Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 11, 2018

Newsweek: the death of a corpse

Filed under: journalism — louisproyect @ 7:48 pm

David Jang: the cult leader who owns Newsweek

This week Newsweek Magazine, a journal that usually doesn’t show up on my radar screen, caught my attention. The NY Times reported on February sixth that “Two top editors and a reporter at Newsweek were fired on Monday, and two other reporters left in limbo, in a purge that targeted employees involved in coverage of the company’s financial and legal troubles.”

This was fall-out from an editor’s decision to assign reporters to cover an incident that occurred on January 18th when investigators for the NY District Attorney raided Newsweek’s offices. The Newsweek article that led to the firings stated:

A grand jury investigation of Newsweek Media Group, formerly known as IBT Media, has been ongoing for at least 17 months, according to a source familiar with the matter. The probe was likely looking at loans the company took out to purchase the servers.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan DA’s office declined to comment on the probe.

The company has a rocky financial history. Digital publisher IBT Media bought Newsweek from IAC, an internet and media company, in 2013, and it missed payroll and laid off large numbers of employees in 2016.

Both Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, the IBT founders who bought Newsweek in 2013 and still own parts of Newsweek Media Group, also appear to have large debts, according to public records. The Internal Revenue Service filed a $1.2 million lien against Uzac in December 2017, while the IRS filed an $800,000 lien against Davis in October that year, public records show.

IBT Media has faced questions about its relationship with David Jang, a South Korean pastor who leads a Christian sect called “the Community” and founded a small Bible college called Olivet University, according to a 2014 Mother Jones report.

The Mother Jones report portrayed David Jang as being cut from the same cloth as fellow Korean Sun Myung Moon, the deceased cult leader of the Unification Church that launched the Washington Times in 1982 to promulgate his reactionary views. Like Moon, Jang, who was formerly a key figure in Moon’s cult, portrayed himself as a godlike figure–the Second Coming Christ. Jang’s cult is organized as the Community, a project that also includes the Olivet colleges in the USA. Newsweek’s top executives, including Uzac and Davis, are long-standing members of Jang’s cult.

Unlike Moon, Jang has describes his media goals as one of promoting business news objectively rather than propaganda. Notwithstanding the stated goal, he claims that everything he is involved with is designed to promote the Kingdom of God. Jang’s first foray into the media business was something called the International Business Tribune (IBT) that at first blush seems legitimate. Peter Goodman, a top editor at Huffington, was hired to be editor-in-chief. The main problem wasn’t content but shady business practices behind the scenes.

Like most Internet based publications, IBT was dedicated to traffic, just as is Newsweek now. The bosses demanded that every article generate 10,000 hits or else you’d get fired. And like other electronic publications, the articles tended to be virtual plagiarisms with IBT in Japan publishing 302 articles constructed of patches lifted from Japanese media that were combined in “collage-style”.

A Guardian article on IBT/Newsweek dated March 28, 2014 reported:

A former editor at 33 Universal said “full-time freelance” writers who did much of the writing were paid $8 per article for pieces aiming to ride the crest of that day’s wave of popular news search terms. “You wrote at eight articles a day minimum, sometimes more,” said one former writer for 33 Universal websites.

Even I couldn’t keep up with such a pace.

Like Jacobin that falsified the number of its Twitter followers to convince Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to write an article for them, Newsweek was not above juggling the books. A full report on their fraudulent traffic statistics can be read at Social Puncher, a website dedicated to exposing such manipulative practices.

While some of the staff has been fired, others have left in protest. One of them is David Sirota, a very capable reporter who I used to read in Huffington Post. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter and described himself as a “democratic socialist”.

But even more disconcertingly, I discovered a couple of days ago that Patrick Hilsman, a FB friend and occasional email correspondent on matters such as the LaRouche cult, had tweeted that he too had quit. However, it did not take the post-January 18th turmoil to convince him to leave. He quit the same day he started work:

Like me, Patrick Hilsman has been one of those stiff-necked people who refuse to hoist Bashar al-Assad on our “anti-imperialist” shoulders. To show you how much things have changed at Newsweek, an article written by one Ian Wilkie has been making the rounds in the Max Blumenthal/Consortium News/Global Research propaganda network. Titled “Now Mattis admits there was no evidence Assad used poison gas on his people”, it rehashes all of the “false flag” narratives promoted equally by “leftists” like Seymour Hersh and not so leftists like David Duke and Pamela Geller.

Saving me the trouble of wading through Wilkie’s manure, Eliot Higgins donned his hip boots and did his usual yeoman job on Bellingcat:

Wilkie also repeats one of the popular theories among chemical weapon conspiracy theorists that people filmed at the impact site of the Sarin bomb after the attack would have died from Sarin exposure, stating “these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin.” This is based on the popular misconception among chemical weapon conspiracy theorists that Sarin is a persistent agent, in that it remains in the environment in lethal quantities long after an attack has occurred.

Naturally enough, Wilkie describes himself as a “terrorism expert”, which is ultimately the perspective of Consortium News, Global Research, LaRouche’s EIR, et al. It does not recognize the class origins of the Syrian civil war and has no other interest than in preventing another 9/11, as if bombing hospitals in Idlib will serve as a prophylactic. Wilkie is a contributor to Tracking Terrorism, a website based on a $500 subscription. I was considering taking out a trial subscription just to see what lurked beneath but was persuaded not to bother when I checked what its editors had written about the mass murder in Las Vegas last year:

My guess is that Wilkie’s article does not indicate that Newsweek is going to read anything like Consortium News that was started by the late Robert Parry, a former Newsweek reporter himself. Throughout 2017, there were articles at odds with Wilkie’s op-ed piece such as “Assad Regime is Still Making Chemical Weapons in Syria: Report”. Perhaps the only explanation is that the magazine saw Wilkie’s piece as prime clickbait since it is well-understood that there are many people attracted to such slop as might be obvious from Breitbart News offering up much of the same.

Centrist political opinion is quite upset with developments at Newsweek. Jonathan Alter, a former Newsweek pundit, wrote “The Death of Newsweek” for Atlantic, a prime dispenser of centrist politics.

Newsweek was always the scrappy, risk-taking underdog, Avis to Time’s Hertz. As Don Graham, his mother’s successor, liked to say, “We’re the pirate ship and they’re the stately ocean liner sailing off.” Pirates had fun—not raffish newsroom amusement (our offices looked more like an insurance company) but a spirit of adventure every week. “Scramble the jets!” our late editor, Maynard Parker, would shout, and all over the world dozens of correspondents and editors swooped and dove on a Friday afternoon to cover the big, late-breaking story of the week. Within 24 hours, we could produce a polished 7,000-word cover package with arresting, often-exclusive reporting from far-flung locales, fresh columns and sidebars, classy photos and spreads, and—especially if someone like Peter Goldman, Evan Thomas, or Jerry Adler was writing—exquisite narrative “tick tock.” The features and criticism in the “back of the book” were also as good or better than those in more intellectual publications, even if it wasn’t cool in New York to admit that about a middlebrow magazine.

My own experience with Newsweek was ambivalent to say the least. Back in the stone ages when there wasn’t an Internet, households such as ours relied on Time and Newsweek much more than the N.Y. Times. The magazine was tabloid sized and the articles were written for someone with a high school education or presently in high school, as I was. It was in Newsweek where I discovered the beat generation, foreign films and contemporary classical music.

Between 1965 and 1967, Newsweek published ten articles about the US war in Vietnam that focused almost exclusively on the advances produced by firepower. Typically, such magazines only devoted 3 percent of its coverage on the toll B-52s and other killing machines were taking on civilians.

By 1967, the malfeasance of Newsweek and much of television reporting was enough for me to break with the system and become a revolutionary socialist. I stopped reading Newsweek or any other capitalist print publication and relied strictly on the radical press, especially the SWP’s, and the NY Times that can be very useful if you read it critically.

