Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 04: The Root of All Evil

A recent New York Times presents a Manichean worldview wherein the United States’ invasion of Iraq was noble and just, while Iran’s relationship with its neighbor is nefarious and dangerous. The article was written by Baghdad bureau chief Tim Arango (picture above, right).

Episode 4 of Citations Needed, my new media criticism podcast co-hosted by Adam Johnson, is out.

This week, we talk about a recent New York Times article — and the broader media habit of painting the United States as benevolent democracy-seeker, while Iran and other Official Enemies™ are presented only ever as cynical imperialists.

In this episode, Adam and I dissect the true history of what caused chaos in Iraq, who’s to blame and what the real motives were behind the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations’ designs for the country. All this in the context of a battle for control over remaining ISIS territory in Syria; and Washington’s, Riyadh’s, and Tel Aviv’s desire to stop the dreaded “Shia crescent.”

Show Notes for this episode can be found here.


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.


Friday, July 21, 2017

MSNBC's Joy Reid Fails History and Geography

MSNBC's Joy Reid

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
- James Baldwin

Seemingly apropos of nothing but shameless Red-baiting weirdness, MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted today about two of Donald Trump's three wives hailing from Eastern European countries.

"Donald Trump married one American (his second wife) and two women from what used to be Soviet Yugoslavia: Ivana-Slovakia, Melania-Slovenia," Reid's tweet read.

There is so much wrong with this statement, beyond the sheer creepy xenophobic signaling oozing every word, it's difficult to know where to start.

First, while Yugoslavia during the Cold War was indeed a communist state, it was not Soviet. Following a brief alliance with the Soviet Union following World War II, Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito was expelled by Stalin from the Soviet-oriented Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) in 1948 and remained independent of Soviet influence. Yugoslavia was the only communist state in Europe not to join the Warsaw Pact.

History 1. Joy Reid 0.

Second, the socialist state of Yugoslavia was a federation of six separate republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia, which included within its borders the two autonomous provinces Kosovo and Vojvodina.

So, while Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia, Slovakia was not; rather it was part of Czechoslovakia, along with the Czech socialist republic.

Geography 1. Joy Reid 0.

But that's not all. Ivana Trump was born in the Moravian city of Zlín, which was indeed part of Czechoslovakia at the time, but as part of the Czech republic, not the Slovakian one.

Geography 2. Joy Reid 0.

Unsurprisingly, these simple facts were immediately pointed out to Reid by countless people on Twitter.

In her attempt to correct herself, however, Reid wound up doubling down on her error. "Melania is from Slovenia (which plus Slovakia used to be Yugoslavia)," she tweeted.

Again, no. Slovakia was never a part of Yugoslavia. It was the "-slovakia" part of "Czechoslovakia." See how that works?

History 2. Geography 3. Reid 0.

This is not the first time Reid has flubbed European history in service of anti-Russian posturing. Back in September 2016, Reid sent a series of tweets designed to smear the vile Republican presidential candidate's penchant for lauding Russian leader Vladimir Putin by suggesting that she believed Russia was still a communist state.

Needless to say, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia may certainly be authoritarian, but it is definitely not communist.

MSNBC, the cable news network home to Reid's weekend show AM Joy, has a history of questionable geography skills. Its graphics department has virtually annexed the West Bank to Israel and claimed Jerusalem as its capital. In 2013, a map showing four upcoming stops on a presidential bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania got the locations of all four cities completely, egregiously wrong. The following year, a map shown during primetime's All In with Chris Hayes inexplicably spelled the word "Iraq" incorrectly.

But Reid's recent Soviet snafu isn't a mere typo or simply the result of intellectual laziness. It's ignorance couched in the nativism and nationalism of McCarthyite demonization.

Look, Donald Trump is already a loathsome, shitbag sociopath. Efforts to expose, oppose, castigate, and marginalize him and the threat his administration and supporters present to the entire world are vital. His awful wives, past and present, don't deserve any sympathy. But, with all this in mind, there's no need to use base xenophobia and Cold War-era Red Scare tactics to achieve these goals. And it's even more embarrassing to get basic facts wrong while doing it.

