Amidst World Turmoil, UN Ambassador Samantha Power Keynotes Free Press Celebration

 

As war clouds move to the Ukraine, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations delivered a well-received address April 24 at the Overseas Press Club's 75th anniversary dinner.

But U.S. officials like Samantha Power are part of an administration that aggressively fights internal and external critics. Therefore, her celebration of bold reporting creates dramatic tension.

Her bio Samantha Poweralso illustrates the cross-pollination of government and journalism as she reflected on her transformation from foreign correspondent to an Obama advocate of intelligence, military and related intervention globally, including Syria and Africa.

Power's remarks occurred at a press club awards ceremony in New York City conferring honors on 22 categories of international news coverage during the 2013 calendar year.

During her speech, Power warmed up the crowd by emphasizing her admiration for journalists and her roots in the field:

"It’s great to be here and more than a little scary – you’re an amazing group," she said. "Among us tonight are award winners and icons, living legends and legendary curmudgeons, truth tellers, and trouble makers, one and all. So I know I have my work cut out for me and I’m really honored and truly humbled, especially having listened to those of you who came up and spoke, and read about those who were cited as well. The work that you do every day is an inspiration."

Elite policymakers and influential thought-leadership groups use such events to create win-win outcomes that inevitably leave at least some outsiders wringing their hands, as we have reported frequently so far this year in columns excerpted below in an appendix.

Some critics claim that Obama, Power and their colleagues have not done more to fight enemies in the Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Iran and elsewhere.

But others report U.S. government abuses in domestic surveillance, propaganda, torture, crackdowns on federal whistleblowers and reporters, and cover-up. Alleged also are arms smuggling, regime change and other U.S. covert action theoretically improper in such high-profile arenas as Benghazi, Syria and the Ukraine.

U.S. officials like Power not only deny improper actions, but are part of an administration that aggressively fights internal and external critics, including government employees who speak to the media without receiving clearance.

 
Bob Simon
A Majestic Overview

From the 39th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking Central Park, master of ceremonies Bob Muir of ABC World News led tributes to the intrepid and talented. The stories behind the story were especially impressive in the bravery of the war correspondents who operate by their wits regions with little protection.

A lifetime achievement award went to CBS correspondent Bob Simon, right, a full-time correspondent for CBS 60 Minutes after beginning his reporting career 42 years ago in Vietnam for the network. Simon has also reported from the CBS London and Tel Aviv bureaus and in 1987 was named the CBS News Chief Middle East Correspondent.
 
CBS compiled a powerful montage of his career. The material included his 1960s coverage of the Vietnam War, his capture as a hostage in the first Iraq War and his daring reports exposing government lying and wrongdoing. Simon said the award was, in effect, going to several reporters because his personality had been reshaped by his varied experiences.
 
In keeping with the theme of this column, we note CBS News President Andrew Rhodes is the brother of President Obama's National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes. Such relationships (more typically spousal or inter-generational) are widely replicated at elite levels of government, business and the media -- and have been for many years. It is to Simon's credit that he succeeded with important work in an environment far more complex politically in terms of story selection and research than non-journalist viewers might appreciate.

With an engaging and informal demeanor, Power established her connection with the audience by describing her start as an untrained correspondent who traveled to Bosnia in 1993 as a freelancer without a steady assignment. She became an award-winning reporter, a Harvard Law graduate and a Pulitzer-winner for her 2002 book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.

Barack Obama when he was a U.S. senator representing Illinois hired her as one of his first staffers at the Senate. She is married to law professor Cass Sunstein, a close friend of Obama's.
 
Fighting 'Conspiracy Theories'

Sunstein, a former professor of mine at the University of Chicago School of Law, co-authored in 2008 "Conspiracy Theories," a working paper that became controversial paper in civil liberties circles.

In the paper, he complained that millions of Americans hold false beliefs that the government is involved in conspiracies. As the best solution (among the alternatives of a government ban on conspiracy advocacy or higher taxes on conspiracy advocates), Sunstein recommended that the government secretly hire journalists, academics and similar thought leaders to disrupt circles in American society where such ideas are discussed. Sunstein, now a professor at Harvard Law School and widely considered a prominent liberal, published a longer and amended version of the paper this spring in book form.

Given the enduring importance of the First Amendment, any in-depth reference to the Sunstein-Power-Obama foreign affairs world view needs to note that the CIA itself popularized the term in a secret campaign -- now fully documented by declassified memos -- to discredit critics of the Warren Commission and similar historical questions. I have often written about this, as have others. But it is always worth repeating that one of the key documents is an April 1967 memo by the CIA to its operatives to work with reporters and other thought leaders to orchestrate a campaign to suggest that anyone who thinks the CIA might get involved in secret campaigns is unworthy of holding a job.