Eleven years later, when Reagan was trying to make the Nicaraguans cry uncle at the same time I was recruiting engineers, programmers, skilled tradespeople, and medical professionals to volunteer to help keep the revolution alive, Newsweek was writing the kinds of articles that are now being written about Venezuela. The government was repressive, the economy sucked, etc. But none of the articles really explored the American role in creating such a dire situation. This article was typical:

In the battle over contra aid, the administration was set to open a new offensive. Congress has become increasingly skeptical about the Nicaraguan rebels’ military capabilities, and the peace plan signed by five Central American leaders last August isolates the contras politically. But U.S. officials had a new weapon: Maj. Roger Miranda, a high-ranking Sandinista defector with stories of secret Cuban and Soviet pacts and of links to other leftist guerrillas. Last week Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams allowed several news organizations to interview the defector. Then, learning that reporters planned to publish Miranda’s revelations, Nicaraguan Defense Minister Humberto Ortega launched a pre-emptive strike. Speaking at a gathering in Managua, he confirmed some of Miranda’s most damaging disclosures.

Among the revelations:

* Manauga [sic] has made secret agreements with the Soviet Union, Cuba and East-bloc nations. Ortega said the pacts, which Managua has never before acknowledged, call for assistance in helping the Sandinistas arm and train 600,000 Army troops and civilian militia by the mid-1990s. According to one U.S. official, the goal is to make any U.S. invasion prohibitively costly. With that kind of troop strength and arsenal, it would take four divisions and massive air strikes to oust the Sandinistas.

* Nicaragua has “several hundred, a few thousand” officers taking courses in Cuba and the Soviet Union in the use of sophisticated weapons, Ortega admitted for the first time last week.

* The Sandinistas are training Salvadoran rebels to use ground-to-air missiles; the shoulder-launched weapons could sharply escalate the eight-year-old war.

Oh, did I mentioned that Robert Parry was one of the three Newsweek staffers who co-wrote the piece?


February 5, 2018

Fact-checking the latest propaganda rolling off the Assadist assembly-line

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Judith Miller and Christopher Hitchens: forerunners of today’s Assadist propagandists

One of the most off-putting things about Assadist propaganda is that it advertises itself as a corrective to the “mainstream media” even as its purveyors adopt the journalistic norms of Judith Miller. What explains the cavalier attitude toward the truth? To a large extent, it is a function of deep-seated Islamophobia that is rooted in 9/11. Back then, Christopher Hitchens earned the contempt for most of us on the left for his close ties to the Bush administration. Even if it was becoming obvious that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was based on a mountain of lies, Hitchens gave the Bush administration a free pass because he saw al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to “Western Civilization” since Adolph Hitler.

Today, there is a virtual army of journalists who combine the shoddy journalism of Judith Miller and the virulent Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens on behalf of a new crusade against the “Salafist menace”. But instead of serving as the lapdog of George W. Bush, they operate as cogs in the propaganda machine for the Kremlin and the Baathist state. Their hatred for “jihadism” runs so deep that they justify the bombing of hospitals in Idlib because Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) has a foothold there. The ability of many leftists to lament the war crimes in Yemen and now in Afrin while cheering on Russian and Syrian mass murder is a defect in the kind of movement we have become, showing the same kind of cynical “ends justify the means” mindset that destroyed the Stalinized Communist Party.

Two recent examples illustrate how low the Assadist left has sunk. The first is an article in Viewpoint by Patrick Higgins titled “The Enemy at Home: U.S. Imperialism in Syria” that invokes Karl Liebknecht’s call for opposition to WWI. Hasn’t Higgins any idea that opposition to WWI in the USA back then would land you in prison as Eugene V. Debs discovered? Today, opposition to a Bush-style American intervention in Syria is universal, spanning from Higgins on the left to Henry Kissinger and David Duke on the right.

As is customarily the case, as long as Higgins writes about American foreign policy exclusive of Syria, there is not much to quibble with. Most of it is what you’d read in Noam Chomsky or Alexander Cockburn. Or, for that matter, what I wrote about Vietnam, Nicaragua, Palestine or Iraq over the years.

It is only when he gets to Syria that the propaganda kicks in.

Higgins argues that the war in Syria is the culmination of a policy that began during Eisenhower’s administration to contain Arab radicalism, particularly of the type Nasser represented. Making the case that the Baathist state is inimical to American interests in the region would by necessity omit any reference to Hafez al-Assad becoming part of the coalition to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. The Baathist dictator’s support for American imperialism paid dividends as the Chicago Tribune reported:

A year ago Syria, which always has aspired to a leadership role in Arab affairs, was isolated and resented by most of its neighbors. Now it has forged an alliance with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and has joined with Egypt in providing the bulk of the troops for a new Arab peacekeeping force in the Persian Gulf region.

It has received about $2.5 billion in assistance from the Gulf States and Japan, and its role in the peacekeeping force promises another sizable windfall.

So, imagine that. Assad the father cuts deals with Mubarak and the Saudis in cahoots with the USA and this is what “Arab radicalism” amounts to? Oh, did I mention that Kuwait is not mentioned once in Higgins’s article?

Like many others who profess support for the Palestinian cause, Higgins credits the Syrian dictatorship for backing Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel in 2006 even if it is impossible for him to sweep under the rug how it allied with Israel against the PLO in Lebanon.

Once again, this is a highly selective version of Syrian-Palestinian relations. Search for a reference to Gaza or Hamas in his article and you will come up empty just as was the case with Kuwait. He cannot admit that Hamas has condemned Russian and Syrian war crimes in East Aleppo. When Russian and Syrian jets were bombing hospitals, Hamas issued a statement that said: “We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely.” Unlike Higgins, Hamas was not persuaded by the need to bomb hospitals because they were treating 4-year olds with broken bones who might grow up one day to become “terrorists”. When Syria dropped leaflets in East Aleppo to demand that the citizenry repudiate terrorism in the way that IDF did in Gaza City, Hamas could not help identifying with the victims of the “war on terror”.

In a journalistic maneuver that would have been too crass for Judith Miller to employ, Higgins claims that weaponry supplied to rebels in Syria were “diverted” to al-Nusra. As is often the case when I click the link to an article such as this, it is not what it was supposed to be saying. Maybe Higgins did not read past the Reuters article headline: U.S.-trained Syrian rebels gave equipment to Nusra: U.S. military. However, when you continue reading the article, you will learn that the weapons were surrendered in order to gain safe passage. This is like saying shopkeepers used to “give” protection money to the Mafia as if the consequences for refusing such payments would have been nothing but a slap on the wrist rather than a bullet in the head.

To make the case that the rebels were “Salafists” from the beginning, Higgins cites a Pentagon report that appears on the rightwing Judicial Watch website and that has been cited by a thousand other Assadist propagandists. However, in 2012 the dominant force in Syria was the FSA that would soon begin to clash with ISIS as it had with al-Nusra on occasion. To really make sense of the relationship of forces in Syria, you’d have to do more than write a brief report that was never official policy and that was also heavily redacted.

In May of 2013, the Center for American Progress issued a report estimating that the FSA had 50,000 fighters as opposed to al-Nusra’s 6,000. Another report from Charles Lister around this time estimates ISIS and al-Nusra’s combined forces to be 12,000 (I would have put ISIS into a separate category altogether since it had little interest in the goals of the Arab Spring, even less so than al-Nusra), while all other rebel groups amounted to 88,000. Perhaps Higgins has his own estimates but I doubt that someone who relies on the specious Judicial Watch report has any interest in that.

Higgins has the audacity to compare US bombing in Syria to that which occurred during the Vietnam war. This is truly astonishing. The USA dropped more than 3 times the tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than it dropped during all of WWII. And what was an example of US bombing in Syria? The only examples that Higgins could dredge up was a mortar attack on a trade fair in Damascus last August that killed 6 people and a suicide bombing there 3 months earlier that killed 31. This is on one side of the ledger and on the other you have artillery, missiles, barrel bombing and Sarin gas attacks that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Talk about putting your fingers on the scales of justice.

As it happens, Higgins wrote essentially the same article for Jacobin in 2015 before it switched gears editorially to oppose Assad. To a large extent, Max Ajl was responsible for Assadist propaganda when he was a member of the editorial board. That kind of garbage disappeared after he got the boot. Now that he is on Viewpoint’s editorial board, we can expect the same kind of Islamophobic junk to appear. We might even assume that he will recruit the same scoundrels he used to line up for Jacobin.

