Press and Media

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Does the NYT Publish “All the News That’s Fit to Print” Anymore?

NYT’s ombud, Margaret Sullivan, dedicated her column today to whether the NYT should have done a story on The Intercept’s drone package a few weeks back. She concludes that given the NYT’s extensive coverage of this issue, it’s reasonable they gave the story just a mention, though suggests maybe they should give it more than that going forward.

I’m particularly interested in this subject because it says so much that is troubling about how our government functions – and yes, kills — in secret and often without adequate oversight. I’ve written about aspects of it a number of times.

Times journalists have done plenty of worthy coverage of the drone program themselves, with one national security reporter, Scott Shane, writing a significant big-picture story last April, covering some of the same ground that the Intercept is exploring now. He and Jo Becker also wrote a stunning story in 2012 detailing the existence of the president’s “kill list.” Mr. Shane is the author of a well-regarded recent book on the subject, “Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone.”

Since The Times has done so much on this subject, it is understandable that only a brief mention of The Intercept’s scoop has been made so far. Still, given the revelations in the released documents — as well as the mere existence of a major intelligence leaker who is not Edward Snowden — Times journalists might have served readers well to do more on “The Drone Papers.”  They also could consider doing so in the future.

I suspect there are two other things going on. Shane seems to still be on book leave, and to cover the Intercept stuff — which in significant part confirms his earlier reporting, most importantly that the government treats males killed in drone attacks as military aged males appropriate for targeting — might be a bit awkward. I think some of the documents — such as the ones showing that JSOC’s targeting was bad because it relied on CIA’s SIGINT, might advance questions about why we decided to build a CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia in 2011. That might be appropriate follow-up reporting from other reporters like Mark Mazzetti (I have long suspected the Saudis were fiddling with the intelligence to force our hand on a drone base, since they had been trying for years to get drones from us), but that would take further time. So, too, would be a report on what these documents say about the CIA versus DOD debate on drones.

Still, underlying the whole question is whether the NYT publishes all the news that’s fit to print anymore.

There was a time when a NYT reader could expect, by reading the NYT, to know everything the elite of this country deemed worth knowing. It promised comprehensiveness, at least for those subjects that the NYT judged important, for better and worse.

Now, I think the NYT (which still plays that agenda setting function, and will still get fed stories to place items in the news agenda) often limits itself to items it can claim a scoop on (though far too often, it borrows these scoops from outlets obscure enough they’ll get away with it). As a result, when another outlet advances the news that’s fit to print in a publicly recognized scoop, or when news comes without an exclusivity agreement, the NYT may not always report it, until such time as it can own it in the future.

I think we’ll probably be better off when the NYT no longer serves as the agenda-setter for the country, in part because there are a lot of stories (like the Iraq War then, and now like anything pertaining to Israel or Ukraine) where other outlets are far more reliable, in part because the NYT’s official perspective is often so jingoistic as to disinform its readers (as with the report that Russia might cut cables into the Middle East, which includes no acknowledgment that this is a tactic we make ample use of). But we’re in a weird place now where the NYT doesn’t claim to be comprehensive, but readers still assume it is. Which means that until something shows up in the NYT it won’t be considered common knowledge, but the NYT will sometimes delay such reports until they can “own” it in some way. That, in turn, delays the time when something can be considered “official” and therefore worthy of debate.

I do expect the NYT to do more coverage on drones that reflects these documents, because both Shane and Mazzetti have already done so much.

But I’m at least as interested by this unacknowledged question about whether the NYT aspires to “print” all the news that’s fit to print anymore.

The Roger Goodell Fraud and Stupidity in Seattle’s End Zones

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.57.28 PMMost all who read this blog already know the patent bogosity that is #Deflategate. But, Roger Goodell, on behalf of the entire National Football League, relentlessly and petulantly screams that not only is the ginned up horse manure worthy of occupying the NFL’s time, he and the NFL have seen fit to copiously waste the time of two different levels of the federal court system.

Even worse, they have either sought, or by their unyielding craven attitude, caused stipulations to be entered that the federal court system accelerate their cases while far more important criminal and civil cases wait. It is the epitome of arrogance and corporate hubris and personal narcissism.

Roger Goodell has consistently lectured all the rest of us, who do not make $44 million a year for being an incompetent jerk, that the whole ginned up, factually unsupported, steer manure that is #Deflategate is all “to protect the integrity of the league”.

