Sunday, December 21, 2014

If Computer Hacking is a Crime, Which Countries Need to be Prosecuted?

Do a simple word search for any reporting done on the Sony hacking story.  Search for NSA. You won't find much.   

A key element of journalism is to place issues into context.   

When George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were telling the American people that Saddam had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, journalists had a responsibility to report it.   They did.   Where the bulk of the press failed was to put that statement into proper context.   After Saddam used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, what did the United States do?   The United States continued to support Saddam. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld should have been asked the simple question, why?   And America's continued support of Saddam following his use of WMD should have been included in stories to place the issue in proper context.    

For the Sony hacking story the press is once again failing to put the issue into proper context.

Who leads the world in computer hacking?   The NSA.   The NSA has hacked into computers around the world including the computers of our allies.  Here are some stories to remind us of what the NSA has done.

And the U.S. using high tech sabotage is nothing new.   The CIA has a long history of that.   During the Reagan Administration, the CIA planted a virus in a power plant in Russia designed to cause loss of crucial controls.   The computer virus worked; the power plant blew up  You can read about that one in a former CIA employee's book available on Amazon. 

Any reporter questioning any member of Congress about how to respond to North Korea should be asking a series of follow up questions:    Should there be mandatory prosecution of countries found guilty of computer hacking?   Mandatory prosecution for offenders is required for torture, should it be required for computer hacking?   How should other countries respond to hacking by the NSA?  

Do we want to be a country that respects the rule-of-law, or in the digital age do we become a country that totally ignores the privacy of individuals, corporations and countries?  It's disappointing reporters aren't asking that question.

Journalists need to be asking the questions that need to be asked and stop playing government cheerleader.   The most unpatriotic act any journalist can commit is to fail to question her/his government.   When journalism fails, bad things happen. 


Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Journalist's Christmas List to Santa

Dear Santa,

I understand you're incredibly busy, but in the land of the secret government approved by the secret court, there's never been a time when journalism has been in greater need for some Christmas cheer.   If at all possible, could you please bring the following gifts:

1.  Earmuffs for the citizens of Washington, D.C. so they won't have to listen to the barking from all the lapdogs.  

2. Two items for the Washington press corps:  1.) an understanding that torture is like rape: it is ALWAYS wrong and 2.) a question to ask any politician who proclaims family values on the campaign trail who is defending torture:  what would Jesus say?

3.  A flash drive with a video of the acceptance speech by Jorge Ramos for his award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.   This should go to every journalist in the country (so you don't have to stop at FOX).  

4.  For Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and 60 Minutes, a copy of the 8th grade journalism 101 lesson plan.   Sabrina Rubin Erdely,  Pete Thamel, and Lara Logan and every CBS executive who approved her Benghazi story that could have been blown up with 15 minutes of checking the CBS News archive seem to have forgotten the basics.   Journalism requires verification. Journalism requires checking your facts. 

5.  Pens for sports reporters.   Currently, most only have pom poms. 

6.  Basic computer-assisted reporting skills for university student journalists who can easily examine the university's grading database and pinpoint puff courses for athletes at their university - they're the ones where everyone always gets an A every semester.   This is 
an analysis provosts should do but they don't and local reporters could do but they won't - see number 5.   

7.  The URL's for the Guardian and Al Jazeera and BBC for CNN so it can see there's more than one story to cover in a day.    

8.  A plaque that says "Giving a NUT Equal Time is Not Fairness, IT IS IDIOTIC" to news organizations giving equal time to those who don't believe in science (climate change).

9.  Membership in IRE for Cincinnati Enquirer editor Carolyn Washburn so hopefully someone will tell her if she goes to the annual convention what an investigative reporter is.   It is NOT someone who "works with your advertising partner to grow and monetize the 25-45 audience."

10.  And most of all Santa, on your naughty and nice list, please tell President Obama it is very naughty to prosecute people who tell the truth (whistleblowers) and not nice at all to fail to prosecute those from the CIA and NSA who lie to Congress.

Merry Christmas Santa.  


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Moral Dilemma of Torture for Doctors & Lawyers & Politicians & Columnists

Since the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on torture, there's been much discussion over the moral dilemma posed following 911.  What can we do to go after the terrorists?    How far can we go to get those terrorists we've captured to tell us what other terrorists are going to do?  

As far as any moral dilemma when it comes to torture, it's simple.   There is no moral dilemma.

Torture is wrong.

No civilized country authorizes torture for any reason, ever.   Torture is wrong.   It's like raping a woman.   It is ALWAYS wrong.   It's like beating a child.  It is ALWAYS WRONG.

So for lawyers, it's simple.   Torture is wrong.   Coming up with a legal justification for torture is unethical, immoral and wrong.

For doctors and psychologists who assisted the CIA, it's simple.   Torture is wrong.   Helping the CIA torture is unethical, immoral and wrong.  

For politicians or columnists like Charles Krauthammer who justify torture, it's simple.
Torture is wrong.   Torture did not help our country.   It hurt it.

The United States used to have some moral high ground in the international community.   Now, thanks to torture, it has none.  

There is no moral dilemma.   Torture is wrong.   It is ALWAYS wrong.  

This Sunday from the pulpit, how many sermons across this nation will address torture?   Will our nation's religious leaders say torture is wrong or will they remain silent like the nation's  university presidents and corporate CEO's who say nothing when their country's government has admitted the United State of America is a country that approved torture?

The moral dilemma for the country is not torture.  The moral dilemma is the deafening silence from those who should be expressing outrage at those in the Bush Administration who approved and sanctioned torture.   