A couple years ago, Joy Reid delivered the inaugural Ida B. Wells lecture at Wake Forest University. Wells, the fearless journalist and fierce civil rights and suffrage activist, once noted, "The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press."

As a journalist with an often daily platform on a major news network, Joy Reid needs to do a much better job at educating - both herself and her audience.


Citations Needed, Episode 03: The Rise of Superpredator 2.0

"The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make the criminal look like he's a the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal... If you aren't careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing."
- Malcolm X, Audubon Ballroom, December 13, 1964

Episode 3 of the new media criticism podcast, Citations Needed, which I host alongside Adam Johnson is here!

The episode, "The Rise of Superpredator 2.0," is about the media narrative surrounding the rise of so-called “gang raids” that have exploded over the past three years. These high-stakes, headline-grabbing spectacles target, almost exclusively, black and brown people and are carried out by hundreds of local, state, and federal officials.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

Emails obtained by Atlantic City Lab’s George Joseph (now at make clear that media perception is, at least, one major criteria for these raids. Joseph wrote in February:
As one ICE officer excitedly wrote, the operation “has more media interest than I can catalogue and the story was picked up worldwide.”
Another internal email by an ICE official insisted, “the operation has more media interest than I can catalogue and the story was picked up worldwide.”

That which the government frames as a media operation should be dissected as such. In addition, local media is literally copy and pasting ICE press releases when “reporting” on their raids, often lifting 4-5 paragraphs word for word from government-issued copy. Beyond this, who is considered a gang member is based on criteria so loose and wide-ranging, it could be applied virtually to anyone living in certain areas. In this way, those caught up and arrested in these raids are treated much like "enemy combatants" in the so-called War on Terror, guilty by association, ancestry, or geography, able to be exonerated only after being destroyed. Nevertheless, the virtue and necessity of the uptick in “gang raids” is widely accepted without much criticism.

One activist and reporter looking at this trend with a skeptical eye is our guest Josmar Trujillo, who has endless insights on the topic. Josmar is a Harlem-based organizer, writer, trainer, and agitator.

Josmar has organized around education, disaster recovery and policing with groups like the Coalition to End Broken Windows and New Yorkers Against Bratton. His writing has been featured in the Village Voice, New York Daily News, amNY, City Limits, Newsday, Crain’s, Truthout, Huffington Post, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), and SchoolBook.

Show Notes for this episode can be found here.


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 02: The North Korea Memory Hole

Episode 2 of the new media criticism podcast, Citations Needed, which I host alongside Adam Johnson is here!

The episode, "The North Korea Memory Hole," tackles forgotten war crimes, broken promises, and the making of an official enemy. It is our first foray into the realm of the Official Enemy™, a staple of United States foreign policy discourse that we'll surely be revisiting a lot.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

The past few months have seen a significant increase in media coverage of North Korea, mainly — if not, exclusively—focused on its nuclear and missile programs. Emblematic of the tone of nearly all reports and commentary is a new cover story in The Atlantic, entitled “How to Deal With North Korea,” written by the magazine’s national correspondent Mark Bowden. In typically alarmist fashion, the piece opens with a horror story:
Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it would take a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from North Korea to reach Los Angeles. With the powers in Pyongyang working doggedly toward making this possible — building an ICBM and shrinking a nuke to fit on it — analysts now predict that Kim Jong Un will have the capability before Donald Trump completes one four-year term.
This narrative of a maniacally single-minded nuclear menace working tirelessly toward our annihilation is pervasive in the media. It is no wonder then that the American public continues to hold overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards North Korea. Recent polling indicates that four out of five Americans (80%) consider North Korea to be a threat to the security of the United States. Approximately 60% believe North Korea poses a “major” threat, while 37% think of the threat as “immediate.” One survey from May found that a whopping 87% of US voters were either very or somewhat concerned about “the situation in North Korea.”

