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Monday, February 28, 2011

Fwd: [bangla-vision] The military/media attacks on the Hastings article

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From: Romi Elnagar <>
Date: Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 4:53 AM
Subject: [bangla-vision] The military/media attacks on the Hastings article


The military/media attacks on the Hastings article

The military/media attacks on the Hastings article
.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the commander of NATO's mission to train Afghan policemen and soldiers Kabul, speaks in Kabul, earlier this month.

Last June, when Rolling Stone published Michael Hastings' article which ended the career of Obama's Afghanistan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- an article which was just awarded the prestigious Polk Award -- the attacks on Hastings were led not by military officials but by some of Hastings' most celebrated journalistic colleagues.  The New York Times' John Burns fretted that the article "has impacted, and will impact so adversely, on what had been pretty good military/media relations" and accused Hastings of violating "a kind of trust" which war reporters "build up" with war Generals; Politico observed that a "beat reporter" -- unlike the freelancing Hastings -- "would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal's remarks"; and an obviously angry Lara Logan of CBS News strongly insinuated (with no evidence) that Hastings had lied about whether the comments were on-the-record and then infamously sneered:  "Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has."  Here's Jon Stewart last year mocking the revealing media disdain for Rolling Stone and Hastings in the wake of their McChrystal story.

Hastings has now written another Rolling Stone article that reflects poorly on a U.S. General in Afghanistan.  The new article details how Lt. Gen. William Caldwell "illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in 'psychological operations' to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war" and then railroaded the whistle-blowing officer who objected to the program.  Now, the same type of smear campaign is being launched at Hastings as well as at his primary source, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes:   from military officials and their dutiful media-servants.  Ever since publication of this new article, military-subservient "reporters" have disseminated personal attacks on Hastings and his journalism as well as on Holmes and his claims, all while inexcusably granting anonymity to the military leaders launching those attacks and uncritically repeating them.  As usual, anyone who makes powerful government or military leaders look bad -- by reporting the truth -- becomes the target of character assassination, and the weapon of choice are the loyal, vapid media stars who will uncritically repeat whatever powerful officials say all while shielding them from accountability through the use of anonymity.

Here, for instance, is what Norah O'Donnell said on MSNBC when reporting on the controversy with Tamron Hall:

O'DONNELL: I have been talking to a number of sources today who have said one, that any report coming from The Rolling Stone and this author Michael Hastings, who also "went after" another general, Stanley McCrystal, should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. The title of this, Tamron, is "Another Runaway General":  remember that Michael Hastings already brought down another General, Stanley McCrystal. . . . I can tell you that there are a number of people in the military and the Defense Department who are not happy with The Rolling Stone because of what happened earlier with General Stanley McCrystal.

HALL: They can't be happy with it, but if it's what happened, the person is reporting it and it's factual, then that's what they have to deal with. You're not always happy with the truth.

O'DONNELL: That's true, but remember that they, they still question a lot of the previous article even though that brought down General Stanley McCrystal.

Who is it who says that "any report coming from The Rolling Stone and this author Michael Hastings . . . should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism," and what's the basis for that accusation?  Who knows?  O'Donnell just mindlessly passes on the smear, protecting the identity of the accusers while failing to identify a single specific reason why Hastings' journalism should be called into question.  She's simply acting as dutiful, protective spokesperson-stenographer for military leaders (O'Donnell also emphasized:  "this general in question, General Michael Caldwell, he is the head of training the Afghan security forces.  This is the linchpin, Tamron!  The linchpin of the war . . . This is how we get out . . . and make sure Afghan security forces are trained" -- as though Caldwell is such an Important General that Hastings should be ashamed of himself for reporting negatively on him, just as Logan suggested about Gen. McChrystal).

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal's Pentagon reporter Julian Barnes has now written two separate articles which do virtually nothing other than mindlessly amplify the military's attacks on Lt. Col. Holmes and Hastings' story based exclusively on military officials to whom he grants anonymity.  He thus notes that "privately, military officers cast doubt on the accusation"; that what Holmes complained about "is a routine part of military staff work, officials said"; that -- contrary to his claims to Rolling Stone -- Holmes "was not trained in the military specialty [of psy-ops], Defense Department officials said"; that "officers speaking privately rallied to the defense of Gen. Caldwell"; and that "a military officer who served with Lt. Col. Holmes and under Gen. Caldwell said the accusation is baseless."