On December 2, 2017, I wrote about Ajl’s conversation with fellow Assadist Justin Podhur about his departure from Jacobin. The oddest thing about their wound-licking session is their outlandish exaggeration of the power that is wielded by people like me, Gilbert Achcar, the ISO, New Politics and the new Jacobin over the Syria debate. Podhur put it this way:

And I think that feeling is something that I have personally been feeling for a really long time – guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced – about opposing imperialism, especially in Syria, and it’s been really confusing for me. And so for you to write that…I felt a lot of relief reading that somebody else felt that way.

This is truly astonishing. You have Alternet, Truthdig, CommonDreams, The Nation, the Boston Globe (via Stephen Kinzer), the LRB, the NYRB, 90 percent of the articles on CounterPunch, and countless other bloggers and websites making the same arguments as Ajl and Higgins and they feel “silenced”? Maybe what is irking them is that there are still a few lonely voices that don’t buy their crap. It wasn’t enough that Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton were bribed into write Assadist propaganda. Speaking for myself, I’d rather be water-boarded than justify bombing hospitals.

Unlike Higgins, who was an obscure graduate student with little to show either as a journalist or activist, Daniel Lazare has written some important stuff, including two books on the American constitution. But like all these good people from Seymour Hersh to Patrick Cockburn, he turned into Mr. Hyde after 2011.

In a Truthdig article titled “Jacobin Is Fueling the Lies About Syria”, Lazare hyper-ventilates on the post-Ajl Jacobin:

Syria has generated more lies than any United States action since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That’s why Jacobin Magazine, the self-proclaimed “leading voice of the American left,” is so important. Readers need it to help cut through the dense fog of mendacity billowing forth out of Washington.

Correction: That’s why Jacobin should be important. In fact, the magazine/website has echoed U.S. propaganda on Syria and in some cases even exceeded it.

Like Higgins, Lazare makes claims that are not backed up by the articles he links to in support of those claims. For example, he writes that “Jacobin has attacked the Assad regime for dwelling excessively on rebel atrocities against Christians, Shiites and other minorities” but when you go to the article in question, which is an interview with Yasser Munif, you can find nothing remotely connected to this. Just go to the article and look for anything about the Assad regime being attacked in such a manner. If you can find it, I will donate $1,000 to the Moon of Alabama’s next fund-drive.

Lazare misses the good old days when Jacobin was publishing Patrick Higgins. That’s a laugh. His 2015 article was even a worse case of yellow journalism than his Viewpoint piece. I would refer you to my commentary on it here. He tells his readers that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the beginning, referring to a BBC article that connects them to the death of 120 Baathist cops in 2011. What he fails to tell you, however, is that the BBC was simply reporting what state television said. Covering this up is just what you’d expect from a shameless propagandist like Patrick Higgins.

Lazare is upset that Jacobin questioned whether Obama was for “regime change”. Maybe he hadn’t read the October 22, 2013 N.Y. Times article that made this crystal clear, written when worries over a looming war with Syria were at their height. It stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

This is not to speak of the Atlantic Magazine interviews that Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with Obama in 2016. Once again the clash with Samantha Power is cited:

At the outset of the Syrian uprising, in early 2011, Power argued that the rebels, drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens, deserved America’s enthusiastic support. Others noted that the rebels were farmers and doctors and carpenters, comparing these revolutionaries to the men who won America’s war for independence.

Obama flipped this plea on its head. “When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …” He paused. “The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true.” The message Obama telegraphed in speeches and interviews was clear: He would not end up like the second President Bush—a president who became tragically overextended in the Middle East, whose decisions filled the wards of Walter Reed with grievously wounded soldiers, who was helpless to stop the obliteration of his reputation, even when he recalibrated his policies in his second term. Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”

Lazare explains Syria’s war as the outcome of religious Sunni resentment toward a leader who even Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami considered “genuinely popular” with most Syrians. These are the co-authors of “Burning Country” whose meeting at Columbia University was trolled by Lazare. I suppose that Lazare assumed that people would not go out and buy their book to judge the accuracy of his citation. As it happens, the book—happily—can now be read online and in the context that Lazare slyly omitted. The authors were referring to the hopes of some that Assad would respond positively to the earliest protests in 2011:

Some even thought the popular protests would be welcomed by Bashaar as ammunition in his presumed struggle against regime hardliners. After all, the man was genuinely popular. Perhaps – after allowing  non-sectarian and non-ethnic parties to operate openly – he could  even have won a real election, and gone down in history as hero of  the democratic transition.

In other words, the authors were referring to what some thought. I suppose by this criterion, Assad was the most popular president in modern history, routinely getting 98% of the vote. That “some” might have been 25% of the country or maybe even 40% but we’ll never know since door to door polling would have been about as possible as a television station that challenged a system that relied on prison, torture, murder and beatings for a stability based on fear.

For Robin Yassin-Kassab’s reaction to Lazare’s intervention, I recommend this:

We heard some strange things, but were only once confronted by a highly aggressive, profoundly ignorant and prejudiced white man. This was during our talk at Columbia University, New York. This character was the first to put up his hand after our presentations. He’d been glaring, particularly at Leila, throughout the talks.

He was almost spitting with anger. How could Leila describe Iran as a prime generator of sectarianism, he wanted to know, when everyone knew it was Saudi Arabia? He himself knew for sure that Syria’s 2011 protest movement was entirely made up of Sunnis, and that they were calling for the blood of the Alawis and Christians from the first day. He knew that all the Christians and Alawis and Druze had demonstrated for Assad. He named a French commentator as evidence for this (Fabrice someone?), and expressed admiration for Patrick Cockburn, who I’d criticised in my talk.

And so he encapsulated some of the worst characteristics of this pro-fascist ‘left’ that has run so badly aground. The lack of detail, and useless binarism, of the Iran/Saudi comment; the orientalism and Islamophobia of the rest; the anger born of a sense of entitlement to narrate other people’s struggles; and the reliance on French and Irish commentators rather than on Syrian revolutionary voices. Neither Leila nor I claim to be Syrian revolutionary voices, but we have interviewed many Syrian revolutionaries, including many from Christian and Alawi backgrounds, who were part of the protest movement from the start. In my answer I mentioned them, and also towns like Yabroud, with a very high proportion of ‘religious minorities’, which liberated themselves from Assad’s forces and set up free local councils and Free Army militias instead. The angry man tutted and spat through my answer. At least two Syrian Christians were in the room, rolling their eyes as he spat.

Leila was disturbed by him. I told her not to dwell on it. The man was so emotionally overwrought he probably had mental problems, like so many in this city. But afterwards we learnt that the angry man is a Stalinist ‘intellectual’, that he writes for the ugly magazine Jacobin, and that his name is Daniel Lazare.

If Lazare’s analysis rests on shaky foundations, his writing is just as badly in need of a watchful editor that the well-endowed Truthdig’s editors were unable to catch. He cites a book “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam” as proof of the U.S.’s evil intentions. The author? None other than Richard Dreyfus [sic, it is actually Dreyfuss], the star of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” who was recently charged with sexual harassment? Nope. Lazare meant Robert Dreyfuss, who is as hysterically obsessed with al-Qaeda as Lazare or Higgins.

Like Higgins’s 2015 Jacobin article, Lazare insists that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the start:

The claim that protesters turned to violence only after the regime used deadly force is belied by an Israeli TV report in March 2011 that protesters had killed seven soldiers in Dera’a and set fire to the local courthouse and Baath Party headquarters.

Naturally, Lazare fails to mention that four protestors were killed and another 100 were wounded days before the retaliation took place. If you want to see why peaceful protestors decided that they had enough, watch this:

Naturally, Lazare begins to wind down his article with an endorsement of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Syria, where he has  been continuously embedded with the Syrian army just as CNN was embedded in the U.S. military during the war in Iraq. Fisk’s reporting has been so atrocious that the word “Fisking” was invented to describe his habitual distortions and lies.