The irony, of course, is we now know that the CIA had been undertaking exactly that kind of propaganda conspiracy against the American public on multiple issues. The tool was what late CIA executive Frank Wisner had called "A Mighty Wurlitzer" of news organizations that would help orchestrate media themes important to the agency. Wisner died in 1964 but had been a weekly dinner companion to Washington Post owners Philip and Katharine Graham, according to The Imperial Post author Tom Kelly, a longtime Washington newspaper reporter before he published his book in 1978. Katharine Graham's memoir, Personal History, later confirmed much of what Kelly had written about friendship with Wisner and his wife, Polly, although Graham spun the dinners as more social than substantive.

Whatever the case on that, Sunstein became a prominent White House appointees in the first-term of the Obama administration, as did Power. Sunstein's "Conspiracy Theories" primarily sought to mock and suggest suppression methods for theories involving intelligence matters. Yet the major academic proponent of Obama's Affordable Health Care proposal, Dr. Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was revealed during Obama's first term as having received secret grants from the Obama administration virtually unknown to reporters quoting him as an independent expert.
 
'Responsibility To Protect' Human Rights Fights

Building on earlier writing, Power became one of the administration's leading advocates of implementing the novel and controversial "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine that uses democratic, free press and humanitarian rationales to justify intervention into strife-torn nations and, some would say, covert action to create strife and topple opposition governments. The United Nations formally adopted the policy as a tool to prevent genocide and other human rights abuses.

Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein White House PhotoVice President Biden is shown as swearing her in to her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations last Aug. 19 as Sunstein looks on. Obama last summer named Sunstein, former White House director of regulation at the Office of Management and Budget, to a five-man oversight review board of Obama confidantes considering reforms for the National Security Agency in the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In Power's press club speech April 24, she said:

Our world is awash in propaganda masquerading as facts and images that do not always mean what they appear to mean. Good journalism – based on hard work and high standards – gives us the filter we need to separate falsehoods from reality. It can also help us to focus on what is truly important. I owe my own background as a journalist to a great mentor and some good fortune, probably like many of you.

She then argued a moral case in black-and-white terms that the United States policies have been necessary and appropriate.

Today, I have a new job and a new set of responsibilities. One of my responsibilities is to be taken to task by you, my former colleagues. This has taken various forms, as of course it should. But lately there is a particular question that is making the rounds that I would like to answer here tonight once and for all. The question is: “What would the journalist Samantha Power say to the diplomat Samantha Power about country X?”

My answer is: it turns out the old and the new Samantha hang out together quite a lot; we talk about current events. Most of the time we don’t mind one another’s company. And if ever the old Samantha Power gets shy about complaining about something the new Samantha Power is doing (or not doing), I can assure you that one of you will be there to pick up the slack.

She proceeded to say, "literally dozens of regimes are now engaged in a far-reaching crackdown on the right to organize, speak freely, and advocate peacefully for change. Often, these are governments that lack confidence in their own legitimacy or in the credibility of their policies. To forestall criticism, they equate legitimate dissent with treason; and make it harder for NGOs to operate; and try to control, corrupt, and intimidate the press."

Some governments strive to manipulate coverage by paying people off or by limiting newspaper and broadcasting licenses to a favored few. Others use their own media to smear the reputations of independent writers. When all else fails, authorities may employ thugs to harass or beat up editors and journalists who refuse to compromise their principles.

The list of repressive countries includes the usual suspects, but also many – such as Turkey – that have free elections. Turkey’s efforts to restrict the internet and shut down Twitter are making world news, but less visible is the fact that according to the Committee to Protect Journalists they were the number one jailer of journalists in 2013.

Overall, the good news is that fewer journalists were imprisoned last year than had been the case in 2012. The bad news is that, except for 2012, last year was the worst on record. By December’s end, more than 200 media personal were incarcerated and 105 had been killed in 2013 while doing their jobs.

It is sobering – and unacceptable – that, worldwide, less than ten percent of crimes against journalists lead to arrests or punishment. Often, investigative reporters become targets because they refuse to stop making connections between the criminal and the powerful. War correspondents, meanwhile, do much of their most valuable work while in imminent danger, as we’ve heard tonight. In the words of one newspaper man, “To do journalism is to walk on an invisible line through a field strewn with explosives.”

Under President Obama, we have made support for press freedom one of the recurring themes of U.S. foreign policy. Each day, our diplomats demonstrate support for the right of people to speak, publish, broadcast, and otherwise express themselves without fear. We are working with allies and friends to defend civil society against those who would curb its ability to function. And we’ve encouraged leaders everywhere that the lasting stability that they claim to seek is not possible if they remove or weaken checks and balances on officialdom

My impression was her speech was effective on the whole. She established a bond with the audience, welcomed feedback, and chatted at a reception with anyone (including me) who approached after the formal program.

