As you may have heard…
I wrote a blog post last week… and Jane Hamsher, founder and lead blogger at Firedoglake.com (FDL), and often considered to be a leading progressive voice got rather upset with me. It was a level of anger that led her to make a rather ugly spectacle of herself, and one that may result in history never quite seeing her as having quite the same stature that a dwindling number of people still feel she deserves. To explain just what happened properly, I need to lay down some back story that is key to why I care about her, or any of this. Once again, I warn you that I am not a journalist, nor even a regular blogger. I'm barely even a writer with much competence, but I work hard enough to fool a few friends of my mother's. I apologize for the length of this, but I don't want to be accused on telling this without sufficient exhibits to back up some of my more serious points and complaints.
The integrity of our mass media affects us all… every day
Think way back to 2005, when Fox News had a camera position permanently stationed next to Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry as he kept a vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospital room. Was it their point to show viewers any real breaking news value? Or was it to provide a media platform for Terry's moral posturings to be repeated again and again by a national Republican propaganda news channel intent on stirring up a populist political feeding frenzy of biblical proportions? Most liberals would say the latter.
And when Sean Hannity stood outside her hospital, interviewing people day after day, asking for random opinions on Schiavo's condition and treatment, was he there mostly because those opinions would help educate Fox News viewers about her condition? Or was it all to foment emotional support among his conservative viewers, many of whom dutifully descended on the hospital, creating a three ring mega-spectacle, replete with signs, banners, global broadcast networks, and almost everything but a human cannonball act? Most liberals would insist that, here too, it was the latter.
Finally, in 2002, in a front-page story, NY Times's correspondent, Judith Miller wrote a story about aluminum tubes bound for Iraq, quoting unnamed "American officials" and "American intelligence experts," as well as "Bush officials," who said that aluminum tubes bound for Iraq were intended to be used to enrich nuclear material, and which could almost certainly support a nuclear weapons program. Most liberals today know this agenda-rich reporting by Ms. Miller, who since went on to a cushy job at a right wing think tank, was an absolutely key pretext in the Bush administration's propaganda campaign to gin-up support for the Iraq war. It was also a complete fantasy.
In all three cases, the motives of the people involved, their back stories, the veracity and the motives of the reporters, the actual facts presented, and way in which the rest of the mainstream media and most political spheres reacted to, and interacted with them, were all forensically crucial to any larger understanding of just what was being portrayed to viewers or readers. The media behind the story was as much a part of the story as the story itself.
The American left has come to expect this superficial, emotion-based, fact-free manipulation of news events or cause célèbres from the likes of Fox News and the right wing media machine. Sadly, while the right are certainly the most reliable and shameless offenders of such practices, it's not hard to find ample number of similar examples on the left. The glowing weekly coverage of Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protests, for one example, or the instantly overblown portrayals of Jared Loughner as a crazed right wing gunman within just hours of his attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The chemistry of these events can often seem just a bit too manipulated, and it's never surprising when the ingredients explode into a new media maelstrom that commands the whole world's attention. We all know that most of today's media is a big business. But when the business of media, or the careers of its pundits and practitioners become far more important than the public interest and the veracity of a free press that was meant to protect it, we draw ever closer to a precipice at the edge of an abyss from which ethical journalism may never re-emerge. Some media experts fear we went over that edge years ago, while others think we're just inching ever closer to it. Regardless of which is true, most would agree that as a vulnerable culture, on the brink of a runaway plutocracy (or worse), we really don't want to know what lay beyond the ledge. It scares most thinking people. It really scares me. So…
last week, I wrote a blog post…
I wrote it out of a creeping respect for my escalating fear of that dark and scary chasm. It was a long post that began by describing the back story of a Twitter attack on me and Miami Herald columnist Joy Ann Reid, by the acclaimed blogger, Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, because I had had the audacity to suggest on Twitter that much of the global outcry about accused Wikileaker, Bradley Manning, was coming mostly from sensational stories of his, or Jane Hamsher's FDL site.
When Jane Hamsher attacks, people listen (but feel uncomfortable about it).
