So much for editorial freedom

Much of the major media in the US is privately owned, by individuals, families, or corporations. These media love to insist that they have complete editorial freedom and that the owners do not exert any pressure on them as to what to write about and how. That is of course rubbish. In cases like Fox News, the owner’s wishes are explicit and manifestly followed. But in less overtly propagandistic outlets, editorial control by the owners is exercised more subtly. The editors are selected because their views conform to those of the owners, and that process filters all the way down the line.

But on some occasions, if the issue is important enough to the owner, even that thin mask of editorial independence is ripped away and the owner gives direct orders as to what the editorial line should be. We see that with billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s entry into the presidential race. He is the owner of Bloomberg News and he has made it very clear that his outlet should not criticize him. In an effort to retain a shred of credibility as a news organization, the editor says that they will also refrain from investigating other Democratic presidential candidates.

I feel sorry for the reporters at Bloomberg News. It is easy for outsiders to say that they should quit. I am sure that many are looking for other jobs where the control is less overt but the job market in media is tight.

Why I distrust US media coverage of foreign countries

(I came across this old blog post of mine from 2005 before I moved to FtB and thought I would repost it because it may explain why I am so skeptical of the way that the US media covers events in other countries. I have edited it slightly because I cannot help editing.)

In July 1983, I lived through a major upheaval in Sri Lanka where rampaging mobs raged through the streets looking for the homes and businesses and members of the minority Tamil community, killing and destroying everything in their path, with the government and the police just standing by doing little or nothing. There was strong speculation that the government had actually instigated and guided the events to serve their own political agenda, but since the government itself was doing the subsequent investigation, one should not be surprised that nothing came of it.
[Read more…]

Ads that avoid explicit use of sexual terms

It is odd how the mainstream media, awash in violence and sexual innuendo, is so squeamish about using accurate terms such as penis and vagina for bodily features. There has been an effort to remove the hesitancy about vaginas by means such as The Vagina Monologues but there seems to still be some hesitancy with regard to penises.

This hesitancy can produce strange results. I was watching an ad on TV that was discussing how to deal with Peyronie’s Disease that affects the shape of penises. Instead of using the word at all or describing the problem in a matter-of-fact way, they used vegetables of different shapes and sizes to make the point

It reminded me of the comic strip The Boondocks some years ago where the grandfather was watching an ad on TV for erectile dysfunction. But instead of saying so, the ad was coy and resorted to circumlocutions such as urging men to use their product so that they could ‘get in the game’. This caused much frustration for the oblivious grandfather who kept asking his world-wise grandson Huey (who knew exactly what was being promoted and why) what the game being played was and being mystified about why the advertisers were not telling him.

How even lousy political books can become best sellers

I think it is safe to say that Donald Trump Jr., the grifter son in a grifter family, would not be considered a deep thinker or a literary genius. So how did it come to be that the book he purportedly wrote rose to #1 on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list? In fact, it is surprising how so many political books by hack politicians are advertised as ‘best sellers’ according to this or that publication.
[Read more…]

Nigel Farage executes a ‘reverse ferret’

After repeatedly threatening to contest every seat that is up for election because he was deeply unsatisfied with Brexit plan proposed by Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson, the leader of the Brexit party Nigel Farage suddenly announced that his party would not contest any of the 317 seats currently held by the Conservatives for fear of splitting the Brexit vote and opening a window for the Remain supporting Liberal Democrats to win the seat. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says that Farage is merely following the orders of his US patron Donald Trump.
[Read more…]

Former Brazilian president Lula released from prison

The popular leader was released from prison pending appeals and was met with cheering crowds.

In a speech to the crowd, Lula thanked party militants who had camped outside throughout his imprisonment, and attacked the “rotten side” of the police, prosecutors, tax office and justice system for jailing him.

“They did not imprison a man. They tried to kill an idea,” he said. “Brazil did not improve, Brazil got worse. The people are going hungry. The people are unemployed. The people do not have formal jobs. People are working for Uber – they’re riding bikes to deliver pizzas.”

Lula was imprisoned in April 2018 after a sentence for corruption and money laundering handed down by the controversial judge Sergio Moro was upheld by an appeal court. He has always proclaimed his innocence and argued the case against him was politically motivated.

On Thursday, Brazil’s supreme court ruled defendants could only be imprisoned after all appeals to higher courts had been exhausted, paving the way for Lula and another 5,000 prisoners to be freed.

