the Great General Kim Jong Il and, since his father’s death in December, the Respected General Kim Jong Un.
They speak in relentless, rote hyperbole. “The more time passes by the more we miss our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il,” said Ri, the music center guide. “I don’t think we can ever find any person so great.” Behind that robotic facade, though, North Koreans want the same things as just about everyone else; at least, that’s what defector after defector has said. They fight with their wives and worry when their children get fevers. They wage office politics, dream of buying cars and, if they have enough clout, they hope to get away to the beach in the summer. When times are at their worst, as they were when famine savaged the country in the 1990s, they dream of enough food so their children won’t starve to death.
It’s not clear why the regime hides places like the dusty, potholed neighborhood, which is just a mile or so from the center of town, across the trolley tracks and just off Tongil Street. It doesn’t look like a war zone, or even like a particularly rough New York City neighborhood. Many streets in New Delhi, the capital of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, look far more battered and far poorer. To most North Koreans, one-quarter of whom depend on international food aid, living in homes without electricity or running water, the neighborhood would look upper-middle-class. Special permits are required to live in the capital city, and life here is vastly better than it is for most people in the countryside.
There are predictable government jobs here, electricity at least a few hours a day, better-stocked stores, schools that have indoor bathrooms. But the officials still hide the run-down neighborhoods. There’s a certain view of North Korea they want visitors to have. Maybe, though, the regime is opening up. In past years, media minders would order reporters to put down their cameras if they saw something they felt didn’t reflect well on North Korea. At times, they would close the curtains on the buses. But on Thursday, the minders said nothing as the cameras clicked away. The journalists stared. And outside the bus, the North Koreans who never expected to be seen stared back.
It is no secret that Rupert Murdoch’s “News Corporation” is in some pretty serious trouble in the United Kingdom but could those problems spread to this side of the pond? It seems likely and it begs the question just what might we learn about News Corporation and, in particular, Murdoch’s FOX News Channel. The U.K.’s GUARDIAN is reporting that Mark Lewis the lawyer who has been at the forefront of efforts to expose the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, is poised to bring the battle for legal redress across the Atlantic and to the doorstep of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Lewis will arrive in the US on Saturday and next week will begin legal discussions in New York, just a stone’s throw away from News Corporation’s global headquarters on Sixth Avenue. His arrival constitutes a major escalation in the legal ramifications of the hacking scandal for Murdoch, who has tried desperately to keep it away from the American core of his multi-billion-dollar media holdings. Details remain sketchy about precisely what Lewis intends to do in the US, but the Guardian has learned that he will be having legal discussions that could lead to several lawsuits being lodged with the New York courts. The direct involvement of the US judicial system in allegations of illegal activity by News Corp employees would bring the scandal dramatically closer to Murdoch’s adopted home.
It is not yet known how many lawsuits could result. Lewis will be in discussions with his New York-based legal partner, Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, over the details of US law as it applies to phone hacking. The cases they will be exploring are understood to relate mainly to celebrities who have come to the US and had their phones hacked while they were in the country. That could constitute a violation of US telecommunications and privacy laws. It is also understood that a US citizen had his or her phone hacked while in America as a result of hacking into the transatlantic conversation of a foreign-based celebrity who was a friend of the victim.
Jude Law has been one of the celebrities believed to have had their phones hackedwhile in the US, in this case while he was at JFK airport in New York. However, the Guardian understands that Law is not one of the cases that is currently being explored by Lewis and Siegel. So far, the US component of the hacking scandal has been confined to an FBI and department of justice investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that forbids corporations headquartered in the US, as News Corporation is, from indulging in acts of bribery or corruption abroad. Any lawsuit that flows from Lewis’s US activities would take the scandal to another level by becoming the first legal action to arise domestically within the US.
