Showing posts with label media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label media. Show all posts

Monday, March 1, 2021

Communicating extreme forecasts... Scientists mention uncertainty far more frequently than non-scientists; thus, the bias in media toward coverage of non-scientific voices may be 'anti-uncertainty', not 'anti-science'

Apocalypse now? Communicating extreme forecasts. David C. Rode; Paul S. Fischbeck. International Journal of Global Warming, 2021 Vol.23 No.2, pp.191 - 211. DOI: 10.1504/IJGW.2021.112896

Abstract: Apocalyptic forecasts are unique. They have, by definition, no prior history and are observed only in their failure. As a result, they fit poorly with our mental models for evaluating and using them. However, they are made with some frequency in the context of climate change. We review a set of forecasts involving catastrophic climate change-related scenarios and make several observations about the characteristics of those forecasts. We find that mentioning uncertainty results in a smaller online presence for apocalyptic forecasts. However, scientists mention uncertainty far more frequently than non-scientists. Thus, the bias in media toward coverage of non-scientific voices may be 'anti-uncertainty', not 'anti-science'. Also, the desire among many climate change scientists to portray unanimity may enhance the perceived seriousness of the potential consequences of climate catastrophes, but paradoxically undermine their credibility in doing so. We explore strategies for communicating extreme forecasts that are mindful of these results.

Keywords: apocalypse; climate change; communication; extreme event; forecast; forecasting; global warming; media; policy; prediction; risk; risk communication; uncertainty.

5 Implications for policy and risk communication

Uncertainty is a core challenge for climate change science. It can undermine public engagement (Budescu et al., 2012) and form a barrier to public mobilisation (Pidgeon and Fischhoff, 2011). Our findings in this paper support these results and suggest that the exclusion of uncertainty from communication of apocalyptic climate-related forecasts can increase the visibility of the forecasts. However, the increased visibility comes at the cost of emphasising the voices of speakers without a scientific background. But focusing only on the quantity of communications, and not the ‘weight’ attached to them, neglects the important role that their credibility plays in establishing trust.

Trust (in subject-matter authorities and in climate research) influences perceived risk (Visschers, 2018; Siegrist and Cvetkovich, 2000). The impact of that trust is significant. Although belief in the existence of climate change remains strong, belief that its risks have been exaggerated has grown (Wang and Kim, 2018; Poortinga et al., 2011; Whitmarsh, 2011). Gaps have also emerged between belief in climate change and estimates of the seriousness of its impact (Markowitz and Guckian, 2018). To the extent that failed predictions damage that trust, the public’s perception of climate-related risk is altered. If the underlying purpose of making apocalyptic predictions is to recommend action, and if the predictions fail to materialise, the wisdom of the recommendations based on those predictions may be called into question. Climate science’s perceived value is thereby diminished. If the perceived value (or the certainty of that value) is diminished, policy action is harder to achieve.

It is not simply the presence of uncertainty that is an impediment, it is that communications characterised by ‘hype and alarmism’ also undermine trust (Howe et al., 2019; O’Neill and Nicholson-Cole, 2009). The continual failure of the predictions to materialise may be seen to validate the public’s belief that such claims are in fact exaggerated. Although such beliefs may be the result of outcome bias (Baron and Hershey, 1988), recent evidence has also suggested that certain commonly accepted scientific predictions may indeed be exaggerated (Lewis and Curry, 2018). The model of belief we presented in Subsection 2.4 demonstrates that observing only failures will inevitably result in a reduction in subjective beliefs about apocalyptic risks. To build trust, any forecasts made must be ‘scientific’ – that is, able to be observed both incorrect and correct (Green and Armstrong, 2007). Under such circumstances, they should also incorporate clear statements acknowledging uncertainty, as doing so may work to increase trust (Joslyn and LeClerc, 2016). It is important to provide settings where the audience can ‘calibrate’ its beliefs. “A climate forecast can only be evaluated and potentially falsified if it provides a quantitative range of uncertainty” [Allen et al., (2013), p.243]. The acknowledgement of the uncertainty should include both worst-case and best-case outcomes (Howe et al., 2019).

One key to increasing credibility is to build up a series of shorter, simpler (non-apocalyptic) predictions (Nemet, 2009). Instead of predicting solely an apocalyptic event 50 years out, offer a series of contingent forecasts of shorter characteristic time (Byerly, 2000) that lead toward the ultimate event. Communications about climate change – and especially climate change-related predictions – should emphasise areas of the science that are less extreme in outcome, but more tangibly certain in likelihood (Howe et al., 2019). This implies, inter alia, that compound forecasts of events and the consequences of events should be separated. The goal may even be to exploit an outcome bias in decision making by moving from small- to large-scale predictions. By establishing a successful track record of smaller-scale predictions, validated with ex post evaluations of forecast accuracy, the public may be more inclined to increase its trust of the larger-scale predictions – even when such predictions are inherently less certain. This approach has been advocated directly by Pielke (2008) and Fildes and Kourentzes (2011) and supports the climate prediction efforts of Meehl et al. (2014), Smith et al. (2019), and others. To that end, we propose four concrete steps that can be taken to improve the usefulness of extreme climate forecasts. First, the authors of the forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC should be encouraged to tone down ‘deadline-ism’ (Asayama et al., 2019). Forecasters should make an effort to influence the interpretation of their forecasts; for example, by correcting media reporting of them. The sequential releases of the IPCC’s Assessment Reports, for example, should consider calling out particularly erroneous or incomplete interpretations of statements from previous Assessment Reports.

Second, given the extensive evidence about the limited forecasting abilities of

individual experts (Tetlock, 2005), forecasters should give more weight to the unique

ability of markets to serve as efficient aggregators of belief in lieu of negotiated

univocality. So-called prediction markets have a strong track record (Wolfers and

Zitzewitz, 2004). Although they have been suggested multiple times for climate

change-related subjects (Lucas and Mormann, 2019; Vandenbergh et al., 2014), they

have almost never been used. An exception is the finding that pricing in weather financial

derivatives is consistent with the output of climate models of temperature (Schlenker and

Taylor, 2019).

Third, efforts to provide reliable mid-term predictions should be encouraged. The

multi-year and decadal prediction work of Smith et al. (2019) and Meehl et al. (2014) is

in this direction. But what should (also) be developed are repeated and sequential

forecasts in order to facilitate learning about the forecasting process itself. That is, not

just how current climate forecasting models perform in hindcasts, but how previous

climate forecasts have performed (and hopefully improved) over time. Efforts to

determine the limits of predictability are also important (Meehl et al., 2014) and should

be studied in conjunction with the evaluation of forecast performance over time.

Fourth, extreme caution should be used in extrapolating from forecasts of climate events (e.g., temperature or CO2 levels) to their social and physical consequences (famine, flooding, etc.) without the careful modelling of mitigation and adaptation efforts and other feedback mechanisms. While there have been notable successes in predicting certain climate characteristics, such as surface temperature (Smith et al., 2019), the ability to tie such predictions to quantitative forecasts of consequences is more limited. The efforts to model damages as part of determining the social cost of carbon (such as with the DICE, PAGE, and FUND integrated assessment models) are a start but are subject to extreme levels of parameter sensitivity (Wang et al., 2019); uncertainty should be reflected in any forecasts of apocalyptic forecasts of climate change consequences. Scientists are often encouraged to ‘think big’, especially in policy applications. What we are suggesting here is that climate policy analysis could benefit from thinking ‘small’. That is, from focusing on the lower-level building blocks that go into making larger-scale predictions. One means by which to build public support for a complex idea like climate change is to demonstrate to the public that our understanding of the building blocks of that science are solid, that we are calibrated as to the accuracy of the building block forecasts, and that we understand how lower-level uncertainty propagates through to probabilistic uncertainty in the higher-level forecasts of events and consequences.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Perceived social presence reduces fact-checking

Perceived social presence reduces fact-checking. By Youjung Jun, Rachel Meng, and Gita Venkataramani Johar
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences    vol. 114 no. 23
DOI 10.1073/pnas.1700175114,

Significance: The dissemination of unverified content (e.g., “fake” news) is a societal problem with influence that can acquire tremendous reach when propagated through social networks. This article examines how evaluating information in a social context affects fact-checking behavior. Across eight experiments, people fact-checked less often when they evaluated claims in a collective (e.g., group or social media) compared with an individual setting. Inducing momentary vigilance increased the rate of fact-checking. These findings advance our understanding of whether and when people scrutinize information in social environments. In an era of rapid information diffusion, identifying the conditions under which people are less likely to verify the content that they consume is both conceptually important and practically relevant.