What a load of horse manure. Has Roger Goodell seen what happened in the end zone at the end to the game in Seattle last night?? If the “integrity of the league” is not at issue with this type of blatant misapplication of the clear rules, and … what confirmation (or not!) by the NFL’s vaunted replay system (which is curiously not applied in many situations when it is dispositive), then what is?

Well, okay, THAT was really stupid and in complete contradiction of the crystal clear NFL rules. But hey, it is not like the referees could have looked at tape and done the honest thing to not hand the game on a platter to the Seahawks and skew the league for the entire year. Well, of course, they actually COULD HAVE done the right thing, but just did not. But beyond screwing the pooch, then the NFL’s stenographers at ESPN put up some former NFL referee expert™ to explain and cover for the patently obvious wrongful cow dung. Because that is what toadies do I guess.

Not exactly the first time, however, the NFL has willingly sanctioned and ratified stupidity in a Seattle Seahawks end zone that ended up screwing, and altering, the lives and seasons of teams and players across the league. No, of course, there was this intellectually insulting crap that occurred because Roger Goodell was too cheap to pay the referees and umpires in his league a few extra bucks (maybe if NFL paid more, they could get better, and full time, officials). Watch Goodell’s inglorious work in the 2012 game between Seattle and Green Bay:

So, the “integrity of the game” didn’t matter when Roger Goodell was trying to bust the game officials’ union for a cheap last couple of dollars. The “integrity of the game” apparently doesn’t matter to the NFL, or their apologists, over the sham that clearly occurred in Seattle last night. And Goodell and the NFL’s precious “integrity of the game” seems, to them, to be worth more than all other civil litigants in SDNY and the 2nd Circuit, even if there are serious civil rights and criminal cases that get shoved aside for their arrogance.

But Roger Goodell struts out like the $44 million a year arrogant peacock that he is and claims obsessively that a ginned up sting job the league ran on Tom Brady and the Patriots, that has absolutely no credible evidence to support it, was “necessary” for the “integrity of the game”.

The millions of dollars for an inherently biased, not to mention intellectually and legally incoherent, Ted Wells report, the waste of time, and acceleration before all other pending cases and controversies, including criminal cases with lives in the balance, of a federal judge in the Southern District of New York (SDNY)…that was in Roger Goodell’s “Integrity of the game”. They now waste time in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and on an accelerated basis – all on affirmative initial filings by Goodell and the NFL – that, too, is in the precious “integrity of the game” for Roger Goodell.

The only thing that does not seem to be within the “integrity of the game” for Roger Goodell and the NFL is actual integrity and sense of place for the game. What a clownshow Roger Goodell is, and is running for the vaunted NFL shield.

The Deflategate Decision: Brady Has Been Freed!

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 11.32.25 AMemptywheel sez: We interrupt this in depth legal discussion to point out that the WOLVEREENIES ARE BACK!!


Better still, they’ve got unbeatable juju going into tonight’s game against Utah. That’s because (unreported among all the other less important Deflategate legalisms) the Wolvereenies have ALREADY worked together to score today.


That’s right.

You see, Jay Feely and Tommy Brady combined to score a point in Judge Berman’s decision today. On Monday, former UM kicker Jay Feely ’99 testified on behalf of former UM QB Tom Brady ’00 (just like me!!!). Feely explained about how when the Jets got busted for fucking with their balls in 2009 — in a game against Division rivals the Pats, against Tom Brady — he, the kicker who allegedly benefitted from the improperly doctored balls, faced no punishment.

If you’re not going to punish Jay Feely, Judge Berman suggested, you can’t punish Tommy Brady. At least, you can’t expect Tommy to think he’ll get punished, because his college buddy didn’t in the equivalent situation.

Anyway this is surely a great omen for the Wolverines and their new savior Jim Harbaugh.

So go Blue!

Deflated BallWell, at long last love, the #Deflategate decision from Judge Richard Berman in SDNY is in, and the big winner is Tom Brady.

The 40 page full decision is here

One key line in the decision on the general right of the court to set aside an arbitration is:

“The deference due an arbitrator does not extend so far as to require a district court to countenance, much less confirm, an award obtained without the requisites of fairness or due process” (citing Kaplan v. Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc.)