On February 2nd, Fisk told his Independent readers: “I have to say, however, that after a 2,000-mile tour over much of Syria, I have – for the first time in recent months – seen neither a single Hezbollah member or Iranian revolutionary guard. And since Western leaders believe Syria is swamped with Iranians, this is interesting.”

But on January 3rd, Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah was quite clear that his troops were in Syria.

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said on Wednesday the Syrian war, now in its seventh year, will be finished in one or two years at most.

In an interview with Lebanon’s pro-Iran al-Mayadeen channel, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said Israeli strikes on Hezbollah positions in Syria did not, and will not, prevent supplies of weapons reaching the group.

You can read the whole thing here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/five-things-you-may-have-missed-nasrallah-s-interview-372610417.

So, if Robert Fisk didn’t see any Hezbollah fighters in Syria, maybe he should get checked for cataracts. As for Daniel Lazare and Patrick Higgins, they are clearly beyond help.

January 29, 2018

Taking stock of Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Yesterday, Nat Parry announced the death of his father Robert Parry on Consortium News, a website he created in 1995 as an alternative to the mainstream news. While Robert Parry had announced to his readers on December 31, 2017 that a stroke would inhibit his ability to provide the kind of content to which they had become accustomed, the underlying ailment responsible for his untimely death was cancer of the pancreas that he had unknowingly been suffering from for the past 4 to 5 years.

Nat Parry’s article summarizes his father’s considerable accomplishments that date back to Reagan’s war against the Sandinistas. I recommend it as an indication of a career that any journalist could be proud of, as long as the cut-off date is 2011 or so.

He credits his father with digging beneath “the reality of the chemical attack in Syria in 2013” and for defying the mainstream media’s consensus on Putin and the war in Ukraine. We are told that:

Bob regretted that, increasingly, “the American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the ‘other side of the story.’” Indeed, he said that to even suggest that there might be another side to the story is enough to get someone branded as an apologist for Vladimir Putin or a “Kremlin stooge.”

This reduction of the parameters of the discussion on these matters to Robert Parry on one side and the NY Times and Washington Post on the other is a bit of a Hobson’s choice. As bad as the bourgeois press is with its inside-the-beltway mindset, are we any better off with the inside-the-Kremlin orientation of a whole range of highly respected leftwing reporters since 2011, including Parry, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Seymour Hersh and Stephen Kinzer? Neither the mainstream media nor the “anti-imperialist” websites like Consortium News could take the trouble to learn and write about the people Obama dismissed as “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn’t have a lot of experience fighting”. Obama, his supporters in the bourgeois press, and Robert Parry all failed to engage with the humanity of those who find themselves on the opposite side of the barricades from Putin or Assad.

I have my own ideas of how that should have been done and credit my friend Anand Gopal with doing the kind of reporting that never would have occurred to the much more well-known figures above. Harper’s published Gopal’s article “Welcome to Free Syria” in August 2012 . Unlike Cockburn or Fisk, he was not embedded in the Syrian army. Instead, he was transported from Turkey into Syria in a car that “avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads.” With his mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about government troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.

The pay-off was being able to interview people who Obama never had any intention of putting into power. Just consider how they saw themselves and how similar they were to those rising up in the Arab Spring as well as the Occupy movement in the USA:

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

Except for Anand Gopal’s article and those written by the Syrian left, including Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila al-Shami, and Joseph Daher, this was a perspective utterly missing in Parry et al. Instead, we were expected to choose between the mainstream media that featured articles on Assad’s brutality and Parry’s attempts to minimize or deny it. Syrian voices were omitted.

Parry could have been less interested in the people of a shithole like Binnish. Like most men who had made careers at Newsweek, Time, the NY Times, and the Washington Post, his focus was on “foreign policy”. Syria was just some real estate that the USA and its rivals were quarrelling over. On April 29, 2013, he expressed dismay over Obama’s failure to enter negotiations with Assad:

In 2012, there appeared to be a chance for a breakthrough both in talks with Iran over its nuclear program and with Syria’s Assad regime over a power-sharing arrangement with the country’s disaffected Sunni majority. Some people involved in those initiatives thought that after the U.S. election, a victorious Obama would have the political space to make concessions as well as demands. Then, when nothing happened, some thought he was waiting to install a new national security team and didn’t want to risk Senate obstruction of his nominations.

That disaffected majority was hardly worth Parry’s consideration since it was made up of “murderous Sunni fundamentalists.” How did he know that the Sunnis were so evil? Well, he read it in the N.Y. Times. So, you see, the mainstream media is to be shunned unless it serves your own ideological preconceptions.

Only five months after he wrote his article, he became just another Assadist propagandist claiming that Assad was innocent of the charge of killing over a thousand people in East Ghouta in a sarin gas attack. Shockingly enough, Parry backed up his claims by citing Carla Del Ponte, a UN functionary that Alexander Cockburn charged with running a kangaroo court to prosecute Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. If that wasn’t the bottom of the barrel, Parry sunk even lower to rely on the allegations found in former Defense Department official F. Michael Maloof’s article for World Net Daily (WND), which alleged that the rebels used sarin gas on their own supporters. I guess you can say that WND.com is an alternative to the Washington Post but what kind?

WND was founded in 1997 by “birther” Joseph Farah as part of the Western Journalism Center that he formed 6 years earlier. Besides WND, the Western Journalism Center created NewsMax, another ultraright outlet. If you are looking for comparisons, they should be grouped with Breitbart News. Besides Maloof’s dubious reporting on sarin gas, WND had run a six-part series claiming that soybean consumption causes homosexuality as well as one that pointed to a secret 20-point Muslim plan “for conquering the United States by 2020.”

As for Maloof, a Mother Jones investigation revealed that he was key to providing a fake story that helped paved the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2002. When Maloof worked for the neoconservative warmonger Richard Perle, he cooked up evidence that the Soviet Union was stealing Western technology. And this is the guy that Robert Parry wanted us to trust?

Turning to Ukraine, it is just as bad—maybe worse. This time it was the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine. He even tied the two “false flag” incidents to each other:

Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.

Like Seymour Hersh, Parry refers to unnamed spooks in the “intelligence community”. Who knows? Maybe the aforementioned F. Michael Maloof was one of them.

Demonstrating a laughable departure from the rigorous norms of investigative reporting, Parry wrote:

According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site.

No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. Those Ukrainian troops were just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”. They must have gotten loaded and shot down a civilian airliner.

Parry also casted doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching the plane. Supposedly, they had MANPAD’s that were only capable of bringing down low-flying airplanes or helicopters. But in fact, just days before the Flight 17 shoot-down, a separatist missile had brought down a Ukrainian military transport, an AN-26 that was flying four miles above the ground and well beyond the reach of a MANPAD.

All of this demonstrates that one of the greatest collateral damages of the past seven years of conflict in Syria and Ukraine, besides the loss of lives, is its tendency to turn accomplished investigative reporters into shoddy propagandists.

After Trump’s election, Parry posed the question whether Trump would decide to be a great president in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt or someone more of the caliber of Calvin Coolidge. I am not sure whether Parry’s illness had some effect on his ability to clearly assess Donald Trump but it had already been established by then that Trump was a shameless liar who treated his workers like slaves. In 1980, he used undocumented Polish workers to clear the future site of Trump Tower, forcing them to work 12-hour shifts in unsafe conditions and paying them $4 per hour. To imagine that someone with a record like Trump could have been anything like FDR was as much a failure to do the proper job of an investigative reporter as was his articles on sarin gas and Flight 17. If Parry had read David Cay Johnson, he could have never considered this in the realm of possibility.

It is too bad that Parry did not retire in 2011. A book could be written about the decline of investigative journalism over the past 6 years. Let’s hope that the next generation of reporters can take their cue from Anand Gopal who is continuing in the tradition of the pre-2011 Robert Parry as well as all the other journalists who I held in great esteem until the awful assault on the truth and humanity that began under the combined power of Assad and Putin’s air force and their respective propaganda machines.

November 1, 2017

Ben Norton and Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

I sometimes wonder if people hate Ben Norton for his Assadist propaganda or more for his careerist “Road to Damascus” conversion that turned him into the kind of ideologue he once denounced. After taking a job with Salon in 2015, he dumped previously held positions opposing Assad and soon became one of his most fervent supporters in partnership with Max Blumenthal who went through the same kind of evolution.

