FAIR

Press response to ‘Tax the Rich’ dress proves AOC’s point

It's like Lenin said: There are decades when nothing happens, and there are dresses where decades happen.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "Tax the Rich" dress at the Met Gala (Vogue, 9/16/21) might have passed through the media as a mere photo opportunity or act of class-conscious performance art, but given that it happened near the 10th anniversary of the first day of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the event may be an indicator of how much Occupy has moved the public toward policies of aggressively taxing the wealthy to pay for needed social programs, education, public employment and infrastructure.

And corporate media's response indicates that they are worried that history might be on Ocasio-Cortez and her dress's side.

'Wrong message'

NY Post: Sorry, AOC: The rich already pay their fair share

David Harsanyi (New York Post, 9/17/21) argues that the rich shouldn't pay more because our tax system is already progressive–which is neither logically nor empirically true.

The Murdoch-owned New York Post (9/17/21) led the charge against her protest, with David Harsanyi complaining, "Despite perceptions, the highest-income strata of taxpayers are the only ones who pay a larger share of taxes than their share of income." This message was echoed by television shock jock Bill Maher (Daily Mail, 9/18/21), even though a ProPublica investigation (6/8/21) found that the super-rich—like Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos—pay next to nothing in taxes, demolishing "the cornerstone myth…that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most."

The New York Post (9/21/21), on its front page, highlighted a response to AOC from Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, whom the paper (5/10/21) had enthusiastically endorsed. Adams said that Ocasio-Cortez sent the "wrong message for New York City," offering austerity logic as an alternative: "Instead of impulsively advocating for raising taxes on rich Big Apple residents…the city should first find ways to trim fat in the city budget." In addition to endorsing Adams, the Post (7/27/21) eagerly broke the news that Adams told supporters that he has declared "war on AOC's socialists."

Matthew Yglesias (Bloomberg, 9/19/21), himself the product of Manhattan patrician society, chastised the second-term congressmember representing the Bronx and Queens for casting a broad net over the upper class, rather than focusing her message specifically on tax loopholes. The Washington Post's Megan McArdle (9/14/21) echoed Yglesias' criticism, adding that wearing such a dress to the Met Gala is "a bit like wearing a 'tax the rich' T-shirt to your job as a bespoke tax attorney," because taxing the rich just creates more tax attorneys, "so the walking billboard is less a case of 'speaking truth to power' than an endorsement of the whole enterprise."

The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker (9/14/21) denounced the gala's fall from its elegant past—"today's Met Gala is not the playground of Diana Vreeland, Pat Buckley and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis"—and said she was at a loss for words to describe the party's "parade of political demonstrators whose eccentric garb sometimes garbled the message," as the theme of the event was to explore the "lexicon" of fashion itself.

Numerous outlets (Forbes, 9/13/21; Daily News, 9/14/21; Fox News, 9/14/21; USA Today, 9/14/21) played up the criticism that Ocasio-Cortez was acting hypocritically by attending the gala, because it is a pricey event attended by the rich, a point that runs aground on the fact that bringing the message of taxing the rich to rich people was, in fact, the idea. As one Washington Post writer (9/14/21) correctly perceived, the gala's audience were now discussing "the embarrassment of undertaxed riches in a social season marred by disease and destitution."

Tax-allergic media

NYT: Taxing the Wealthy Sounds Easy. It's Not.

The idea of a wealth tax was unsurprisingly derided by "Wealth Matters" (2/1/19), a New York Times column offering "insights from Paul Sullivan on the mindset and strategies of the affluent."

While Ocasio-Cortez is hardly the first left-of-center politician calling for more taxes to fund social programs, as leader of the "Squad"—a group of House Democrats largely aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders—she has become the punching bag for the establishment media in a campaign to dampen pro-taxation rhetoric.

Since her ascendance in Congress, the New York Times (1/28/19, 2/1/19, 2/7/19) has responded to Ocasio-Cortez's tax rhetoric with a sort of "yes, but it's more complicated than that," embracing a watered-down version of progressive taxation, while Barron's (1/23/19) and the Wall Street Journal (1/21/19, 1/23/19) have gone further to suggest that her proposed 70% marginal tax rate would destroy the American economy. Factcheck: The US economy flourished with a 91% top marginal tax rate under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (AP, 1/31/19).

McArdle, part of the recent AOC bashing, has scorned the idea of taxing the rich more generally in a piece (Washington Post, 6/9/21) that carried a photo of the paper's owner and world's richest human, Jeff Bezos.

This skittishness about new taxes in the media reflects a general anxiety about progressive taxation in the political class. Anti-tax ideology is perhaps the glue that unites the Republican Party's various factions, which passed sweeping tax cuts under the Trump administration (NBC, 12/22/17). Unlike Republicans, who can unite around keeping taxes low, though, Democrats have difficulty coming together when it comes to tax hikes for the rich (Bloomberg, 9/14/21).