An Attempt At Answers

Presidential Puppety: Obama, Romney and Their MastesHowever, readers of my fall 2013 book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters or many of the columns on this site in recent months know that we have been reporting serious flaws in her advocacy and that of her colleagues, including President Obama. Many other critics exist, including former Wall Street Journal associate editor Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a conservative, and OpEdNews Publisher Rob Kall, a progressive.

The gist of the criticism is that administration repeatedly uses what might charitably be described as partial truths and other rhetorical tactics to obscure empire-building, regime-change, and anti-democratic actions, hidden intelligence connections and other circumstances that constitute a danger to the free press, among other freedoms.

Another dimension of this is that United States supports anti-democratic, anti-human rights and war-mongering regimes because they are "allies." Conversely, we mount secret military actions against others who have far more of a semblance of the freedoms we ostensibly advocate at the United Nation and for domestic consumption. To cite one of many examples, the Obama administration (like its predecessors) maintains a close alliance with Saudi Arabia when clear-cut evidence shows that the nation is not a democracy in normal meanings of the word, and is especially harsh on the human rights of women, gays and its large immigrant workforce.

In an attempt to quantify such a complex and nuanced topic, examples cited below show that the United States has dropped in the past year 13 spaces to forty-sixth among one widely used ranking of nations on the basis of press freedom. Also, the Obama administration has prosecuted more government workers on the basis of the 1917 Espionage Act for talking to reporters than all previous administrations combined since the law was created during World War I. Furthermore, the administration is woefully remiss in creating accountability in the federal government, especially regarding vast abuses in the military, intelligence, and financial sectors.

That kind of critique and mystery-solving takes a book to describe, which is why I wrote Presidential Puppetry. In a brief conversation with Power at the reception, I thanked her for her invitation to the audience to maintain commentary. But that event was more of social occasion than a proper venue for significant discussion except from the lecture platform.

Yet relatively few proper venues exist aside from ongoing commentary within each of our means, such as this.

Three weeks ago, for example, I wrote here in Mainstream Media Ignore Hersh’s Shocking Reports on Benghazi, Syria Atrocities about how Seymour Hersh's blockbuster accusations against the Obama administration were published in the London Review of Books instead of mainstream United State media. One of Hersh's most explosive claims was that Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally in the fight to overthrow Syria's government, helped plan a sarin gas attack Aug. 21 that reportedly caused more than a thousand deaths in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. His reports failed to achieve significant follow up, including criticism. His allegations virtually disappeared while the public remains distracted by relatively transitory or trivial matters.

Research and publication problems affect beat reporters also, not just freelancers like Hersh, who is a longtime contributor to the New Yorker.

Presidential Puppetry reports how the conservative Washington Times, for instance, was virtually alone in covering the mysterious incident in the 2008 presidential campaign: An employee of future CIA Director John Brennan was caught illegally accessing State Department records of the three major presidential candidates at the time, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

John BrennanBrennan, shown in a file photo, headed defense contractor association and served also as top campaign advisor to Obama during the 2008 campaign after a 25-year career at the CIA that included the station chief's job in Saudi Arabia and high-ranking posts during the George W. Bush presidency.

Brennan denied any knowledge or other involvement in the attempt at document snooping by his employee. But the mystery was important if not intriguing because it involved intelligence gathering at the height of the 2008 presidential race. Even more interesting, neither major party nor the major media seemed inclined to seek answers, much less report them.

In the summer of 2008, the Bush-controlled U.S. State Department issued a heavily redacted report on the matter, which is crime punishable by prison time in comparable situations. But major media reporters assigned to the State Department virtually ignored the report and side-stepped tough questions about it (including the identity of the snooper) at the press conference announcing findings regarding other State Department employees caught examining records in a forbidden manner.

Secret Strategies in the Nation's Capital

These are just a few of the mysteries in public life that pop up many times each day for those of us trained to see them.

To take a couple of examples simply from the April 29 print edition of the Washington Post, we see that:
  • The United States is providing safe harbor in California to a former "torturer in chief" in Afghanistan
  • Walter Pincus, a longtime Washington Post columnist with close connections to the CIA, fretted about distracting tension for the CIA and its officers if the Senate renews investigations of the agency
  • The United States has begun publicly sending anti-tank weapons to Syrian rebels to overthrow the Assad government in cooperation with allied forces sending billions in arms and fighters for that purpose and
  • The United States resumed weapons sales to Egypt's coup-installed government, which announced death sentences to 683 dissidents convicted in the latest mass trial of suspected Muslim Brotherhood supporters 

This week I read that Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, one of my contemporaries at my small New York City high school, Collegiate, was quoted as defending the crackdown on the Muslim brotherhood by comparing it to the steps the United States took after 9/11. "When you face exceptional circumstances," Fahmy told an audience at the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, "you respond."   