To cover his tracks, he systematically deleted all traces of the old Ben Norton. However, like all criminals, he left a clue behind:

That’s dated November 29, 2015 and clearly endorses the analysis of Yassin al-Haj Saleh.

But this year he sings a different tune:

Of course, Twitter is the perfect medium for slandering people. Saleh is an exceedingly obscure figure in the Western media despite Norton’s attempt to turn him into something like Brandeis professor Kanan Makiya who was frequently cited as an Iraqi supporting regime change in 2002.

As for Erdogan’s “leftist paradise”, who knows what Norton is trying to say here. The implication is that Saleh is some kind of supporter of the AKP. Naturally, when you write a bunch of bullshit in 140 characters, you can always claim that people misread what you wrote. Just ask George Cicariello-Maher or Donald Trump.

October 2, 2017

Tasteless publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr. dead at 89

Filed under: capitalist pig,journalism — louisproyect @ 2:52 pm

S.I.. Newhouse

As might be expected, the NY Times obituary was respectful toward a member of their own class but you can get an idea of how awful this millionaire’s son was from a few excerpts:

Newhouse magazines were criticized for exalting the rich and famous through articles that gave their personal foibles and professional exploits equal importance. But as circulation and advertising revenues at his periodicals soared, other publishers took up the glitz-and-scandal approach to journalism. By the end of the 20th century, even the most serious newspapers and magazines offered profiles of entertainers, businesspeople, artists and politicians that balanced weighty accomplishment with juicy gossip.

Mr. Newhouse owned a modern art collection that at one time was valued at more than $100 million. He and his second wife, Victoria, gave lavish parties at their Manhattan townhouse. And their dog was feted at an annual birthday bash at which Evian water was served to canine guests while their owners enjoyed caviar.

His buying spree reached its apex in 1985 with his acquisition of The New Yorker, one of the country’s most intellectually rich general-interest magazines. Two years later, he replaced its legendary, septuagenarian editor, William Shawn, causing an outcry among the staff.

Although Mr. Shawn’s successor, Robert Gottlieb, was a highly respected book editor, the move added to Mr. Newhouse’s notoriety for firing even the most pre-eminent editors. In 1971, he dismissed Ms. Vreeland as editor of Vogue. Her replacement, Grace Mirabella, was informed of her own firing in 1988 when the gossip columnist Liz Smith announced it on a New York television newscast.

“The way it was handled was graceless — without making a pun,” Mr. Newhouse was quoted as saying by one of his biographers, Thomas Maier, in a 1995 article in The Quill. “The P.R. of it got all bitched up.”

But Mr. Newhouse was not any better at handling the dismissal of Mr. Gottlieb from The New Yorker in 1992. Mr. Gottlieb, who was traveling in Japan, found out he had lost his job when he was awakened in the middle of the night by a call from a reporter asking for comment on his firing. Mr. Gottlieb, like other former Newhouse editors, readily acknowledged that he had received a generous severance package.


Four years ago I wrote about the decline of fact-checking at The New Yorker, as well as its overall decline under Newhouse’s ownership. This section is worth reposting:

The original editor was one Harold Ross who founded the magazine in 1925 with financial backing from Raoul Fleischmann, heir to the margarine manufacturer’s CEO. In the 1920s Ross was a member in good standing of the Algonquin Round Table, a sort of American equivalent of the Bloomsbury Group, that used to meet regularly at the Algonquin Hotel dining room in New Yorker as a salon devoted to the discussion of politics and culture—something like the Marxism list. It included a wide variety of talents from Harpo Marx (I imagine he was out of character on such occasions) to the acerbic Dorothy Parker. Harpo’s brother Groucho once described them as a group where “The price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.” Of course, this point was somewhat moot since Groucho once said that he would never join a club low enough to admit him as a member.

Ross was succeeded by Shawn in 1951 and probably had more of a political edge than the founder.

After buying the magazine in 1985, media mogul Si Newhouse Jr. decided to replace Shawn with Robert Gottlieb two years later, a move that precipitated a protest letter by 154 contributors to the magazine. A NY Times article suggested what might have caused the eruption:

Mr. Gottlieb’s editorial stamp is also apparent in his passion for kitsch, exemplified by the garish statues of Elvis Presley and the Lone Ranger among the knickknacks on his desk. But few longtime New Yorker staff members seem to share that taste, which probably accounts for their general annoyance with a recent article about a convention of Scottish terrier fanciers. The piece was written by Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote a book for Mr. Gottlieb on Elvis Presley.

In any case, Gottlieb’s stay was a short one. In 1992 Newhouse put Tina Brown, the British editor of “Vanity Fair” (another Condé Nast property), in charge. It was widely understood at the time that Brown, now the editor of the Newsweek/Daily Beast atrocity, would reshape the New Yorker along the lines of “Vanity Fair”, a temple of vacuous celebrity worship. Wikipedia reports that two months after the first Gulf War started, she removed a picture of the blonde Marla Maples (Mrs. Donald Trump) from the cover and replaced it with a photograph of Cher. She told the Washington Post: “In light of the gulf crisis, we thought a brunette was more appropriate.”

In 1998 Brown moved on to a new job at the Walt Disney Corporation. Newhouse replaced her with Sovietologist David Remnick, who is still the editor. With no apparent appetite for kitsch or celebrities, Remnick does seem to have an unquenchable appetite for neoliberalism and bellicose foreign policy initiatives.

One of Remnick’s early hires was Jeffrey Goldberg, the Zionist booster of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Alexander Cockburn did not mince words back in 2003 when he called attention to Counterpunch readers that Goldberg had written a New Yorker article tying al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein.

At the core of his rambling, 16,000-word piece was an interview in the Kurdish-held Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya with Mohammed Mansour Shahab, who offered the eager Goldberg a wealth of detail about his activities as a link between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqis, shuttling arms and other equipment.

The piece was gratefully seized upon by the Administration as proof of The Link. The coup de gráce to Goldberg’s credibility fell on February 9 of this year in the London Observer, administered by Jason Burke, its chief reporter. Burke visited the same prison in Sulaimaniya, talked to Shahab and established beyond doubt that Goldberg’s great source is a clumsy liar, not even knowing the physical appearance of Kandahar, whither he had claimed to have journeyed to deal with bin Laden; and confecting his fantasies in the hope of a shorter prison sentence.

Given Goldberg’s talent for the fabulous, and Remnick’s role in vetting his garbage, is it any wonder that Jared Diamond falsely accuses Samuel Wemp of murder and that Jon Lee Anderson is caught with his pants down reporting on Venezuela?

I’ve had my own complaints about the New Yorker in recent years. I found Malcolm Gladwell tendentious on social networking and was appalled by Jill Lepore’s pissing on Howard Zinn’s grave.

Finally, although I have serious problems with the Nation Magazine, I am glad they gave Daniel Lazare a platform from which he could expound on the New Yorker’s perfidy at length. Written in 2003 (The New Yorker Goes to War) and inspired like Cockburn’s piece by the magazine’s support for Dubya’s war, the article went straight for the jugular:

The New Yorker has not been the only publication to fall into line behind the Bush Administration’s war drive, but for a number of reasons its performance seems especially disappointing. One reason has to do with the magazine’s track record. One doesn’t have to be a William Shawn devotee to agree that the magazine has published some astonishing journalism over the years–Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region of My Mind,” Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Jonathan Schell’s pieces on Vietnam and Pauline Kael’s wonderful demolition job on Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, to name just a few. During the Vietnam War, it was one of the few mainstream publications to try to unmask the sordid reality behind the brass’s regular 5 o’clock press briefings. And if it published too many long and hyperfactual stories in the 1980s about wheat or geology, at least it preferred being trivial and obscure to the glories of being a team player in Washington, which is a moral stance of a sort.