Some Democrats besides Ocasio-Cortez are also onboard with new federal taxation (CBS, 9/13/21), and polling shows "taxing the wealthy" is a popular idea (Gallup, 6/4/21; Reuters, 1/10/20). But there has been resistance within her party to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren's proposal for a new wealth tax (The Hill, 8/9/19). The Wall Street Journal (4/7/21) blasted then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for giving into state lawmakers who pushed for more state taxes, a move he had successfully resisted until his various scandals eroded his political capital.

FAIR has noted that the Washington Post (FAIR.org, 5/11/16, 12/11/17, 7/29/19) and the New York Times (FAIR.org, 2/25/20, 4/15/21)—newspapers owned wholly or in part by billionaires—have consistently taken the side of those politicians who resist aggressive taxation of the wealthy.

Occupy's powerful arguments

CNBC: AOC to introduce bill to extend pandemic unemployment insurance to 2022

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CNBC, 9/15/21): "We've just simply allowed pandemic unemployment assistance to completely lapse, when we are clearly not fully recovered from the consequences of the pandemic."

It isn't solely "taxing the rich" that has become more popular with voters. Other social democratic ideas like single-payer healthcare (Pew Research, 9/29/20) and a $15/hour minimum wage (Reuters, 2/25/21) enjoy broad support, and "Americans view unions more favorably now than they have since 2003" (Reuters, 7/12/21).

Yet it's still hard for the political class and media to take notice that this is becoming the mainstream. That's why someone like Ocasio-Cortez, in addition doing things like introducing legislation to extend unemployment insurance (CNBC, 9/15/21), feels the need to call attention to the issue of taxing the rich in a very public way, to get corporate media talking about it. (Proposed tax increases for the rich have become a key stumbling block to passing the Biden administration's proposed $3.5 trillion social spending bill—New York Times, 9/7/21.)

When then–NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Guardian, 11/15/11) defended using brutal police force to evict OWS protesters from Zuccotti Park in the city's Financial District, he challenged the movement by saying "Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments." That AOC's publicity stunt around the slogan "tax the rich" near the tenth anniversary of OWS caused such an uproar is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the life and success of the power of Occupy's ideas. The ascendance of democratic socialist candidates around the country, and Bernie Sanders' impressive presidential primary performance in 2016 and 2020, are examples of how those arguments may be more powerful than Bloomberg—the media mogul who appeared in the aforementioned ProPublica report on billionaires who skirt paying taxes—might have realized.

The media erases the real lessons from the toppling of Kabul

This article originally appeared at FAIR.org.

Corporate media coverage of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the country's US-backed government has offered audiences more mystification than illumination. I looked at editorials in five major US dailies following the Taliban's retaking of Kabul: the Boston Globe, LA Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. The editorial boards of these papers consistently trivialized South Asian lives, erased US responsibility for lethal violence, and made untenable assertions about Washington's supposedly righteous motives in the war.

Uncounted civilian cost

NYT: The Tragedy of Afghanistan

The New York Times (8/15/21) ran the next best thing to a photo of a helicopter taking off from the Kabul embassy roof: a photo of a helicopter flying over the embassy roof.

The editorials evince a callous indifference to the toll of the war on civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the war has also been fought. The New York Times (8/15/21) referred to "at least 2,448 American service members' lives lost in Afghanistan," and to "Afghan casualties so huge—60,000 killed since 2001, by one estimate—that the government kept them a secret." The link makes clear that the authors are talking about deaths among Afghan police and soldiers. Yet, as of April, more than 71,000 civilians—over 47,000 Afghans and more than 24,000 Pakistanis—have been directly killed in the US-initiated war.

The Boston Globe's piece (8/16/21) described "two decades of the United States propping up Afghan forces to keep the Taliban at bay at the cost of more than $2 trillion and more than 2,400 lost military service members." Tens of thousands of dead Afghan and Pakistani civilians evidently aren't significant enough to factor into "the cost" of the war.

"The war in Afghanistan took the lives of more than 2,400 American troops," said the Los Angeles Times editorial (8/16/21), which went on to add, "For decades to come, America will be paying the medical bills of veterans suffering from the emotional and physical toll of their trauma and injuries." The authors ignored dead, wounded and psychologically scarred South Asian civilians, though the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) logged 3,524 civilian injuries in the first half of 2021 alone, and 5,785 in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal (8/15/21, 8/16/21), meanwhile, didn't mention any deaths that took place during the war.

"Some 66,000 Afghan fighters have given their lives in this war during the past 20 years, alongside 2,448 US service members," the Washington Post (8/16/21) pointed out, declining to spare a word for noncombatants. US troops, the article assured readers, "endured very modest casualties, since 2014," without noting that the US inflicted a great many on Afghan civilians in that period: For instance, a 2019 Human Rights Watch report noted that, in the first six months of that year, the US and its partners in what was then the Afghan government killed more civilians than the Taliban did.

Forever war > withdrawal

WaPo: The debacle in Afghanistan is the worst kind: Avoidable

The "Afghan debacle" was "avoidable," the Washington Post (8/16/21) argued, if only Biden had been willing to commit to an indefinite military occupation.