Most people have little knowledge or ability to influence such complex matters. A recent poll indicated, for example, that only 13 percent of the American public could place the Ukraine on a map. Those who could do so were  reported to be more critical of U.S. policy than those who do not know the location.

Yet even those who know, care and criticize have difficulty finding an effective means for action. This includes many of those I encounter in journalism, academia or government, including at senior levels.

The reason? I argue in my book that many of our democratic traditions only seem broken. Actually, they function reasonably well for the bipartisan coalition of those advocating for unpopular but lucrative policies. Many of those those advocates believe in an end-justifies-the-means approach to governance. They place what they call national security as the highest priority, and use that kind of fear-mongering to impose on the country a new system of secret law and other governance despite our ostensible professional, constitutional and other traditions.

One could examine and debate that concept at great length, as I (among others) are doing in interviews and lectures. But that's hardly necessary for many in the public who, with apologies to the experts, already believe in conspiracy theories and lack merely the hard evidence.

For those who want real change, I recommend a KEY: Knowledge Empowers You.

Become aware. Join worthwhile professional, civic, community and similar volunteer organizations. Choose and support their leaders, or even become one. Create worthwhile events and dialogues. In my own way, I try to do that by membership in many such organizations. A half dozen are journalism organizations that I try to support, such as the Overseas Press Club. To help celebrate its 75th anniversary, I published the column Cookbook Helped to Bond Club Members in the 1960s in its member bulletin this spring. It recalled the club's impressive pioneers who mixed necessarily mixed their reporting and with occasional creative dining.That is an entertaining element of the cookbook.

Yet these projects potentially have a serious purpose.

Each of us receives many messages from articulate advocates. Samantha Power shared an eloquently expressed vision last week, as we have seen. But the stakes are too high simply to applaud. She encouraged everyone to remain vigilant over threats to the great freedoms we inherited.

We know we should. We were told we must. We know we can. Let's do it!

 
 
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Related News Coverage

Samantha Power and Overseas Press Club

President Obama, Samantha Power, Tom Donilon and Susan RicePresident Obama met in June 2013 with outgoing National Security Advisor Thomas Donilan, his successor Susan Rice, at far right, and Obama's nominee Samantha Power to succeed Rice as ambassador to the United Nations (White House Photo).

White House, President Obama Makes a National Security Personnel Announcement, June 5, 2013. (Video: 23:58 min.). President Obama announces that after more than four years overseeing the work of the National Security Council, Tom Donilon will depart in July as National Security Advisor and will be succeeded by Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice will be succeeded by Samantha Power as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pending Senate confirmation. Now, normally I'd be worried about losing such an extraordinary person up at the United Nations and be trying to figure out how are we ever going to replace her. But fortunately, I'm confident we've got an experienced, effective and energetic U.N. ambassador-in-waiting in Samantha Power. Samantha first came to work for me in 2005, shortly after I became a United States senator, as one of our country's leading journalists. One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity. As a senior member of my national security team, she has been a relentless advocate for American interests and values, building partnerships on behalf of democracy and human rights, fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism and combating human trafficking. To those who care deeply about America’s engagement and indispensable leadership in the world, you will find no stronger advocate for that cause than Samantha. And over the last four years, Samantha has worked hand-in-glove with Susan in her role because Samantha has been the lead White House staffer on issues related to the United Nations.  And I'm fully confident she will be ready on day one to lead our mission in New York while continuing to be an indispensable member of my national security team. She knows the U.N.'s strengths. She knows its weaknesses.  She knows that American interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side.  And she knows that we have to stand up for the things that we believe in. And to ensure that we have the principled leadership we need at the United Nations, I would strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay. So, Samantha, thank you.

U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Power at Overseas Press Club Annual Awards Dinner, Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, April 15, 2014. It’s great to be here and more than a little scary – you’re an amazing group. Among us tonight are award winners and icons, living legends and legendary curmudgeons, truth tellers, and trouble makers, one and all.

