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“Getting To The Source Of The Lies”: The Fabricated Story About Tashfeen Malik’s Public Facebook Postings

A theme emerged at Tuesday night’s Republican debate that went something like this: because of political correctness, the Obama administration has failed to keep us safe from terror attacks. It was applied in reference to the shooting in San Bernardino by several candidates, including Ted Cruz.

It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.

That is the story that has become embedded over the last week in the right wing mindset. But as FBI Director James Comey said yesterday, it’s not true.

So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble.

There was no major breakdown in security at DHS as a result of political correctness. It’s all about a couple who were inspired by ISIS to go on a killing spree – much as Robert Lewis Dear was inspired to go on a shooting spree at Planned Parenthood by the anti-abortion movement and Dylann Roof was inspired to kill African American church-goers by white supremacists.

But as Kevin Drum reports, there’s more to the story. The question becomes: what was the source for the story about Tashfeen Malik’s public Facebook postings? It was an article in the New York Times titled: U.S. Visa Process Missed San Bernardino Wife’s Zealotry on Social Media. And not only that. As Drum says:

The story was written by Matt Apuzzo, Michael Schmidt, and Julia Preston.

Do those names sound familiar? They should. The first two were also the authors of July’s epic fail claiming that Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal probe over the mishandling of classified information in her private email system.

Is it merely a coincidence that these two NYT reporters have been fed stories by their sources that are fabricated lies about the dyad the Republican candidates blamed consistently with such disdain Tuesday night – Obama/Clinton? I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But you don’t have to be one to understand why it is important to get an answer to that question.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 17, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, Reporters | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What Will We Do After The Next Slaughter?: Shut Up About San Bernardino, Because There’s Nothing Left To Say

The right and the left have both issued verdicts on what not to say after a mass shooting.

The right ridicules calls for gun-safety measures. The left mocks what it perceives to be hollow nostrums about “thoughts and prayers.” I think they’re both right. I think it’s time to say nothing at all.

I realized this when I discovered the most trenchant thing I’d read about San Bernardinonoting that Sandy Hook didn’t begin a national conversation about guns so much as end it—was actually written about the murders at the Emanuel AME Church.

There is no way to overdramatize the speed with which San Bernardino followed Colorado Springs; it happened too fast for hyperbole. There wasn’t even time for an idea to be proposed, much less fail. Columns written about Richard Dear are still being published even as we hunt for answers about the massacre farther west.

Sure, the particular gruesomeness of this crime—at a center for the disabled—seems like it might be enough to…what? What about this crime will shove the graceless leviathan of our national consciousness from the sludge-gummed track we’ve developed to deal with what should be unspeakable, unthinkable, at very fucking least rare?

In the hours after the California killings, heavy traffic crashed a mass shooter database. Which is more horrifying—that so many people needed the information, or that there was so much information to be had?

We have reached the point where mass shootings have a “news consumer handbook,” where the most helpful journalistic tool in covering a killing isn’t local sources so much as search-and-replace: Newsweek reporter Polly Mosendz keeps a pre-written mass shooter story fresh in her text editing files. “A mass shooting has been reported at TK, where TK people are believed to be dead and TK more are injured, according to TK police department,” it says. “The gunman has/hasn’t been apprehended.”

So I propose a columnist strike, a hot take moratorium, a sound-bite freeze. The only response that could possibly match this gut-punching tragedy isn’t made up of words but silence.

I envision blank blog posts, empty sets, magazine pages slick and white from edge to edge. I want to open up The Washington Post or The New York Times and find the grainy gray of naked newspaper stock in place of columnists’ prose.

Let’s fill Twitter with dead space and leave Facebook with a total absence of “likes.”

Let the cable talking heads mute themselves.

Hear in that noiselessness the echo all the prayers and the pleas, all the policy proposals and screeds that were written about the last mass shooting, and the one before that and the one before the one before that. Hear the thundering clap of absolute inaction in Congress, and the crazed, giddy titter of those loosening gun laws state by state. Hear the voices that don’t speak, that can’t, the conversations some families will never get to have.