Abstract: Today’s media landscape affords people access to richer information than ever before, with many individuals opting to consume content through social channels rather than traditional news sources. Although people frequent social platforms for a variety of reasons, we understand little about the consequences of encountering new information in these contexts, particularly with respect to how content is scrutinized. This research tests how perceiving the presence of others (as on social media platforms) affects the way that individuals evaluate information—in particular, the extent to which they verify ambiguous claims. Eight experiments using incentivized real effort tasks found that people are less likely to fact-check statements when they feel that they are evaluating them in the presence of others compared with when they are evaluating them alone. Inducing vigilance immediately before evaluation increased fact-checking under social settings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trevor Butterworth's Fad Food Nation

Fad Food Nation. By Trevor Butterworth
A skeptical survey of the claims being made about food, health and the environment.
The Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2013, on page A13  


Not so long ago, I spoke to a chef who ministers to children attending some of the most elite and expensive schools in America. Why, I asked him, was his company's website larded with almost comical warnings about the lethality of eating genetically modified (GM) food? Did he actually believe this as scientific fact or was he catering to his clientele's spiritual fears? It was simply for the mothers, he said, candidly. They ate it up—or, rather, they had swallowed so many apocalyptic warnings about genetically modified food that he had no choice but to echo their terror. How could they entrust their children to him otherwise? The downside of such dogma, he explained, was cost. Many of the mothers wouldn't agree to their children eating anything less than 100% organic, even if organic food required flying in, as he put it, "apples from Cuba."

Mr. Butterworth is a contributor at Newsweek and editor at large for

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Post and Abu Zubaydah Part II: Ali Soufan Exposed

The Post and Abu Zubaydah Part II: Ali Soufan Exposed. By Marc Thiessen
NRO, Sunday, July 19, 2009

On March 29, the Washington Post published a front-page story called “Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots,” in which staff reporters Joby Warrick and Peter Finn declared that “not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions.”

Although they don’t call it that, Warrick and Finn have published what amounts to a full retraction on the front page of the Post this morning.

They write: “Although Abu Zubaydah was not a member of al Qaeda and had limited relations with bin Laden, he was a font of information on the membership of the terrorist group because of his long standing ties with [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed and North African jihadists” (emphasis added). He became this “font of information” after the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.Moreover, they acknowledge that Zubaydah provided information that led to the capture of al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla only after enhanced interrogation techniques were employed. (Padilla was captured as he arrived in Chicago on a mission from Khalid Shiekh Mohammed, or KSM, to carry out terrorist attacks in the U.S.)

This contradicts the assertions of FBI agent Ali Soufan, who claims that he got the information about Padilla from Zubaydah before enhanced interrogation techniques were applied by the CIA. Writing in the New York Times in April of this year, Soufan wrote: “Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned [Zubaydah] from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence. We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber.”

This last statement, it turns out, is a flat lie. According to today’s Post, Zubaydah did give up the information about KSM before enhanced interrogations began. Then a CIA team took over and began implementing enhanced interrogation techniques, including forced nudity and sleep deprivation. After this, the Post reports today: “Agency officials decided to let the FBI back into the interrogations, but on the condition that forced nudity and sleep deprivation be allowed to continue. . . . Under FBI questioning, Abu Zubaydah indentified an operative he knew as Abdullah al-Mujahir, the alias, he said, of an American citizen with a Latino name. An investigation involving multiple agencies identified the suspect as Jose Padilla, the al Qaeda operative later convicted of providing material support for terrorism. ‘In two different bits, after sleep deprivation, is when Abu Zubaydah gave clues about who Padilla might be.’”

In other words, contrary to Soufan’s assertion in the Times, he only got the information that led to Padilla after the CIA began to implement enhanced interrogation techniques.

Padilla is often dismissed as the man behind a fanciful “dirty bomb” plot, and the Post notes today that he was convicted of “material support for terrorism.” In fact Padilla was a protégé of al-Qaeda’s third in command, Mohammed Atef, who had been sent to America by KSM to carry out a much more sinister and realistic attack on America — a plot to simultaneously blow up apartment buildings using natural gas. He trained for this mission in al-Qaeda camps, and was given $10,000 by KSM and his right-hand man, Ammar al-Baluchi, to carry it out. The night before his departure for America, KSM, Ammar, and KSM’s nephew and 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh hosted a farewell dinner for Padilla and his accomplice.

The reason he was convicted of “material support for terrorism” is because the Justice Department could not prosecute him for the full panoply of his crimes without allowing Padilla to call KSM, Ammar, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh as witnesses — thus risking the exposure of highly classified information. They chose to pursue lesser charges rather than expose sources and methods. But the full extent of Padilla’s activities was laid out in a speech by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in June 2004.

The bottom line is that today’s story in the Post proves that: 1) the original Post assertion that “not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions” is flat wrong — the Padilla plot was broken up because of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques; and 2) Ali Soufan’s assertion that he got this information before the implementation of enhanced interrogation techniques is false.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Assassins Debate - Why Seymour Hersh is still wrong about Cheney's hit squad

The Assassins Debate. By Michael C. Moynihan
Why Seymour Hersh is still wrong about Cheney's hit squad
Reason, July 17, 2009

A few months ago on this website, I cast doubt on a claim by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that former Vice President Dick Cheney was running “an executive assassination ring” out of his West Wing office. Urging caution when repeating such claims—predictably, outside of the conspiracy-friendly websites like Raw Story and Digg, only MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann reported this dubious "scoop"—I argued that because Hersh had previously admitted exaggerating stories in order to “convey a larger truth,” a healthy dose of skepticism was warranted.

The story quickly disappeared, only to be reanimated this week by CIA director Leon Panetta’s revelation that the Bush administration deliberately obscured an unnamed secret CIA program from Congress. A flood of stories from the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and The New York Times followed, revealing that the CIA plan involved the targeted assassination of al-Qaeda targets. Many observers quickly connected the dots back to Hersh. The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wondered if the CIA, with whom the Bush administration famously battled, was “hiding Cheney's executive assassination ring." A handful of indignant emailers, claiming vindication on behalf of Hersh, demanded a retraction of my blog post.

Not a chance.

Let's briefly revisit Hersh’s bombshell assassination claims. Last March, during a speech at the University of Minnesota, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist revealed that the CIA "was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state (emphasis added)." He offered the following as evidence: "[T]here was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it's called...They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office...It's an executive assassination ring essentially."

But this is a non-sequitur. Hersh first references a secret, as-yet-unreported CIA program focusing on domestic targets after 9/11—which, as of this writing, hasn't been uncovered by those investigating the Panetta story, though it certainly doesn’t strain credulity—and quickly shifts gears to a discussion of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a special unit of the United States Special Operations Command known for tracking and assassinating the Jordanian al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

As pointed out by sources familiar with the program, Panetta cancelled the CIA operation before it became "fully operational,” though Hersh claims the Cheney “executive assassination ring” has been “going on and on and on” for years. Here is Newsweek's Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff, describing the lumbering and troubled evolution of the program:

Top CIA officials ultimately concluded the program posed an unacceptable risk of failure or exposure, according to another former official. As a result, the initial plans proposed by officers of the Directorate of Operations—now known as the National Clandestine Service—were put on hold by CIA Director George Tenet before he left office in 2004, former officials said. Tenet's two successors, Porter Goss and Gen. Michael Hayden, kept the plans in the deep freeze. But a former official said that until Panetta killed the program outright last month, the CIA never totally abandoned the plans for kill teams...

One journalist looking into the program—a person, it is worth noting, deeply critical of Bush and Cheney's terrorism policies—suggested a more logical explanation. Hersh, he informed me, might have stumbled across the program exposed this week but perhaps "didn't understand what his sources were telling him." When asked if these revelations vindicated the "executive assassination ring" claim, another journalist working on the story told me that those who connect the Panetta revelations to Hersh's breathless talk in Minneapolis "have no idea what they are talking about."

Simply put, Hersh’s narrative of an operational, domestic cadre of assassins doesn’t fit with what we know about the plan scuttled by Panetta.

Nevertheless, The Daily Beast’s Benjamin Sarlin huffed that Hersh "was mocked in March when he referred to Dick Cheney’s secret squad of CIA assassins" but now it appeared that Hersh was "prescient," the "man who knew Cheney’s secret." Those who distrusted Hersh would soon be forced to eat crow: "Yesterday, the New York Times reported the hidden program in question was a death squad authorized by Dick Cheney without Congressional approval—almost exactly what he described."

But as The Daily Beast editors soon realized, the Times story said nothing about domestic operations, didn't mention JSOC, a group not even under CIA command, and told a very different story than Hersh. An editor’s note was tacked on to the piece, telling readers that the article "was updated to reflect differences between Hersh’s story and The New York Times'." The claim that Hersh’s story was "exactly" what the Times reported vanished (though it can be viewed via Google’s cache), replaced with a more equivocal sentence: "Now, there are key differences between Hersh's reporting and the Times' latest piece."

In an attempt to keep the "executive assassination ring" angle in play, Sarlin’s updated story concluded gamely that "The Times and Hersh could conceivably be reporting two distinct squads." MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann offered a similar conclusion, telling a guest that "Seymour Hersh's hint of the story in Minnesota in the spring was about stuff run out of the Pentagon and specifically not tied to the CIA," though there might be "two secret assassination squads."