Overseas Press Club, Evening Set to Highlight OPC Jubilee, Sonya K. Fry, April 24, 2014. All OPC Awards Dinners are special to the Club. Still, in the past few years, hearts and minds have been focused on making the OPC's 75th Anniversary Awards Dinner on Thursday, April 24 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel an extra special occasion. Early in the day, OPC representatives will participate in a special ceremony to flick the switch that lights up the Empire State Building. Throughout the dinner, the New York landmark will be bathed in blue — the official color of the OPC — in honor of the Club's anniversary and gala. The keynote speaker is former foreign correspondent and current U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power. She began her journalism career covering the Yugoslav Wars from 1993 to 1996. In 2003, her second book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2004, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world and in 2007 she wrote a regular column for Time. She became a scholar of U.S. foreign policy and an advisor to then-Senator Barack Obama. OPC President Michael Serrill has selected veteran foreign correspondent Bob Simon as this year's recipient of the OPC President's Award. Simon began his career in Vietnam, and has reported also from the CBS London and Tel Aviv bureaus and in 1987 was named the CBS News Chief Middle East Correspondent. He has won several OPC awards, most notably for coverage of Vietnam, Egypt and the Rabin assassination in Israel.

Overseas Press Club CookbookWashington Post Magazine, Samantha Power: learning to play the diplomat’s game, Manuel Roig-Franzia, April 3, 2014. In the winter of 2009, a stubborn, decade-old question preoccupied a grimly determined group within the Obama administration: Why hadn’t the United States signed a treaty banning land mines? The mines produce particularly gruesome and indiscriminate results, maiming and killing soldiers, as well as innocent civilians. More than 150 of the 190 or so nations on Earth had joined the treaty, but the United States remained a holdout, keeping company with the likes of Cuba, North Korea and Syria. Why? At the White House, one person seemed uniquely qualified to answer that question and to spur action. Samantha Power, a longtime humanitarian advocate, had been placed in the sanctum of the National Security Council by President Obama earlier that year. She had instantly become, as Donald Steinberg, a former member of the council’s Deputies Committee, puts it: “The eyes, the ears and the conscience of the White House.” Power is one of her generation’s most dazzling diagnosticians of our government’s failings, a favorite of the president’s, a Pulitzer-winning author who devastatingly chronicled America’s history of dereliction in humanitarian crises. Yet the more Power studied it, the harder the land mine riddle was to solve. The U.S. military resisted, arguing that the 1 million land mines at the border between North and South Korea were necessary defensive and deterrent weapons.

Overseas Press Club, Cookbook Helped to Bond Club Members in the 1960s, Andrew Kreig, March 11, 2014. In 1962, the Overseas Press Club Cookbook portrayed the dining adventures of 60 foreign correspondents from the club's first era.

 

Other Press 'Watchdog' News and Omissions

Roger ShulerJustice Integrity Project, Media Shirked Duties As Alabama Jailed Journalist Fought For First Amendment, Andrew Kreig, April 8, 2014. The nation’s media provided remarkably little support to an Alabama journalist jailed for five months while he fought against prior restraint of his investigative reporting. With rare exceptions, journalism groups and news outlets failed to protest the flagrantly illegal treatment the hand-picked judge inflicted on Roger Shuler and his readers. The case undermined multiple legal precedents protecting freedom of the press and due process. Shuler’s treatment exemplifies the national media’s increasingly bizarre behavior. The Committee to Protect Journalists listed him in its annual report as the only jailed journalist in the Western Hemisphere. But most major organizations failed to undertake significant efforts to oppose the prior restraint and secret procedures inflicted on him by a specially appointed part-time judge authorities named to handle the case brought by a powerful regional law and a lobbyist. Update: Shuler, shown at left in a mug shot following his arrest and beating Oct. 23 at his home, was released from jail in March after he agreed to spike his stories pre-trial following the failure of media organizations to raise more of an alarm regarding the crackdown on free press rights evident in his case. He and his wife Carol, also threatened with arrest, had no lawyer nor funds for a legal defense. On April 29, 2014, Shuler's home in a suburban neighborhood of $200,000 homes was sold at a foreclosure auction to satisfy a mortgage debt of $22,000 on $66,000 in overall payments due, plus liens for court costs of approximately $36,000. The Shulers said they face homelessness in a few weeks because their life savings were tied up in their home equity.

Reporters With Borders, RWB publishes profiles of “100 information heroes,” Staff report, April 29, 2014. For the first time ever, Reporters Without Borders is publishing a list of profiles of “100 information heroes” for World Press Freedom Day (May 3). Through their courageous work or activism, these “100 heroes” help to promote the freedom enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” They put their ideals in the service of the common good. They serve as examples. “World Press Freedom Day, which Reporters Without Borders helped to create, should be an occasion for paying tribute to the courage of the journalists and bloggers who constantly sacrifice their safety and sometimes their lives to their vocation,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “These ‘information heroes’ are a source of inspiration to all men and women who aspire to freedom. Without their determination and the determination of all those like them, it would be simply impossible to extend the domain of freedom."