Polls from this past Spring, even before the most recent ramp up in coverage and political posturing, found that two-thirds of respondents (66%) would favor US action to “stop and search North Korean ships for nuclear materials or arms,” while 43–48% would support “air strikes against military targets and suspected nuclear sites in North Korea.”

This North Korea “crisis” is a knotty one and, to be understood, requires a good primer on a history we aren’t often taught to fully appreciate. For this we turn to — among others — no-bullshit University of Chicago historian and author Bruce Cumings. Definitely check out his book. Many of our figures on early war casualties and recaps of New York Times racism comes from this book — many more details like it.

Another commentator who’s not afraid to buck conventional wisdom is our guest, veteran investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.

Tim was raised in Japan and South Korea and has been covering the intersection of US foreign policy, national security and capitalism for over three-and-a-half decades. Tim is a contributor to The Nation and his work has appeared in many other publications, including Salon, Mother Jones, The Progressive, The Daily Beast and The New York Times. He’s also on Twitter.

Show Notes for this episode can be found here.


Citations Needed is a media criticism podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Citations Needed, Episode 01: The Charter School Scam

I'm happy to announce the launch of a new media criticism podcast, Citations Needed, hosted by prolific media analyst Adam H. Johnson and... me!

The show, quite simply, will identify, demystify, deconstruct, and generally call bullshit on the media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes, and stereotypes.

For those who might not know, Adam is a contributing writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His writing has been also featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Alternet, and elsewhere. He also crushes on Twitter.

We'll cover issues both foreign and domestic and will often, though not always, feature interviews with knowledgeable and experienced journalists and analysts. I'm confident that it's only a matter of time before the gentlemen of Chapo Trap House will hand over their Patreon account to us on bended knee.

Actually, this is a brand new thing and it's certainly a work in progress. Thankfully, Adam and I are able to rely on the spectacular talents of our producers, Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams, who are not only media veterans and miracle workers, but also quite lovely, generous people.

Citations Needed is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn (here's the RSS feed). You can also check us out on Twitter, Facebook, and Medium, which is where we post a bunch of show notes to accompany each episode.

So, without further adieu, here's the pilot episode of Citations Needed. Enjoy!

Episode 1 features a discussion about charter schools and, basically, why they’re awful. We look into the agenda behind the pro-charter film Waiting for Superman, the ongoing demonization of teachers and their unions, the fudging, inflation and wholesale manufacturing of test scores that demonstrate “success”, and also try to find some silver linings among the dark clouds. For instance, the fact that everyone hates Betsy DeVos is helping. 
We are joined by the incomparable Jennifer Berkshire, journalist, podcaster, and education editor at Alternet.

Jennifer Berkshire’s writing and interviews regularly gain national attention and have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Baffler, Salon, Alternet, Jacobin, The Progressive, Huffington Post and plenty of other places. 
Check out her own podcast, Have You Heard.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Regime Change Redux: Empowered Hawks Renew Sights on Iran

With Donald Trump now as Commander-in-Chief, there is new life in longtime neoconservative fantasies of engineering regime change in Iran. Anti-Iran hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv have a rejuvenated sense of power and ability to manipulate the know-nothing jackass in the Oval Office to do their bidding.

A rash of commentary penned by the usual suspects and published in the usual hawkish opinion pages of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal makes this clear. In the Journal, Mark Dubowitz of the Likud-aligned, Iran-obsessed, and pathetically-named Foundation for the Defense of Democracies likened Iran to a teetering Soviet Union nearing implosion in an oped titled, "Confront Iran the Reagan Way."

But Dubowitz knows full well that Iran is not comparable in any conceivable way to the Soviet Union. The analogy is a ruse, merely a way to get around to his real argument: that the United States should ramp up its support for exiled Iranian dissident groups, like the Paris-based MEK, in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government and install a new one more suited to take orders from Washington.