Two of the editorials were clear that they would prefer continuous US war against Afghanistan to withdrawal. The Washington Post (8/16/21) claimed that

a small US and allied military presence—capable of working with Afghan forces to deny power to the Taliban and its Al Qaeda terrorist allies, while diplomats and nongovernmental organizations nurtured a fledgling civil society—not only would have been affordable, but also could have paid for itself in US security and global credibility.

Costs such as the harm the "US and allied military presence" does to Afghans did not enter into the Post's accounting for "affordability." No explanation is offered as to why Afghans should endure the lack of "security" entailed in "US and allied" bombs falling on their heads. Nor did the authors clarify why the US's "global credibility" is a higher priority than, say, stopping the US from killing Afghan children, as it did last October.

The Wall Street Journal (8/15/21) professed concern for the "thousands of translators, their families, and other officials who are in peril from Taliban rule and didn't get out in time," and said that what it sees as the impending "murder of these innocents" will be a "stain on the Biden presidency." Yet the authors argued that the US should continue bombing Afghanistan indefinitely, asserting that

Afghans were willing to fight and take casualties with the support of the US and its NATO allies, especially airpower. A few thousand troops and contractors could have done the job and prevented this rout.

Over the course of the war, that airpower tended to mean the mass death of Afghan civilians: In 2019, for example, US airstrikes killed 546 of them (Washington Post, 9/4/21). In advocating the continued American bombing of Afghanistan to stop the "murder of these innocents," the authors are calling for the "murder of…innocents," just by the US rather than the Taliban.

The 'American dream'

LAT: The Afghan government's collapse is tragic. It was also inevitable

The Los Angeles Times (8/16/21) praised the US's "noble hopes to build a multiparty democracy," insisting that "the people of Afghanistan were failed by their leaders."

The New York Times' editorial board (8/15/21) gushed about the purity of US values, saying that the Taliban's return to power is

unutterably tragic. Tragic because the American dream of being the "indispensable nation" in shaping a world where the values of civil rights, women's empowerment and religious tolerance rule proved to be just that: a dream.

The editors did nothing to explain how they square their view that the US's "dream" entails worldwide "civil rights" and "women's empowerment" with the US's carrying out torture in Afghanistan or its propensity for killing Afghan women (Guardian, 7/11/08).

The board went on:

How [the war] evolved into a two-decade nation-building project in which as many as 140,000 troops under American command were deployed at one time is a story of mission creep and hubris, but also of the enduring American faith in the values of freedom and democracy.

That faith in "freedom" was manifest by such practices as training warlords who killed and abused civilians, and propping up an Afghan state that included officials who sexually assaulted children—actions that US troops were told to ignore, as the New York Times (9/21/15) itself reported.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times (8/16/21) claimed that

the US and its Western allies had noble hopes to build a multiparty democracy—with respect for the rights of women and minorities, an independent judiciary and a new constitution—but nation-building was not an appropriate goal.

It's anyone's guess how the paper reconciles the US and its partners' "noble hopes" for such things as "respect for the rights of women" with the US working with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to finance and arm extremely conservative forces in Afghanistan, so as to undermine progressives in the country while strengthening reactionary elements, a history (described in Robert Dreyfuss' book Devil's Game) that all of the editorials obscure.

Swallowing official justifications

WSJ: Biden's Afghanistan Surrender

The Wall Street Journal (8/15/21) argued that Mr. Trump's withdrawal deadline was a mistake, but Mr. Biden could have maneuvered around it"—meaning he could have ignored it.

Indeed, the editorials suffered from a basic failure to question the official justifications offered for the war and occupation. The New York Times editorial board (8/15/21) wrote that

the war in Afghanistan began in response by the United States and its NATO allies to the attacks of September 11, 2001, as an operation to deny Al Qaeda sanctuary in a country run by the Taliban.

There's no place in that narrative for the fact that eight days into the war, in October 2001, the Taliban offered to discuss turning over Osama Bin Laden (Guardian, 10/14/01). The Journal characterized the Taliban as "the jihadists the US toppled 20 years ago for sheltering Osama bin Laden." But it was in mid-November 2001 (Guardian, 11/17/01) that the US toppled the Taliban, a month after they had said they were willing to talk about extraditing bin Laden.

In the same vein, the Los Angeles Times editorial (8/16/21) said that

after the US ousted the Taliban—which had hosted the Al Qaeda terrorist network and refused to turn over terrorists such as Osama bin Laden — the George W. Bush administration expanded the goals of the mission in ways that in hindsight were never realistic.

This phrasing implies that the US overthrew the Taliban because they "refused to turn over terrorists such as Osama bin Laden." However, in addition to the Taliban signaling that it could be open to extraditing the Al Qaeda leader in October 2001, according to a former head of Saudi intelligence (LA Times, 11/4/01), the Taliban said in 1998 that it would hand over bin Laden to Saudi Arabia, the US's close ally; the Saudi intelligence official says that the Taliban backed off after the US fired cruise missiles at an apparent bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, following attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania attributed to Al Qaeda.