 

Trends in U.S. Press Freedom

Justice Integrity Project, U.S. Drops 13 Places To 46th On 'World Press Freedom Index,' Andrew Kreig, Feb. 10, 2014. The United States experienced a major decline in press freedom over the past year according to the new annual study announced Feb. 11 by Reporters Without Borders. "2013 will go down in history as the worst year for press freedom in the modern history of the United States," said New York Times investigative reporter James Risen as he moderated a panel at the National Press Club announcing the results.  Risen said government obstruction and prosecution of whistle-blowers has chilled reporting on public affairs in Washington, hurting the public and democratic values. The report cited a number of Obama administration prosecutions of leakers as a major reason for the decline in the ranking of the United States from 32th to 46th.

Justice Integrity Project, Government PR Officials Increasingly Control News, Studies Find, Andrew Kreig, March 20, 2014. Local, state and federal governments increasingly rely on a new breed of public relations officials to control news coverage, according to two major studies announced March 19 in Washington, DC. “It’s no wonder the United States has dropped 13 spots this year in a ranking of countries in press freedom – down to 46th – behind Uganda, El Salvador and Botswana,” said Society of Professional Journalists President David Cuillier, whose group co-sponsored the surveys of local and education reporters in cooperation with the Education Writers Association. “It’s shameful what is happening in this country. It’s a war over information and we must take up arms.”

Washington Post, For White House correspondent, so close and yet so far, Paul Farhi, April 30, 2014. Life is largely about closed doors for reporter Lesley Clark, who occupies a middle rung on the White House beat. Clark has been on the White House beat for three years for the McClatchy newspaper chain, and during that time, she’s been able to ask the president a direct question just once.

 

Government Opposition To 'Conspiracy Theories'

Citizens For Truth In The Kennedy Assassination (CTKA), 'Conspiracy Theories,' Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule: A Decidedly Negative Review, By David W. Mantik, M.D., Ph.D., Jan. 27, 2009. David Mantik, shown in a file photo and author of the review below, is certified by the American Board of Radiology, completed a postdoctoral fellowship in physics at Stanford, and served on the tenure-track physics faculty at the University of Michigan. He is now a practicing radiation oncologist (in the treatment of cancer).  

"Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or terrible event."

By Cass Sunstein, J.D. and Adrian Vermeule, J.D.

From their working paper Conspiracy Theories  jointly published by the law schools of Harvard and Chicago Universities on Jan. 15, 2008, and updated Jan. 18, 2010   

David MantikTo the astonishment of many, Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, both on the faculty of the Harvard Law School, have recently proposed that we substantially subvert the First Amendment (freedom of speech), purportedly to advance national security. Even more worrisome is that Sunstein has joined the Obama administration in a regulatory role: Sunstein is the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. His appointment was greeted with controversy among progressive legal scholars and environmentalists. Sunstein's confirmation had been blocked for some time because of allegations about his political and academic views. See, for example, his Wikipedia entry. His name has even been bandied about as a candidate for the Supreme Court. Even his role in the White House concerns legal scholars insofar as he favors the US president (and his staff, presumably including Sunstein himself) over judges as interpreters of federal laws.

But let us turn to the article itself. Most curiously, the apparent definition (quoted above) by Sunstein and Vermeule (S&V) irresponsibly evades the primary issue of whether a given conspiracy theory is true or false. That profound lapse is not faced until page 4, but even then that focus lasts only for the blink of an eye. This distinction—between truth and falsehood—is so elemental that the title of their article would more informatively be entitled, “False Conspiracy Theories.” To compound this unnecessary ambiguity, S&V nowhere offer any epistemic standards for identifying false conspiracy theories that might lie hidden in a mixed bag of conspiracy theories. The reader is unavoidably, and helplessly, left with nothing save the authors’ list—and even these (presumed exemplars) are not well-defined. Worse than that, some of their items are wrongly identified, i.e., conspiracies labeled by them as false actually appear to be true conspiracies—or at least, well-confirmed, as we shall soon see....

 

U.S. Self-Censorship, Whistleblower Crackdowns, Government Controls

Seymour Hersh Democracy Now! Screen shot 2014Justice Integrity Project, Mainstream Media Ignore Hersh’s Shocking Reports on Benghazi, Syria Atrocities, Andrew Kreig, April 17, 2014. The major U.S. media have ignored for the most part Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster column April 4 reporting the Obama administration's deceptive accounts of notorious killings in Benghazi and Syria. Several major outlets declined to publish his column "The Red Line and the Rat Line" and, much worse, have also failed to raise questions about his source-based allegations after Hersh published them in the London Review of Books. News organizations have not sought to obtain answers, much as they would on other public mysteries such as the missing Malaysian airplane. Hersh is shown in a screen shot from an interview on Democracy Now!