I previously did a very partial background on the case, and how it germinated from blatantly false information (still uncorrected and/or withdrawn) from Chris Mortenson and ESPN. The bottom line is the NFL’s position was that the Commissioner, Goodell, simply has the power to do whatever he wants under Article 46 of the NFL/NFLPA collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The Players Association, on behalf of Tom Brady, makes four core arguments in seeking to vacate Goodell’s arbitration decision:

1) There was not actual notice to Brady of prohibited conduct and that he could be suspended for it (See here for a further description)

2) That there were not adequate and reliable standards for testing game balls, and therefore punishment based on the same is unreasonable

3) That Goodell was a blatantly partial arbitrator, and

4) That the arbitration process lacked fundamental fairness in that key witness testimony and evidence was unreasonably denied to Brady and the NFLPA (See here for a further explanation).

Frankly, Brady is arguably entitled to a decision in his favor on all four. What Berman did is, primarily, rely on the first ground, notice with a backup of ground four, lack of fairness from denial of the Pash testimony and investigative notes.

CN_SebJWIAUg8iYThe critical language from the decision is:

The Award is premised upon several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four- game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.

So, there you have it, please feel free to unpack this further in comments. This is a momentous decision, not just for Brady and the NFL, but, as I explained in my earlier post, for collectively bargained labor in general. There is a lot of importance here to much more than Tom Brady. Though Brady is certainly the big winner today.

Brady is free! For now anyway, it is nearly a certainty that the NFL will appeal to the 2nd Circuit and we will go through this all again.

FDL: Looking At Things As They Were; Dreaming Of Things That Never Would Be

UnknownThere are multiple better voices here to address the apparent demise of Firedoglake, whether briefly or at length. I was, in a way, an interloper by chance. By fortune, actually. Because I was asked, for inexplicable reasons I will never fully understand, but will always treasure, to join Emptywheel when it morphed from The Last Hurrah into the Emptywheel blog at Firedoglake. Yes, I had been a decent contributor to both Next Hurrah, and, often, FDL, but still it was a bit of a shock when it came.

I can honestly say I, as a result, encountered some of the finest and most genuine people in my life. That happened because of FDL, both as to the lifetime friendships with people that are here with us, including, most notably, Marcy, and all the others. Marcy, Rayne, Jim White, Ed Walker, Rosalind….and, please, let us not forget Mary and some of the others no longer here. All that came, at least for me, out of seeing Scooter Libby coverage early on nearly a decade ago. At FDL.

This medium may be digital, but it has wings and real life beyond the URL’s and binary code or whatever. The people I have met and interacted with as a result of being around FDL were, with little exception, remarkable, intelligent, wonderful and I think the world has been made better by them.

So, to Jane Hamsher, Christy Hardin Smith, Siun, Pachacutec, Richard Taylor, Karl, Suzanne, Bev Wright (Bev and Book Salon was one of the most awesome things ever), Ellie, each and every one of the fantastic moderators who were the ones who kept the enterprise really alive for so long, and a host of others that allowed me to participate with them, thank you. There are too many to list, and I love one and all. You will all be missed, and I apologize to the too many other friends I met there and have not listed. You know who you are, and thank you.

I am starting to see eulogies all over the web, and most are quite decent. FDL was right, and early so, about the rule of law, the Cheney Administration, torture, surveillance, marriage equality and ACA/Obamacare, just to name a few of the plethora of topics breached on her pages. The voices have not died, but, now, the common enterprise has.

I will leave it to others to say where exactly FDL fits into the hierarchy and history of the blogosphere, but it was certainly up there. Thanks, and vaya con dios FDL.

Update, from emptywheel: bmaz forgot to mention DDay, but I’m certain it was an oversight.

A Tale of Celebrity Bon Vivant Civil Servants and Access Journalism

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.27.12 PMThere is a distinct problem in this country with excessive inbreeding of politicians, lobbyists and journalists. In a country where so many are now ruled by so few in power, it is becoming, if not already become, the biggest threat to American democracy. I would add in corporations, but, heck, who do you think the politicians, lobbyists and journalists represent at this point?

Now, corporations and their money through their mouthpiece lobbyists have long had a stranglehold on politics, whether through the corps themselves or their wealthy owners. But the one saving mechanism has historically been claimed to be the “Fourth Estate” of the American press who were there on behalf of the people as a check on power. But what if the Fourth Estate becomes, in fact, part of the power? What then?