Though its style may have been genteel, The New Yorker succeeded in challenging middle-class sensibilities more often than any number of scruffier publications. Another reason to mourn the magazine’s lack of resistance is that it represents an opportunity lost. Just as the magazine helped middle-class opinion to coalesce against US intervention in Vietnam, it might well have served a similar function today by clarifying what is at stake in the Middle East. Rather than unveil the reality behind a spurious War on Terrorism, though, The New Yorker helped obscure it by painting Bush’s crusade as a natural and inevitable response to the World Trade Center/Pentagon attack and, as a consequence, useless to oppose. Instead of encouraging opposition, it helped defuse it. From shocking the bourgeoisie, it has moved on to placating it at a time when it has rarely been more dangerous and bellicose.

How does a magazine bring itself to such a pass? The process probably began when Tina Brown took over in 1992. Politically, Brown wasn’t left wing or right wing so much as no wing. She fawned over Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Vanity Fair and then, a dozen years later, fawned over Bill Clinton in The New Yorker (“his height, his sleekness, his newly cropped, iron-filing hair, and the intensity of his blue eyes…”). While publishing the occasional exposé, such as Mark Danner’s memorable “Massacre at El Mozote,” she was more concerned with putting the magazine in the swim. David Remnick, who succeeded her in 1998, is a different case. Where Brown is catty and mischievous, his style is earnest and respectable. Although a talented reporter and a graceful writer, he lacks Brown’s irreverent streak. (One can hardly imagine him writing a first-person account of dancing topless in New Jersey, or whatever the male equivalent might be, as Brown famously did at the beginning of her career.) Remnick’s 1993 book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, dutifully followed the Washington line in reducing a complex historical event to a simple-minded melodrama about noble dissidents versus evil Communist apparatchiki. Under his leadership, The New Yorker has never seemed more like a tame, middle-of-the-road news magazine with cartoons, which may explain why its political writers, people like Nicholas Lemann, Jeffrey Goldberg and Remnick himself, have never enjoyed more airtime on shows like Charlie Rose. In traveling from irreverence to reverence, it helps to have someone in charge with a heat-seeking missile’s ability to home in on the proper establishment position at any given moment. But it also helps to have someone who knows when to ask the tough questions and when to turn them off.

You are strongly encouraged to read Lazare’s entire article here.

July 15, 2017

Ben Norton’s transparent alibi

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:18 pm

Initially getting the Syria war wrong, learning from past mistakes, and correcting lies

I have never seen any conflict lied about more than the horrific war in Syria.

Most of the lies have been in the interest of empire. But there has also been a fair share of lying within the camp of those who ostensibly oppose it.

I have been ceaselessly attacked from multiple sides for the evolution of my views on Syria. Some of these attacks have been warranted, I readily concede. Many others have not been.

In a recent denunciation, the blog Moon of Alabama pilloried me, Max Blumenthal, and Rania Khalek, in one of a slew of nearly identical pieces that have done the same (penned by a motley crew of deranged digital stalkers with a penchant for lying, like serial impersonator Pham Binh, Photoshop-wielding demagogue Louis Proyect, and reactionary conspiracy-monger Barbara McKenzie)…

I admit I was wrong, and it was gradually from 2014 into 2015 that I began to see that. When Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra was openly leading the opposition, and yet Cliffites continued to support it (with Trotskyite writers like Louis Proyect and Michael Karadjis cheering on al-Nusra’s offensives), I was hit with the realization that I had been fooling myself.

Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek came to similar realizations on a similar timeline. The three of us are close friends and colleagues who talk frequently. We discussed the issue at length; our views evolved together organically.


What a lying bastard this kid is. I had never met him before August 21, 2015 when he approached me after Patrick Bond’s talk at the Verso office in Brooklyn on Rosa Luxemburg’s “The Accumulation of Capital” to telll me that he agreed completely with my analysis of Syria and Ukraine. He also mentioned that he was about to start a new job at Salon. I told him good luck. So if he had started to “rethink” things as early as 2014, why would he have come up to spend 10 minutes badmouthing exactly what he was already well on the road to becoming, namely a carbon copy of Robert Parry, Patrick L. Smith, Gareth Porter and other tawdry apologists for the Baathist killing machine.

Besides killing and displacing Syrians, the war has taken a toll on leftist journalists. Norton is as slippery as an eel coated in vaseline and will likely end up like David Horowitz. That’s what happens when you begin to write articles relying on the Saudi media for “the truth”.

I figured out that Norton had joined the conspiracist left after reading his Salon articles. In my view, it was cash that made the difference–not having a Road to Damascus conversion after reading some book opposed to Gilbert Achcar or Idrees Ahmad. If you want to understand him politically and psychologically, I’d advise reading Norman Podhoretz’s memoir “Making It”. From my first commentary on the turncoat dated June 18, 2016:

When I visited the Verso office in Brooklyn for a panel discussion on Rosa Luxemburg last August, I ran into someone named Ben Norton who I knew vaguely as a critic of the crude “anti-imperialism” that had swept across the left like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We chatted briefly about our shared political values and his latest career move, which was joining Salon.com as a staff member. I thought this was a welcome addition to a magazine that featured Patrick L. Smith, one of the worst propagandists for the Assad dictatorship to be found anywhere.

I never would have expected that within six months Norton would end up in the Smith/Cockburn/Fisk camp writing articles reinforcing the dominant narrative on the left that the USA was bent on “regime change” and that the Syrian rebels were reactionary jihadists engaged in a proxy war launched by the West against its perceived enemies in the region.

I want to review his journalism since early 2016 as a way of showing how taking the wrong position on Syria inevitably leads to bending the truth, which for a serious-minded journalist is a cardinal sin. Writing for Salon, at least until it remains in business, might pay the rent but what good is that if you lose your soul in the process?




Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames: sexist pigs

Filed under: journalism,sexism — louisproyect @ 2:25 pm

When I watched Oliver Stone’s Putin interviews, I was struck by how the two men were bonded by homophobia. I have a strong sense that some on the American left are attracted to Putin because he isn’t into “political correctness”. For example, when the subject of gays in the military came up, Stone asked how he would deal with having to take showers with “them”. Putin smiled and said that he was a judo expert. Does anybody not understand that this meant that he would kick their ass?

I don’t think that Matt Taibbi is the sort of person nowadays who would be drawn to Putin’s backward attitudes but I’ll bet anything that Mark Ames would have gotten a chuckle out of the shower room exchange. Ames is a ubiquitous figure on social media who can be counted on to take Putin’s side on just about every issue, from his intervention Ukraine to blaming a rightwing gay activist for the murderous assault on gays in Chechnya.

Here is an excerpt from a Chicago Reader article about a book they wrote about their time publishing Exile in Russia:

Most notably, the Exile nurtures a peculiarly vicious and schizoid attitude toward women. While Russian women are rhapsodically celebrated as long-legged gazelles with loose morals–“the most physically attractive women on earth, and…usually available to the highest bidder,” expat women are ridiculed at length as “fat-ankled” and defensively sexless. Self-hating geeky American men are encouraged to take advantage of the perception that all Americans are rich and have oodles of condomless sex (sometimes in the ass!) with drunk, nubile dyevushkas. Ex-girlfriends are held up to public ridicule–Ames at one point chronicles his threats to kill a pregnant ex if she won’t have an abortion. The club listings are rated by three factors: how cheap the beer is, how thuggish the crowd is, and how likely an expat male is to score: “Babes with nose-bleeds and their pot-bellied, cell-phone-totin’ sugar dyadyas. One of the highest concentrations of beautiful chicks–and heavily armed men–in the world. (If you have an 8-ball of whiff you’ll get laid.)”

It’s not ironic–Ames and Taibbi explicitly scorn the bourgeois safety net of irony–and it’s not just a rhetorical stance. “You’re always trying to force Masha and Sveta under the table to give you blow jobs,” complains their first business manager, an American woman, in chapter six, “The White God Factor.” “It’s not funny. They don’t think it’s funny.” “But…it is funny,” replies Taibbi. They take particular glee in trashing several former female staff members in print, taking multiple potshots at the aforementioned business manager’s “gorilla ass.” They’re equally nasty to her replacement, who quit in disgust after they went on a four-month “brain-sucking speed binge.”