What I want is not a “national moment of silence,” nor really a prayer. I don’t wish to summon contemplation or reflection but choking sobs and knotted throats. I want to share with the world the wordless groan that is the only prayer the grieving have.

I want a strike, a shutdown, a refusal to move. Not just inaction as a pause—rather, stillness as an action in itself.

I don’t think what I want to happen actually can happen, not in this world. The media machine inexorably churns and, less reflexively, our mutual ache and mourning demands recognition on screens and off.

Then again, our suspension of discussion doesn’t have to last forever. I don’t want to create a vacuum so much as create awareness about how much has already been said.

There’s nothing left to say, so let’s just not say it.

I write this, my fingers cold and my heart broken and hesitating before I press “send.” If I publish this column now, if I let this idea into the world after this slaughter…Why, then, what will we do after the next?

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, December 3, 2015

December 4, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Mass Shootings, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Mode Of Deception”: Carly Fiorina Abuses The Truth Just Like A Teenage Conservative Hoaxer

Comparing female politicians to petulant 13-year-old boys is generally unwise, but in Carly Fiorina’s case it is apt.

CJ Pearson, a black conservative teenager from Georgia, became a sensation on the right this year for denouncing President Barack Obama in homemade YouTube videos, two of which have now been viewed over two million times each. Pearson isn’t the first precocious conservative to become a right-wing celebrity, but he is probably the first to parlay that fame into a campaign gig, specifically as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s youth-outreach chairman.

Late last week, though, the charismatic kid was revealed as the perpetrator of a number of hoaxes, including a trumped up beef with Facebook for censoring his speech (he was 12 years old at the time, too young to run a Facebook account of his own), and engaging in a Twitter fight with a supposedly racist Obama supporter, who turned out to be Pearson’s own sockpuppet. Most recently, he staged evidence suggesting that Obama had blocked his Twitter account, and got busted by a reporter at Glenn Beck’s conservative website, The Blaze.

Rather than admit to the prank, Pearson has continued to insist that his word was good.

“[H]ere’s what the PR folks are saying: say you lied and apologize to avoid backlash,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “But, instead, I choose to stand by my word. While the article will be incriminating, all we have in politics is our word and I stand by it.”

Carly Fiorina’s mode of deception, and her response to being fact-checked, is nearly identical. The main difference, of course, is that Fiorina is a 61-year-old former corporate executive who’s a top contender to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, while Pearson is still going through puberty. The fact that so many conservatives are lining up to defend her is indicative of the degree to which conservatism has become a movement defined by affective rage and imagined victimization by mainstream forces. This toxic brew contributed to the party’s difficulty winning recent national elections. It is already poisoning the party’s campaign for the presidency in 2016.

Two weeks ago, during the second GOP primary debate, Fiorina delivered a crowd-pleasing condemnation of Planned Parenthood for, as she’d have it, delivering children alive to steal their organs and sell them for profit.

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these [Planned Parnthood] tapes,” she said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.'”

If the footage she described existed, people might go to jail. But it doesn’t. In fact, basically every factual claim in those two sentences is untrue. Florina’s conservative defenders, and her super PAC, have produced footage unrelated to the Planned Parenthood sting depicting a life-like fetus—but not a verifiably aborted fetus, nor a fetus delivered during a procedure conducted in a Planned Parenthood facility. Nobody performing the procedure said, “we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” either.

Fiorina’s fabricated description of the Planned Parenthood videos wasn’t issued in passing, but in a way that was calculated to dominate cable news highlight reels. She can’t admit to confusion, or to unintentionally blending unrelated footage into a single, imagined scene, because that would amount to telling her new supporters that the thing that attracted them to her wasn’t real.