What if the crucial check on federal and state power is by journalists who are little more than stenographers clamoring for access and/or co-opted social friends and elites with the powers that be? What if the sacrosanct civil servants of this country are nothing but Kardashian like shills out for a free gilded ride before they leave office to cash in with private sector riches befitting their holiness?

Golly, if only there was an example of this incestuous degradation. Oh, wait, get a load of this just put up by Kate Bennett’s KGB File at Politico:

In a generally stay-at-home administration, one member of the Obama Cabinet is proving to be the toast of the town. Jeh Johnson, the oh-so-serious-on-the-outside secretary of Homeland Security, is fast becoming Washington’s No. 1 social butterfly, dining out at posh restaurants like CityCenter’s DBGB, as he did last week with a small group that included Amy Klobuchar, Steny Hoyer, CNN’s Jim Sciutto, the New York Times’ Ashley Parker, author Aaron Cooley, and lobbyist Jack Quinn and his wife Susanna.

For a guy who’s been running a 24/7 war against terror since 2013, Johnson seems to have a lot of time to trip the light fantastic. He can often be seen enjoying regular catch-up sessions with BFF Wolf Blitzer at Café Milano (back table, naturally); and mingling at black-tie soirées, such as the Kennedy Center Spring Gala, the Opera Ball, or a champagne-fueled VIP garden party at Mount Vernon to toast French-American relations, all of which Johnson attended—and stayed at beyond the requisite cocktail-hour schmooze.
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“There’s rarely an invitation he’ll turn down,” says an aide to Johnson, who prefers to remain anonymous, of his boss’s penchant for spending three-to-four evenings a week at social functions — and actually enjoying them.

I am not going to bother to dissect that, it speaks all too clearly for itself. And it is hard to figure which is more pukeworthy, the bon vivant civil servant or the elitism displayed by the supposed watcher last bastion journalists. It is all of the same cloth.

What’s wrong in Washington DC? Here you go. When the pathology on the boneyard of American democracy is run, this vignette will appear.

Maybe this is why Tom Vilsack could find a spare couple of hours out of one of his days to explain in a deposition why he and the Obama Administration knee jerkily demanded Shirley Sherrod’s resignation based upon a crank fraudulent video by a schlock like Andrew Breitbart.

Because “Executive Privilege” now means “Privileged Executives” who can party all night with their elitist journalistic pals and screw the rest of the government, and people it serves, during the day. Just like the Founders envisioned obviously.

On the Nonsense of Norms about Secrets

At a panel on secrecy yesterday, Bob Litt proclaimed that the NYT “disgraced itself” for publishing names, some of which were widely known, of the people who were conducting our equally widely known secret war on drones.

Sadly, Litt did not get asked the question implied by the Washington Post’s Greg Miller (who has, in the past, caught heat for not publishing some of the same names).

So CIA tried to convince not to name CTC chief, but helped do profile of CTC women with names and photos??

Did the NYT “disgrace itself” for publishing a column by Maureen Dowd that covers over some of the more unsavory female CIA officers — notably, Alfreda Bikowsky — who have nevertheless been celebrated by the Agency?

I’d submit that, yes, the latter was a far more disgraceful act, regardless of the credit some of the more sane female CIA officers deserve, because it was propaganda delivered on demand, and delivered for an agency that would squawk Espionage Act had the NYT published the same details in other circumstances.

Keep that in mind as you read this post from Jack Goldsmith, claiming — without offering real evidence — that this reflects a new “erosion of norms” against publishing classified information.

I mean, sure, I agree the NYT decision was notable. But it’s only notable because comes after a long series of equally notable events — events upping the tension underlying the secrecy system — that Goldsmith doesn’t mention.

There’s the norm — broken by some of the same people the NYT names, as well as Jose Rodriguez before them — that when you take on the most senior roles at CIA, you drop your cover. By all appearances, as CIA has engaged in more controversial and troubled programs, it has increasingly protected the architects of those programs by claiming they’re still undercover, when that cover extends only to the public, and not to other countries, even adversarial ones. That is, CIA has broken the old norm to avoid any accountability for its failures and crimes.

Then there’s the broken norm — exhibited most spectacularly in the Torture Report — of classifying previously unclassified details, such as the names of all the lawyers who were involved in the torture program.

