Sat, Apr

What Some Media Doesn’t Understand about Freedom of the Press


GELFAND’S WORLD--There were a couple of breaches of freedom of the press this week. One involved air piracy and the beating of one of the captives.

The other involved an American reporter who got some cancel culture from the right wing. Let's start with the American. 

Emily Wilder was fired by AP shortly after being hired. It seems she wrote some posts critical of Israel back when she was in college. It's not clear from press accounts whether she has continued to put out Tweets of a similar bent while working as a reporter. 

There are numerous questions about the logic used by AP here, but they seem to be missing the major point. 

No matter how holy and sacred to the concept of unbiased journalism your organization is going to be, if you are not solidly to the right, the right wing will never accept you. And the reason is exactly that and nothing else. It's because you are honest and unbiased that sets them against you. 

It's a game they play, as any fool can plainly see, yet AP fell for it. AP understands full well that Fox and the congressional Republicans don't live by journalistic principles -- if they did, they at least would have to admit that they don't have any evidence for a stolen election. 

So we have an unbalanced system in which traditional journalistic organizations still play by the old rules while the Rupert Murdoch empire doesn't. 

But AP is trying to live up to a difficult standard -- good for them for doing so -- but then they go so far beyond any rational set of requirements that now they are getting flack from the center and the left both. 

There are a couple of possible explanations for the firing. The first is simple cowardice. The AP hired a competent reporter and upon being informed that she once held beliefs (and probably still does) that many Americans find uncomfortable, they decided to cut their losses. If they get rid of one twenty-something reporter they can avoid two or three days of increasingly shrill attacks against their integrity. Notice the word I used -- uncomfortable -- as I think it represents the problem faced by AP. Whether the rest of the world is correct or incorrect, it is a true statement that every time the Israelis retaliate against Gaza, somebody somewhere is going to call it a disproportionate response, and at other times, reporters left and right will object to Israeli occupation tactics. 

That's the way it is, and if the AP can't handle the heat, then they need to find new management. 

Actually, the AP has tried to walk back its original action by dusting off the old "mistakes were made" defense, but without rehiring their victim.  

"The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that AP managing editor Brian Carovillano told staff during a town hall that while it was "the right decision" to terminate Wilder over her social media activity, he admitted there were "mistakes of process, and not of outcome." 

I suspect that there are a lot of reporters and editors who have political views but somehow manage to do competent work that gets to the facts without imposing partisanship. It seems kind of ridiculous that AP, which can hire its staff out of top universities, journalism schools, and newsrooms, expects its hires to remain as political morons, so perhaps AP is just trying to keep its head down in the face of right wing attacks. 

The right wing functions by finding little stories to get outraged about. But as we know, these stories get blown up by insinuations and exaggerations. 

For the right wing "news" media, winning is getting in their digs, whatever the truth or falsity, and forcing the center and left to be hesitant. It's a sucker's game all the way. 

So if the AP really, really thinks Emily Wilder was guilty of some violation of their norms, even a violation that she somehow should have understood implicitly as a responsible adult, then they are justified in sacking her. But if the AP is just playing politics, then it should admit that it was suckered and take back its decision. 

A return to hijacking airplanes, but this time it's by a country 

Let's start by filling in the blanks for some hard to read names: 


Alexander Lukashenko 

Raman Pratasevich 

The first one on the list is the country Belarus, once part of the Soviet empire and now theoretically an independent country. It's been under the iron hand of its president, the second name on the list, for a lot of years.  

The last name on the list is the prototypical rebel, the activist, the guy who has the president and his inner circle up in arms because he is a threat to their continued dictatorship. We've seen something like this in Russia, where an anti-Putin activist has famously been abused and jailed. 

So in this case, Pratasevich was on his way from one European Union country to another European Union country when Belarus engaged in a pretext to force his airliner to land within their territory. The excuse was some made-up bomb threat and the process involved a fighter jet escort to the airport, after which the activist was arrested as a wanted fugitive. 

Air piracy, under a different name. 

You can read the article linked above to get the flavor of the excuses being tossed out by the Lukashenko government. They don't read at all convincingly. 

I'd like to think that our new president knows how to stand up to the East Bloc countries (whichever of them remain) but it's not entirely clear that the EU knows how to deal with this one. So far, we're seeing the usual diplomatic and economic sanctions, but I would like to think that dragging somebody off an aircraft registered to the Irish Republic (while flying between two EU countries) should have gotten every one of those three countries to treat this as an act of war. 

Most of the civilized countries have changed their policy about air piracy, which used to be pretty relaxed back when a few crazies would hijack an American plane to Cuba, and then Cuba would take the hijacker away and send the airplane home. Some countries (Algeria, Uganda under Idi Amin) have been less accommodating to the strictures of international law and culture, and now we have Belarus joining as a pirate itself. 

The juxtaposition 

I'm not trying to downplay the Emily Wilder story. It is in its own way an outrage. It just didn't rise to the level of an act of war and what could be described as a war crime against Pratasevich. But there is a juxtaposition, in that both of these victims -- because that is a fair word for them -- were trying to tell the truth as best they know how. 

It's also of interest that the Wilder story -- her outing, as it were -- has been attributed to the conservative group from her Alma Mater, Stanford University. Yes, they do have a right to argue against her stated positions and under the law, the rest of the right wing noise machine has the legal option of repeating their complaints, but the rest of us -- including her employer -- has its own moral and ethical obligation to resist. 

And if we and the AP didn't know it till now, well now we do. 

In the same way that Ireland and the two other countries should fight tooth and nail because somebody under their protection is being abused, so should our own people respond right back to the right wing. And we don't even have to face a Mig fighter jet to face them. 

Just In(dia) 

So Eric Garcetti is going to be appointed to be an ambassador. It's the world's second most populous country, but also about as far away from here as it's possible to be. We are about to be deluged with questions about who takes over for Eric if and when he leaves prior to the lawful end of his mayoral term. The clown car that is the recall candidates is about to be a second clown car for the mayoral replacement if the current President of the City Council does not function as acting mayor for the rest of the term. (What are the rules, we're all going to be asking?) Meanwhile, Ron Galperin has announced for County Supervisor as Sheila Kuhl has announced she will not run for reelection. Lots of musical chairs to be filled . . .


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])




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