And Ames’s treatment of Russian teenage girls is documented with frightening glee. In the book he recounts one evening with an expat investment banker pal and what he thought were three 16-year-old girls:

“When I went back into the TV room, Andy pulled me aside with a worried grin on his face. ‘Dude do you realize…do you know how old that Natasha is?’ he said.


“‘No! No, she’s fif-teen. Fif-teen.’ Right then my pervometer needle hit the red. I had to have her, even if she was homely.”

After they do it, she tells him she has a three-month-old baby.

“It was hard to imagine that Natasha had squatted out a baby,” Ames writes. “Her cunt was as tight as a cat’s ass….I’d slept with mothers before–they’re a lot wider. Sex with them is like probing a straw in a mildew-lined German beer mug.”

Later he learns that she’s lying–she has no baby, but rather is four months pregnant. After she has an abortion, he writes about her in the Exile, suggesting that she be sterilized and awarded “one of those cheap trophy cups with the inscription ‘World’s Greatest Mom.'”

Ames and Taibbi rationalize their flaming sexism with the argument that part of the whole expatriate experience is to have one’s moral compass come loose. American men have internalized a sexual script that prescribes equality and respect, but “out in Russia,” Ames writes, “you gain a little perspective, which can be dangerous. Deep down, even the most emasculated, wire-rimmed glasses, cigar-smoking and martini-drinking American guy fantasizes about living in a world full of…well, I’ll let you guess: a) self-reliant, androgynous women who are also your friends, b) young, beautiful sluts.”

Needless to say this kind of thing pisses some people off. In early 1998 Ames’s column about Natasha pissed off a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun named Kathy Lally, who lobbied to get an influential Internet newsgroup about Russia to stop posting the Press Review column. This in turn pissed off the Exile boys enough that they decided to give her the treatment. They had a female friend call her and, posing as an anti-Exile sympathizer, ask her to help shut the paper down by giving a statement to FAPSI–Russia’s Federal Agency of Government Communication and Information, an organization analogous to the National Security Agency that, according to Taibbi, has a reputation for being “a reactionary force on par with the old KGB.” They got Lally on tape agreeing to “think about it,” and of course they published the transcript. Upon hearing from a friend that they’d made her cry, Taibbi writes, “Mark and I burst out laughing.

“‘Good!’ I shouted.

“‘Fuck her!’ said Mark.”

July 2, 2017

When Seymour Hersh was interviewed on Infowars

Filed under: Fascism,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

This week, when a Facebook friend referred to a Seymour Hersh appearance on Alex Jones’s Infowars, I did a double-take. Could that be possible? I understand that his judgement is poor but nobody with an ounce of sense would agree to be interviewed by arguably the worst rightwing demagogue in the USA. It turns out that he spoke with Jones on December 30, 2015–timed with his LRB article about how American Generals sidestepped Obama to provide critical intelligence that the Russians and Assad used against the opposition. Not only did Hersh consent to the interview, it was about as amiable an encounter as Barack Obama being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Is it possible that this shows signs of senility? That might be one way of explaining the inexplicable. You saw similar behavior from another elderly celebrity of the left. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Ryan Dawson did a podcast with MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol on August 25, 2014 in order to blame the rebels rather than Assad for using Sarin gas in East Ghouta a year earlier. Much of the show consisted of Postol crediting the Syrian Girl for help on clearing Assad’s name. Also known as Partisangirl, Maram Susli is a fascist (I use the word advisedly) who has appeared on David Duke’s radio show. It’s a small world when it comes to Assadism, senility and fascism apparently.

In making the case for Bashar al-Assad as a big improvement over the opposition, Hersh says that the mass murderer was responsible for major reforms. One of them is that now “you can bank there”. There are ATM machines everywhere. There were 30 different foreign broadcasts on TV as well.

So you can understand why with all those ATM’s and foreign broadcasts, a revolution in Syria would be unnecessary. Yes, it’s true that back in 2011 there might have been some “moderate” rebels but in no time at all, the rebels became fanatical supporters of Sharia law and determined to oppress Christians and Alawites if they took over. With such an analysis, it makes perfect sense why Hersh would accept an invitation to speak on a podcast hosted by a fanatical Islamophobe.

Hersh admits to Jones that Assad was a dictator but the opposition was worse. Hersh states that ISIS executed 200 of his soldiers in one fell swoop. On the other hand, Amnesty International reported that 13,000 prisoners have been secretly hanged in Assad’s prisons but you can’t believe a word that they say since they are a tool of imperialism (except when they are reporting on rebel war crimes). Same thing with Doctors Without Borders. When they claim that Assad bombs hospitals, they are lying but when they report on Saudi Arabia doing the same thing in Yemen, they are telling the truth. How postmodern.

Hersh understood the value of Alex Jones, at least on his own terms. In the old days, it was the NY Times and the Washington Post that controlled the agenda but now because of the Internet and what guys like Jones do, the word gets out there automatically. In his view, “that’s good” because now we have more and better communications. So let’s applaud Infowars, Breitbart News, Global Research, Al-Masdar News, Duran, 21st Century Wire and SOTT for providing a much needed alternative. Along with WBAI, we can now get an alternative to the mainstream news. As far as I know, Jones does not give away Gary Null tapes.

Just this week Alex Jones made the news by both inviting and appearing to take seriously a guest who charged NASA with operating a child slave colony on Mars. Largely through his connections to the Donald Trump campaign, Jones has become infamous in the last year or so as a close ally of the emerging alt-right. But for those who have been aware of Jones for the past decade or so, the NASA slave colony stuff comes as no big surprise since Jones is a major league conspiracy theorist whose attorney even defended him as a purveyor of entertainment rather than a reporter. Taste, they say, is largely in the mouth.

Would Hersh have had agreed to be interviewed by someone like Jones if he knew in advance that he was obviously so deranged? Maybe Jones hadn’t come up with something so outrageous back in December 2015 but it didn’t take much research to find out that he had already described the Sandy Hook Massacre as “staged”.This is not to speak of Jones’s long-standing affiliation with the 9/11 Truther movement.Why would a “legendary” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter want to even take part in a podcast interview conducted with someone that detached from reality? Would he have gone on the David Duke show? I really have to wonder.

This week I have seen repeated credit given to Hersh by people who should know better. For example, Jeff St. Clair touted his Die Welt article as a “landmark piece of investigative reporting”, while the Monthly Review website has linked to the article as well as one Ray McGovern’s wrote in support of Hersh’s article that also appeared on CounterPunch. Does John Bellamy Foster, who has devoted many hours reading about soil chemistry in conjunction with his research on the “metabolic rift”, believe that it is possible to create a toxic cloud that killed 58 people and wounded 300 by dropping a bomb on fertilizer? What about Fred Magdoff, the son of the late editor that Foster replaced after his death? Magdoff is Emeritus Professor of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. What if one of his students wrote a paper that made such a claim? What kind of scientific evidence would Magdoff expect from his student? Wouldn’t he be as exacting with a journal edited by his respected father? Would the fact that they must have deemed it a waste of time discomfit him? They must have figured that anything written by Seymour Hersh didn’t have to be read with a critical eye. As Donald Trump would say, how sad..

The other day Paul Street, a guy I have a lot of respect for, posted a link on Facebook to a CounterPunch article by Jonathan Cook along the same lines. When, probably to his surprise, a number of people became indignant over this, he understandably didn’t try to defend Hersh (which would have required defending the idea that a bomb dropped on fertilizer can have the same effect as Sarin gas). Instead, he fretted over how the left can become so divided over “foreign” affairs and urged the need for a united front against the capitalist class in the USA. Surely that will be necessary as I tried to indicate in my defense of a Jill Stein vote in 2016.

However, there is something that Paul probably didn’t quite grasp. In the six years of leftist propaganda for Assad, the truth has become less and less important. I first noticed this on CounterPunch articles about East Ghouta that motivated me to resign in 2013. It was not just disagreeing over how to assess Assad. It was how so many people were willing to argue along the lines that it was “illogical” for Assad to carry out such an attack since he was winning the war and since UN inspectors were in the area.