Torture is wrong.   It is ALWAYS wrong. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Torture: What Would Jesus Say?

Following the Senate Intelligence Committee's release of the torture report summarized succinctly in the lead by the Guardian...

The full extent of the CIA’s interrogation and detention programmes launched in the wake of the September 11 terror attack was laid bare in a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday that concluded the agency’s use of torture was brutal and ineffective – and that the CIA repeatedly lied about its usefulness."

...there's a surprising silence.

Where are America's religious leaders?   What do they say?

In the interviews of Republicans objecting to the release of the report who during their re-election campaigns tout both family and American values, where is the basic accountability question for those American values?   What would Jesus say?   I'm meaning no disrespect to other religions, but Republicans who tout family values are usually Christian. 

In the current debate on the effectiveness of torture there's much discussion of what would work and what wouldn't work.  Commentators and politicians alike say this is a complex question.   Is it?   Do you approve of torture or not?   Is beating your wife ok?   Is sexual assault on campus ok?  It's not complex at all.   Do you approve of torture?  

What are some of things the CIA did?   As the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report states, among the techniques were:  rectal hyrdration, threatening detainees with threats to harm detainees' families, including threats to sexually abuse the mother of the detainee.   Captives were stripped naked.  Dragged and hit.  

 What would Jesus say?    

Forget the Geneva Convention.   Join Dick Cheney in flushing the Constitution down the toilet.   Just go straight to religion.   After all, it was President Bush who said he prays every day.   Did he pray for guidance on torture?   Is that something a religious person who reads the New Testament even needs to ask for divine guidance?  

The King James Bible says, "And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheeck offer also the other; and him that taketh away they cloke forbid not to take thy coat also."   Is there any possibility that somehow "turn the other cheek" equates to "feed the person through his rectum?" 

Ask the question.   What would Jesus say President Bush?   What would Jesus say Congressman Rogers?  What would Jesus say Secretary Rumsfeld?   Would Jesus say, "threaten to run a broomstick up their ass!"

Full Disclosure:  I think torture is wrong.   I think lying to Congress is wrong.   I think lying to the American people is wrong.  And anyone who believes anything Dick Cheney says should give me a call because I can give you a great buy on the Brooklyn Bridge as long as you send me cash first.  And someone should ask Dick Cheney, what would Jesus say?

The threat to American democracy comes not from terrorism but from government secrecy combined with the failure of the press to do its job.

When it comes to torture, a worthwhile question to ask your politician or government official is what would Jesus say?      Don't hold your breath waiting for that question to be asked.   Keep in mind, the reason we had a war in Iraq was because the press failed to do its job. And now, journalists just play he said/she said.   

Imagine for a moment what both friends and enemies would be saying if the United States had treated prisoners humanely.   We didn't.   We tortured.   We're a country that thinks it's ok to feed a prisoner by shoving food up his ass.  We're a country that thinks it's ok to strip prisoners naked and beat them.   Global climate change will take care of our species in the coming years, but in the meantime, perhaps we should ask, what would Jesus say?    

A worthwhile reminder of what the press should do and the problems caused when it fails is to read an excellent book,  935 Lies by Charles Lewis.

When journalism fails, what would Jesus say?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

What SI, 60 Minutes and Rolling Stone Forgot

Journalism requires verification.

Standard operating procedure for a journalist is to remind sources of that.   

"I'm a journalist. So I'm sure you understand when I say I don't believe anyone.   My job is to verify and confirm."  

The type of story (business, entertainment, political, education, medical, sports) makes no difference.  It's basic.  Journalists check facts.  Journalists verify and confirm.  

Sports Illustrated forgot that when it did a cover story of the football player with the poor dead girlfriend.    Instead of fact checking, SI published a national example on how not to report a feature story and Deadspin got it right:  Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax.

At 60 Minutes in its exclusive report featuring the guy writing a book about the Benghazi attack being published by a CBS subsidiary, the interview as broadcast isn't believable to any reporter who is actually a journalist.   The scene is described as Al Qaeda fighters everywhere.  Morgan Jones (real name - Dylan Davies) tells Lara Logan that in this incredibly dangerous situation an Al Qaeda fighter just walks up to him so Jones hits him with the butt of his rifle.

Who believes a story like that?   An Al Qaeda fighter in the overrun and burning compound just walks up to an American and allows himself to be hit the face with a rifle butt?  As Mother Jones later detailed, there were lots of basic questions that any journalist would be asking when vetting this story.   

Confirm and verify.   It's basic.   It's essential.  Why didn't Rolling Stone bother to do it as it reported a gang rape at the University of Virginia?  The magazine's note to readers is a long-winded way of saying it has forgotten how to do basic journalism.   Rolling Stone writes:  "We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie's request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account." 

When the President says Iraq poses an "imminent threat," a journalist doesn't believe that. A journalist seeks to verify and confirm.   What evidence is there?  Prior to the war, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Special Committee on Iraq both found Saddam had no nuclear capability.    There were some exceptions, but most of the Washington Press Corps didn't bother to confirm and verify, it just played human microphone stand.   Had journalists done their jobs, there would have been no war with Iraq. There was no threat, just the political desire by the Bush Administration to change the political map of the Middle East.  

The most unpatriotic act a journalist can ever commit is to fail to question his/her government.   That's more essential now than ever since we live in the land of the secret government approved by the secret court. 

It doesn't matter if you're reporting for the New York Times or the Tri-County News or 60 Minutes or the tv station in Glendive, Montana, the role of the journalist does not change.   The journalist confirms and verifies.  Journalism requires verification.   When journalism fails, bad things happen.