Lewis has been a crucial figure in the exposure of the billowing phone-hacking saga. He represents the family of Milly Dowler, the missing teenager whose phone was hacked by the News of the World. He also represented Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who received more than $1m from News International, the UK newspaper arm of News Corporation, in a settlement over the hacking of his phone. Lewis’s involvement with the scandal has also been deeply personal: he was himself put under surveillance by the News of the World before it was shut down by Murdoch. The paper hired a specialist private investigator to covertly surveil him and his family.
Lewis will be attending a symposium on investigative journalism at UC Berkeley this weekend where he will be speaking on a paneltitled: “The Murdoch Effect: The News At Any Price?” An irony of the arrival of Lewis in the US is that it comes soon after James Murdoch, Rupert’s youngest son, relocated from the UK to New York partially, it is thought, in a move to try and distance him from the phone-hacking scandal. James Murdoch announced that he was stepping downas nonexecutive chairman of the broadcaster BskyB last week, but Lewis’s deliberations over possible legal action in the New York courts brings the nightmare back to haunt him.
What other nightmares might be haunting the Murdoch’s? What might come out in judicial proceedings in the United States. Liberals loathe FOX News as a mouthpiece for conservatives and the Republican Party. Check this out. Asked what most viewers and observers of Fox News would be surprised to learn about the controversial cable channel, a former insider from the world of Rupert Murdoch was quick with a response: “I don’t think people would believe it’s as concocted as it is; that stuff is just made up.”
Eric Boehlert wrote for Media Matters last year that a former Fox News employee who recently agreed to talk with Media Matters confirmed what critics have been saying for years about Murdoch’s cable channel. Namely, that Fox News is run as a purely partisan operation, virtually every news story is actively spun by the staff, its primary goal is to prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats, and that staffers at Fox News routinely operate without the slightest regard for fairness or fact checking. “It is their M.O. to undermine the administration and to undermine Democrats,” says the source. “They’re a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news.” And that’s the word from inside Fox News.
Note the story here isn’t that Fox News leans right. Everyone knows the channel pushes a conservative-friendly version of the news. Everyone who’s been paying attention has known that since the channel’s inception more than a decade ago. The real story, and the real danger posed by the cable outlet, is that over time Fox News stopped simply leaning to the right and instead became an openand active political player, sort of one-part character assassin and one-part propagandist, depending on which party was in power. And that the operation thrives on fabrications and falsehoods.
“They say one thing and do another. They insist on maintaining this charade, this façade, that they’re balanced or that they’re not right-wing extreme propagandist,” says the source. But it’s all a well-orchestrated lie, according this former insider. It’s a lie that permeates the entire Fox News culture and one that staffers and producers have to learn quickly in order to survive professionally. “You have to work there for a while to understand the nods and the winks,” says the source. “And God help you if you don’t because sooner or later you’re going to get burned.”
The source explains:
“Like any news channel there’s lot of room for non-news content. The content that wasn’t ‘news,’ they didn’t care what we did with as long as it was amusing or quirky or entertaining; as along as it brought in eyeballs. But anything—anything–that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it. If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn’t explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it. There’s a conservative take on every story no matter what it is. So you either get told what it is or you better intuitively know what it is.” What if Fox News staffers aren’t instinctively conservative or don’t have an intuitive feeling for what the spin on a story should be? “My internal compass was to think like an intolerant meathead,” the source explains. “You could never error on the side of not being intolerant enough.”
The source recalls how Fox News changed over time:
“When I first got there back in the day, and I don’t know how they indoctrinate people now, but back in the day when they were “training” you, as it were, they would say, ‘Here’s how we’re different.’ They’d say if there is an execution of a condemned man at midnight and there are all the live truck outside the prison and all the lives shots. CNN would go, ‘Yes, tonight John Jackson, 25 of Mississippi, is going to die by lethal injection for the murder of two girls.’ MSNBC would say the same thing.