The outlets thus failed to inform their readers that, had the US pursued negotiations for bin Laden's extradition, Afghans may have been spared 20 years of devastating war. That US planners might have drawn up their Afghanistan policies with a view to the country's vast resource wealth and strategic position—and there's evidence that they did (In These Times, 8/1/18)—is not a perspective that the editorials opted to share with their readers. Neither is the idea that the US doesn't have the right to decide who governs other countries.

Engineering forgetfulness about America's Afghan war, if left unchallenged, will make it easier to wage the next one.

The editorial reaction to the Ben & Jerry’s news insinuates that boycotting Israel is extreme -- and illegitimate


Daily News: Freezer burn: After attacking Israel, Ben & Jerry's is going to get its just desserts

Daily News (7/26/21) on Ben & Jerry's withdrawal from the Occupied Territories: "Very pleased are the BDS crowd, Israel-haters and assorted antisemites, but it's an ice-cream headache for Unilever."

Ben & Jerry's decision to halt its operations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Jerusalem has pro-Israel editors working overtime.

The New York Daily News (7/26/21) celebrated counter-boycotts of the ice cream brand, including the state's pension system considering cutting ties with the brand's parent company, Unilever, because of a 2016 executive order against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The tabloid's editorial board, sounding like a sidekick standing behind a gang enforcer, said, "No firm should want to be on that very naughty list."

The New York Post found a brand worker who quit over the West Bank pull out (7/22/21), and a grocery store that is taking the ice cream off its shelves (7/19/21). New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made waves as the first US governor to take executive action against the BDS movement, but the Post (7/24/21) complained that he's not attacking Ben & Jerry's swiftly enough.

In the Wall Street Journal (7/21/21), Scalia Law School professor Eugene Kontorovich gloated that several state pension funds could retaliate against Unilever, because Israel considers parts of the areas Ben & Jerry's is boycotting to be its sovereign territory.

The Boston Herald (7/21/21) went a step further, denouncing Ben & Jerry's decision to boycott the occupation as a part of a longer list of unacceptably progressive causes adopted by the brand, like opposing the Trump administration and celebrating racial justice advocate Colin Kaepernick. "If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran an ice cream company, this is what it would look like," the Herald fumed.

Who's got a double standard?

An op-ed in Newsweek (7/22/21), written by associates of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, invoked a double standard in regards to human rights concerns, saying, "Unilever is reportedly a major purchaser of tomato paste from state-owned factories in China's Xinjiang region, where the US State Department says China is engaged in 'horrific abuses.'"

Newsweek's supposed "gotcha" provides insight into the imbalance we're seeing in the press. China, like Israel, retaliates against brands that participate in boycotts against it—H&M, Nike and other brands were targeted for declining to buy cotton from Xinjiang (BBC, 3/26/21)—but the response from the US press is very different. Fortune (7/26/21) runs advice on "How US CEOs Can Stand Up to China," not calls for states to join China in punishing those CEOs.

While Israel's retaliation against Ben & Jerry's is framed as defending its sovereignty, the China situation is framed in Cold War language: The "latest China-versus-the-West dispute is getting ugly," because the Chinese state was offering "threat[s] to the likes of Adidas and Nike" (Deutsche Welle, 4/9/21).

Time-honored nonviolent tactic

What's striking about the editorial reaction to the Ben & Jerry's news isn't that it supports Israel, but that it insinuates that the tactic of boycotting Israel is extreme and illegitimate when, in fact, boycotts have long been considered one of the most effective nonviolent ways people and groups can have political agency beyond the ballot box.

LGBTQ activists famously led a boycott of Russian products because of the Russian government's treatment of sexual minorities (Guardian, 7/26/13). Civil rights activists in the state of Georgia threatened boycotts of the state's biggest companies unless they opposed that state's voter suppression moves (CBS, 3/29/21). Cuomo even barred state workers from nonessential travel to states that passed anti-LGBTQ laws (Vanity Fair, 3/29/16). When Hugo Chávez was still alive and leading the socialist government of Venezuela, anti-socialists called for a boycott of the Venezuela-owned oil giant Citgo (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/21/06).

The idea that Israel is being "singled out," as opponents of BDS often say, just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The Delano grape boycott and the Montgomery bus boycott are celebrated in American history as examples of how nonviolent action has been used to address injustice. And the press has repeatedly called for a "Palestinian Gandhi" to emerge who can bring the movement for Palestinian rights away from suicide bombs and rocket attacks (FAIR.org, 4/7/10, 4/1/11, 7/18/12; Bloomberg, 12/27/21).

The move by Ben & Jerry's is part of that movement to use nonviolent measures to pressure the Israeli government to recognize democratic rights. To dub boycotts of the occupation as antisemitic (as some Jewish organizations have) or, in the case of Ben & Jerry's, terroristic (according to the Israeli government—New York Post, 7/21/21) shows that calls for Palestinians to protest nonviolently (FAIR.org, 3/29/19) were never made in good faith.