I had been expecting a second attack from Glenn Greenwald, probably pouring more words on me than the entire world once churned out after the sinking of the Lusitania. I'm told Glenn had the flu, so perhaps he will still be sending u-boats my way. But I still got hit. In Greenwald's place, came a series of Twitter air strikes from Jane Hamsher and her supporters, replete with fact-free, ad hominem attacks, spurious assertion, straw men, and fallacious attribution. It was the argument tactic often called "throwing everything at the wall to see what might stick," and it was the only time I'd ever seen a notable liberal do this to another liberal (outside of a political campaign). This mugging was so detached from facts, reality, or ethical anchors, that it was clear to all but her staunchest supporters that Ms Hamsher's moral ship may have finally broken free of its tenuous moorings, capsized in a vicious rip current, and was sliding on down toward Titanic town.
Most of her attacks, from her own first tweets, through her many retweets of supporter assaults, to her final follow-up attack just yesterday morning, can be conveniently seen in this Chirpstory compendium linked below. Only the extraneous tweets from her (or my) supporters have been redacted (these attacks went on for hours, so the compression was essential). If anyone doubts the faithfulness of this account, there were merely about 50,000 witnesses you can ask about it :)
Click Here For The Chirpstory Archive
As you can see here, Jane was tossing out any kind of unfounded assertion she'd come across, evidently drawing heavily from both the left and right's contribution to Twitter's #p2 hashtag stream. It was evident that she was going for broke at the crazy crap table when she accused me of "working for a GOP operative." And what did she offer as proof of this charge against one of Twitter's more aggressive progressives when it comes to verbally punishing Republicans, conservatives, and assorted crypto-fascists, or their assorted media stooges? That my only Republican friend since high school, @leslieSanchez, a habitual networker and long-time Twitter friend, had once tried to socially-impress Jane (whom she barely knew), while standing at a coat check line at a Washington, DC social event. Leslie had proudly proclaimed that "@Shoq's a friend of mine." Anyone that knows Leslie knows that this is the vintage Sanchez style, seeking out any common ground other than situational Spanish.
As Leslie explains it, Jane immediately moved from socially cordial to pit bull mode: "well that's just not his name." Leslie said, "yeah, you're right, his name isn't @shoq. It's "(another of my many aliases)." As Jane girded for a far larger fight, Leslie, wisely set off to hail a cab. Having many friends who have seen Jane unravel in social settings, this accounting felt more than plausible to me.
And it's true. Leslie and I may have had as many as two dozen phone calls over two and a half years. She invited me to her book party where, very illiberally, I sucked down deliciously free white chocolate martinis. Hiding behind one of my many pseudonyms (I have over 13 in circulation at last count), I schmoozed up a storm, often tweaking and taking notes on Republican guests like Liz Mair and Kevin McFadden. (They didn't know who I was, but I knew them.) I think I even pocketed some giant strawberries to take home to Wallenda, my long haired feline copy editor.
I was also seen in her company in June, 2009, at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City, where I also met Ana Marie Cox, Rachel Sklar, Dan Froomkin, Josh Silver, Scott Rosenberg, Jay Rosen, David Corn, Frank Rich, Micah Sifry, and many other notables and all around nice folk. Unlike Jane, some of them with the full skinny on me have been gracious enough (or uninterested enough) to respect my wish for anonymity. But Jane, in an apparently desperate bid to discredit me over a single blog post, starts to brazenly and with nary a justifiable reason that anyone could see, broadcast what she was told was my real name.
The logic, we assume is that if somehow she could "out" my true name and identity, it would forever change anything that I'd just written about her, or somehow bully me into never trying something like that again. I guess this post proves that she failed on both counts. The fact that she was only using one of my many monikers, which has been in the wild for months (since another blogger, angry at me for disliking her style of blogging, saw fit to distribute it), seemed to be of very little concern. Jane Hamsher had decided to put on this show as a take-no-prisoners combatant who would use someone's private identity as a weapon, no matter what relevance it did or didn't have. Nor did it seem to matter to her what message this really ugly act would telegraph to thousands of her many anonymous blog visitors, some of whom might actually value their privacy. I doubt they will enjoy wondering if Jane would "out" them if they ever made Jane mad.
The real mission of Jane's Twitter assault force, was of course, to merely cast doubt on my character and credibility, hoping this would also discredit my words. Sort of like what the right wing does almost any time any messenger brings any bad news about their stories or agenda. Whether Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, Shirley Sherrod, or anyone else on the left, if they don't like what you're saying, they attack your character first, last, and always. If the platform is big enough, as in the case of Fox News, they can say it so often that it can take on the appearance of being true all too swiftly. And of course, Jane Hamsher's FDL blog has a pretty big following, so she obviously assumed she could make the same tactics work in the micro-blogging world of Twitter.