“We would come out and say, ‘Tonight, John Jackson who kidnapped an innocent two year old, raped her, sawed her head off and threw it in the school yard, is going to get the punishment that a jury of his peers thought he should get.’ And they say that’s the way we do it here. And you’re going , alright, it’s a bit of an extreme example but it’s something to think about. It’s not unreasonable. “When you first get in they tell you we’re a bit of a counterpart to the screaming left wing lib media. So automatically you have to buy into the idea that the other media is howling left-wing. Don’t even start arguing that or you won’t even last your first day.
“For the first few years it was let’s take the conservative take on things. And then after a few years it evolved into, well it’s not just the conservative take on things, we’re going to take the Republican take on things which is not necessarily in lock step with the conservative point of view. “And then two, three, five years into that it was, we’re taking the Bush line on things, which was different than the GOP. We were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece. It was just what Bush says goes on our channel. And by that point it was just totally dangerous. Hopefully most people understand how dangerous it is for a media outfit to be a straight, unfiltered mouthpiece for an unchecked president.”
It’s worth noting that Fox News employees, either current or former, rarely speak to the press, even anonymously. And it’s even rarer for Fox News sources to bad mouth Murdoch’s channel. That’s partly because of strict non-disclosure agreements that most exiting employees sign and which forbid them from discussing their former employer. But it also stems from a pervasive us-vs.-them attitude that permeates Fox News. It’s a siege mentality that network boss Roger Ailes encourages, and one that colors the coverage his team produces.
“It was a kick ass mentality too,” says the former Fox News insider. “It was relentless and it never went away. If one controversy faded, goddamn it they would find another one. They were in search of these points of friction real or imagined. And most of them were imagined or fabricated. You always have to seem to be under siege. You always have to seem like your values are under attack. The brain trust just knew instinctively which stories to do, like the War on Christmas.”
According to the insider, Ailes is obsessed with presenting a unified Fox News front to the outside world; an obsession that may explain Ailes’ refusal to publically criticize or even critique his own team regardless of how outlandish their on-air behavior. “There may be internal squabbles. But what [Ailes] continually preaches is never piss outside the tent,” says the source. “When he gets really crazy is when stuff leaks out the door. He goes mental on that. He can’t stand that. He says in a dynamic enterprise like a network newsroom there’s going to be in fighting and ego, but he says keep it in the house.”
It’s clear that Fox News has become a misleading, partisan outlet. But here’s what the source stresses: Fox News is designed to mislead its viewers and designed to engage in a purely political enterprise. In 2010, all sorts of evidence tumbled out to confirm that fact, like the recently leaked emails from inside Fox News, in which a top editor instructed his newsroom staffers (not just the opinion show hosts) to slant the news when reporting on key stories such as climate change and health care reform.
Meanwhile, Media Matters revealed that during the 2009-2010 election cycle, dozens of Fox News personalities endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances. And in terms of free TV airtime that Fox News handed over to GOP hopefuls, Media Matters calculated the channel essentially donated $55 million worth of airtime to Republican presidential hopefuls last year who also collect Fox News paychecks. And of course, that’s when Murdoch wasn’t writing $1 million checks in the hopes of electing more Republican politicians. So, Fox News as a legitimate news outlet? The source laughs at the suggestion, and thinks much of the public, along with the Beltway press corps, has been duped by Murdoch’s marketing campaign over the years. “People assume you need a license to call yourself a news channel. You don’t. So because they call themselves Fox News, people probably give them a pass on a lot of things,” says the source.
The source continues: “I don’t think people understand that it’s an organization that’s built and functions by intimidation and bullying, and its goal is to prop up and support Republicans and the GOP and to knock down Democrats. People tend think that stuff that’s on TV is real, especially under the guise of news. You’d think that people would wise up, but they don’t.” As for the press, the former Fox News employee gives reporters and pundits low grades for refusing, over the years, to call out Fox News for being the propaganda outlet that it so clearly is. The source suggests there are a variety of reasons for the newsroom timidity.