The desire to eschew these contradictory facts in pursuit of a political point spread throughout the blogosphere. Soon after Cheney's former national security adviser John Hannah told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that it was “certainly true” that the there was a “well-vetted process, interagency process” targeting “those that have committed acts of war against the United States,” Center for American Progress blogger Satyam Khanna wrote that "a former Cheney aide suggests that Hersh’s account of [an] 'executive assassination ring' is 'certainly true.'" Well, no he didn’t.

My concern here is not with the efficacy, legality, or existance of Dick Cheney’s program to rub out members of al-Qaeda, but with those who warn us that journalism in the run up to the Iraq War failed the American people because its practitioners placed furthering a political agenda over the supremacy of truth. If the mainstream media in 2002 was hamstrung by sloppy and biased reporting, thereby necessitating a counterrevolution in blogging and online reporting, have the Enragés, the young bloggers who demanded higher standards and an upending of the old order, already become Robespierres? Is it now OK to engage in sloppy and lazy journalism, provided that the stakes are smaller and your target is widely considered to be a bastard?

In reporting the Panetta story, it was “old media” print journalists like Siobhan Gorman, Eli Lake, Joby Warrick, and Scott Shane that informed and illuminated, while the partisans of the new media took up the rear, pounding round pegs into square holes.

During the 2008 election, one writer praised the new breed of online journalists while cautioning that in rushing to scoop the mainstream media, Internet upstarts often risk missing “nuance and context,” valuing quantity over quality. Web journalists, he continued, often settle “for a timely article rather than a complete one,” though this is “an avoidable problem.”

Indeed it is. And the author, Huffington Post political reporter Sam Stein, might want to start taking some of his own advice.

Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor of Reason magazine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Media and the First Amendment - The Washington Post scandal is really about double standards

The Media and the First Amendment. By BERT GALL and STEVE SIMPSON
The Washington Post scandal is really about double standards.
WSJ, Jul 13, 2009

Our nation's capital is abuzz over the Washington Post's recent indiscretion. The newspaper planned to host a now-canceled salon at the home of Katharine Weymouth, the Post's publisher. For $25,000, lobbyists and corporate executives would be granted exclusive access to members of the Obama administration, Congress, and Post journalists.

Pundits have condemned the Post for acting as an influence peddler. But other news publications routinely host similar events. This shouldn't come as a shock. Media corporations have always had the privilege of influencing politics without the restrictions -- like campaign finance laws -- that other corporations face.

So while this episode has been treated as a scandal of journalistic ethics, it is really about double standards. When other business corporations attempt to influence politics -- by running political ads during elections -- editorial boards rush to condemn the corporations for "buying" elections or "unduly" influencing candidates. We should be concerned, the boards say, because those corporations have too much influence over the political debate. The public needs strict campaign finance laws to protect it from that influence.

The New York Times recently featured an editorial about the Supreme Court's current major campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2009). The editorial counseled the high court against overturning precedent, referring to Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990). That case allows the government to prevent corporations from spending money on electoral advocacy. According to the Times, eliminating the government's power to ban corporate political speech "would be a disaster for democracy."

But if excessive influence is a reason to censor the speech of every other kind of corporation, then it is also a reason to censor the speech of media corporations. After all, the media spend millions of dollars each year on news stories about candidates and editorials endorsing them. This press is worth a lot. For example, the Washington Post's endorsement of Creigh Deeds is widely credited as the biggest factor in his rise from obscurity to victory in Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary this year.

So where are the editorials calling for limits on the amounts of "money" -- in the form of coverage and editorials -- media companies devote to candidates?

Of course, you'll hear no such thing from the nation's newspapers and media outlets. Media companies are exempt from campaign finance laws. Many in the press think that the First Amendment entitles them to special protections that don't apply to anyone else.

This is wrong. The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the media's right to free speech is no greater than anyone else's. And in Austin and other campaign finance cases, the Supreme Court noted that the media's exemption from campaign finance laws was discretionary, not mandatory.

In short, the press's favored status is only as strong as Congress says it is, at least under current First Amendment jurisprudence. If, in the wake of the Post scandal, the public begins to believe that media companies are as corrupt as the press claims other corporations are, Congress's view on the matter could change. Alternatively, Congress may come up with some other reason to start limiting the freedom of the press. Congress is currently considering a bill that would throw struggling newspapers an economic lifeline by allowing them to operate as nonprofits -- thereby making their advertising and subscription revenue tax-exempt. The catch? Newspapers that take the deal would no longer be able to endorse political candidates.

This precarious position -- free speech at Congress's discretion -- is not exactly a recipe for a strong and independent press. It's tempting to think that media companies that have called for limits on everyone else's speech will ultimately get what they deserve when Congress gets around to censoring theirs. But that would be a mistake.

The press remains one of the most important bulwarks against tyranny. The solution is to protect free speech on principle, regardless of the identity of the speaker. Banning a corporation from spending its own money for political advocacy is censorship, plain and simple. The sooner the press understands this, the safer its rights -- and ours -- will be.

Messrs. Gall and Simpson are senior attorneys at the Institute for Justice.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tom Goldstein' op-ed on Sotomayor on TNYT

Today’s New York Times Op-Ed on Judge Sotomayor. By Roger Clegg
Bench Memos/NRO, Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The New York Times today has an op-ed by Tom Goldstein about Judge Sotomayor’s decisions involving race.

Mr. Goldstein “conclude[s] that Judge Sotomayor does not allow bias to infect her decision-making.” It’s not a persuasive op-ed.

Let me note at the outset that others, including our own Ed Whelan, have earlier noted some problems with Mr. Goldstein’s methodology. Let me note also that others, including The Washington Post, have counted the cases involved differently than Mr. Goldstein.

Mr. Goldstein’s discussion in today’s op-ed begins and ends tendentiously, lamenting that “many of us remain incapable of having a conversation about ethnicity that does not devolve into charges of racism,” that “critics have latched onto [Judge Sotomayor’s] decision” in the New Haven firefighters case to “infer … that Judge Sotomayor must be biased against whites”; he calls this “hysteria” and ends with another lament, of “[u]nsubstantiated charges of racism.” It’s ironic that the op-ed, which implicitly calls for a white lab-coat, calm and disinterested review of the facts, should bracket its discussion with such name-calling.

Mr. Goldstein’s discussion of a narrow range of cases also completely ignores the fact that some of the suspicion of Judge Sotomayor, and the fear that she might be influenced by race, ethnicity, and sex in her opinions, is fueled by the fact that, in her talk and writing off the bench, she has said that judges are influenced by race, ethnicity, and sex in their opinions, and seems to think that this is perfectly fine. So it’s not unreasonable for the judge’s critics to be looking especially hard for problems in her decisions.

Nor is it very persuasive to argue, as Mr. Goldstein does, that such fear can be refuted by statistics showing that, in percentage terms, most of Judge Sotomayor’s decisions are not problematic. Suppose the shoe were on the other foot, and a conservative judge had just a couple of decisions that the Left objected to in, say, the abortion area — would that be the end of the matter? The answer, of course, is that it would not — and I’m not hypothesizing here: We know from past experience that is not. Nor should it be: A bad decision in a particularly difficult and sensitive case can reveal a lot about what kind of a justice a judge will be, when her cases will almost all be difficult and sensitive.

On the court of appeals, on the other hand, we would not expect that all or even most decisions would be problematic. No doubt most cases are so clear-cut, one way or the other, that judges on both ends of the spectrum will agree on their disposition. What’s more, saying that a panel is unanimous doesn’t mean that the decision was not problematic (the panel might have been composed of all activists); saying that some of those panels included “a Republican-appointed judge” does not avoid that problem (there are plenty of activist Republican-appointed judges — like, say, Earl Warren and William Brennan, not to mention David Souter and Judge Sotomayor herself, who was, technically, a Republican-appointed district judge).

I have not “reviewed every single race-related case” on which Judge Sotomayor has ruled, but I know of at least three disturbing ones. There’s the New Haven case, of course; and Hayden v. Pataki¸ in which, Mr. Goldstein acknowledges, “she concluded that felon disenfranchisement laws are [racially] discriminatory and violate the Voting Rights Act”; and Brown v. City of Oneonta, which Ed discusses here.

Oh, and by the way: Mr. Goldstein is looking only at decisions in one area. So he’s not considering her decisions on property rights, the Second Amendment, etc., which have also come in for criticism.