Her miscalculation was not realizing that in her world, I am in fact, "no one." But on Twitter, I may be an anonymous cat, but I am a rather Twitter-enabled kitty with a fairly large and supportive base of progressive friends whom I value greatly (and whom I'd like to think value me back). A large number of those friends counter-attacked her with a ferocity she was not expecting; one that sent a few hundred thousand tweets or retweets, and probably much of her reputation deep into hyper tweet-space where they will live on public and private hard drives, forever.
Jane can't seem to walk away from a runaway fail
The swift and punishing response to her graceless attack would have given a rationally thinking person a clue that things were going poorly, and they might want to back off and get off Twitter for awhile until things cooled. Instead, she stuck with her plan and doggedly repeated her random, unsupportable charges again and again over almost a 24 hour period.
As she pressed on with wave after weird wave of almost comical insults and allegations, her limp attacks seemed to keep failing on multiple levels. Whether attacking my wish to assist my mother, trying to out my real-life identity, or implying I worked for Manning's enemies, almost nothing would stick because she brought virtually no evidence with her this day. She had nothing but empty statements about whatever she seemed to think might embarrass or discredit me. They were statements of the "nothing to see here" sort that Twitter people see other Twitter people toss out at one another every day. They know that if you can't back it up, it's just noise aimed at your own choir that no one else will be too interested in, and it just looks like all kinds of lame if you keep trying to make them.
By the time @LeslieSanchez finally popped up to openly contradict Jane in front of thousands, it was already clear that Jane was simply unable, or emotionally unwilling to stop herself. She was a runaway train, and only that hard thump at the far side of her weird little railroad to nowhere was going to stop her. That is, if she didn't come right off the rails before the got there. And then, she did just that…
Her lowest moment, after the "GOP operative" ploy flopped, was her confusing a true story of me moving 1000 miles from Washington, to live nearer to my mother, who, approaching 84, lived alone in Florida. She characterized this as "living with your mother." Even if that were true, which it isn't, or I'd be eating a lot better, no one was grasping why this 51 year old woman was casting aspersion on a desire to care for one's aging parent. Had she no sense of proportion, if not decency? Was any criticism of her work so unbearable that it was worth unleashing such a comment, likely to achieve little beyond making her about 3 feet tall, even in the eyes of her most loyal supporters? Was this the formidable "pro-left" leader," as the media, and even the White House has called her? If so, the professional part was not in evidence this day.
Apparently, it was worth it to her, as she made no attempt to apologize or soften it before thousands of people. Her failure to do that was another sign that her judgment has been grossly overrated by a lot of people over the years. But then, it is that very same judgment that led me to post my criticism in the first place. If she wasn't considered an important voice on the left, I'd be giddy over someone making such an atomic asshat of themselves in public. But since she still does have that reputation in many quarters, I don't think it helpful to progressivism that any leading liberal's reputation be dashed to pieces in front of thousands—and potentially—even millions of people.
So what does Jane Hamsher fear from me?
Why all this overreaction to some honest criticism of her blogging? Why not just put on some big girl pants, and start responding to the specifics of my complaints? After all, as she said, I am just one more anonymous, middle-aged man who nobody fears. Why would she make such a spectacle of herself because of the views of someone that nobody feared?
I can only speculate. While I am not the first to note that Jane lives in a fact-free zone where only she decides what is real or important, I may be one of the few people on Twitter who isn't afraid of her exaggerated reputation, nor disposed to wear one of those faux-friendly masks that so many liberals seem to don whenever they engage her. It's just not news to anyone in the progressive community that many liberals just can't stand Jane Hamsher. And why should they? She has a nasty back story from her Hollywood days, has publicly urinated on everyone that ever mattered in her career, has no original ideas, nor any genuine interest in anything but power-politics. She uses her cancer-survivor status as a weapon, and routinely uses her gender as cover when any male counter-attacks her for whatever vitriol she's just spewed. Jane wields the perpetual victim strategy nearly as often as the rapaciously loathsome Michelle Malkin, and the insufferably vapid Sarah Palin.
Mutual friends have amused me with their definition of Jane as as "attention monger trapped in a fame monger's body." She's fascinated by her own narratives, and obsessed with maintaining an appearance that every one of her causes are vital to a progressive future. But she only cares about facts that support whatever personal and/or political agenda she has in any given week. Her political philosophy consists mostly of liberalism's more trite platitudes and cliches, which she delivers with a strained sincerity that works well enough to convince a percentage of the progressive public that she can actually discuss a real political idea that isn't conflated with some recent FDL marketing agenda, or her apparent ambition to be a TV star.