“They don’t have enough staff or enough balls or don’t have enough money or don’t have enough interest to spend the time it takes to expose Fox News. Or it’s not worth the trouble. If you take on Fox, they’ll kick you in the ass,” says the source. “I’m sure most [journalists] know that. It’s not worth being Swift Boated for your effort,” a reference to how Fox News traditionally attacks journalistswho write, or are perceived to have written, anything negativethings about the channel. The former insider admits to being perplexed in late 2009 when the Obama White House called out Murdoch’s operation as not being a legitimate news source, only to have major Beltway media playersrush to the aidof Fox News and admonish the White House for daring to criticizethe cable channel. “That blew me away,” says the source, who stresses the White House’s critique of Fox News “happens to be true.”
Recently a “mole” from inside FOX News has been blogging on the Gawker. Check this out: I always intended to keep my mouth shut. The plan was simple: get hired, keep my head down and my views to myself, work for a few months, build my resume, then eventually hop to a new job that didn’t make me cringe every morning when I looked in the mirror. That was years ago. My cringe muscles have turned into crow’s feet. The ten resumes a month I was sending out dwindled into five, then two, then one, then zero. No one wants me. I’m blacklisted. I work at Fox News Channel.
The final straw for me came last year. Oddly, it wasn’t anything on TV that turned me rogue, though plenty of things on our air had pushed me in that direction over the years. But what finally broke me was a story on The Fox Nation. If you’re not a frequenter of Fox Nation (and if you’re reading Gawker, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not) I can describe it for you — it’s like an unholy mashup of the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post and a Klan meeting. Word around the office is that the site was actually the brainchild of Bill O’Reilly’s chief stalker (and Gawker pal) Jesse Watters.
The Nation aggregates news stories, gives them provocative headlines, and invites commenters to weigh in. The comments are fascinating actually, if you can detach yourself enough to view them as sort of the id of the conservative movement. Of course, if you can’t detach yourself, then you’re going to come away with a diminished view of human decency, because HOLY MOLY THESE PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE THE BLACK PRESIDENT. I’m not saying they dislike him BECAUSE he’s black, but a lot of the comments, unprompted, mention the fact that he is black, so what would you say, Dr. Freud?
The Fox Nation moderators, realizing that they had a problem on their hands, did the absolute bare minimum, hiring one or two college kids to comb the comments for the most egregiously racist postings, and putting in automatic text filters that blocked various key words. Of course the intrepid commenters quickly found ways around these filters using letter substitutions and spacings, which is why many comments complain about our “n@gger president” and the “M u s l i m in the White House.”
So the site has become the seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire. It’s surprising that we even have an online empire, considering that our fan base is mostly septuagenarian technophobes.
The post that broke the camel’s back might be familiar to some of you, because it garnered a lot of attention and (well-deserved) ridicule when it hit last August. The item was aggregating several news sources that were reporting innocuously on President Obama’s 50th birthday party, which was attended by the usual mix of White House staffers, DC politicos and Dem-friendly celebs. The Fox Nation, naturally, chose to illustrate the story with a photo montage of Obama, Charles Barkley, Chris Rock, and Jay Z, and the headline “Obama’s Hip Hop BBQ Didn’t Create Jobs.”
The post neatly summed up everything that had been troubling me about my employer: Non sequitur, ad hominem attacks on the president; gleeful race baiting; a willful disregard for facts; and so on. It came close on the heels of the Common controversy, which exhibited a lot of the same ugly traits. (See also: terrorist fist jabs; Fox & Friends madrassa accusations; etc.) The worst thing about the Hip Hop BBQ incident is that we didn’t back away from it. Bill Shine, who is a rather important guy—sort of Roger Ailes’ main hatchet man, and the go-between for Ailes and most of the top talent—bafflingly doubled down and defended it. The story still exists on the Fox Nation site, headline and photo montage intact, to this very day.