So, like young CJ Pearson, she’s cooked up extremely weak post hoc defense, hoping that over time the truth and her twisted version of it will bleed together. “That scene absolutely does exist,” she said on Meet the Press this weekend, “and that voice saying what I said they were saying—’We’re gonna keep it alive to harvest its brain’—exists as well.” (It doesn’t.) But while Pearson’s reputation on the right is in free fall, many conservatives are twisting themselves into epistemological knots arguing that Fiorina’s right, even though she’s wrong. In the Los Angeles Times, the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg explained that while “the exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos … anybody who has watched the videos would find Fiorina’s account pretty accurate.”

In a way, that the wagons are circling around Fiorina helps explain why Pearson thought his own fabrications might pay off. Recent history is replete with examples of conservatives racing to defend other conservatives caught peddling stories no less fictional than Pearson’s.

James O’Keefe, a propagandist and agent provocateur with a history of selectively editing his sting footage to make the opposite of reality seem true, is a right-wing celebrity. Republicans in Congress, including Pearson’s boss, Ted Cruz, want to shut down the government over videos that everyone knows have been doctored. In 2012, conservatives dedicated themselves to the fiction that Obama had refused to call an attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi an act of terrorism, when in fact he had called it terrorism the day after it happened, in the White House Rose Garden. When Mitt Romney repeated the myth at the second presidential debate, CNN moderator Candy Crowley famously embarrassed him by interjecting to set the record straight. To this day, conservatives detest Crowley, and insist that she didn’t give Romney a fair shake by telling the truth.

As more interviewers and moderators interject to debunk Fiorina’s story about a video segment that doesn’t exist, Fiorina’s reputation among conservatives isn’t suffering. Instead, the right’s journalist shit-list is growing longer.

Pearson can be forgiven for expecting the conservative media to rush to his aid, rather than orchestrate his demise. He’s coming of age in a movement that often treats reality as subordinate to perception; that will embrace obvious distortions of facts if doing so might move the needle of public opinion, and dissemble and whine, rather than admit error, when the media gets wise. If the stakes were higher—if Pearson were a 61-year-old presidential candidate instead of a 13-year-old kid—he would be climbing in the polls today.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, September 28, 2015

September 29, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Conservatives, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Another Case Of Roberts’s Judicial Minimalism”: Supreme Court; Your Facebook Threats Aren’t Necessarily Real Threats

Today, the Supreme Court held that you can post a threat to kill your wife on Facebook, but you’re not guilty of making a threat.

This is good news if you’re focused on free speech, especially online. It’s bad news if you’re concerned about the capacity of information technology to amplify threats, stalking, and coercion.

The result in the case, Elonis v. U.S., comes as something of a surprise, especially because it was a 7-2 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts writing for the court. That means the court’s liberal wing, the moderate-conservatives (Kennedy, Roberts) and even Justice Scalia were all in agreement.

The reason, however, was not the First Amendment. Court-watchers, and the defendant, Anthony Elonis, noted that the “threat” was simply a set of rap lyrics, and debated whether they were constitutionally protected. But the Court itself didn’t go there, instead basing its ruling purely on the federal criminal statute.

That statute says that anyone who “transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another” is guilty of a felony. But what is a “threat,” exactly? Specifically, does it require evidence of an actual intent to harm the person, or is it enough “that a reasonable person would regard Elonis’s communications as threats”?

The district court had said the latter, but today, the Supreme Court disagreed. Threatening language is not enough. Targets feeling threatened is not enough. Criminal law requires mens rea, an “evil mind,” and in this case, the Court held that there must be some specific intention to threaten. Since that wasn’t established in this case (and since Elonis assiduously denied having it) the Court threw out his conviction.

(In dissent, Justice Thomas argued that a “general intent” should be sufficient, while Justice Alito argued for an intermediate standard of “recklessness.”)