In this regard, I should also note that one of the cases that Mr. Goldstein (and the Washington Post, in an article last week) cites as supposedly reassuring involved a policeman who was fired for mailing out racist and anti-Semitic fliers. Judge Sotomayor, in dissent, wanted to rule against the police department — just as the ACLU's New York affiliate had urged the court to do. So, sure, her position favored a bigoted policeman, but she also wanted to use an aggressive interpretation of the First Amendment to tie the hands of the police department. Thus, this decision is hardly evidence of non-activism, which is the real issue. And in that regard, pace Mr. Goldstein’s op-ed, the fact that Judge Sotomayor doesn’t urge judges “to disregard the plain language of any statute or to invent exceptions to statutes” obviously doesn’t mean that she isn’t doing so.

There is, in sum, plenty for the Senate Judiciary Committee to be concerned about.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Historic compromise on tough fuel economy rules: 'Ford Might Not Survive'

'Ford Might Not Survive.' By Henry Payne
Planet Gore/NRO, May 22, 2009

Detroit, Mich. — Washington’s lap-dog press obediently wagged their tails yesterday at The One’s announcement that autos would have to achieve an absurd 35 mpg in six years (a 40 percent increase in little over one product cycle). Even the Detroit Free Press — which might ask whether the bankrupt industry in its backyard could afford government edicts that will increase their per vehicle costs from $2,500 to $8,000 — fell in line.“President Barack Obama announced a historic compromise on tough fuel economy rules,” gushed Washington reporter Justin Hyde, that “were a ‘harbinger of a change’ for Washington.”

The only dissonant note in the Free Press account was a stray thought about whether anyone would actually buy Obama’s dream cars. “The wild card remains consumers,” allowed the Freep. In a consumer-based market economy, consumers are a “wild card?”Fortunately, media watchdogs still exist.

Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Tankersley took the novel approach of calling sources to find that the “great victory” (as Obama pal Guv Schwarzenegger put it) reached by automakers, greens, and pols was not all hugs and kisses.In fact, Ford had cold feet about the deal right through the weekend. As the only Detroit company without a direct line to Uncle Sugar, Ford faces the massive costs of new mandates alone.

On Sunday, just two days before Obama’s big Rose Garden announcement, reports Tankersley, “a senior Ford executive said the company had run the numbers again and concluded it might not survive if it accepted the deal.”

Ford might not survive.

“In the end, with more number-crunching and another application of White House pressure, Ford did not bolt,” continued the Times report. And since we know the Obama adminstration threatened Chrysler secured debtholders into submission, “White House pressure” is a loaded term.

Whatever pressure was brought, Ford also likely got guarantees that it would have access to the 3 percent of cap-and-tax revenue Mich. Rep. John Dingell has negotiated as part of the upcoming energy bill.

In an industry where government wields unprecedented power, we need watchdog journalism.

The Times report also bucked its media brethren by actually talking to Republicans and the picture got even more chilling.

"These exact companies were fighting this . . . tooth and nail six months ago, and now suddenly they love it?" Rep. John Campbell (R., Calif.) said, accurately reconstructing the recent past. "No, they don't love it. This is what this administration is doing: This administration is autocratically forcing people to do whatever it wants."

Even Schwarzenegger pointed out the 800-pound Rottweiler in the room. "All of a sudden, the car manufacturers needed . . . the taxpayers' money," he said. "So in order to get that help, I'm sure that President Obama said: 'OK . . . here's what you need to do.' "

Translation: Let me make a deal youse Detroiters can’t refuse.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Newsweek on Harold Koh

Newsweek on Harold Koh, by Ed Whelan
Bench Memos/NRO, Monday, April 20, 2009

In the new issue of Newsweek, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas have an article on Harold Koh’s nomination to be State Department legal adviser. As regular readers of Bench Memos know, Taylor is one of my favorite journalists—regularly intelligent, insightful, and fair, whether or not I agree with him in every respect. And there’s much to commend in this article, including its acknowledgment that I raise “legitimate questions” about Koh, its exposition of many of Koh’s views, and its conclusion that “conservatives have a point that Koh and the other ‘transnationalists’ are using their legal theories to advance a political agenda.” That said, I have a correction and a broader comment.

First, the correction: Taylor and Thomas assert that in his 2002 Senate testimony on CEDAW, “Koh stressed that [the CEDAW committee] reports are not binding law.” In fact, Koh did not even acknowledge the existence of the reports that undercut his testimony, much less try to explain what weight, if any, their interpretations bore. That’s why law professor Julian Ku, in marked understatement, said that Koh was “plainly in advocacy mode, not scholarship mode,” and called Koh’s testimony “not his best moment” and “sloppy.” And that inexplicable omission is part of what underlies my assessment, explained more fully here, that Koh deliberately chose not to be forthright with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That correction feeds into a broader comment: I believe that Taylor and Thomas significantly understate how radical and threatening Koh’s views are. They write, for example, that if “taken to their logical extreme,” Koh’s views “could erode American democracy and sovereignty.” But one doesn’t have to make logical extrapolations from what Koh has written to discern that threat; it’s plain from his very words (as I spell out in my series of blog posts—available in outline form at the bottom of this post). The only question is whether he could and would implement his views as State Department legal adviser—and (as I explain in that same post), he would have ample opportunities to do so.

Taylor and Thomas conclude that the Senate should confirm Koh because he is not “off the wall.” I generally agree with Taylor and Thomas that a president is entitled to substantial deference in his executive-branch picks, but I think that a thorough examination of Koh’s views shows that they are far more extreme than anything that President Obama advertised when he ran for office. I started my series of posts not particularly interested in the specific question whether Koh should be confirmed (in part because, absent a great awakening, it’s a virtual certainty that he will be) and far more interested simply in exposing how radical his views are. But the more I explored, the more extreme Koh turned out to be.

In addition, while I’m sure that Koh has lots of admirable qualities, I believe that there are serious questions about his character. Several folks who have had dealings with Koh—including folks who are not conservatives or Republicans—have privately attested to me that they have witnessed in him the same sort of bullying and intellectual dishonesty that his CEDAW testimony reflects—testimony, not incidentally, before the same Senate committee that will conduct his confirmation hearing.

More by this author on Mr Koh here

Friday, April 10, 2009

Alec Baldwin: Why We Need the New York Times

Why We Need the New York Times. By Alec Baldwin
Huffington Post, April 8, 2009 11:25 AM (EST)

For many years, I was a devoted reader of the New York Times. An unusually devoted one.
I picked up the habit from David O'Brien, an actor who played my father on a soap opera I appeared on over 25 years ago. It was my first professional job, and I watched O'Brien as he passed his down time by scouring the paper from cover to cover and doing the crossword along the way.

I picked up the paper every day, back when many places ran out of the Times, and rather quickly, by late morning. I carried it with me everywhere, as so many other New Yorkers seemed to. In New York, someone else is usually doing the driving. In a cab or on the train, the Times and the time to read it were mine.

Television news had become less relevant in my life. I was rarely near a TV at 6pm to watch the classic network broadcast. CNN was good for breaking news and convention coverage. But salacious crimes and court cases seemed to predominate more than I could bear.

On cable news, I am a fan of Keith and Rachel. But he wastes too much time pissing on Bush and his deposed cronies. She is smart and charming but her writers are dreadful and the less cutesy she is, the better. She did an excellent interview with Colin Powell recently. The next night, I missed that tougher, less avuncular Rachel. A while back, the idea of sitting down at another screen and getting my evening news seemed unappealing. Now I sit and watch Rachel and Keith while I do my e-mail and read Slate and HuffPo online.

But something has changed again. I'm back to buying the Times. I think others should get back to buying and reading a newspaper, too.

When the Jayson Blair story erupted, I realized that if the Times couldn't even properly and effectively assess their own, how could they be relied upon to assess public officials and figures? It was then that I stopped buying the paper. A lot of people did. In Manhattan, copies of the New York Times often pile up everywhere.

But lately, the alternatives seem wanting. In the Times recently was good reporting about the poor documentation of the deaths of deportation detainees by various state and federal agencies. Another article recently captured the abyss of disputed workmen's compensation cases and the endless troubles that greet those who fall into it. I don't see that on MSNBC. Frankly, I don't see that on TV at all.

Some friends of mine in the media business say the newspaper model as we know it is in its death throes. Papers will fold or go digital. The Times will survive only online. I hope that is not true. I hope that one does not need to own a computer and a high speed connection in order to stay connected with the world of news and opinion. The Times, like many other important journals, is not perfect. Sometimes its writing and its priorities are downright awful. But that is rare.

I still think people should read a newspaper every day and that children should be taught the importance of doing so in school. Television news can be good. It just isn't as good as the New York Times. And now more than ever.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Not one, but two hagiographies of Edward Kennedy in The Boston Globe

Camelost, by Philip Terzian
Not one, but two hagiographies of Edward Kennedy.
The Weekly Standard, Mar 30, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 27

Last Lion
The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy, by the Boston Globe
edited by Peter S. Canellos
Simon & Schuster, 480 pp., $28

Ted Kennedy
Scenes from an Epic Life, by the Boston Globe
Simon & Schuster, 208 pp., $28

It is, perhaps, fitting that, as metropolitan newspapers fade from the scene, the Boston Globe should remind us why this is happening by producing not one but two hagiographies of Edward Kennedy. The 77-year-old Kennedy is mortally ill, and certainly entitled to the victory lap he is taking in the political culture; but these two portentous volumes--the dimensions of the second, Ted Kennedy: Scenes from an Epic Life, are ideal for coffee tables--tell us considerably more about the Globe than about Senator Kennedy.