There’s the increasing amounts of official leaking — up to and including CIA cooperating with Zero Dark Thirty to celebrate the work of Michael D’Andrea — all while still pretending that D’Andrea was still under cover.

Can we at least agree that if CIA has decided a Hollywood propagandistic version of D’Andrea’s is not classified, then newspapers can treat his actual career as such? Can we at least agree that as soon as CIA has invited Hollywood into Langley to lionize people, the purportedly classified identities of those people — and the actual facts of their career — will no longer be granted deference?

And then, finally, there’s CIA’s (and the Intelligence Community generally) serial lying. When Bob Litt’s boss makes egregious lies to Congress to cover up for the even more egregious lies Keith Alexander offered up when he played dress-up hacker at DefCon, and when Bob Litt continues to insist that James Clapper was not lying when everyone knows he was lying, then Litt’s judgement about who “disgraced” themselves or not loses sway.

All the so-called norms Goldsmith nostalgically presents without examination rest on a kind of legitimacy that must be earned. The Executive has squandered that legitimacy, and with it any trust for its claims about the necessity of the secrets it keeps.

Goldsmith and Litt are asking people to participate with them in a kind of propagandistic dance, sustaining assertions as “true” when they aren’t. That’s the habit of a corrupt regime. They’d do well to reflect on what kind of sickness they’re actually asking people to embrace before they start accusing others of disgraceful behavior.

The Collective Yawn at America’s “Weaponization of Information”

You know you’re in trouble when Dana Rohrabacher is the voice of reason.

That’s what happened in Wednesday’s House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “Russia’s Weaponization of Information,” which was basically an attempt to claim RT is a tremendous weapon in Putin’s efforts to conquer the world. It included Liz Wahl complaining about the “conspiracy theories” tolerated and encouraged at RT.

While some of the theories peddled are outright absurd, there are a surprising amount of people prone to being manipulated that think it’s hip to believe in any alternative theory, feeling proud of perceiving themselves to be enlightened and even prouder when they amass sizable social media followers that hang on every misguided and outright false theory that is propagated. Russia is aware of this population of paranoid skeptics and plays them like a fiddle.

Those that challenge any narrative against Russia are branded CIA agents, of being puppets for neo-conservatives intent on reigniting a cold war, and face the ire of seemingly countless online trolls or hecklers on the internet that hijack online discussions.

In response, Rohrabacher suggested the US media has its own limits. (after 1:25) “I would hope that we are honest enough with one another to realize that we have major flaws in our dissemination of facts and information in the United States as well.” Rohrabacher went on to criticize those seeking to restart the Cold War, suggesting that Putin is Brezhnev or even Hitler. “There’s a little bit of fanaticism on both sides. … If we’re going to have peace in this world we’ve got to be disciplined in searching for that truth.” He complained that most narratives of Ukraine ignore the violent overthrow of an elected leader.

Wahl pushed back, arguing that in Russia, unlike in the US, “there’s an attempt to manipulate and advocate a war to achieve an authoritarian leader’s objectives, and fabricating facts, twisting truths, making up lies.” Wahl continued, coming close to suggesting that  “Look at Brian Williams, he makes some mistakes and he’s assassinated on Twitter.”

Notably, the hearing was led by climate change denier Ed Royce and included climate change denier Scott Perry, both men adhering to fictions that their donors and craziest supporters want to hear, talking about Communists telling people what they wish to hear.

Then, the next day, the NYT caught up to Moon of Alabama, As’ad AbuKahlil, and the Daily Beast’s  about Richard Engel’s claim to have been kidnapped by Assad loyalists in 2012. And while the NYT (and the HuffPo) don’t criticize Engel, who was in real danger, the NYT does include damning details about NBC’s own awareness that the story Engel was telling was not true.

NBC executives were informed of [Free Syrian Army tied Sunnis] Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals. Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events.


NBC’s own assessment during the kidnapping had focused on Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj, according to a half-dozen people involved in the recovery effort. NBC had received GPS data from the team’s emergency beacon that showed it had been held early in the abduction at a chicken farm widely known by local residents and other rebels to be controlled by the Sunni criminal group.

NBC had sent an Arab envoy into Syria to drive past the farm, according to three people involved in the efforts to locate Mr. Engel, and engaged in outreach to local commanders for help in obtaining the team’s release. These three people declined to be identified, citing safety considerations.