That was it for me. It wasn’t that the one incident was so bad, in and of itself. But it was so galvanizing, and on top of so many other little incidents, that I guess it just finally pushed me over the edge. So here I am. And I come bearing gifts. The video above is of Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity bantering before the taping of an interview for the “Hannity Vegas Forum” in February. Of note: Romney professes his and his wife Ann’s well-known love of horseriding, praising the qualities of the “Austrian Warmbloods” that his wife rides—the are “dressage” horses, he notes—while maintaining his own preference for the “smoother gait” of his own “Missouri foxtrotter.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with Mitt and his wife loving horseback riding. But remember this video next time Romney attacks Obama for golfing. The inherent elitism and snootiness of golf is NOTHING compared to competitive horseback riding. And I think Mitt loses points with the GOP base for his correct pronunciation of dressage. To GOP-voter ears it sounds not only gay, but even worse, French. Elsewhere in the video you will see the two men discussing the possibility that this very footage may one day be leaked, as they warn one another against primping too carefully. “You don’t want to have John Edwards moment,” Hannity says. “Did you see that?” Romney replies: “Oh, yeah I saw that. It’s one thing to do it for a second. It’s another thing to do it for an hour.” (And it’s quite another for Newt Gingrich’s wife to groom him like a circus walrus.)
Later, Hannity’s producers ask him to change his necktie mid-interview. Here’s a little TV trick for you: The show was splitting the Q-and-A over two nights, and they wanted to make the second night look like a fresh, new encounter rather than a rehash from last night. So they made sure to change Hannity’s tie lest eagle-eyed viewers spot the repeat. Romney, to his credit, refuses to play along. Offered a pink tie, he says, “I’m not going all Donald Trump today.” That day, Trump had announced his endorsement of Romney. In the portion of the interview that was broadcast, Romney said he was grateful for Trump’s support, and that “he is a man who’se created a lot of jobs, and he shares my concern about China.”
“So why not just leave Fox News?” you might ask. Good question! I’ve asked myself that same thing many times. And I am leaving. Sooner rather than later, I’m guessing. But I can’t just leave quietly, can I? Where’s the fun in that? So I’m John McClane-ing this shit. I’m inside the building, crawling through the air vents, gathering intel, and passing it along to Carl Winslow. (Note: Please don’t misunderstand, and take my Die Hard metaphor as a threat of violence. Like most left-wingers I abhor actual violence, but am still hopelessly enthralled by the Hollywood machine that glorifies it. Also, that was a 20th Century Fox movie. Synergy!)
The Fox News employee hired by Gawker to write about his experience inside the network has revealed himself as an associate producer on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Joe Muto, who joined Fox News in 2004, says he has been suspended, with pay and was escorted out of Fox News headquarters today by “two nice gentlemen from security.” You can consider the source if you wish. The “mole” is as admitted “lefty” and there is little doubt that other “leftists” have secretly landed at FOX News and are now telling what they know through an arguably tainted lens. Truthfully, I am surprised FOX News is not under more attack from the left than it is, after all, it is the nation’s only right wing cable network. That being said, more Americans get their news from a source other than FOX. The combined ratings of CNN, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and the rest blow Hannity and FOX out of the water but still the hacking scandal and made up news are noteworthy…don’t you think?
North Korea remains the last vestige of isolated communism on the planet. Technically still at a state of war, the rest of the world is watching closely for any sign of change under Kim Jong-un. The young leader has been in place for almost a month since the death of his father was announced. April 2012 promises to be an interesting month for North Korea and its observers, with at least four mega-events. The long announced celebrations to mark the 100th birthday of the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung will be held on the April 15. Two days before, the annual session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (the North Korean parliament) will convene. The fourth Conference of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) will take place on the 11th. Last, but not least, around the same time a rocket launch that has been criticized by the West as a missile test is set to take place.