Absent Palestinian voices

AP: Ben & Jerry's to Stops Sales in West Bank, East Jerusalem

AP (7/19/21) was unusual in quoting a Palestinian perspective on Ben & Jerry's decision—that it was "an important step to help pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation."

Michael Brown, associate editor of Electronic Intifada, told FAIR:

Palestinian voices in mainstream US media reporting on Ben & Jerry's have been largely absent. Background on efforts from Vermont activists have received scant attention. There's been coverage of aggressive quotes from Israeli officials, particularly [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid, but very little on what BDS actually is…. Additionally, I would like to see more legal analysis with journalists reaching out to Palestine Legal to find out about the efforts to suppress First Amendment-protected speech on Palestinian rights.

As Brown pointed out, the initial coverage of the issue in the New York Times (7/19/21) didn't feature Palestinian voices or the greater perspective of BDS activists. Coverage at NPR (7/19/21), while featuring the company's reasoning for pulling out of the West Bank, similarly doesn't augment the news with voices from Palestinians or the BDS movement. AP (7/19/21), by contrast, offered a statement from an Arab Joint List lawmaker in Israel and from Palestine activists.

End of a taboo?

Israeli government supporters in the press fear that if Ben & Jerry's and its parent company don't suffer economically for their decision on the Occupied Territories, then support for this kind of political pressure will become less taboo, and other groups could follow suit. And those editorialists have reason to worry. Democratic voters are becoming more sympathetic to supporting Palestinians, an AP poll (6/23/21) suggests, while another poll indicates that a quarter of US Jews are willing to call Israel an "apartheid" state (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 7/13/21).

Given that Ben & Jerry's choice could be a sign of a shifting narrative, perhaps it's not so surprising that editors are having a meltdown over ice cream.

Featured Image: Ben & Jerry's outlet in Hollywood Beach, Florida (cc photo: Rob Olivera)

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WSJ likes ‘more money in taxpayers’ hands’ — only when they’re wealthy hands

WSJ: Two Wins for Tax Cutting in Ohio

The Wall Street Journal (7/5/21) was thrilled by an Ohio tax cut that mainly benefited the wealthy…

When Ohio's Gov. Mike DeWine signed a tax cut into law on July 1, the Wall Street Journal editorial board (7/5/21) was thrilled. It praised the Republican governor, saying he "lower[ed] income-tax rates for all Ohio taxpayers."

While this is technically true, it's also misleading. Average Ohioans get virtually nothing from the tax cut. The Dayton Daily News (7/4/21) thus advised its readers not to get too excited:

Hold off on popping open some fancy champagne—the money you save might not be enough to buy the bottle. The savings for a taxpayer with a taxable income of $50,000 a year is estimated at $34.

Compare that to the windfall to be enjoyed by Ohio's wealthiest. The average member of Ohio's 1% makes $1.45 million annually, and will receive a tax cut of $5,400. The top 5% get 58% of the benefits, and the bottom 80% receive an average cut of just $43. Unsurprisingly, the Wall Street Journal editorial board omits these crucial facts from their analysis, defending the tax cuts on the grounds that they will "leav[e] more money in taxpayers' hands."

WSJ: Didn't States Say They Were Broke?

…but New Jersey tax rebates targeted to the poor and middle class are "sending checks to buy votes" (Wall Street Journal, 6/30/21).

If that's the case, then the editorial board should also love what Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is doing in New Jersey: His most recent budget includes $500 tax rebates for parents making under $150,000. You might call that "leaving more money in taxpayers' hands," and assume the editorial board would be in favor. But you would be wrong.

Instead, the board (6/30/21) smeared the rebates and other social-welfare spending as an attempt to "buy votes." But New Jersey is a deeply blue state where Murphy won his last election by more than 14 percentage points. The next general election is this November—a race rated "Solid D" by the Cook Political Report. Polls show Murphy heavily leading his Republican opponent, Jack Ciatterelli, in a state Joe Biden carried by 16 points. In short, Democrats don't need to "buy" votes in New Jersey. They already have plenty.

More important, though, is the framing. When government helps the working and middle class, it's tantamount to corruption. Buying votes, after all, would be blatant electoral fraud. But when bought-and-paid-for politicians enact big giveaways to the ultrawealthy, the Wall Street Journal applauds them and considers their actions exemplary. It's clear where their sympathies lie: not with all taxpayers, or even the majority of them—just a select few.

Corporate media needs to look at their own role in how we got here: media critic

Media seem to have finally found the line they won't abide crossing. After both sides–ing the political situation for four years of Donald Trump, the storming of the Capitol by an armed rebellion incited by Trump himself has brought out swift and strong words.

WaPo: Trump caused the assault on the Capitol. He must be removed.Washington Post (1/6/21): "Those who sought to benefit from Mr. Trump's mob-stoking rage…will always bear the stigma of having contributed to the day's shameful events."