In other words, military officials want to impugn Holmes and Hastings, but are afraid to attach their names to their claims and thus be accountable for them -- exactly the way these officials seek to influence the Afghanistan war debate with covert propaganda, all without any accountability.  So they instruct their media servants to disseminate their message anonymously, uncritically, and without a shred of accountability, and "journalists" like O'Donnell and Barnes then snap into line and comply.  As a result, the focus of the story has been quickly shifted away from Holmes' allegations of illegal military propaganda to whether Hastings is a bad journalist and whether Holmes has integrity:  all accomplished without any of these military officials having to speak publicly or even to offer any specifics.  As Hastings told me today:

The key question -- which they are trying to avoid -- is whether it's legal to use an information operations cell-- trained to conduct psychological operations, among other things -- to influence and manipulate U.S. senators. Two lawyers told Holmes it was illegal, and other experts I spoke to said the same thing. But a few media outlets have quickly turned their focus on Holmes in an obvious attempt to discredit him. Now, General Caldwell and his people claim that what the general and his staff were doing was "innocent." I don't doubt Gen. Caldwell and his friends actually believe that -- and that is what's truly disturbing.

That's what our establishment media outlets largely are for:  to disseminate and amplify the messages of our most powerful political, military and financial factions without any accountability.  

Indeed, this is exactly the same thing that happened when Hastings published his McChrystal story.  Several of the largest media outlets granted anonymity to military leaders to attack Hastings and impugn his character:

The Washington Post and ABC News explained Monday why both news organizations relied on anonymous sources for stories claiming that Rolling Stone may have violated source agreements in reporting its explosive profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

"The sources would only allow us to use the material on condition of anonymity," Post National Security editor Cameron Barr told Yahoo! News. . . .Yahoo! News called attention to the Post's initial story shortly after it went online Friday, noting that reporter Karen DeYoung relied on an unnamed "senior military official" to make allegations against Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings' methods for sourcing. The official did not provide evidence to back up his or her viewpoint, such as specific quotes in the Rolling Stone article that were supposedly off the record, or the point at which an off-the-record agreement was hashed out.

Still, the Post reported that some anonymous officials believe Hastings "betrayed" McChrystal. . . .Shortly after the Post's story ran online, ABC News' Luis Martinez published a blog post raising similar questions about Rolling Stone's sourcing, and similarly relied on information from a "senior military official."

Granting anonymity to powerful political and military officials to attack journalists, watchdogs and whistleblowers is about the lowest and most journalistically reckless act a reporter and their editors can undertake -- recall this recent anonymous attack on departing TARP watchdog Neil Barofsky by a Treasury official and enabled by The Washington Post -- as it turns these media outlets into nothing more than protectors of those officials and mindless amplifiers of their attacks, which, thanks to the anonymity, can never be engaged.  But that's what they want to be; it's what they are; and that's why these officials tell them they will comment only under the cover of anonymity:  because they know it will be immediately granted the minute it's demanded regardless of whether there is any journalistic justification for it.

Anonymity does have a valid purpose in journalism:  its legitimate purpose is to protect the vulnerable and powerless when they expose wrongdoing by those who wield power.  But most establishment journalists have completely reversed that, so that anonymity is used to protect those with the most power:  to enable them to make all sorts of public claims and launch all kinds of attacks on critics without being accountable.  When anonymity is used for those purposes, it is inherently and incomparably corrupt (that, of course, is the dynamic that led to public acceptance of patently false claims justifying the Iraq War).  But this perversion of anonymity from what it was supposed to be (a means of holding the powerful accountable) into a power-shielding weapon is simply a microcosm of the broader reversal by establishment journalists of the old dictate to "afflict the powerful and comfort the powerless."  Most establishment journalists -- by definition -- do exactly the opposite, and their eagerness to indiscriminately grant anonymity to the nation's most powerful officials is simply one manifestation of that power-serving mindset.

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Palash Biswas
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