Justice Integrity Project, 4 Major National Security Scandals, Simmer or Explode This Week, Andrew Kreig, March 12, 2014. Four major national security scandals were revealed this week after being ignored for many months by corporate-controlled mainstream outlets. My new book, Presidential Puppetry, treats all four by connecting previous findings largely ignored or suppressed. Most visibly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein created headlines by denouncing on March 11 CIA spying on the Senate. Allegations of such spying have long been apparent to those monitoring such claims, including by former NSA analyst Russell Tice.

 

Intelligence Agencies Activities and Controversies

Justice Integrity Project, Intelligence Agencies Use Social Media for 'Dirty Tricks,' Propaganda: New Report, Andrew Kreig, March 1, 2014. Western intelligence agencies secretly use social media to inflict dirty tricks on enemies and to manipulate the public's political perceptions, according to a major investigative report last week by Glenn Greenwald. Based on documents provided last year by former NSA and CIA employee Edward Snowden, Greenwald published "How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations" in cooperation with NBC and via the First Look Intercept site. "I want to focus and elaborate on the overarching point revealed by all of these documents," Greenwald wrote Feb. 24. "Namely, that these agencies are attempting to control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself."

FireDogLake, US Military Censors Images of Soldiers Recorded by Miami Herald, Kevin Gosztola, April 28, 2014. A video posted to YouTube by the Miami Herald shows how the United States military is now imposing a greater regime of censorship on the press, who are credentialed to cover the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Since 2002, reporters from the media organization had been reporting on the facility. Rarely has it been easy to do reporting, but, when four senior journalists for the Herald traveled to Guantanamo in March to shoot video “with a staff videographer for the first time,” the Herald “encountered censorship of the sort” that they had “never experienced.”

Dianne FeinsteinWashington Post, CIA feared Senate probe would expose key sources, intelligence officials say, Adam Goldman and Greg Miller, March 13, 2014. Problems intensified after the CIA notified the Senate panel that its computers were searched again.

Washington Post, Senate probe creates tension with CIA, agents, Walter Pincus, April 28, 2014. The Senate has been asking for years about CIA interrogations, with the issue coming to a head. From 2008 through 2012, CIA officers and contractors faced a criminal investigation by a Justice Department special prosecutor for their roles in what now is considered torturous interrogations, as well as the 2005 destruction of 92 video recordings of some of those activities. The interrogation methods were approved by Bush and his Justice Department attorneys in 2002, 2003 and 2004. CIA attorneys did not object when told that the tapes were being destroyed, because they had been initiated to make certain that the DOJ’s rules were followed and there were operational reports covering what they showed. In November 2010, special prosecutor John H. Durham decided there would be no prosecution for the tape shredding. In June 2011, Durham concluded that most torture and interrogation allegations should not be prosecuted, but he continued looking at two cases in which CIA prisoners died in custody. In August 2012, the DOJ said no charges would be brought in those cases. For CIA officers who faced years of investigation, it was a repeat of past instances when a new administration took issue with previous directives and sought to punish agency personnel rather than the former top officials who had approved those activities. Today, Senate intelligence panel staff members as well as CIA officers and perhaps contractors could be potential subjects of a preliminary DOJ criminal inquiry into the handling of the so-called “Panetta Review,” a set of controversial classified documents that fell into the hands of Senate investigators working on the panel’s probe. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, right, a California Democrat who normally protects and advocates strongly for intelligence initiatives, has protested part of the process.

 

U.S. Allies

John KerryDaily Beast, Exclusive: Kerry Warns Israel Could Become ‘An Apartheid State,’ Josh Rogin, April 28, 2014. The secretary of state said that if Israel doesn’t make peace soon, it could become ‘an apartheid state,’ like the old South Africa. Jewish leaders are fuming over the comparison. If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state,” Secretary of State John Kerry, left, told a room of influential world leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday. Senior American officials have rarely, if ever, used the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel, and President Obama has previously rejected the idea that the word should apply to the Jewish state. Kerry's use of the loaded term is already rankling Jewish leaders in America — and it could attract unwanted attention in Israel, as well. Kerry, a member of Yale's exclusive Skull and Bones society when he was an undergraduate, made his remarks to the Trilateral Commission founded in 1974 with the strong support of David Rockefeller.

Washington Post, From ‘torturer in chief’ to a life in Southern California, Greg Miller, Julie Tate and Joshua Partlow, April 28, 2014. An Afghan spy chief has resurfaced.

Washington Post, Meet the Syrian rebels who received the first U.S. missiles, Liz Sly, April 27, 2014.  The arrival of the missiles has raised the profile of the young rebel commander of the group, who has built a reputation as a moderate. A closer look at the missiles, Richard Johnson, April 28, 2014.