First, there is the "last lion" business. Kennedy has long since grown accustomed to being referred to in the press as the "liberal lion" of the Senate--fair enough--but now that his days in office are numbered, the cliché machine has anointed him the "last lion," the last of a vanishing breed, the last giant to stalk the corridors of the Senate, we shall not see his like again, and so on.
Oh, please. The last time this phrase was employed in a book title, by the late William Manchester, the subject was Winston Churchill. Surely the Globe isn't drawing a comparison? More to the point, when Leverett Saltonstall, a far more distinguished representative of Massachusetts, retired from office in 1967 after 30 years' service as governor and senator, and at the same age as Kennedy, the Globe failed to serve up a worshipful account of his career. Of course, Saltonstall was a Republican.

Moreover, since the dawn of the republic, the Senate has been routinely populated with "last lions," many of whom--Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, John Sherman, Robert La Follette, Henry Cabot Lodge, George Norris, Richard Russell, Hubert Humphrey, et al.--left a far more significant mark on the politics of their times than Edward Kennedy. In statesmanship, as in life, there is a qualitative difference between longevity and distinction, and Edward Kennedy's primary distinction--apart from his ex officio fame as a Kennedy--has been his election, and subsequent multiple reelections, by the voters of Massachusetts.

Then there is the fundamental dishonesty of the Globe's approach. Ted Kennedy is what used to be called a lip-reader's book--lots of pictures and informative captions, separated by easy-to-read blocks of anodyne text--and certainly slick by the standards of the trade. But Last Lion purports to be a serious account of Kennedy's career, and his impact on American history. This would have been easier to accomplish if the Globe writers had undertaken an objective assessment of their subject, but that is not the intent here. The point of Last Lion is to transform Kennedy's undistinguished tenure in the Senate, and his thwarted ambition in national politics, into a kind of virtual triumph. To be sure, to pull it off would require the narrative skills of a gymnast--to twist the facts to shape the thesis--and the Globe writers are only newspapermen.

Edward Kennedy was the youngest of the nine children of Joseph and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and lost in the family shuffle, below the radar of his father's maniacal ambition. He was famously expelled from Harvard for hiring a substitute to take a Spanish exam; but unlike his elder brothers, he held his own on the football team. In 1962, having barely reached the constitutional age to serve, he was elected to his brother John's Senate seat, which had been kept warm during the intervening two years by a faithful family retainer. In the general election he defeated the estimable George Lodge, a victory for the Irish mafia over Brahmin Boston; but it was in the bitter Democratic primary that his rival, Edward McCormack, pronounced the words that would haunt Kennedy ever afterwards: "If your name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, your candidacy would be a farce."

The great fulcrum of Kennedy's career, of course, is Chappaquiddick. Before 1969 he was a plausible Democratic aspirant for the presidency, and was climbing the greasy pole of Senate influence. After 1969 he was demoted in the Senate hierarchy by, of all people, Robert Byrd; and his 1980 campaign against a sitting Democratic president remains a classic in the annals of political egotism and self-destruction.

Here is where the Globe's ingenuity is put to the test. Instead of recognizing that Kennedy's political future perished with Mary Jo Kopechne, and that's that, Last Lion argues that the death of his presidential ambitions "liberated" Kennedy to dominate the Senate--and by inference, his times.

This is complete nonsense. Kennedy's rear-guard warfare against a resurgent conservatism in the 1980s and '90s--most notably his personal assault on Judge Robert Bork--was purely reactionary. There is no major legislation, certainly nothing resembling a political philosophy, associated with Kennedy's name. And for all his passion in repeating Theodore Sorensen's sonorous prose, his most famous pronouncement is his incoherent response to Roger Mudd's innocuous question, "Why do you want to be president?"

Philip Terzian is the literary editor of The Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Making sense of the “killer meat” study

Making sense of the “killer meat” study. By Rebecca Goldin Ph.D and Trevor Butterworth
Modest risk suggests meat in moderation, but cancer researchers warn that too much is being made of the link between diet and cancer at the expense of smoking and obesity., March 30, 2009

Hundreds of news stories last week warned people that eating red meat raised their risk for cancer and death. The headline in the Los Angeles Times health section was succinct: “Killer meat,” and the opening graph warned:

“Before you dig into another hamburger, consider this: Americans who ate the most red meat boosted their overall risk of death by 30% during a 10-year period compared to those who ate the least, according to a new study. And before you switch to cold cuts instead, keep in mind that people who consumed the most processed meat raised their overall risk of death by at least 16%.”

Actually, the study didn’t quite say this. While this large prospective study did find a modest association between dying and eating meat, the risks cited were not due to one hamburger. “Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People” which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine didn’t, as many other studies on diet have done, pool numerous, smaller studies to achieve a high number of participants. The study tracked over half a million Americans aged 50 – 71 from eight states over ten years and started with a common baseline evaluation of diet, which was then tracked through questionnaires. Naturally, self-reporting always raises questions as to whether the participants are capable of complete fidelity and recall, but the researchers appear to have conducted spot checks, as well as adjust for confounders like smoking.

The researchers compared high levels of red and processed meat consumption (meaning those people in the top 20 percent for meat consumption as a proportion of their calories) to those eating low levels of red and processed meat (i.e. those in the bottom 20 percent consumption level). To give a sense of the difference among the two groups, people with the highest red meat consumption ate almost seven times as much meat as those in the lowest group. For a man, that amounted to 68.1g/1000kcal of meat per day, which is almost a 1/3 lb burger a day (based on the 2116 calorie diet these men typically ate). Those in the lowest quintile of meat consumption ate on average 9.3g/1000, which comes out to approximately the same burger once a week. So before you panic, consider how your red meat intake compares to the people in the study.

On the other hand, there was some good news for meat lovers as well: high levels of white meat consumption seem to lower your chance of death. For those in the highest quintile of white meat consumption (which includes poultry and fish), the risk of death was associated with an approximately eight percent lower chance of death in the ten years of the study, for both men and women. But a curious feature that might temper the benefits of white meat to nonsmokers is that high levels of white meat consumption seems to raise rather significantly their risk of cardiovascular disease. You’re in luck if you’re a smoker, however; for this group, white meat intake seemed to have no relationship to cardiovascular disease.

These were the results driving the interest in the study, although weirdly, the strangest association was between high red meat consumption in men versus low red meat consumption and mortality due to “injuries and sudden death.“

That result – a hazard ratio of 26 percent (meaning 26 percent more likely) – was buried by the media. The category included death from unintentional injury, adverse effects, suicide, self-inflicted injury, homicide, and legal intervention. The authors note that the number of deaths was low, but the mechanism is not clear. The finding is a reminder that mining epidemiological data can produce strange relationships. In particular, since it seems difficult to argue for causality, it suggests that red meat consumption may be linked to other behaviors that were not controlled for by the study. Are male red meat eaters likelier to take risks? Are suicidal old men more likely to eat red meat?

While the study has rather convincingly linked high levels or red meat to increased mortality, the purported risk increase is much lower than it is, for example, between smoking or obesity and cancer. Inevitably, this means that the causal link is weaker. As with any observational study, there are some limitations to drawing a causal line between red meat and cancer mortality. The study attempted to control for these factors, but it is impossible to control for everything. There is also no way to discern from this study whether eating less meat would provide the direct benefit of the magnitude of the study. One can only assume that the people who reported high levels of meat consumption had been eating that amount of meat for their entire lives.

Wider problems in nutrition research

The other, wider problem is that while red meat has provided figurative red meat for nutrition researchers, there has been increased criticism of the dramatic claims being made for the nutritional basis of cancer from actual cancer researchers. Many of the news stories said the study supported the claims by the World Cancer Research Fund linking red meat and cancer. For example, Forbes noted:

“Though nutrition experts frequently recommend eating less meat, Mozaffarian says research linking red and processed meat consumption and mortality weren't consistent. But last year, when the World Cancer Research Fund International reviewed the scientific literature on red meat intake and cancer, researchers determined a link between the two.”

Reuters quoted Ian Olver, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Council Australia, saying that:

“This large study provides further evidence to support the recommendations by groups such as the World Cancer Research Fund in demonstrating an association between a high consumption of red and processed meats and a increase risk of death from cancer.”

But as STATS previously noted, the World Cancer Research Fund only managed to do achieve this link by excluding the largest ever study examining the association, whose publication had been delayed for three years after the results were initially made known. Those results did not show a link between cancer and meat consumption. The Harvard Pooling Project, which conducted that meta-analysis, and other recent research have thrown a wrench into the conventional scientific wisdom about nutrition and health, and the exclusion of some of its key studies from the World Cancer Research Fund has left some cancer researchers troubled.