Privately, many of her star bloggers are sick of being linked to her growing reputation as Jihad Jane, the rhetorical terrorist who will blow up anyone or anything to win whatever struggle she's in. And if you agree with any of that, she or her supporters will say, then "you must be really jealous of her, or you're just an authority loving Obamabot. And by the way, if you're not with us, you must be with the terrorists… or the plutocrats.. or whatever!"
While I never enjoy seeing a liberal come unglued in public, I think this meltdown may have served a higher purpose: it has revealed something people need to know about this woman, who has been career climbing by distracting liberals for years with obsessively hawked stories that almost always have a common thread: to find fault with the Obama administration (or whatever she disagrees with). Ask most liberals not directly connected to her site of their opinion of her, and they range from "strident," to "angry, delusional, unethical, a Republican cloaking herself in neo-liberalism," or just "downright nasty." Her reputation has become toxic to any but those supporters who bought her act long ago, and will just never admit they got ripped.
Since her attacks, I've been educated by others that Hamsher, like Glenn Greenwald, has often tried these bullying tactics with them, too. But, they say, it's not done with the same manic enthusiasm that just made her look so bad to my Twitter stream. But still, it was similar, and when she's done, she pumps the air with her fist, declares each flurry of tweets to be a rhetorical win, and then exits as fast as she can, letting her loyal minions bat clean-up for her. It's all done with a smug and arrogant swagger that suggests that she feels virtually impervious to bad press. Perhaps this time, however, he was just a bit more agitated than usual because my previous blog post drew some blood.
Perhaps I make Jane feel vulnerable?
Jane's swagger suggests to me that her default assumption is that the folks at @MSNBC, and especially Lawrence O'Donnell's producers, just don't really care about any of her Twitter behavior, nor her stiff (some say creepy) TV countenance. Nor do they care about her shaky veracity or her plunging credibility as a spokes-zombie for left causes. Many feel that the higher-ups, the often conservative-leaning media executives, welcome her for her eager willingness to side with some of the left's most despicable enemies, and come out in public to bash the Obama administration with whatever ammunition someone provided that day. She rarely seems to care if the ammo comes from the left or the right. For the media brass, this makes good TV, while at the same time, helps to advance their longer term regulatory interests, while still actively marketing their product to a progressive audience.
And for whatever reason, this strategy seems to still be working for her. Unless Comcast, MSNBC's new owner, takes an early control over programming, and jettisons the offensive legacy baggage like Hamsher, @MSNBC will probably go right on using her, just not caring much about her growing reputation as an opportunistic, bomb throwing polemicist who takes extravagant liberties with facts as she leaps from one sensational story to the next, almost always associating them with one fundraising drive after another.
And all those funding drives…
may very well be the reason that Jane is so upset with me. Since I have been fearless about calling her out, perhaps she fears that I just won't shut up, and that I will keep talking about all that damn money, continuing to remind readers that despite her blithering about progressive values, she's mostly running two very successful businesses; FDL and her advertising network, Common Sense Media. Both enterprises are highly vulnerable to conflict of interest charges, especially considering how often Jane conducts various fundraising drives for something or other. Oh yes, how she hates it when people talk about that damn money.
And she should be more than a little nervous, because few of her readers really know just how the professional fundraising game is really played, or how many magical accounting tricks get used to conceal expenses or other fiduciary mechanics which might appear questionable, even when legitimate.
Yes, yes, yes, of course all those funding drives are always tied to non-profits. But in the fine print of many of them one can almost always find a convenient disclaimer that some funds raised will be used for, among other things, "speaker fees, events, communications, advocacy, etc.." Just the "event" expenses can cover for anything from promotion, travel and entertainment expenses, to simple hair and make-up fees. As written on an FDL contribution page:
The Bradley Manning Advocacy Fund is a new public advocacy effort for Bradley Manning that will organize events, issue press releases, recruit spokespeople to speak out on Bradley’s behalf, and assemble researchers and witnesses to help with Bradley’s case.
Anyone care to place any bets on who gets fees as a "spokesperson?" To be fair, this fiscal smokescreen is common in many left and right political efforts, but it almost always roughly translates to: "Oh, by the way, it's not unlikely that some amount of money—or even a lot of money— will probably go to FDL and/or Jane Hamsher or her designees, for whatever perfectly legal administrative costs, personal services fees, or other expenses will not fail too many smell tests."