Dubowitz has long encouraged military attacks and regime change when it comes to Iran. Writing in the Israeli press back in 2011, Dubowitz argued that "best way" to "end to Iran's nuclear program" was "to work towards changing the regime." The following year, Dubowitz co-wrote a piece for Bloomberg with fellow FDD Iran hawk Reuel Marc Gerecht, which declared that "if we are going to pursue tougher international sanctions against Iran — and we should — the goal should be regime change in Iran, not stopping proliferation. In fact, regime change would make the idea of an Iranian bomb far more tolerable."

The day after Dubowitz's latest regime change push appeared in print, empty vessel Ray Takeyh chimed in with his own coordinated effort in The Washington Post. Takeyh's headline cut right to the chase:

Obviously, this is a canard. And one we've heard before. Last year, Slate offered the possibility of Iran's collapse as a classic clickbait headline on an interview with journalist Laura Secor. (The answer, per Betteridge's Law of Headlines, was predictably "no.")

Any reports of Iran's imminent collapse are obviously greatly exaggerated. Just look at a Los Angeles Times headline from July 1999:

But the new push by the likes of Dubowitz and Takeyh might be a different kind of projection, one that actual might gain traction in the Oval Office.

Indispensable veteran journalist Jim Lobe explains what's behind the recent neocon gambit. The anti-Iran "hawks, encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s rather offhand statement late last month that Washington favors 'peaceful' regime change in Iran, appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan," Lobe writes, adding, "Indeed, this comparison is so ahistorical, so ungrounded in anything observable, that it can only be aimed at one person, someone notorious for a lack of curiosity and historical perspective, and a strong attraction to 'fake news' that magnifies his ego and sense of destiny."

The target of this Netanyahu-inspired wishful thinking is obvious. And it's not just that the American president is a dullard who is easily influenced and exploited by those whom he seeks to impress, it's that he is also susceptible to this particular fantasy about the frailty of the Iranian government as it has surfaced before in Trump's own bluster.

Trump has long claimed Iran had reached the eve of destruction before signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the multilateral agreement with six world powers in July 2015 known commonly as the Iran Deal. In May, standing beside Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Trump ludicrously insisted that, had it not been for the nuclear accord, "I think they would have failed, totally failed within six months."

Earlier this year, he made the same dumb argument on Twitter:
Of course, Iran was nowhere close to collapse before the deal. The talking point is one pushed by neocons, their paymasters, and their shills in Congress, all of whom despise a powerful, stable, independent, non-compliant nation in the Middle East, one that has positive relations with most of the rest of the world and which can actually defend itself against foreign aggression.

And so, regime change is back on the agenda. And Dubowitz and his FDD cronies know which buttons to press when it comes to exploiting the boundless ignorance of the American president, especially when it comes to Iran. Politico reported just a couple weeks ago that Dubowitz mobilized his regime change propaganda as soon as the new administration moved into White House:
Soon after Trump’s inauguration, FDD’s CEO, Mark Dubowitz, submitted a seven-page Iran policy memo to Trump’s National Security Council. The memo — which was circulated inside the Trump White House and recently obtained by POLITICO — included a discussion of ways to foment popular unrest with the goal of establishing a “free and democratic” Iran. 
“Iran is susceptible to a strategy of coerced democratization because it lacks popular support and relies on fear to sustain its power,” the memo argued. “The very structure of the regime invites instability, crisis and possibly collapse.” 
It maintained that Trump has an instrumental role to play in discrediting the regime. “No one has greater power to mobilize dissent abroad than the American president
The term "coerced democratization" is a tip-off as to the coordinated efforts of anti-Iran hawks. The term has appeared in a number of book-length anti-Iran screeds written by Ray Takeyh, one from 2011 and another from as far back as 2006. Dubowitz's adoption and promotion of the term speaks volumes of the neoconservative alignment currently coalescing on K Street and gunning for Tehran.