All posts filed under: Media

Reasons to be Hopeful

If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be — what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into—you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago.  You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies. You’d choose right now. ~Former President Barack Obama, 2016 We are living through the healthiest, wealthiest, best-educated, and most abundant time in the history of human civilisation. No age has seen more humans experience a higher standard of material, physical, and mental well-being than the one in which we are now living. If that statement strikes you as counterintuitive, uncomfortable, or even offensive, then you are not alone. Many people dispute or outright reject the positive indicators of global progress, expressing a vivid scepticism or wholesale rejection and even hostility to this news. A great many others see the human progress around them and feel ashamed or embarrassed to …

Journalists Need to Do a Better Job Matching ‘Experts’ to Their Actual Expertise

These are busy times for U.S. law professors. I study the constitutional law of the presidency—impeachment, pardons, the 25th Amendment, and the like. Reporters call and email frequently, asking for information or a quote about the latest Trump-related hullabaloo. For a republic to thrive, its populace needs a solid grasp of civics. Ideally, journalists and experts will combine to spread knowledge and squash misinformation. By and large they do. But sometimes I worry about how well the “media-academic complex” performs these functions when highly technical issues are in the news. My worries spiked on December 3, when Republican Representative Matt Gaetz suggested that lawmakers impeach Barack Obama rather than Donald Trump. In response to the public’s startled reaction, Gaetz doubled down, tweeting that yes, ex-presidents really can be impeached. As luck would have it, I published a lengthy law review article in 2001 on the impeachability of former officials. More recently, I devoted a chapter to the question in my 2012 book, Constitutional Cliffhangers: A Legal Guide for Presidents and Their Enemies. Nobody else has …

Denial and Defamation: The ITN-LM Libel Trial Revisited (II)

PART TWO: THE TRIAL VI. The Standards of Western Journalism The trial eventually began at the High Courts of Justice in London on 28 February 2000. The defendants—recorded as Michael Hume, InformInc (LM) Ltd., and Helene Guldberg—arrived at court on the heels of a disappointing pre-trial hearing. The presiding judge, Mr. Justice Morland, had ruled the testimony of a number of key defence witnesses, including the BBC’s John Simpson, inadmissible. He was not interested in rehearsing the debates about the journalism of attachment or press freedom that had convulsed the chatterati for three years. The claimants—recorded as Independent Television News Ltd., Penny Marshall, and Ian Williams—held that Deichmann’s article, Hume’s accompanying editorial, and the first LM press release were all false and defamatory. Under Britain’s controversial libel law, the defendants were required to show that their contested claims about ITN’s reporting were true. Morland simply wanted to establish if that was the case. The defence’s priority was to establish the location of the barbed wire fence at Trnopolje. This their lawyer Gavin Millar successfully accomplished …

Denial and Defamation: The ITN-LM Libel Trial Revisited (I)

PART ONE: THE CAMPS Intro: From Phnom Pehn to Srebrenica In 1977, Noam Chomsky and his co-author, the late Edward S. Herman, wrote an essay for the Nation entitled “Distortions at Fourth Hand,” in which they scorned reports that the Khmer Rouge were turning Cambodia into a charnel house. Stories of genocide, they suggested, were either exaggerated or fabricated outright by refugees, and any deaths—regrettable though they may be—were most likely the result of disease, starvation, and confusion caused by America’s devastating involvement in the foregoing civil war. The two books that bore the brunt of Herman and Chomsky’s disdain were John Barron and Anthony Paul’s Murder of a Gentle Land and François Ponchaud’s Cambodia Year Zero. Contemporaneous accounts from and about war zones are rarely correct in every particular. But Chomsky and Herman ignored everything Ponchaud and Barron-Paul got right, and seized upon isolated errors and inconsistencies to discredit their work in its entirety. Gareth Porter and George C. Hildebrand’s book Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, on the other hand, they praised as “a carefully …

Toronto’s Meghan Murphy Meltdown: A Case Study in Media-Driven Social Panic

Speaking on the Quillette podcast last week, David Frum described how his hometown of Toronto sometimes feels unrecognizable to him, having been utterly transformed by waves of successful immigrants. It’s something you hear from many older Torontonians, who remain awestruck by their city’s rapid metamorphosis from a sleepy provincial capital ruled by a clique of moralizing WASP conformists, to a glittering, cosmopolitan hub of entertainment and finance. But every once in a while, one still can catch a glimpse of the city’s old, preachy cold-roast-beef identity. In fact, that is exactly what happened this week, when Meghan Murphy came to town. And who is Meghan Murphy? According to CBC radio host Carol Off, Murphy is someone whose extremism summons to mind comparisons with “a Holocaust denier or a white supremacist.” A Globe & Mail writer dedicated a column to branding Murphy an agent of “fear and meanness.” Toronto Mayor John Tory was so concerned by Murphy’s apparently horrifying message that he publicly called out his city’s chief librarian for permitting Murphy to deliver a speech …