"Trump Caused the Assault on the Capitol. He Must Be Removed," declared the Washington Post editorial board (1/6/21). "Responsibility for this act of sedition lies squarely with the president, who has shown that his continued tenure in office poses a grave threat to US democracy," they wrote. "He should be removed." They continued:

The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security. Vice President Pence, who had to be whisked off the Senate floor for his own protection, should immediately gather the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring that Mr. Trump is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

The Post deplored GOP lawmakers like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who continued to press their baseless attempt to overturn the election, and praised Mitch McConnell, who "to his lasting credit" did not join them, even if, as they noted, "almost all" GOP members "bear some blame for what occurred on Wednesday." The Republicans, the paper wrote, have an "overriding responsibility to the nation: stopping Mr. Trump and restoring faith in democracy."

It's a surprisingly forceful position. At the same time, imagine if the paper—and the rest of the establishment media—had taken the GOP's threat to democracy seriously before it reached the point of the president inciting an armed insurrection on Capitol Hill. Yesterday's events were the logical outcome of years of the GOP and Trump casting aside institutional rules and norms one by one with increasing boldness, as the press corps described this increasingly authoritarian behavior as "us[ing] all of the levers of his power" (FAIR.org, 10/15/20), and years of giving Trump and his allies space to make their bogus claims of election fraud (FAIR.org, 9/15/20). The media's long history of both sides–ing the issue of purported election fraud (Extra!, 11–12/08, 10/12; CounterSpin, 10/21/16) paved the way for Trump's mythology that has seduced a breathtakingly—and dangerously—large proportion of the public.

Imagine if corporate media didn't praise McConnell, Lindsey Graham or any other Republicans who propped up Trump's dangerous lies for so long, for finally turning on him. Do they really believe we could have gotten to this point if McConnell and the rest of the party hadn't gone along with Trump's dangerously escalating lies–not just for the last several weeks, but for the last four years? If you keep your foot on the gas as the car speeds toward a cliff, but jump out a few seconds before you reach the edge, do you really deserve "lasting credit" for that?

The real test of corporate media will be not whether they are able to forcefully condemn a president's seditious acts, but whether they go back to business as usual after Trump is gone, pretending that the GOP, a disturbing number of whose members in Congress still pushed to overturn the election after the armed insurrection, is a democratic party that can be counted on to restore faith in democracy.

NYT: Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?


New York Times (1/5/20): "More than 150 Republican lawmakers have signed on to reject the votes of tens of millions of Americans."

The Times editorial board, while silent so far after the events of yesterday, did publish a fairly benign opinion the day before ("Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?"—1/5/20), whose optimism clearly didn't take seriously the extensive planning underway in broad daylight on right-wing websites: "The Republican effort to derail Congress's electoral vote count on Wednesday will fail, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in at noon on January 20, as the Constitution commands."

The Times could only muster the courage to say that "there is a strong argument" for impeachment (linking to an op-ed they published on January 4) without actually making that argument themselves; the piece concluded by praising Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for resisting Trump's corrupt attempts at overturning the election results, and lamenting, "If only that weren't extraordinary in the Republican Party today."

What's missing so far is a mea culpa from the media for its own role in normalizing the GOP's long-term efforts to drag this country toward authoritarian rule—and their cynical enjoyment of the ratings bonanza provided by the enthralling spectacle of Trump's assault on democracy (FAIR.org, 3/1/16). Instead, we have the editor of Columbia Journalism Review (11/4/20) castigating the press for spending too much time in the past four years on Trump's "infinite faults," and not enough trying to understand Trump supporters (FAIR.org, 11/16/20).

Kudos to the Washington Post for finally calling for a political reckoning. Now it's time for you to call for a media reckoning.

Centrists lose again — and mainstream media blames the left again

Joe Biden hadn't even been declared the victor of the 2020 election before establishment Democrats, in the face of poorer-than-expected results in House and Senate races, began pointing fingers at the left—with corporate media giving them a major assist.

Democrats had been hoping for big wins on election night, with the possibility of winning not only the presidency but also the Senate, and increasing their majority in the House. But while Biden has come out on top, the party's most optimistic outcome in the Senate would be a 50/50 split (if they win both Georgia runoff seats), giving them a majority with the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. And rather than gaining in the House, Democrats lost several seats.

In the wake of these disappointments, the right wing of the party immediately blamed its left wing for the poor showing, airing their grievances in a private conference call among House Democrats that was leaked to reporters.

In a write-up about the call, the Washington Post's Rachael Bade and Erica Werner (11/5/20) quoted and paraphrased 14 sources blaming those who "endorse far-left positions" for Democrats' losses, counterbalanced by only four sources defending the left. All of the progressive sources were named; half of the establishment sources were either quoted anonymously or presented as unspecified "moderates"—or, twice, simply as "Democrats," committing the exasperatingly common journalistic sleight-of-hand that erases progressive Democrats as legitimate members of their party.

In addition to quoting a handful of participants on the call, Bade and Werner interviewed numerous "moderates" for the article ("Several moderate Democrats said in interviews…"), but only managed to interview two progressives: Alexandra Rojas, head of the leftist PAC Justice Democrats, along with Rep. Jared Huffman, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—who took the side of the centrists.