FDL claims the Manning funds are being passed to a bona fide, tax-exempt non-profit called the "Institute for Media Analysis." While this group is legitimate, and has worked with Democracy Now (in some capacity that I couldn't determine), the "contact" for this charitable effort, is one "Trever Fitzgibbon," who, curiously enough, became an FDL blogger only on January 25th, 2011, posting a few minor articles about Manning, almost as if this would validate an ongoing interest in the case. Hmm. Now why would Trevor want to suddenly pop up as an FDL blogger? It ain't like his career needs the exposure.
Fitzgibbon is a well known professional media consultant who founded "Fitzgibbon Media," a very successful firm which almost exclusively farms opportunities arising from progressive celebrities, causes, interests and liberal organizations including Health Care for America Now, Moveon,org, Bruce Springsteen, etc.. We can assume the firm—and it's founder—are handsomely compensated for their efforts.
And perhaps because he has such experience and clout, and knows how to drive efforts that produce the really big bucks, Fitzgibbon has slipped into the FDL blogging stream to help ramp up the visibility of…
A second "advocacy fund" for Bradley Manning?
On their contributions page for this "fund," Hamsher's FDL doesn't seem to feel obligated to point out that nearly $160,000 dollars has already been raised by another, far more established public advocacy and defense fund run by "Courage to Resist." That effort is clearly stating that much of the tax-deductible contributions are for advocacy efforts, while a separate stream of non tax-deductible money goes directly into a trust established by David Coombs (Manning's attorney) for actual legal costs. This group, which has Michael Moore and Daniel Ellsberg on its advisory board, has a long and proven track record at raising money for similar causes to Manning's.
But back to FDL's contributions page. Note the very misleading words in the page title, "Donate to the Bradley Manning Advocacy fund: make a tax-deductible contribution for the public defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning." Here, the word "defense" has a slightly ambiguous—if not an overtly misleading—implication. And then further down the page, we find the following copy:
We think this fund to advocate for Bradley is deserving of your support. 100% of contributions to this fund will be used to pay expenses related to the advocacy and defense of Bradley Manning. (Bold emphasis theirs. Underline, mine.)
Only their lawyers can say for sure, but it certainly appears to me that the wording suggests that most of the funds will be used for advocacy related purposes. Yet the wording, first ambiguously, and then unambiguously, suggests that at least some monies will go toward Manning's legal defense costs. They are clearly designing their copy to aim it straight for those good Samaritans who would want to help out with Manning's legal fees, while minimizing any questions that might arise about what else the money could be used for.
Regardless of the real or inadvertent intent in FDL's wording, a careful observer still can't help but wonder, "why the duplication of fund raising efforts at all?" If such famous people like Moore and Ellsberg are already raising money for public advocacy and defense, wouldn't a consolidated effort make far more sense? But then, of course, Hamsher wouldn't have any control over the use or accounting of that other fund, and thus, not have a very easy time billing it for any expenses that she, David House, or FDL staff or associates might wish to recover from it. But these matters are above my pay grade. I will leave such questions to the real journalists to ask Ms. Hamsher. I'm just some anonymous man who lives with his mother.
These kinds of fiduciary details, and adequately disclosing them (or the appearance of adequately disclosing them), have often seemed problematic for Hamsher. Especially those oh so tricky political action committees. The legendary Rogers Cadenhead has famously told much of that story, and far better than I ever could.
But back to Bradley Manning
Jane was late to the WikiLeaks story. Glenn Greenwald had been milking it for many months. They both started focusing on Manning's treatment in December of 2010 (though he'd been in pre-trial detainment for many months). But only recently, as far as I can tell, has Glenn admitted openly to be writing a book on this very topic of prisoner treatment. Isn't that convenient? After a full month or more of drumming up interest in Manning's treatment, Greenwald only now mentions this fact here in the very same post where he attacks Joy Ann Reid (Miami Herald) and me:
When I wrote about Manning last month, I noted that "the U.S. is one of the world's most prolific practitioners of prolonged solitary confinement" and at least 25,000 prisoners in America were subjected to it, and then wrote: "Prolonged solitary confinement is inhumane, horrendous and gratuitous even when applied to those convicted of heinous crimes." Fourth, I just finished writing a soon-to-be-released book on America's two-tiered justice system that devotes substantial attention — including an entire long chapter — on the way in which America's Prison State is profoundly oppressive based on race and class lines, with a focus on the inhumane conditions of imprisonment. [emphasis his]
Isn't that curious? Only in the fine print, prompted by a blog post of mine calling into question all this froth they have whipped up about Manning's treatment, does he clearly admit that a) a lot of people are in this kind of confinement, and 2) he's been working on a book including a "long chapter" (read: major sensational selling point) about people like Bradley Manning in just such confinements.