A recent editorial in the Journal of Oncology written by the director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Boyle et al, Oct 2008) warned that smoking and obesity as significant causes for cancer were being minimized in the face of weak evidence for diet.

"In presenting its summary and recommendations, the [World Cancer Research Fund] report implicitly downplays the key importance of tobacco smoking in cancer causation. Contrary to that stated in the press release (the best advice for cancer prevention is to avoid weight gain), avoiding tobacco smoking and use of tobacco in other forms is the single best advice to reducing cancer risk as one-third of cancer deaths in high-income countries is attributable to tobacco use. Failure to include ‘stop smoking’ and ‘avoid exposure and exposing others to second-hand smoke’ among the 10 key recommendations undermines the most important message in cancer control. The ‘best advice’ also fails to mention the importance of a variety of established cancer risk factors including sun behaviour, occupational exposures, chronic infections and use of exogenous hormones."

At the same time, the evidence presented by the WCRF for diet’s role in cancer had gotten weaker:

"‘We think we know’ or, more accurately, ‘we thought we knew’ that a high-fat diet and low consumption of fruits, vegetables and fibres were associated with increased risks of common cancers. However, faith in the cancer prevention properties of fruits and vegetables began to crack when all the available evidence was critically reviewed by an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group. Subsequently, it has crumbled as major analyses of prospective studies have continued to demonstrate consistently a lack of association between intake of fruits and vegetables and risk of several cancers. This major change in classification of one the few agents classified by WCRF in the category of strongest evidence in 1997 casts doubt on the rationale to classify ‘convincing’ to the evidence linking high meat intake to colorectal cancer risk in the current report. This also raises questions about the evaluation process and about the robustness of the classification system."

But the IARC noted

"The substantial review of the evidence in the WCRF report demonstrates that there is no discernible association between many forms of cancer and specific dietary practices. There are still some very interesting hypotheses to pursue, such as the value of an approach on the basis of the food patterns (e.g. the Mediterranean diet score) rather than individual foods and nutrients, but the cupboard is remarkably bare."

The failure of science to come up with robust conclusions about diet and cancer is one of the emerging "inconvenient truths" in public health (the other is that diets don't really work), and both are at odds with giving the public clear, comprehensible guidelines for diet. This new study has been hailed for building on existing evidence that red meat consumption is linked to cancer, but good reporting would include the naysayers as well as the yaysayers; scientific consensus is never built with one study alone.

Journalism Professor Rates Health News

Journalism Professor Rates Health Studies. By Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D.
American Council on Science and Health, March 31, 2009

Here at ACSH we’ve complained for years that health-related stories in the popular media often pay scant attention to the scientific accuracy and importance of the studies they report on. For example, we’ve seen preliminary studies reported at scientific meetings given equal weight with studies that have undergone peer review and are published in respected scientific journals. As we’ve noted in several publications, problems range from misleading and alarmist headlines to a basic misunderstanding of the difference between association and causation in the results of epidemiologic studies.

Now we’ve come across some valuable help -- an Internet site published by journalism professor Gary J. Schwitzer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Professor Schwitzer has an extensive background in journalism and puts it to good use on his Health News Review site. The good professor analyzes and critiques health-related news stories, explaining why a particular article presents its topic accurately and clearly -- or why it doesn’t. He rates stories with up to five stars, and details what the standards are for the ratings. We’re pleased to find such a useful resource and hope our readers find it valuable as well.

Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health

Monday, March 30, 2009

Conservative comments on WaPo and Abu Zubaydah

The Post and Abu Zubaydah. By Marc Thiessen
The Corner/NRO, Mar 30, 2009


[The assault] on the CIA program continues with today’s front-page story about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah: “Detainees Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots.” The story, like so many on this program, is rife with errors and misinformation.

For example, the Post states:

“Abu Zubaida quickly told U.S. interrogators of [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed and of others he knew to be in al-Qaeda, and he revealed the plans of the low-level operatives who fled Afghanistan with him. Some were intent on returning to target American forces with bombs; others wanted to strike on American soil again, according to military documents and law enforcement sources. Such intelligence was significant but not blockbuster material. Frustrated, the Bush administration ratcheted up the pressure — for the first time approving the use of increasingly harsh interrogations, including waterboarding.”

This is either uninformed or intentionally misleading.

In fact, what Abu Zubaydah disclosed to the CIA during this period was that the fact that KSM was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and that his code name was “Muktar” – something Zubaydah thought we already knew, but in fact we did not. Intelligence officials had been trying for months to figure out who “Muktar” was. This information provided by Zubaydah was a critical piece of the puzzle that allowed them to pursue and eventually capture KSM. This fact, in and of itself, discredits the premise of the Post story – to suggest that the capture of KSM was not information that “foiled plots” to attack America is absurd on the face of it.

The Post also acknowledges that Zubaydah’s “interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla” but dismisses Padilla as the man behind a fanciful “dirty bomb” plot and notes that Padilla was never charged in any such plot. In fact, Padilla was a hardened terrorist who had trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and was a protégé of al Qaeda’s third in command, Mohammed Atef. And when he was captured, Padilla was being prepared for a much more sinister and realistic attack on America.

In June of 2001, Padilla met in Afghanistan with Atef, who asked him if he was willing to undertake a mission to blow up apartment buildings in the United States using natural gas. He agreed, and was sent to a training site near the Kandahar airport to prepare for the attack under close supervision of an al Qaeda explosives expert, who taught him about switches, circuits, and timers needed to carry it out. He was training in Afghanistan when Coalition forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom. Atef was killed by a Coalition airstrike, and Padilla joined the other al Qaeda operatives fleeing Afghanistan.

It was at this time that he met Abu Zubaydah, who helped arranged his passage across the Afghan-Pakistan border. At the time, Padilla told Zubaydah of his idea of a “dirty bomb” plot. Zubaydah was skeptical but sent him to see KSM, and told KSM he was free to use Padilla for his planned follow on operations in the US. Instead of the dirty bomb plot, KSM directed Padilla and an accomplice to undertake the apartment buildings operation for which he had initially trained. KSM’s right-hand man, Ammar al Baluchi, gave Padilla $10,000 in cash, travel documents, a cell phone, and an email address to be used to notify al Baluchi once Padilla arrived in America. The night before his departure, KSM, al Baluchi, and KSM’s nephew and 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh hosted a farewell dinner for him and his accomplice. Think about that for a moment: Padilla was feted at a dinner the night of his departure for America by the mastermind of 9/11, and two of his key accomplices.

Padilla left Pakistan on April 5, 2002 bound for the US by way of Zurich. En route, he spent a month in Egypt, and then arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare airport on May 8 where he was apprehended – because, even the Post acknowledges, of the information provided by Abu Zubaydah. At the time of his apprehension, he was carrying the $10,000 given him by his al Qaeda handlers, the cell phone, and the email address for al Baluchi. (For a detailed account of Jose Padilla’s activities, see this speech by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey.
So again, the premise of the Post story, is wrong.

Since his capture, Abu Zubaydah had provided the CIA with the critical link that had identified KSM as “Muktar” and the mastermind of 9/11, as well as information that led to the capture of Padilla and the disruption of a planned attack on the American homeland. The CIA knew he had more information that could save American lives, but now he had stopped talking. So the CIA used enhanced interrogation techniques to get him talking again -- and these techniques worked.

Zubaydah soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th, including Ramzi bin al Shibh. At the time of his capture, bin al Shibh had been working in Karachi on follow-on operations against the West – including a plot to hijack passenger planes in Europe and fly them into Heathrow airport. Bin al Shibh had identified four operatives for the operation, when he was taken into custody.

Together Zubaydah and bin al Shibh provided information that helped in the planning and execution of the operation that captured KSM. KSM then provided information that led to the capture of a Southeast Asian terrorist named Zubair—an operative with the terrorist network Jemmah Islamiyah, or JI. Zubair then provided information that led to the capture of a JI terrorist leader named Hambali—KSM's partner in developing a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into the tallest building on the West Coast: the Library Tower in Los Angeles. Told of Hambali's capture, KSM identified Hambali's brother "Gun Gun" as his successor and provided information that led to his capture. Hambali's brother then gave us information that led us to a cell of JI operatives that were going to carry out the West Coast plot.

KSM also provided vital information that led to the disruption of an al Qaeda cell that was developing anthrax for attacks inside the United States. He gave us information that helped us capture Ammar al Baluchi. At the time of his capture, al Baluchi was working with bin al Shibh on the Heathrow plot, as well as a plot to carry out an attack against the US consulate in Karachi. According to his CIA biography, al Baluchi “was within days of completing preparations for the Karachi plot when he was captured.”