Huffman's contrary position, while perhaps surprising to some readers, and serving to portray the "centrist" view as even more of a consensus position, would have been less surprising to Bade, who had quoted Huffman just a few days earlier (11/1/20) about his opposition to leftists' efforts to exert more influence within the party. In other words, the reporters appeared to seek out only one source who could have been expected to offer a forceful defense of bold leftist ideas, to balance a whole parade of attackers.

In its piece on the dust-up, in which "Democrats traded excuses, blame and prognostications," the New York Times (11/5/20) quoted South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who "cautioned against running on 'Medicare for all or defunding police or socialized medicine,' adding that if Democrats pursued such policies, 'we're not going to win.'" What the article didn't mention was that Clyburn has taken more money from the pharmaceutical industry in the past decade than any other member of the House or Senate (Post and Courier, 12/16/18).

The piece then quoted Rep. Marc Veasey, who "warned his fellow members against anti-fracking talk." Veasey ranked fourth among House Democrats in taking oil and gas industry money in the 2020 election cycle, and got 70% of his total campaign contributions from PACs. (To put that into perspective, the two progressives quoted in the Times piece, Pramila Jayapal and Rashida Tlaib, got 13% and 3% of their campaign contributions from PACs, respectively.) Readers might have found such information useful in analyzing the motivations behind those quotes.

CNN's Chris Cillizza (11/6/20) jumped into the fray as well, praising Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA official (another piece of relevant context not mentioned by Cillizza) who had some of the harshest words for progressives, for speaking "some hard truth to her party"–like, "We need to not ever use the words 'socialist' or 'socialism' ever again," as if the McCarthy era had never ended (FAIR.org, 10/9/20).

After quoting Spanberger extensively and then printing some of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's rebuttal ("You can't just tell the Black, brown and youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their reps champion them when they need us"), Cillizza wrote:

What's beyond debate is that Republican strategists took comments made by liberals within the Democratic Party and used them to blast everyone from Spanberger on down.

Though all of these pieces offered plenty of suggestions that the left wing's vocal support for things like socialism, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and defunding the police cost the party seats in 2020, they failed to provide any actual data that might have helped readers evaluate the veracity of those statements.

It's an important point, because understanding Democrats' lackluster performance should help guide their platform and messaging moving forward. But these articles aren't shedding light on the data—perhaps because it would thoroughly undermine the anti-progressive framing.

As the New York Times' Jim Tankersley (10/14/20) reported just last month in an unusually frank assessment of the popularity of left-wing ideas, the right's wall-to-wall attempts to bring down Democrats with the "socialist" label haven't been very effective, despite Cillizza's suggestion to the contrary. That's in part because Biden and other centrists deny them so forcefully, but in part because "many of the plans favored by the most liberal wing of Democratic leaders remain popular with wide groups of voters, polling shows." Tankersley pointed to a recent Times poll that found 2 in 3 respondents support a wealth tax, 3 in 5 favor Medicare for All (including 2 of 3 independent voters), and even higher numbers support free college tuition.

The Green New Deal is likewise broadly popular: One poll specifically of swing House districts (YouGov/Data for Progress, 9/19) found that respondents supported the idea by a 13-point margin, 49% to 36%—even when informed that it will cost trillions of dollars.

And with some races still not called, it's safe to say that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal didn't sink the Dems. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out (Twitter, 11/7/20) that every Democratic co-sponsor of Medicare for All in a swing district won re-election. And Gizmodo's Brian Kahn (11/9/20) found that of 93 Democratic incumbents who co-sponsored the Green New Deal—including five in swing districts—only one lost their race.

On the question of calls to "defund the police," it's important to clarify—as did the Intercept (11/6/20), but none of these establishment media reports—that such calls grew out of the Black Lives Matter protests, not the platform of progressive congressmembers, and that that movement led to a massive spike in Democratic voter registration. In other words, without the movement that gave us the slogan "defund the police," the Democrats would almost certainly have witnessed even greater losses– including, quite probably, the White House.

As the Intercept also pointed out, it appears likely that left-wing organizing in Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania resulted in decisive Democratic gains in key cities and suburbs in those swing states. And Ocasio-Cortez named many other problems with the establishment's campaign strategies, running from underinvestment in digital campaigning to a lack of a ground game to a lack of recognition of or outreach to communities of color.

Clearly the 2020 election contains many lessons for the 2022 midterms, but it's unlikely the right conclusions will be drawn from the fact-free centrist narrative presented by corporate media.

Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the L.A. Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.

Julian Assange: Press shows little interest in media ‘Trial of Century’

Labeled the media "trial of the century," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition hearing is currently taking place in London—although you might not have heard if you're relying solely on corporate media for news. If extradited, Assange faces 175 years in a Colorado supermax prison, often described as a "black site" on US soil.