Frederick Douglass, The Columbian Orator, and the 1619 Project

On September 3, 1838, the most famous slave in American history began his escape to freedom. Dressed as a free black sailor and equipped with forged identification papers, Frederick Douglass fled Maryland. Remarkably, this fugitive carried with him a book, which was perhaps his sole possession: The Columbian Orator. In his three autobiographies, written over the five decades of a very public life, Douglass consistently paid tribute to The Columbian Orator. He describes the book as an intellectual turning point that liberated him from the mental shackles of slavery. Indeed, the connection between slavery of the mind and slavery of the body is a recurrent theme in Douglass’s political thought. In his autobiographical Narrative (1845), he explains: I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; …

Olga Tokarczuk: Poland’s “Patriots” Struggle To Accept The Nobel Prize

For a few minutes on Thursday afternoon, after Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Prize in Literature had been announced by the Nobel Committee, Polish public television did not mention her name. Her picture appeared on the screen of TVP Info, the public news channel, along with the headline: “A Pole Awarded the Nobel Prize.” But her name was conspicuously omitted. I had rushed to turn on our TV at the Warsaw editorial offices of Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal newspaper, to see how public television would handle the news. Previous Polish Nobel Laureates—from Marie Curie to Wisława Szymborska—have been sources of great national pride in Poland. But Tokarczuk is on the Polish Ministry of Culture’s informal “black list,” and it may well be that in the minutes following the announcement of her award, the TVP Info editors simply did not dare mention her name. So, ironically, a writer who has been consistently denounced as unpatriotic by the ruling national-conservative establishment, was simply described as a Pole.  This weekend, a week before the parliamentary elections next Sunday (October 13), the charismatic …

Trudeau’s Government Tried to Block My Election Reporting. (Thankfully, It Failed)

On Monday, I was in a federal courthouse in Toronto, fighting for a free press in Canada. It marks the third straight week that my digital media organization, True North, has been fighting against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and his proxies for the right to report on the current federal election campaign. In one notorious case, Liberals even ordered police to pull my journalist—an experienced broadcaster named Andrew Lawton—out of an entry lineup at a Trudeau rally, even after Lawton had been officially registered, given a wristband by organizers, photographed, and placed on the admission list. This took place on the grounds of a public college. True North has a business model that I believe will be followed by other digital-media enterprises—and which stands in stark contrast to the legacy media that the Canadian government has pledged to subsidize with a $600-million bailout fund. We are a registered federal charity with two major programs—one focused on traditional, non-partisan think-tank work, the other focused on investigative journalism, straight daily news and political analysis. Like other news outlets, …

Understanding the Propaganda Campaign Against So-called ‘TERFs’

“TERFs and what everyone needs to know about trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” ran the title of an article in Cosmo last month. TERFs—a term of abuse that means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”—are a “minority group who usually stick to online forums,” it explained, though they also hand out “transphobic leaflets.” Under the guise of protecting women, they spread the idea that “trans women are a threat because they are men, attempting to gain access to women’s spaces such as bathrooms and trick lesbians into having sex with them.” Many are, apparently, “funded by anti-abortion and evangelical groups.” Some call themselves “gender-critical” to seem more “palatable to the general public.” But, the article argues, it would be best to call them what they are: “anti-trans activists.” The same themes appeared in an article published a few weeks earlier by Vox, entitled, “The rise of anti-trans ‘radical’ feminists, explained.” So-called TERFs, author Katelyn Burns wrote, are anti-trans bigots and anti-feminist; funded by conservative Christians; a small online cabal in thrall to gender stereotypes. Burns also set out, in some …

The Case for Black Optimism

When was the last time you heard good news about the state of black America? Given the way the topic is reported in the media, you could be forgiven for not remembering. Most will be familiar with the standard portrayal: black people are disproportionately poor, incarcerated, born into single-parent homes, and harassed by cops. There’s the test score gap, which places black kids at a disadvantage when applying to college; the school-to-prison pipeline, which prepares black boys for prison by punishing them disproportionately in school; and the racial wealth gap, which won’t close for several centuries if current trends continue.  In an era when bipartisan agreement is scarce, the Left and the Right seem to be united in their somber assessment of black America, though they locate the blame in different places. Democrats tend to blame systemic racism and the legacy of white supremacy. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to blame Democrats. Recall President Trump’s infamous appeal for the black vote: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs,” …