Ruediger Frank writes in his blog 38 North which is an analysis of events in and around North Korea that April 15, 1912 was not only the day the Titanic sank. In a small village near Pyongyang, a boy with the name Kim Song Ju was born. Later, much like Lenin (Uljanow) and Stalin (Tschugaschwili), he adapted an alias. In October 1945, by then called Kim Il Sung, the 33 year old youngster was presented to the wondering population by the Soviets as the liberator of the country from the Japanese. Hardly anybody took the young man seriously back then, neither his Soviet protectors nor his much more numerous, senior, powerful and experienced domestic political competitors. They were wrong, as they later learned the hard way. By building and breaking alliances, first the Christians and then rival factions within the Korean Communist camp were eliminated or assimilated, until Kim Il Sung and his Kapsan guerilla faction had acquired a monopoly of power within the KWP.
Kim Il Sung smartly used the badly failed Korean War (1950-53) not only as a welcome occasion to eliminate some of his influential political foes. He also converted Korea into one of the hot spots of the Cold War and was thus able to force the Soviet Union and China to provide much more economic, military and political aid than either of them had originally intended. The costs for Mao Zedong included his eldest son Anying, still buried in North Korea. Even my home country East Germany, laying in ruins after World War II and the post-1945 demounting policy of the Soviets, and facing fierce competition from West Germany which prospered under the Marshall Plan, felt compelled to rebuild North Korea’s second largest city, Hamhung, at an enormous cost.
Skillfully playing Beijing against Moscow, Kim Il Sung gradually won political independence from his foreign supporters. However, in the early 1960s, when neither country was willing to play along anymore, Kim pronounced (and backdated) the juche ideology and thus gained ideological independence, as well. The price to pay was reduced economic aid; the reward included surviving the wave of political transformations that has swept the socialist camp since the late 1980s. These are by no means old stories. Looking at North Korea’s present, we find interesting and disturbing similarities. China is a big and dominant ally; Kim Jong Un is a young, inexperienced man whose dress, haircut and body mass resemble his grandfather. It would be nice if the similarities would end here. The events of April 2012 are likely to provide more information on whether this hope is reasonable or not.
The Party Conference, the second in just 18 months after almost 20 years of abstention, is expected to be a forum for testing the new leadership’s personnel policy. Will Kim Jong Un clamp down on his potential competitors, does he already have enough loyalists, will he elevate them to top positions? Will he assume the posts of KWP General Secretary and Chairman of the KWP Central Military Commission, which would elevate him to the official head of state? Or will he emphasize continuity, stability and modesty, and implement these measures gradually? His decision will help us to gain a better understanding not only of the new power relations in Pyongyang, but also of the personality of the new North Korean leader. One thing we know already: this is not the long-awaited 7th KWP Congress. If the latter is not announced during the Party Conference in April, then we have reason to believe that Kim Jong Un is going to take it slow.
The annual parliamentary session has traditionally also been a forum for personnel changes. Ministerial positions are usually swapped, high-ranking officials retire “due to health reasons,” basic outlines of economic policy are announced. Among the most important documents, in addition to the Prime Minister’s report on the overall policy, is the report by the Minister of Finance who comments on the past year’s budget and the related plans for the new fiscal year. Considering that the state owns the economy, the state budget comes close to resembling the North Korean GDP, minus the sectors that are treated separately including, as is widely suspected, a large part of the military economy.
However, no absolute numbers have been provided since the reform year of 2002. Planned revenue for 2002 was around 22 billion Won, but that was before the July reforms that devalued the local currency and led to massive inflation. The budget has ever since been announced in varying cryptic formulations such as “expenditures on the economy” and in percentage terms such as “6 percent more than in the previous year,” not to mention the even less expressive “huge amount” to be spent on this or that key sector. It remains to be seen whether or not the death of Kim Jong Il has, in any way, disrupted the this annual routine, and whether we will see more precise information this time around.