Ali Bakran, a rebel commander who assisted in the search, said in an interview that when he confronted Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj with the GPS map, “Azzo and Shukri both acknowledged having the NBC reporters.”

Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC’s team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.

Perhaps NBC had good reason for reporting a story they had reason to believe was false. Perhaps they agreed to blame Shiites as part of the deal to get Engel back safely. If they do, they would do well to make that clear now.

But then, why would they? Aside from Democracy Now and Glenn Greenwald, this story has not received that much attention.

In both Syria and Ukraine, the US press has largely been as obedient as the press is forced to be in Russia, telling convenient narratives that justify our armed intervention. The notion that US Congressmen who themselves spew propaganda are squealing about Putin’s great power of propaganda is almost pathetic in the face of all that.

CIA’s Girlie PsyOp: Call MoDo


MoDo in disguise at the Prop 8 trial.

Apparently, after years of fostering a “Sister’s Club” image of CIA women that celebrates their badassery, the CIA has realized the image is unfair to the majority of women who work at the Agency. So, on the occasion of Showtime announcing a Homeland character that fits that mold will move from the CIA next season, CIA invited Maureen Dowd into the Langley conference room to chat with some women.

The C.I.A. sisterhood is fed up with the flock of fictional C.I.A. women in movies and on TV who guzzle alcohol as they bed hop and drone drop, acting crazed and emotional, sleeping with terrorists and seducing assets.

“The problem is that they portray most women in such a one-dimensional way; whatever the character flaw is, that’s all they are,” said Gina Bennett, a slender, thoughtful mother of five who has been an analyst in the Counterterrorism Center over the course of 25 years and who first began sounding the alarm about Osama bin Laden back in 1993.


I talked to several current and former women at the C.I.A. at the request of the usually close-lipped agency, which wants to show a stable side missing from portrayals like the one in the new NBC drama “State of Affairs.” In the premiere, Katherine Heigl’s C.I.A. analyst gets wasted on shots, picks up a stranger and upbraids her shrink for being “judge-y” — all before briefing the woman president. The women I spoke with agreed that the “honey pot” image of C.I.A. women using sex to get secrets, as Carrie did in “Homeland,” was Hollywood sensationalism.

Of course, CIA’s bossy badass woman does have an archetype: Alfreda Bikowsky who got innocent people tortured and flew around the world to watch waterboarding. You can tell from some of the quotations in the Torture Report that many of her colleagues disdained her unhinged approach. Nevertheless, CIA kept promoting her, such that she is the still mostly secret embodiment of this image.

But rather than doing anything about that — rather than moving Alfreda on — CIA decided having MoDo interview some more reasonable CIA women (though curiously, not some who are more critical of the Agency’s treatment of women) to make that image go away.

Regardless of the role of women at the Agency — which as I understand it is definitely far more banal than CIA-backed Hollywood images, especially in the way most jobs are — this ploy really makes me worry about CIA’s understanding of propaganda, which they’re supposed to be good at. For years they’ve pitched this image in media — Hollywood — that flatten everyone into caricatures, not just female characters. And now they think they can alter that by talking to one snippy NYT columnist?

How the Sterling Prosecution Threatens Even Unclassified Tips

In a piece for Salon, I describe how the government managed to get Jeffrey Sterling convicted of 7 charges under the Espionage Act for one leak. More importantly, I show how the jury’s conviction of him for 2 of those charges — related to “causing” James Risen to write a 2003 NYT story on Merlin that got quashed — may well amount to convicting him for tipping Risen, without sharing any classified information, to the operation.

Here’s the key part of that discussion:

D.C. information brokers should be worried that Sterling faces 80 years in prison based off this circumstantial evidence. All the more so, given the evidence supporting the charge that Sterling leaked to Risen in time for and caused him to write the article Risen told CIA he had in completed draft on April 24, 2003. After all, the only pieces of evidence that the government submitted from before the time when Risen told CIA he had a completed article were the CNN email, phone calls reflecting Risen and Sterling spoke for four minutes and 11 seconds across seven phone calls, and Sterling’s entirely legal discussion with staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

No matter what you think all the later phone calls between Sterling and Risen indicate, short of evidence of a face-to-face meeting in this earlier period, the evidence seems to suggest Sterling was doing something that people in DC do all the time: point an investigative reporter to where she might find classified scoops, without providing those scoops themselves. That’s especially true given the way the CIA’s own notations about Risen’s story seem to track the reporter fleshing out information, from initial outlines of the operation (that happen to map what Sterling told Senate staffers) to, weeks later, inclusion of that elusive document FBI never managed to find. That is, it appears Risen got a tip, possibly from Jeffrey Sterling, but that he spent weeks using his sources to flesh out that tip.