Washington Post, Kuwait is a top funder for Syrian rebels and terrorists, Karen DeYoung, April 25, 2014. A U.S. Treasury official says the ally is “the epicenter” of fundraising for groups linked to al-Qaeda, and officials are frustrated at the nation’s unwillingness to band funding for terrorist groups. Until recently, tiny, oil-rich Kuwait avoided public scrutiny as attention to terrorist financing focused more sharply on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Washington Post, Egypt sentences 683 to death in mass trial of dissidents, Erin Cunningham and Abigail Hauslohner, April 28, 2014. The defendants, alleged supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, include the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader.

 

Catching Our Attention on other International Law Issues -- A Range of Opinion

Justice Breyer on International Law at Brookings Institution

Stephen BreyerBrookings Institution, The Court in the World: The First Annual Justice Stephen Breyer Lecture on International Law, April 3, 2014 (video). Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (shown in a file photo) discussed the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in the world. This event launches a series on international law introduced by Brookings President Strove Talbott.

The Ukraine and Russia

Washington Post, New sanctions target Putin’s inner circle, Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum, The Obama administration on Monday imposed new asset freezes and visa bans on seven Russian government officials and sanctions on 17 companies linked to President Vladi­mir Putin’s “inner circle,” saying that the measures were a response to Russia’s failure to cease provocative acts in Ukraine. The sanctions, which President Obama previewed during a visit to the Philippines, include additional restrictions on 13 of the Russian companies, imposing licensing requirements “with a presumption of denial” for the export or transfer of any U.S.-made items to those enterprises. The U.S. action includes asset freezes and visa bans on seven government officials and sanctions on 17 companies. Donetsk protest turns violent.

Tampa Bay Times, President Barack Obama spent "$5 billion paying Ukrainians to riot and dismantle their democratically elected government," Katie Sanders, March 19, 2014. A meme on Facebook says President Barack Obama spent “$5 billion paying Ukrainians to riot and dismantle their democratically elected government.” The claim is rooted in a December 2013 speech by Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, a non-governmental agency that promotes democracy in the former Soviet republic. She made clear the United States supported the protesters’ fight and spoke of how she met with Yanukovych, pressing him to end the pushback from Ukrainian security forces because it is "absolutely impermissible in a European state, in a democratic state." She described how American taxpayer money has supported Ukraine’s democratic development despite the country’s challenges. "Since Ukraine's independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as they promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations," she said. "We have invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine." Wasn’t Nuland talking about money given since Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union? The State Department said yes. Since 1992, the government has spent about $5.1 billion to support democracy-building programs in Ukraine, Thompson said, with money flowing mostly from the Department of State via U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as the departments of Defense, Energy, Agriculture and others. The United States does this with hundreds of other countries. About $2.4 billion went to programs promoting peace and security, which could include military assistance, border security, human trafficking issues, international narcotics abatement and law enforcement interdiction, Thompson said. More money went to categories with the objectives of "governing justly and democratically" ($800 million), "investing in people" ($400 million), economic growth ($1.1 billion), and humanitarian assistance ($300 million). That’s a distorted understanding of remarks given by a State Department official. She was referring to money spent on democracy-building programs in Ukraine since it broke off from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Paul Craig RobertsOpEdNews, Moving Closer To War, Paul Craig Roberts (shown in file photo), April 26, 2014. The crisis in Ukraine originated with Washington's overthrow of the elected democratic government and its replacement with Washington's hand-chosen stooges. The stooges proceeded to act in word and deed against the populations in the former Russian territories that Soviet Communist Party leaders had attached to Ukraine. The consequence of this foolish policy is agitation on the part of the Russian-speaking populations to return to Russia. Crimea has already rejoined Russia, and eastern Ukraine and other parts of southern Ukraine are likely to follow.

Washington Post, Pro-Russian separatists stay put in Ukraine as Kiev’s authority weakens, Griff Witte and William Booth, April 25, 2014. Groups hold government buildings in the east a week after a deal with to end the occupations. The pro-Ukraine activists struck before dawn Thursday while the separatists were fast asleep, retaking city hall after nearly two weeks of occupation and notching a small but critical victory in the struggle to keep this country’s eastern half from slipping into Russian hands. But victory was fleeting: By Friday, the pro-Russia Donetsk People’s Republic had been reinstated in this heavily industrial port city of half a million. Inside city hall, the separatists were busy — restocking supplies of molotov cocktails, brokering deals with the local police and vowing not to yield until they win their freedom from the government in Kiev. The episode reflects the massive challenge that Ukrainian authorities face as they try to reassert their authority in a region where government buildings remain in separatist hands a week after Russia and the West agreed on a plan to end the occupations. That behavior reached a new pitch Friday, with separatists detaining a group of European security monitors and branding them “spies.”