The United States government is asking Britain to send the Australian publisher to the US to face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. He is accused of aiding and encouraging Chelsea Manning to hack a US government computer in order to publish hundreds of thousands of documents detailing American war crimes, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. The extradition, widely viewed as politically motivated, has profound consequences for journalists worldwide, as the ruling could effectively criminalize the possession of leaked documents, which are an indispensable part of investigative reporting.

WikiLeaks has entered into partnership with five high-profile outlets around the world: the New York Times, Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France), Der Spiegel (Germany) and El País (Spain). Yet those publications have provided relatively little coverage of the hearing.

Since the hearing began on September 7, the Times, for instance, has published only two bland news articles (9/7/20, 9/16/20)—one of them purely about the technical difficulties in the courtroom—along with a short rehosted AP video (9/7/20). There have been no editorials and no commentary on what the case means for journalism. The Times also appears to be distancing itself from Assange, with neither article noting that it was one of WikiLeaks' five major partners in leaking information that became known as the CableGate scandal.

Guardian: 'Politicising' and 'weaponising' are becoming rather convenient arguments

Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman (9/9/20) turned a reader's question about "liv[ing] in a time of so much insecurity" into a bizarre rant against Julian Assange and his partner, Stella Moris.

The Guardian, whose headquarters are less than two miles from the Old Bailey courthouse where Assange's hearing is being held, fared slightly better in terms of quantity, publishing eight articles since September 7. However, perhaps the most notable content came from columnist Hadley Freedman (9/9/20).

When asked in an advice article: "We live in a time of so much insecurity. But is there anything we can expect from this increasingly ominous-looking winter with any certainty?" she went on a bizarre tangential rant ridiculing the idea that Assange's trial could possibly be "politicized," also crassly brushing off the idea that his young children would never see their father again, and never answering anything like the question she was asked. Holding people to account "for a mess they could have avoided," she notes, "is not 'weaponizing' anything — it is just asking them to do their jobs properly." She also claimed that believing Assange's trial was politicized was as ridiculous as thinking antisemitism claims were cynically weaponized against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which, she meant to suggest, was a preposterous idea. This was not an off-the-cuff remark transcribed and published, but a written piece that somehow made it past at least one editor.

Like the Times, the Guardian appeared to be hoping to let people forget the fact it built its worldwide brand off its partnership with WikiLeaks; it was only mentioned in a forthright op-ed by former Brazilian president Lula da Silva (9/21/20), an outlier piece.

The Guardian should be taking a particularly keen role in the affair, seeing that two of its journalists are alleged by WikiLeaks to have recklessly and knowingly disclosed the password to an encrypted file containing a quarter-million unredacted WikiLeaks documents, allowing anyone—including every security agency in the world—to see an unredacted iteration of the leak. In 2018, the Guardian also falsely reported that Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort had conducted a meeting with Assange and unnamed "Russians" at the Ecuadorian embassy (FAIR.org, 12/3/18). And, as former employee Jonathan Cook noted, the newspaper is continually being cited by the prosecution inside the courtroom.

Der Spiegel: Mögliche Höchststrafe: 175 Jahre Knast

Der Speigel's headline (9/7/20) reads: "Maximum Sentence: 175 Years in Prison."

There were only two articles in the English or French versions of Le Monde (9/7/20, 9/18/20) and only one in either of Der Spiegel's English or German websites (9/7/20), although the German paper did at least acknowledge its own partnership with Assange. There was no coverage of the hearings in El País, in English or Spanish, though there was a piece (9/10/20) about the US government thwarting a Spanish investigation into the CIA spying on Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London—accompanied by a photo of a protester against his extradition.

The rest of corporate media showed as little interest in covering a defining moment in press freedom. There was nothing at all from CNN. CBS's two articles (9/7/20, 9/22/20) were copied and pasted from news agencies AP and AFP, respectively. Meanwhile, the entire sum of MSNBC's coverage amounted to one unclear sentence in a mini news roundup article (9/18/20).

Virtually every relevant human rights and press freedom organization is sounding the alarm about the incendiary precedent this case sets for the media. The Columbia Journalism Review (4/18/19), Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation note that the government includes in its indictment regular journalistic procedures, such as protecting sources' names and using encrypted files—meaning that this "hacking" charge could easily be extended to other journalists. Trevor Timm, founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told the court this week that if the US prosecutes Assange, every journalist who has possessed a secret file can be criminalized. Thus, it essentially gives a carte blanche to those in power to prosecute whomever they want, whenever they want, even foreigners living halfway around the world.

The United Nations has condemned his persecution, with Amnesty International describing the case as a "full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression." Virtually every story of national significance includes secret or leaked material; they could all be in jeopardy under this new prosecutorial theory.

President Donald Trump has continually fanned the flames, demonizing the media as the "enemy of the people." Already 26% of the country (including 43% of Republicans) believe the president should have the power to shut down outlets engaging in "bad behavior." A successful Assange prosecution could be the legal spark for future anti-journalistic actions.

Yet the case has been met with indifference from the corporate press. Even as their house is burning down, media are insisting it is just the Northern Lights.

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