The decision followed revelations on investigative website the Intercept Brasil that Moro had colluded with prosecutors leading the sweeping corruption investigation, known as Operation Car Wash, into bribes and kickbacks at the state oil company Petrobras that imprisoned Lula, powerful business leaders, middlemen and politicians from his Workers’ party and its political allies.

Polls had showed Lula was leading in last year’s presidential election, but the conviction removed him from the race, giving Bolsonaro a clear run.

Bolsonaro then named Moro his justice minister, heightening the sense of injustice. The president appeared to recognize the former judge’s contribution in a speech on Friday. “If he hadn’t accomplished his mission, I wouldn’t be here either,” Bolsonaro said.

As president from 2003 to 2010, Lula presided over an extraordinary period of economic growth and reduction of inequality as innovative cash transfer schemes took tens of millions out of poverty. Even in prison he has cast a long shadow over Brazilian politics – and his release is only likely to widen bitter political divides.

[Read more…]

8chan and the issue of speech on the internet

The website known as 8chan has served as a cesspool of bigoted and racist hate mongering for a long time in which posters seemed to be competing to see who could come up with the most offensive stuff, all while arguing that they were doing it ironically, ‘for the lulz’ as the kids say these days. They operated with impunity under the shield of free speech and things were going well for them (in terms of reaching their target audience) until three mass shooters in Christchurch (targeting Muslims), Poway, California (targeting Jews), and at a Texas Walmart (targeting Hispanics) posted their hateful manifestos on the website.

This proved to be too much for those companies that had been at least indirectly supporting the site and the internet security firm Cloudflare withdrew its support, thus enabling hackers to invade the site, overwhelm it, and shut it down. The creator of 8chan, an American who lives in the Philippines and seems to covet notoriety, vows to bring the site back in some form with a new name 8kun and different security firm backing it.

The NPR radio program On the Media had a fascinating 17-minute segment tying together 8chan, the people behind it, as well as Q and the QAnon conspiracy theories that spread its message via that site, and the problem of balancing free speech and deplatforming on the internet.

It raises some crucial questions: should tech companies stymie sites like 8chan? Can 8chan stay dead? And what happens to the dark content that flourished on the site — content like the QAnon conspiracy, whose purveyor vowed to only release definitive content on 8chan, lest his narrative gets drowned out by that of impersonators?

Don’t judge a magazine by its cover (or name)

I have heard of the magazine Vogue and its seemingly junior counterpart Teen Vogue. Going purely on its name and shamelessly stereotyping, I had imagined that the latter would deal with pop culture and fashion. It turns out that I was quite wrong. While it does deal with those things, it turns out to also be a magazine pitching radical progressive politics at its target audience of teenagers.

David Palumbo-Liu, professor of comparative literature at Stanford University, says that the transition reflects the changing times.
[Read more…]

Beware of the extremists in moderate clothing

The rise of progressive policies and politicians in the Democratic party has clearly alarmed the oligarchy and they are responding with a slew of organizations within the party to take over the steering wheel and drive it in a corporate-friendly direction. These groups have labels that suggest that they consist of high-minded people who are above the partisan political fray and are merely seeking pragmatic bipartisan solutions to the country’s problems. These groups masquerade with names such as “No Labels’, ‘Across the Aisles’, ‘Third Way’, and ‘Problem Solvers Caucus’. The media invariably buys into the bogus narrative that these people are not partisan and promotes them as ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’ when they are in reality extremists pushing a pro-oligarchic agenda. This is not an accident, since the major media has the same agenda as these groups.
[Read more…]

The racism in The Searchers and Heart of Darkness

I can vividly recall my strong negative reaction to Joseph Conrad’s highly acclaimed novel Heart of Darkness. Its racism appalled me as I wrote in a blog post ten years ago.

I remember the first time I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, hailed by critics as a masterpiece. I was appalled at the blatantly racist portrayals of Africans and could barely get through the book. Many years later, I re-read it. The shock and anger that the original reading had aroused in me had worn off and I could see and appreciate Conrad’s skill with words in creating the deepening sense of foreboding as Marlow goes deeper into the jungle in search of Kurtz.

Ironically, Chinua Achebe gave a talk criticizing the book and saying that Conrad’s novel, whatever its other merits, perpetuated African stereotypes. The talk attracted a lot of attention and Conrad’s many admirers leapt to his defense, saying that Conrad was a product of his times and merely reflecting the views then current and that his book was actually a critique of the evils of colonialism.

Maybe so, but the racism was still there and still bothered me even on the second reading.

[Read more…]