Back to Kim Jong Un. Similar to his grandfather, and unlike his father, his initial endowment with legitimacy is rather small. Consequently, he is tasked with having to actively acquire the amount necessary for stable leadership. Kim Il Sung, after initial economic and social reforms, in the end, decided to attempt unification by military means. Fast forward to 2012, the first measures announced by Kim Jong Un after his father’s death, were a number of laws to facilitate investment, and the “Leap Day” agreement with the United States, which pledged a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the resumption of food aid. These measures provided hope that Kim Jong Un would deviate from his father’s policies.
Then came the déjà-vu: like too many times before, a North Korean signal that could be interpreted as a concession was followed by actions that are difficult to understand. The announced launch of a rocket from a newly built launch pad in the northwest—close to China and thus hard to eliminate by a “surgical strike” without some kind of political fallout—might indeed serve the North Korean space program. And as Moon Chung-in has pointedly argued, it could have been worse: a nuclear test or another clash in the West Sea. But there is little doubt about the military usefulness of the launch data. No matter whether or not this launch violates UN Security Council Resolution 1874, we are left wondering why just a few days before and without a pressing need to do so, a missile launch moratorium was announced that can easily be misinterpreted as having included space launches.
Is the launch an angry reaction to the extraordinarily long-lasting South Korean military maneuvers in March and April, a long-planned highlight of the April 15th celebrations, a sign of an internal power struggle between diplomats and military men, the expression of a lack of coordination, or a hint on the political priorities of Kim Jong Un? In fact, we have reason to believe that both the rocket launch and the Leap Day agreement were in the making before Kim Jong Un assumed power. He could have scrapped them but instead, decided to go ahead with both. Or was he just unaware or unable to stop any of them? The upcoming April events are sure to bring us closer to answers to these daunting questions.
News from North Korea is tightly controlled by the state-run KCNA (Korean Central News Agency) and is basically Pyongyang’s official line. Western journalists rarely get a glimpse inside North Korea although reporters were invited in for the upcoming rocket launch and what the regime calls a satellite launch and the west calls a ballistic missile test. It is also the first time western journalists have been inside North Korea under the regime of Kim Jong-un. In the month since he has ascended to leadership the country’s tightly-controlled media machine has lavished him with praise, calling him a “genius” and a “brilliant” military strategist. Its political structure has also garlanded him with formal titles every bit as extravagant.
But amid all the titles and the propaganda, what can we learn about North Korea’s future direction under its new leader? In the weeks since Kim Jong-un has been in power, most telling is the way he remains overshadowed by his late father and grandfather. Despite a flood of propaganda aimed at boosting the image of the inexperienced young leader, it is still his father who dominates North Korea’s important New Year message. Kim Jong-il’s name appears dozens of times in the script – far more than his son’s. “We should staunchly defend the revolutionary heritage bequeathed by Kim Jong-il, whatever the storm and stress,” it said. “Our party… will make no slightest vacillation and concession in implementing the instructions and policies he laid out in his lifetime and… will allow no change in this process.”
It even goes so far as to spell out the core message explicitly: “Kim Jong-un is precisely the great Kim Jong-il.” Dr Gyeong-seob Oh of South Korea’s Sejong Institute said that this is a clear indication from the North Korean regime that the new leader is his father’s heir “in position, revolutionary ideas and policies”. In other words, expect no change. In fact, North Korea has already said as much. Shortly after Kim Jong-il’s death last month, it issued a scornful statement via state media, warning that “foolish politicians around the world, including in South Korea, should not expect any changes from us”.
But some of those watching North Korea over the past few weeks did pick up some small signs of possible shifts within the regime. Walking behind Kim Jong-un during his father’s funeral procession were equal numbers of military and civilian big-wigs. One of the most prominent, his uncle Jang Song-thaek, is believed by some to perhaps be the most open to reform and is now seen as playing a key role in supporting the young leader. Dr John Swenson-Wright, an Asian affairs specialist at Cambridge University, describes Jang Song-thaek as someone who “may be an influential voice in favour of economic liberalisation and greater openness”. He added that there are signs “that some in the Chinese leadership see Jang as a constructive voice for reforms that echo the modernisation that the Chinese economy went through in the 1970s and 1980s”.