Again, I leave it to others to ask whether a book so closely connected to a human rights case which both of them have been raising a huge international ruckus over, should be labeled a clear and rather distasteful conflict of interest. But to his credit, at least Greenwald points out the fact, which will help to mitigate any future claims of such conflict. I don't think it's an accident that he did it now, while someone (me), is so clearly implying such unsightly appearances already exist. But at least he does disclose, and that's far more than what Jane Hamsher has bothered to do with her aforementioned dual funding drives, and other things I am going to get into farther down this page.
So does the mainstream media notice such things?
Not that you'd notice. But neither do they look very hard for them. The trend seems to be that if you can point to a well known blog, and cite some free content, your boss at the New York Times, Washington Post or @MSNBC will probably be just fine with whatever you point to. After all, you're a trained journalist, right? You KNOW how to spot unethical references, conflicts of interest, questionable sources, and dubious or second-rate expert testimony, and that sort of thing, right?
That was always the assumption I had growing up. That journalists were always extra cautious about misleading readers with hyperbole, misstatements, questionable sources, and most of all, they were always diligent about disclosing conflicts of interest, or possibly unethical relationships.
Has Jane Hamsher been forthright about ethical disclosures?
Just going over a month of FDL's stuff, my impression was that, like with the advocacy fund, things just get stated, but the reader is forced to probe the veracity of what is said themselves. Hamsher feels very little obligation to document anything that might call into question the truthfulness, analysis or urgency of things she uses to whip up emotional support for her ginned-up causes, or donations to her various funding drives.
Examples of this abound, but while looking over the history of FDL's Manning coverage, I came across this rather…
Egregious example of an ethics fail:
On January 21st, Jane Hamsher writes:
Dr. Jeff Kaye, who works with torture victims, wrote about the potential effects of Manning’s extended suicide watch/POI. He says that extended isolation is “a technique well-known to break down individuals.” But when the Brig Commander moved Manning to suicide risk/MAX custody, his conditions grew even more extreme…
Four days later, on January 25th, Jane also writes:
Dr. Jeffrey Kaye of Survivors International, a San Francisco-based torture victims center, describes the effect of severe solitary confinement: * Solitary confinement is an assault on the body and psyche of an individual…Over time, isolation produces a particular well-known syndrome which is akin to that of an organic brain disorder, or delirium….
Well that's some pretty serious stuff, right?
You betcha. And this Dr. Jeff Kaye guy sure sounds pretty knowledgeable about solitary confinement, torture, and related subjects, right? I mean, surely a prosperous blog like Firedoglake, making the claim that the U.S. Government and its United States Marine Corp. might be inhumanely abusing a detainee, would want to provide highly competent and unimpeachable sources before going so far out on a limb, right?
I mean, were it me, and I were looking to pull from the pool of experts to make my case that Manning was exhibiting signs of extreme abuse or torture resulting from what I was claiming to be "solitary confinement" (itself a lie.. I mean… "misnomer"), I might go with credentialed experts recognized by every major human rights and civil liberties group in America. Professional experts like:
Dr. Terry Kupers is a Board-certified psychiatrist, Institute Professor at The Wright Institute, a member of Human Rights Watch, and author of Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It. He has served as an expert witness and monitor in class action litigation about conditions of confinement such as supermax isolation. He was named “Exemplary Psychiatrist” by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in 2005.
Dr. Stuart Grassian is a Board-certified psychiatrist and former faculty member of the Harvard Medical School. He has served as an expert witness in numerous lawsuits addressing solitary confinement, and his conclusions have been cited in a number of federal court decisions.
Dr. Philip Zimbardo has been on the faculty at Yale, New York University, Columbia University, and Stanford University, where he has been a professor since 1968. Though Zimbardo is the author of more than 400 professional publications and 50 books, he is perhaps most known for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which studied the physical and psychological effects of power and examined how otherwise “good” people can turn “evil” when placed in certain situations.
Each of these acclaimed experts have, in detail far too long to list here, professional, peer-reviewed journal articles and other scholarly activities and testimony all over the Internet, as found in countless academic bibliographies covering these very subjects of our interest, i.e., the nature and possible effects of extreme confinement on the human body, mind, and so forth.