In addition, KSM and other senior terrorists helped identify individuals that al Qaeda deemed suitable for Western operations, many of whom we had never heard about before. These included terrorists who were sent to case targets inside the United States, including financial buildings in major cities on the East Coast. They painted a picture of al Qaeda's structure and financing, and communications and logistics. They identified al Qaeda's travel routes and safe havens, and explained how al Qaeda's senior leadership communicates with its operatives in places like Iraq. They provided information that allowed the CIA to make sense of documents and computer records that we have seized in terrorist raids. They identified voices in recordings of intercepted calls, and helped us understand the meaning of potentially critical terrorist communications. It is the official assessment of our intelligence community that “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.”

And the whole chain I have just described began with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.

The Left is desperate to discredit the efficacy of this program, and they have launched a desperate campaign to destroy it. Last week it was the leak of an ICRC document describing some of the techiques allegedly used in the program – one of the most damaging leaks of classified information since the war on terror began because it allows al Qaeda to train against the techniques. And now we have this highly uninformed front-page story in the Washington Post. All of this is incredibly damaging to the security of the United States. And if America is attacked again, those responsible for the disclosure of this information will bear much of the blame.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Guardian goes to Pallywood

The Guardian goes to Pallywood, by Melanie Phillips
The Spectator, Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not to be outdone by the Ha’aretz blood libel, the Guardian today devotes a front page splash, two inside pages, three separate videos, a commentary by Seumas Milne and an editorial to what it claims is evidence from a special investigation by Clancy Chassay that Israel committed 'war crimes’ in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead by deliberately targeting civilians, using young boys as human shields and deliberately targeting ambulances and medical personnel and hospitals.

It presents these allegations as facts. It does so even though they are only allegations, unsupported by any evidence whatever. It does so even though the allegations are made by people with a proven track record of systematic lying to journalists and fabrication of stories and images. It does so even though such people either support Hamas or are controlled and schooled by Hamas to tell lies under pain of torture or death.

It does so without providing any verifiable information – full names, dates, specifics. It does so without making any mention of the extraordinary lengths to which the Israel Defence Force went in trying to avoid civilian casualties, by leafleting targeted houses to warn the inhabitants to get out and even calling them on their mobile phones to urge them to do so. It does so without acknowledging the fact that it was Hamas which used Gazan civilians as human shields – indeed, it dismisses this in a sentence by stating that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch found ‘no evidence’ that it had done so.

Hardly surprising since Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly shown themselves to be wholly partisan in the Palestinian cause and viscerally prejudiced against Israel. But aren’t Guardian reporters supposed to be journalists rather than passive conduits of NGO propaganda? In his ‘month-long investigation’, didn’t investigative reporter Clancy Chassay himself come across any of the copious evidence that Hamas used Gazan civilians as human shields – indeed, effectively used the whole civilian population as either a collective hostage or missile fodder? Did special investigative reporter Chassay manage somehow not to see this, or this, or this, or this, or this evidence that Hamas was guilty prima facie of the war crime of repeatedly using civilians as a weapon of war?

Looking at this Hamas propaganda sicked up by the Guardian (and in a pale imitation, the similarly implausible tale in today’s Independent) it is blindingly obvious that, as so often before, Hamas has chosen to deflect attention from its own war crimes – the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians and the use of Palestinian civilians as hostages, human shields and missile fodder – by claiming that it is instead Israel that is guilty of that very behaviour. And the evidence that the Guardian has presented as fact to support this claim turns out to be at best paper-thin and at worst demonstrably ridiculous.

Take the first video, featuring the family of six who we are told were killed by an Israeli drone – whose pinpoint accuracy must have meant, says Chassay, that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in that house. But the evidence presented shows nothing of the kind. We are left with absolutely no idea why this house was targeted – whether it was actually a terrorist stronghold, whether terrorists were firing nearby, whether it was erroneous intelligence or even whether a drone was indeed responsible. There whole thing is only allegations. In addition Carl at Israelmatzav adds this intriguing observation:

By the way, the part of the video where the two girls were allegedly killed looked very familiar to me. To me, it looks remarkably like the neighborhood in which the Hilles clan lived. There are some shots of that neighborhood in the video here. Were the people in this video Fatah supporters who were set up to be killed by Hamas?

Now take the second video, in which we are told as a fact that three young brothers were used by the IDF as human shields. Again, all we have to go on is the brothers’ allegations. We see them posing self-consciously in positions replicating how the Israeli army had reportedly used them, including supposedly kneeling in front of Israeli tank positions to deter Hamas from firing.

But a moment’s thought suggests this is hardly plausible. The whole point of human shields is that they are a deterrent against attack because the other side will not want to kill civilians being used in such a way. That is undoubtedly true of the Israelis: there have been countless examples of their aborting attacks because Palestinian children were seen or suspected to be present.

But that’s the point: children and other civilians are present because Hamas use them as human shields. We know from Palestinians’ own testimony and other evidence (see above) that they deliberately kept families in houses which the IDF warned would be targeted – even putting them on the rooftops – in order that they should be killed as martyrs to the cause of destroying Israel. And as we know, they also turn their own children into human bombs for the same reason. So is it really likely that the Israelis would assume that if they used Palestinian children as human shields, Hamas would not fire at them?

Most ludicrously of all, the video shows what it solemnly states is an Israeli army magazine found in one of the destroyed houses showing a picture of one of the brothers bound and blindfolded before he said he was stripped to his underpants and used as a human shield.

Rub your eyes. Operation Cast Lead lasted from December 27 to January 18. Are we supposed to believe that the Israelis managed to publish during that time a magazine with a picture of a boy they had captured during that same operation? And then left it lying around in the rubble– miraculously without so much as a tear in its pages -- for him conveniently to find it?

The boys shown are healthy, well fed and bright-eyed. Their mother is consumed by grief as she describes what happened to them... hang on, let’s read that one again. Her children are healthy, well fed and bright-eyed. So why is she weeping as if they have all been killed? Looks suspiciously like another Hamas ‘Pallywood’ production to me.

Now let’s look at the third video which claims Israel targeted ambulances, hospitals and medical personnel. No mention that Hamas regularly hijacks ambulances, as reported here; nor that they and their NGO mouthpieces claimed medics were killed when they were in fact terrorists, as reported here:

Last week, the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian NGO, quoted statistics obtained by the Palestinian Health Ministry according to which 15 Palestinian medics were killed during the three-week operation. But, said the CLA, some of those reportedly killed were not medics, while in other cases the reports of deaths turned out to be false. One of the ‘medics’ reported dead was Anas Naim, the nephew of Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naim, who was killed during clashes with the IDF on January 4 in the Ash Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood of Gaza City.

Following the clashes, the Palestinian press reported that Naim was killed and that he was a medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent. However, an investigation by the Gaza CLA discovered numerous pictures of Naim posing holding a RPG launcher and a Kalashnikov assault rifle posted on a Hamas website. Two days earlier, on January 2, a Hamas website reported that Israel had shelled the Dabash family home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City and that a medic, named Id Ramzan, was killed. But in a report posted on the same website several hours later, Ramzan, who was described as a member of Hamas's Civil Defense Unit, was reported to be alive and to have just conducted a live interview with Al-Aksa Television.

No mention of any of this. Instead the video presents as fact a claim by a man wearing an ambulance vest that his ambulance was struck by an Israeli tank shell containing 8000 ‘flechettes’, or small winged darts. He describes how his colleague was hit by hundreds of these flechettes -- whereupon he sank to his knees, raised his hands in the air and prayed. But my understanding is that flechette shells rip to pieces anyone they hit. So how could a man hit by a shell containing 8000 flechettes have been able to raise his hands and start praying?

What’s striking about these videos is how scrappy these claims are. So much so, in fact, that the second one seeks to shore up its case by footage from 2007, claiming to show the IDF using Palestinians as human shields on two previous occasions. But once again, these brief clips show no such thing. We see IDF soldiers going up a staircase into a building preceded by a Palestinian youth – we have no idea why, or what role the youth is playing. And we see a child sitting on the bonnet of an IDF jeep with his hand chained to the windshield – which is most likely to have been done to stop him from running away rather than using him as a human shield.

To pad out these preposterous and absurd claims, the Guardian cites the now infamous Ha’aretz allegations – which it manages to distort even further, saying that these included the admission by an Israeli soldier that an Israeli sniper had shot dead a Palestinian mother and her two children without saying a) that even Ha’aretz had said this was an accident and b) that the soldier subsequently admitted he hadn’t even been there and was merely recycling rumour and hearsay.

In his commentary, the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas mouthpiece Seumas Milne misrepresents the Ha’aretz travesty yet further still by stating:

Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January.

But the group of soldiers had ‘admitted’ doing no such thing. They had not ‘admitted’ doing anything themselves at all – merely reported what they had heard others say. Milne also sought to prop up the ‘human shield’ claims by dragging in other events:

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

The ‘unambiguous photographs’ are of course, as discussed above, anything but unambiguous. And as far as Majdi Abed Rabbo is concerned, once again a moment’s thought suggest this is most implausible. Since Hamas has been killing large numbers of Fatah operatives who it considers to be its deadly enemies, is it really likely that ‘a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas’ would be used by the Israelis as a human shield against Hamas?