Kim Jong-un’s youth – and his two years at school in Europe – have also fueled speculation over whether he will have a different perspective on government and whether those around him will share his views. Dr Swenson-Wright believes much will depend on the attitude of a younger generation of elite – people in their 20s and 30s – who will have “a much wider awareness of the outside world than the old elite”. “Anecdotal accounts from Western non-governmental groups suggest that the children of the DPRK ‘s [North Korea's] political elite increasingly see training in business and the possibility of access to Western education as the preferred route rather than a traditional career in institutional politics,” he said.
And the way in which the young Kim has been presented to his people has also fuelled speculation over whether the country is returning to an earlier style of government. North Korea’s official media has made much of Kim Jong-un’s physical resemblance to his grandfather, seen as the country’s most popular leader. But Dr Brian Myers, professor of International Studies at Dongseo University in Busan, believes the link to North Korea’s founding father is only skin-deep. “Many people believed that because he looked like Kim Il-sung, and because the official media were making so much of that resemblance, that he was going to return to Kim Il-sung’s style of running the country with equal emphasis on both economic and military affairs,” said Dr Myers. “But we really haven’t seen that.”
What we are seeing, he added, is “Kim Il-sung’s face on Kim Jong-il’s policies”. Kim Jong-il’s core policy was “songun” or “military first”. Military leaders publicly pledged their allegiance to Kim Jong-un at his father’s memorial service, before hundreds of thousands of their own people and the eyes of the world. A state TV documentary aired on Kim Jong-un’s birthday a week later showed the young successor in various military poses – driving a tank, inspecting the troops and pictured with military officials during a missile test several years ago. One of the first official visits he made as leader was to a highly-revered tank division of the North Korean army.
Dr Myers said that these are all images that are meant to show Kim Jong-un as a “military first” leader. “He’s not associating himself directly with economic affairs, which makes good sense politically speaking, because the regime doesn’t know whether they’ll be able to make much progress on that,” Dr Myers said. North Korea has faced severe economic problems since Kim Jong-il took power in 1994. “The whole benefit of the ‘military first’ policy for the regime was that it could disassociate itself from economic policy,” Dr Myers explained. The other benefit – at least for now – is that it allows a young and relatively unknown leader to slip swiftly and neatly into his father’s shoes.
Dr Gyeong-sob Oh says the politically inexperienced Kim Jong-un has “chosen to follow in the footsteps of his father’s policies because he is simply not prepared to propose new (ones)”. And neither, he believes, are the more established heads around him, adding that doing so could result in “elimination”. The lack of new ideas or policies in the country’s New Year’s message, he concludes, is the result of a “strategic compromise” by Kim Jong-un and the governing elite. The good news for South Korea and its allies though, according to Korean analyst Haksoon Paik, is that “since stabilisation is at the top of Kim Jong-un’s agenda, unless South Korea and the US pose a threat to or provoke North Korea, it is not likely that North Korea will provoke first”.
Government officials in South Korea openly agree. Soojin Park, deputy spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said that the succession appears to be “very stable and well-prepared” so far. She said the government understands “that the North might need some time to settle things internally” and will not “respond to every remark or statement that the North releases”. “Just because the North has criticised the [South Korean] government, it doesn’t mean they won’t come out for dialogue,” Ms Park said. As in the past, words and symbols may tell one kind of story here on the Korean Peninsula, but it is actions that count.
North Korea remains the way it is because the West and China do not want a humanitarian crisis that a collapse of the North would create. China shudders at the thought of hundreds of thousands of starving North Korean refugees streaming across it’s borders and while South Korea wants reunification, it too is woefully unprepared for thousands of refugees coming south looking for food and in reality, food is the issue. As sad as it is, it is easier to feed the North Koreans through humanitarian aide, let them rattle their sabers from time to time and contain them inside their own reclusive mess.