In both the indictment and discussions about jury instructions, the government interpreted the Espionage Act to cover what might be an unclassified tip through two means. First, they pointed to language in the Espionage Act that criminalizes someone “caus[ing secrets] to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted,” and from that argued Sterling was responsible not just for the leak to Risen but also for the journalist’s attempt to publish a newspaper article and his completion and his publisher’s delivery to Virginia of a book chapter. Then, for most counts, they argued that Sterling did not have to have handed Risen secret information directly, he could do so indirectly.

If the jury found Sterling indirectly got secrets into Risen’s hands and, from that, caused him to write an article and a book chapter on it (irrespective of the additional work Risen did, the work of his editors at the Times and the publishers at Simon and Schuster and the commercial freight company that carried those secrets in a bound book to Virginia), that was enough to send him to prison for most of the rest of his life.

While it’s all well and good that DOJ backed off plans to force James Risen to testify, I think few realize the implications of Sterling being held responsible for an entire NYT story based on four minutes and 11 seconds of phone conversations.

They may well criminalize providing unclassified tips to get reporters to chase down classified stories.

World Leaders on Twitter

When the National Security Council tweeted out on Narenda Modi’s meeting with President Obama, I realized that Modi has 9.7 million twitter followers (which makes sense, given India’s population), which got me interested in whether there was another world leader who had more than Modi.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far (I’m including the Dalai Lama and Pope for comparison purposes).

Barack Obama: 53.7M

Pope Francis (17.6M combined, with lots of obvious overlap): Spanish 7.8M, English 5.4M, Portuguese 1.3M, Italian 2.9M, Arabic 180k, Latin 319K, German 242K

Dalai Lama: 10.2M

Narendra Modi: 9.7M

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: 5.6M

Enrique Pena Nieto: 3.54M

Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia): 3.52M

Cristina Kirchner: 3.5M

Dilma Roussef: 3.2M

Joko Widodo (President of Indonesia): 2.66M

Najib Razak (PM of Malaysia): 2.33M

Nicolas Maduro: 2.23M

Rafael Correa (President of Ecuador): 1.97M

Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud: 1.6M

David Cameron: 900K

Francois Hollande 858K

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Uhuru Kenyatta: 715K

Stephen Harper: 650K English, 17.9K French

Bibi Netanyahu: 355K Hebrew, 190K English

Shinzo Abe: 446K

Tony Abbott (Australia): 430K

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Abdel Fattah Elsisi: 1.8K (no tweets)

Enda Kenny (Irish Taoiseach): 26K

No twitter account: Angela Merkel

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @IanPGunn Yo, it looked better for the home team earlier.....
emptywheel RT @Aelkus: No idea if this is accurate, but an analysis of the political machinations surrounding the suppressed video
bmaz @IanPGunn Say, the Pelicans are here and, curiously, beating the Suns currently.
emptywheel @HubrisSonic Best games are at night here anyway, so you can watch tomorrow morning...
emptywheel @HubrisSonic This is like on New Years, where Japan gets to put their turkey in the oven first?
emptywheel @lhfang Only this time it'd be a Wahhabi dictatorship rather than a secular one. Progress!
emptywheel RT @lhfang: Big Idea from Amb. Bolton -- key proponent of toppling Saddam Hussein -- is to bring back a Saddam-style Sunni gov
emptywheel Campbell said NDS target Americans thought they were hitting "included" among targets they got fr Afghans. Was MSF?
emptywheel The "misfunction" of the plane's comms equipment is convenient given discrepancies in DOD and MSF timing.
emptywheel @ColMorrisDavis They'll also be terrified that the guys who want to replace Obama won't debate in warmer than 65 degree temperatures.
emptywheel In October, Gen Campbell said there'd be 3 investigations. Afghan one appears to have disappeared.
bmaz @MikeFreddoso @Popehat @deviantollam But, what figure is called out in the notice of claim does not matter.
November 2015
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