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Elonis is also known as “Tone Dougie,” and has produced some seriously bad rap lyrics, quoted at length in Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion. Indeed, to bleep out the bad words required 22 asterisks. The best parts of Tone Dougie’s oeuvre aren’t even the initial threats to his ex-wife, but the meta-threats that reference his investigation by the FBI. Here’s a sampling, asterisks provided by the Supreme Court:

You know your s***’s ridiculous
when you have the FBI knockin’ at yo’ door
Little Agent lady stood so close
Took all the strength I had not to turn the b***• ghost
Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat
Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms of her partner…
S***, I’m just a crazy sociopath
that gets off playin’ you stupid f***s like a fiddle
And if y’all didn’t hear, I’m gonna be famous
Cause I’m just an aspiring rapper who likes the attention
who happens to be under investigation for terrorism…

Fab Five Freddy this is not. It’s not even Biz Markie. But it does bear a passing resemblance to someone Justice Alito referred to as a “well-compensated rapper,” namely Eminem.

The difference is that Eminem’s lyrics are clearly contained within a work of art, but Tone Dougie’s were simple Facebook posts. Yes, they rhymed (sort of), but they were simple posts.

“If I only knew then what I know now… I would have smothered your ass with a pillow. Dumped your body in the back seat. Dropped you off in Toad Creek and made it look like a rape and murder.”

The Court noted that had Elonis typed these words out and snailmailed them to his ex-wife, it would almost certainly constitute a criminal threat, because it was made directly to the intended victim and thus counts as evidence of mens rea. (The Court didn’t use the term snailmail, of course—and referred to Facebook as a “social networking Web site.”) Presumably, if the text was emailed—or maybe direct-messaged?—it would also, thus, be a criminal threat.

So the only reason it wasn’t is that it was posted semi-publicly on Facebook. This allowed Elonis to tell one Facebook friend that “I’m doing this for me. My writing is therapeutic,” and to proclaim himself a victim of artistic censorship. Therapy, art, whatever—but not actual threats.

(In a detail not widely reported in the press, Elonis also posted “therapeutically” about his co-workers—at one point posting a picture taken at Halloween of him holding a toy knife to a co-worker’s neck, with the caption “I wish.” Classy.)

Now, throwing out Elonis’s conviction does not mean that he’s permanently off the hook. He could be tried again, although the state would now have to prove that he intended to threaten his targets.

But the Court’s decision is a victory for free speech advocates, and a loss for those worried about harassing speech online.

On the one hand, you can’t be convicted just because someone else finds what you said on Facebook to be threatening. As a poster child for civil liberties, Tone Dougie now joins the KKK marchers in Skokie. We may not like what he says, but we’re proud to defend his right to say it. Civil liberties protect all of us.

On the other hand, Facebook is a unique, new medium for harassment. (This, incidentally, was the company’s rationale for its “real names” policy.) Arguably, threats made in public are even more terrifying than those made in private, especially if other people “like” what you’ve said.

The Court is treating it like a newspaper, or an open mic at the poetry slam, but many of us relate to it far more intimately. It’s a venue all its own—a combination of telephone, bulletin board, and, occasionally, mob scene.

Moreover, requiring an intent to threaten makes it very easy for stalkers and vengeful exes to deny liability. Oh, that wasn’t a threat, I was just musing aloud. Right.

Of course, since the Court declined to entertain the constitutional questions, this is all just a matter of statutory law, and statutes can be changed. The Court also successfully avoided the question of when art is art. It didn’t say what Elonis’s words were, only that they weren’t actual threats. Elonis is thus yet another case of Roberts’s judicial minimalism.

Though I bet it doesn’t feel that way to Elonis’s ex-wife.

 

By: Jay Michealson, The Daily Beast, June 1, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | Free Speech, Spousal Abuse, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Affront To The Power Of The Press”: The Political Media Don’t Like Hillary Clinton. But What If She Doesn’t Need Them?

Hillary Clinton doesn’t like the media, and they don’t like her. Both have legitimate reasons for feeling as they do, but there’s no getting around that simple fact. Clinton’s grievances go back two and a half decades, and what has reporters agitated at the moment is that Clinton is making it difficult for them to do their jobs, by not talking much to the them or providing the steady stream of public events out of which they can write stories.