But why have such acclaimed experts…
…who might not support the FDL thesis that Manning is being treated so inhumanely, or at least provide a far more serious and credible academic standing for the hyperbolic emotional claims that that they've been making for weeks, when you can have you own "in house" expert, such as Dr.Jeffrey Kaye?
Each time Jane or other FDL bloggers (and Greenwald) refer to Kaye, they always seem to fail to point out that he's not merely a long-standing FDL blogger, but also that he's made a career out of making sensational claims about prison life, torture, solitary confinement, etc. all over the Internet.
What do we know about Dr. Kaye, which might be relative to understanding his stature and credibility in helping Hamsher and Greenwald to portray Bradley Manning as a torture victim? I mean, after all, this "expert's" cred would be crucial, since much of their torture narrative relies on the second-hand anecdotal observations of another recent FDL blogger, the now storied "friend of friends of Bradley Manning," Mr. David M. House.
I will have more to say on Mr. House in a future post. You would think such a key figure would be thoroughly vetted by anyone using him as the basis of these sensational charges of human rights abuse. But again, that's the real media's job. I'm just an anonymous nobody that lives with his mom.
But for now, let's get back to…
Background on Dr. Jeffrey Kaye:
- He's a Ph.D who maintains a family therapy practice in San Francisco that, according to his resume, "worked with individuals and couples with psychological, emotional and relational problems for over twelve years."
- As a hobby or sideline, it appears that he's also spent much of the past decade focused on the Guantanamo detainees, and has blogged aggressively on related pet subjects for his own blog called "Invictus," as well as Alternet, Truthout.org, DailyKos/Valtin, Jason Leopold's ThePublicRecord, and finally, again as Valtin on AmericanTorture.com. (Do you get the sense yet that Dr. Kaye is fairly accomplished at finding claims of torture almost as frequently as he manages to create sensational blog posts about them?)
- On January 27th, 2008, he resigned from the American Psychological Association, because he was disgusted with their "complicity" with the U.S. Government's practice of torturing inmates. However, this has not stopped him from continuing to cite his membership on his resume, despite that page's last modified date being July 8th, 2009.
- He is a local member of Survivors International (SI) conducting psychological evaluations and offering psychotherapy for refugees applying for political asylum in the United States.
But more germane… than any of these other activities and interests, which generally seem to pigeonhole him as another Greenwald-esque, U.S. Government hating champion for truth and justice, Kaye is also a member of the Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), a group dedicated to advocacy for a broad spectrum of war and human rights related issues.
At this point, it should come as no surprise—after all these cozy and incestuous relationships between FDL, Greenwald, Kaye, and his association with another always-angry-at-Obama crusader, Truthout's Jason Leopold*, who has openly battled with many of his own history of ethical problems—that PsySR, of which Dr. Kaye is an active member, is the very same organization that quite ceremoniously, and with great fanfare from Hamsher and FDL, wrote an "Open Letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates," strenuously objecting to Manning's method of confinement.
*Note: Leopold leapt into my Twitter fray with Hamsher, using a gratuitous snark that suggested I had some army of sock puppets who were defending me. (This is one of the most common—and lamest—allegations one hears on Twitter, and many other places on the web). It was clearly meant to set off yet another round of conflagrations that he's contrived with me, each and every time I make any critical statements about FDL or some of its notable bloggers. I didn't really have a theory about why he was taking up their defense until Jeff Kaye popped off to defend him to me. It was their combined mouthing-off in public that actually led me to the breadcrumbs about Kaye, and his connections to FDL and Leopold, that actually got this post off to the races.
Of course, as Hamsher knew, this letter would be seized on by sympathetic parties on the left as just one more potential embarrassment to the Obama administration (in their ongoing Obama tortures Manning narrative), so this grave sounding letter magically found its way—quick as a swiftboat—to that bastion of ethical purity, the DrudgeReport.
Yet despite this huge click bait posting at Drudge, only Raw Story, Tehran Times, and a few other papers or blogs seemed to have even picked it up. Possibly, I speculate, because they looked at the group, at Kaye, or the wording of the letter, and decided that it was pretty much as I have now somewhat famously alleged: just one more semi-scripted rehashing of the same Greenwald/Hamsher mistreatment/torture narrative. A narrative which was effectively copy-and-paste "it be torture" cud that was regurgitated by Amnesty International (AI), and others, as I'd pointed out to Greenwald on Twitter, thus igniting my previous blog post, and thus, also in part, to this one.