Lazy, malicious use of partisan, uncorroborated, thin, ambiguous and on occasion demonstrably absurd allegations, with the purpose and effect of demonising and delegitimising the Israeli victims of terrorism by painting them as the terrorists and their Palestinian attackers as their victims.

In similar vein, no mention at all in the Guardian of the enormous bomb planted in a shopping mall in Haifa last Saturday evening – 100 kg of explosives packed with ball bearings -- which, had it not been defused, would most likely have killed hundreds of people.

Truly, the Guardian is an evil newspaper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Revisionism on Judicial Nominees & Bipartisanship

Anti-Bush Revisionism on Judicial Nominees, by Ed Whelan
Bench Memos/NRO, Mar 17, 2009

The New York Times article on President Obama’s first judicial nominee (which I discussed here) repeats the now-common charge that the White House ceremony in May 2001 in which President Bush announced his first 11 nominees for federal appellate seats “provided a political air to the nominations.” That charge is often used to suggest that the White House ceremony triggered the Democrats’ subsequent unprecedented measures of obstruction of judicial nominees.

The contemporaneous reaction of leading Democrats to that White House ceremony, which included Clinton recess appointee Roger Gregory and Clinton district-court appointee Barrington Parker Jr. among the nominees, was markedly different. The Associated Press’s next-day account of the event (titled “Senate Democrats seem ready to allow most of Bush’s first judges”) noted that “Democrats appeared content with the choices.” In particular:

“We are pleased that the White House has chosen to work with us on the first
group of nominations,” said Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D. He
noted that some Democrats already had turned in positive reviews of some of the
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, even
attended the White House announcement. “Had I not been encouraged, I would not
have been here today,” he said.

In other words, far from having “a political air,” the White House ceremony was so nonpartisan that Senator Leahy was happy to attend, and minority leader Daschle praised the White House for working with Senate Democrats on the nominees.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Climatologist J Theon: political pressure prevented him from firing Hansen, global warming is a fraud

Muzzling Science, by Henry Payne
Planet Gore/NRO, Mar 12, 2009

America’s media over the years has hung on NASA climatologist James Hansen’s every word as he accused the Bush Administration of muzzling the facts about government climate science. For example, here, or here, or here, or. . . .

At the International Climate Change Conference this week, however, Hansen’s former boss, climatologist John Theon, put Mr. Hansen’s NASA career in perspective saying not only that political pressure prevented him from firing an out-of-line Hansen but that global warming is a “fraud.” As Reason’s Ronald Bailey reported from New York:

Retired NASA climatologist John Theon rose to lament the fact that he hadn't fired James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and an ardent advocate of the idea that man-made global warming is a catastrophe in the making. Theon called Hansen an “embarrassment” . . . (and) admitted that he actually couldn't have fired Hansen, who had powerful political protectors, most notably then-senator and later vice president Al Gore. So had Theon tried to do it, it's much more likely that he himself would have been out on the street rather than Hansen.

Theon told the audience that while he remained silent on the issue of global warming when he retired from NASA, he now felt he needed to speak out. “This whole thing is a fraud,” said Theon. “We need to educate the public about what we're going to get into unless we stop this nonsense.” The nonsense being the deleterious effect that carbon rationing would have on economic growth and jobs.

That’s news. And how did our national media react to these blockbuster revelations from one of the nation’s top ex-government scientists? [Crickets.]

[Ahem.] Isn’t that muzzling the facts?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's a Terrible Time to Reject Skilled Workers

Turning Away Talent. WSJ Editorial
Another harmful 'stimulus' provision.
WSJ, Mar 11, 2009

Bank of America, citing a provision of the stimulus package that became law last month, is rescinding job offers to foreign-born students graduating from U.S. business schools this summer. Protectionists will applaud, no doubt. But denying companies access to talented workers born outside the U.S. will neither jump-start the economy nor serve the nation's long-term interests.

The stated purpose of the amendment, which was sponsored by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, is "to prohibit any recipient of TARP funding from hiring H-1B visa holders." Press reports have suggested that these visa holders are displacing U.S. workers.

Mr. Sanders cited an especially misleading Associated Press story, which said that the major banks requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years. "Even as the economy collapsed last year and many financial workers found themselves unemployed," said AP, "the dozen U.S. banks now receiving the biggest rescue packages requested visas for tens of thousand of foreign workers to fill high-paying jobs."

What the story left out is that companies file multiple applications for each available slot to comply with Department of Labor wage rules for H-1B hires. By focusing on how many applications were filed rather than how many foreign workers were hired, the story exaggerates actual visa use. In fact, H-1B visa holders have been a negligible percentage of financial industry hires in recent years. In 2007, for instance, Citigroup hired 185 H-1B workers, which represented .04% of its 387,000 employees. Bank of America hired 66 H-1B workers, which represented .03% of its 210,000 employees.

The reality is that cumbersome labor regulations and fees make foreign professionals more expensive to hire than Americans, which undercuts the argument that the banks were looking for cheap labor and explains why H-1B applications tend to fall during economic downturns. But far from displacing U.S. workers, H-1B hires have been associated with an increase in total employment.

A 2008 study of the tech industry by the National Foundation for American Policy found that for every H-1B position requested, U.S. technology companies in the S&P 500 increase their employment by five workers. America must compete in a global economy, and if U.S. companies can't hire these skilled workers -- many of whom graduate from U.S. universities, by the way -- you can bet foreign competitors will

The majority of "homeless" children live in homes, despite media claims

Double Trouble? By James Taranto
The majority of "homeless" children live in homes.
WSJ, Mar 11,2009


"One of every 50 American children experiences homelessness, according to a new report that says most states have inadequate plans to address the worsening and often-overlooked problem," the Associated Press reports from New York:

"These kids are the innocent victims, yet it seems somehow or other they get left out," said the [National Center on Family Homelessness] president, Dr. Ellen Bassuk. "Why are they America's outcasts?"

The report analyzes data from 2005-2006. It estimates that 1.5 million children experienced homelessness at least once that year, and says the problem is surely worse now because of the foreclosures and job losses of the deepening recession.

"If we could freeze-frame it now, it would be bad enough," said Democratic Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, who wrote a foreward [sic] to the report. "By end of this year, it will be that much worse."

Horrible if true. But is it true? Not so much. Believe it or not, it turns out that the majority of "homeless" children live in homes.

Seriously! The AP link above includes a graphic that breaks down the "living conditions of homeless children." Fifty-six percent of them are "doubled-up," defined as "sharing housing with other persons due to economic hardship." By this definition, the Meathead on "All in the Family" was "homeless."

Another 7% are listed as living in hotels--a category that, in the report itself, also includes motels, trailer parks and camping grounds. We'll give them campgrounds, but when you think of the homeless, are residents of hotels and trailer parks what come to mind?

Twenty-four percent of "homeless" children live in shelters, according to the AP graphic. That would seem to meet a commonsense definition of homelessness--but it turns out the number conflates those who live in two different types of shelters: "emergency" and "transitional." As the report defines the latter:

Transitional housing bridges the gap between emergency shelters and permanent housing--often providing more intensive services and allowing longer lengths of stay than emergency shelters. Transitional housing models arose in the mid-1980s, when communities realized that for some, emergency shelter services were not sufficient to ensure a permanent exit from homelessness. Transitional housing programs often have a specialized focus on particular barriers to stable housing and provide services and supports to address these issues. For example, programs may be designed exclusively for those fleeing domestic violence, struggling with addictions, or working to reunite with children in the foster care system.

It's not clear what percentage of "homeless" children are in emergency vs. transitional shelters, but the report does say that "Nationally, there are 29,949 units (i.e., housing for one family) of emergency shelter [and] 35,799 units of transitional housing." In any case, a substantial number of the "homeless" who are in "shelters" are actually in facilities the center itself calls "housing" and are on track to finding permanent homes.

The remaining "homeless" children are either "unsheltered" (3%) or "unknown/other" (10%). Among these are children "abandoned in hospitals," "using a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings," and "living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations."

People in most of these categories are plainly homeless--but note how the center slips "substandard housing" in there between abandoned buildings and bus stations. A child should not have to live in substandard housing, and maybe one who does deserves help at the taxpayer's expense. But a lousy home doesn't make you homeless any more than a lousy marriage makes you single.

The AP story is the work of four reporters: David Crary, who gets the byline, plus Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas, Daniel Shea in Little Rock, Ark., and Dionne Walker in Atlanta, who "contributed to this report." Despite all this manpower, it is nothing but a work of stenography. A group whose raison d'être is homelessness has an obvious interest in exaggerating the extent of the problem. The press's complicity is harder to explain.