Their frustration is starting to bubble to the surface. New York Times reporter Jason Horowitz, following Clinton in Iowa, wrote a story today about how her campaign is keeping reporters at arm’s length, then tweeted a link to the story with the description: “Queen Hillary and the Everyday Americans of the Round Table distribute alms to the clamoring press.”

But if Clinton is overly concerned about their feelings, it’s hard to tell. Instead, she’s acting as though she isn’t afraid of the press at all.

We’re in the midst of the second media revolution Bill and Hillary Clinton have lived through, both of which changed how politicians relate to reporters. In the first one, which occurred in the 1990s, the media universe expanded and became more partisan, as conservative talk radio became a major force and cable news emerged to cover politics around the clock (Fox News was founded in 1996, in time for the Lewinsky scandal). The incumbent news organizations found themselves pressured by the right, bullied into covering stories they might have paid little attention to and forced to accelerate their news-gathering. Talk radio and cable were perfect for taking allegations against the president — legitimate or otherwise — and forcing them onto the agenda of the “old media” outlets, where they gained legitimacy and shaped the events of the day.

But despite all the scandal fodder his administration (and his private life, and his past) provided, Bill Clinton managed to not only survive but leave office with approval ratings in the 60s.

Fifteen years later, Hillary Clinton is running for president in the midst of another media revolution, one that not only pressures mainstream news organizations and the reporters who populate them, but makes those reporters feel threatened and even marginalized.

Look what has happened since she began running. We’ve already had a couple of supposed scandals — her State Department emails and the Clinton Foundation’s donors — which were given blanket coverage in the mainstream media. And how have Clinton’s fortunes been affected? Barely at all. She’s still leading all her potential general election opponents by eight or nine points.

Don’t forget, in ordinary circumstances, reporters love scandal. Scandal is exciting, it’s dramatic, at its best it’s full of juicy revelations, scrambling politicians, and uncertain outcomes. Clinton scandals, on the other hand, have gotten awfully boring. Some accusation emerges, we learn that Bill or Hillary (or both) did something questionable, Republicans cry that it’s worse than Watergate, the Clintons are less than forthcoming with information, and in the end it turns out to have been a tempest in a teapot. Go through it over and over and it ceases to be interesting, for both reporters and the public.

And while I don’t have any direct evidence for this, I suspect that to at least some degree reporters share conservatives’ frustration that all the Clinton scandals and mini-scandals and pseudo-scandals haven’t taken them down. In a way it’s an affront to the power of the press. When we splash headline after headline about allegations of misbehavior across our papers, when we devote hour after hour on television to the fact that “questions are being raised,” well that’s supposed to make an impact. It’s supposed to drive the politician in question to the depths of ignominy. It’s not supposed to leave them in exactly the same position as they were when it started.

Unlike the last media revolution, the current one may work in Hillary Clinton’s favor. She seems to understand that a snarky article in the New York Times is not going to hurt her, not when she’s already so well-known and there are so many other sources of information competing for voters’ attention. She can reach those voters through local news, through YouTube, through Twitter, through Facebook, and through a hundred other channels. And without a strong primary challenge, she has all the time she wants. If she doesn’t feel like taking reporters’ questions for a couple of weeks at a stretch, she doesn’t have to.

All that, of course, will make the reporters covering her even more perturbed. They’re professionals, but they’re also human beings whose feelings, worries, and resentments inevitably leak through into their work. They already know Clinton is suspicious of them, and they don’t like it when they get shunted to the back of the room, unable to ask what they hope will be tough questions, while Clinton makes dull small-talk with another group of Iowans.

Everything she’s doing communicates to them that they aren’t as important as they once were. It’s bound to get them angry and make them like her even less than they already do, which could make their coverage even harsher. And though like any politician she’d rather have friendlier coverage, at this point it looks like a bargain she’s more than willing to make.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 22, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Media, Press | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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