I always wonder why people who raise such cavils never seem nearly so interested in what was in the minds of the rebels they accuse of mounting a “false flag”. Between the two Sarin gas attacks blamed on the rebels by Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, et al, 1800 supporters of the rebels were killed and 5000 wounded. What are we to make of men who are so heartless as to kill their own supporters, including many family members, on a gamble? And if they are so heartless, why haven’t they used such a deadly weapon a single time in 6 years of war on Assad’s military, his government bureaucracy or his wealthy supporters who could be reached by sarin-weaponized artillery in the Damascus suburbs that Postol blamed for the East Ghouta massacre. None of this makes any sense, of course.

There’s a real danger when the left embraces such lies in order to pursue “anti-imperialist” goals. As Leon Trotsky points out in “Their Morals and Ours”, the ends do justify the means but under no conditions would a revolutionary socialist like Trotsky accept telling lies to further justifiable ends. The more we bend the truth to support a political agenda no matter how laudable (giving support for Assad the benefit of the doubt), the greater the danger it will finally break.


June 28, 2017

Seymour Hersh’s jumbo-sized shit sandwich

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:44 pm

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 4.46.00 PM

On June 26th Die Welt published an article by Seymour Hersh that made the case that the Syrian military was not responsible for a Sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 6th. Instead, what supposedly took place was the unfortunate collateral damage of a leakage of toxic material when a guided missile struck a building where jihadists were meeting. Without exactly revealing how he got the information about what was stored there, Hersh points to supplies of chlorine in the basement that the jihadists dispensed to the locals when they needed to clean the bodies of the dead before burial as well as fertilizers used for growing crops. When a bomb hit the building, it created a Bhopal type disaster. The symptoms displayed by the victims was “consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”

I found the business about using chlorine to cleanse bodies most intriguing, especially since every Muslim website I could find about burial rituals stresses the need for clean water. For example, Al-Islam stipulates:

It is obligatory to bathe a dead body thrice. The first bathing should be with water mixed with “Sidr” (Ben) leaves. The second bathing should be with water mixed with camphor and the third should be with clean water.

Well, who knows? Maybe it was the camphor that killed 58 people and wounded 300. Camphor is used in mothballs, after all. If you had sufficient camphor stored in the building—a couple of tons of the stuff—it might have killed 58 people, right? Or at least, a shitload of moths. As far as organophosphates being used in many fertilizers, I suspect that Hersh might have been referring to bug and weed killers rather than fertilizers. If you check Wikipedia, it says that they are the basis of many insecticides and herbicides but there is no mention of fertilizers. An innocent mistake, I suppose. Maybe if the New Yorker had decided to publish Hersh’s article, they would have caught it but then again the magazine had declined to publish anything by him on Syria since the articles didn’t pass the smell test.

Instead, he has published his crap in the London Review of Books until now. This is a journal that has been a prime outlet of Assadist propaganda going on five years now, making room for Hersh, Hugh Roberts, Tariq Ali and Patrick Cockburn to make the case for Assad being a lesser evil. But apparently, his latest “investigating reporting” didn’t make the LRB grade as Dirk Laabs points out in a companion piece to Hersh’s article:

Hersh had also offered the article to the London Review of Books. The editors accepted it, paid for it, and prepared a fact checked article for publication, but decided against doing so, as they told Hersh, because of concerns that the magazine would vulnerable [sic] to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments when it came to the April 4th bombing in Khan Sheikhoun.

Let me tell you something. If LRB nixes something because it takes the side of the Syrian and Russian governments, it has to be pretty fucking bad.

While I have no idea how Hersh learned about chlorine in the basement or organophosphate fertilizers upstairs, he does make sure to impress the reader with the “inside” information that backs up his reporting:

Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra.

Well, that cinches it, I guess. If Russian intelligence says so, it must be true. Why would they lie? So what if some people believe that the first casualty of war is truth. That couldn’t possibly apply to the Russians. The only problem I have with taking them at their word is their apparent reluctance to share the evidence that supports their findings. Hersh writes:

The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, I bought a Mavic Pro camera drone for $1000 that could have recorded all of these goings on. For that matter, ISIS has purchased off-the-shelf amateur type drones and equipped them with explosives to slow the advance of the Iraqi army. You mean to tell me that the Russians couldn’t have made such evidence available to all their stooges in the West, from Vanessa Beeley to Eva Bartlett? Either they are getting soft or they were just lying. You be the judge.

Another companion piece to Hersh’s article got my eyebrows raised so high that I began to fear that they would take wing and fly off. Titled “We got a fuckin ‘problem“, it purports to be an electronic chat between a security adviser and an active US American soldier on duty on a key operational base about the events in Khan Sheikhoun.

American Soldier: We got a fuckin‘ problem

Security-Adviser: What happened? Is it the Trump ignoring the Intel and going to try to hit the Syrians? And that we’re pissing on the Russians?

AS: This is bad…Things are spooling up.

SA: You may not have seen trumps press conference yesterday. He’s bought into the media story without asking to see the Intel.  We are likely to get our asses kicked by the Russians.  Fucking dangerous.  Where are the godamn adults? The failure of the chain of command to tell the President the truth, whether he wants to hear it or not, will go down in history as one of our worst moments.

AS: I don’t know. None of this makes any sense. We KNOW that there was no chemical attack. The Syrians struck a weapons cache (a legitimate military target) and there was collateral damage. That’s it. They did not conduct any sort of a chemical attack.

Sounds like lines from Oliver Stone’s next movie, doesn’t it?

If you want to read a good take-down of Hersh’s crap, I recommend Elliot Higgins who wrote a piece titled “Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack”. Like Theodore Postol who couldn’t get his years straight, Hersh doesn’t seem bothered by the inconsistencies between his timeline and those of the regimes he seeks to defend. He writes, “The target was struck at 6:55 a.m” but the Syrian foreign ministry held a press conference after the attack that dated the incident at 8:30 a.m. Oh well, what’s 90 minutes between friends, least of all 80 year old investigative reporters who can’t be bothered with such details.

If I were Seymour Hersh, I would have retired long ago. In fact, posterity will not look kindly on these elder statesmen of the left who have lent their good name to defending the Baathist dictatorship. Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk, Chomsky—all of them.

Indeed there were signs a decade ago that Hersh was “slipping”. (That’s the word my mother’s friend used to alert me to my mom’s behavior once she hit my age. She was losing her temper a lot and was driving erratically. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes me as well.)

In 2007, Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star, a Lebanese daily, started his Counterpunch article with words that opened with words indicate little respect for the “legendary” reporter:

It’s become a habit to greet whatever journalist Seymour Hersh writes with reverence. However, after his ludicrous claim last summer that Israel’s war in Lebanon was a trial run for an American bombing of Iran – an accusation undermined by postwar narratives showing the confused way Israel and the United States responded to the conflict – my doubts hardened.

The gist of Hersh’s article was that the Bush administration was lining up with Sunni extremists in Lebanon, something that Michael Young found untenable:

What about Hersh’s belief that the Bush administration is illegally hiding aspects of its pro-Sunni regional strategy? “The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution of the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process.” The administration’s point man in this endeavor is purportedly Vice President Dick Cheney.

This revelation is noteworthy, but when we turn to the final part of Hersh’s text in which he addresses congressional oversight issues, we find little meat.

Little meat? That’s being generous. I’d say that Hersh had written a jumbo-sized shit sandwich and continues to do so.



March 17, 2017

Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews 1980-2015

Filed under: Counterpunch,journalism — louisproyect @ 3:09 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, March 17, 2017

Scialabba for the Defense

Four years ago I reviewed George Scialabba’s For the Republic: Political Essays in CounterPunch and am pleased to now review his latest collection Low Dishonest Decades: Essays and Reviews 1980-2015, whose title is borrowed from W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”, a poem written on the eve of WWII:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Although the book stops a year before Donald Trump’s election, there is no better way to understand this low, dishonest president than by reading Scialabba’s take on those who paved the way for him, especially Ronald Reagan. While I certainly understand how surprised some Americans are by Donald Trump’s awfulness, as if he was some sort of historical deus ex machina, I cannot escape a sense of déjà vu as if the years 1981-1989 were being replayed. Are we being forced to endure horrible reactionary presidents for all of eternity like Bill Murray enduring Groundhog’s Day? God help us.

Read full review

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