Anyone familiar with the history of AI, knows that they, like most similar groups, will rarely miss a chance to follow up an allegation of a reported human rights abuse, especially in a case as exciting and global as the incredible Wikileaks caper. Their mission statement demands it, and their credibility and funding depend upon it.
Now, to his credit, when Jeff Kaye cites the letter himself on FDL, he appears to have a more ethical bent than Hamsher ever does, when he does in fact disclose that:
"I have been a paying member of PsySR, though I have not participated in any organizational activities, nor am I a member of any of their committees."
Huzzah! At last, someone at FDL has pointed out that Dr. Kaye might have some connections worth pointing out to its readers! Even if it would mean very little without all the other dot's I have connected for readers herein, at least he tried. But further research into Dr. Kaye reveals still more questions. While his disclosure may have seemed technically accurate, Kaye doesn't appear to be quite as isolated from this organization as his disclaimer implies. For example, he recently is cited his being featured in the forthcoming documentary, Doctors of the Dark Side, which, according to it's website:
"exposes the scandal behind the torture scandal — how psychologists and physicians devised, supervised and covered up the torture of detainees in U.S. controlled military prisons.” Both PsySR and Jeffrey Kaye (with a link to his FDL profile) are both listed as resources to “learn more about Doctors and Torture” (on the site's tab labeled "On Doctors and Torture."
Ok, fine, two references in such near proximity might just be a coincidence, but also connected to this this film in which Kaye is featured? Dr.José Quiroga is the Medical Director of the Program for Victims of Torture, and serves on the Executive Committee and is Vice-President of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims in Denmark. He is also is or was, according to this source, the treasurer of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. Dr. Quiroga is shown on the Doctors of the Dark Side website being interviewed for the documentary.
Color me skeptical, but it hardly seems these two anti-torture advocates, both members of PsySR, just happened to be connected to this film independently of their association with PsySR. But I'm just an anonymous nobody who lives with his mom.
Kaye has been used to validate claims of Manning's "abuse."
…and for all or most of Hamsher's allegations that Manning's Maximum Custody Detention with Prevention of Injury (POI) status added, and at least one of Greenwald's similar charges. And it seems pretty clear that Kaye has been at best, a poorly disclosed member of Team Manning (he'd blogged with FDL for almost two years prior), and at worst, a very modestly-credentialed source posited as an expert witness who has been making internationally echoed charges based on little more than his opinion of what a complete lay person with an unknown history with the subject had reported in his "observations" of Bradley Manning.
This fail is additionally compounded by Dr. Kaye's own admission that he did so anecdotally, and without first-hand contact with the subject, nor having the benefit of any instruments such evaluations would require. He writes:
"…having spoken to David House, I have been considering Manning’s situation and the effects upon his likely mental and emotional status. While an accurate assessment of a person would mean direct access to them, and the application of psychometrically valid psychological instruments, experience allows me to make some general statements." (emphasis mine).
And thus, with this one disclaimer, placed just once in an opening blog paragraph, we clearly see that Ms Hamsher and Team Manning have whipped up all this hysteria about the Obama Administration and the United States Marine Corp. "torturing" Bradley Manning, all pretty much based on Dr. Kaye, FDL's house expert's entirely speculative account, offered without any empirical data whatever.
From this flimsy, overblown, and undocumented opinion from a family counselor who moonlights as an anti-torture advocate, and who has spent more than a decade chasing after torture claims of a far more serious nature than this Maximum Custody Detention case, we are now where we are. The Obama Administration gets constant Manning flak and distractingly redundant questions it must answer again and again, the media gets free content for their blogs which seem like a cover band singing country versions of anything Wikileaks, Salon and FDL get lots of web site traffic, David House gets on TV and invited to all those swank parties Jane Hamsher attends, and Bradley Manning may or may not get a few dollars for his defense fund.
In May, Pfc.Manning will probably be tried, convicted, and sent away for a long time (perhaps as long as 50 years). And I won't be surprised to learn, a decade or so from now, Jane, David, Glenn and the good doctor Kaye will have only visited Bradley once after his conviction. Probably to get his signature on a book proposal, movie deal, or licensing rights for the Bradley Manning's House of Pain video game series, with a 3D action figure tie-in.
Once again, let me state for the record that I have no opinion on Bradley Manning's guilt or innocence. I say he will probably be convicted only because most people accused of espionage acts often are. I also have no opinion on whether Maximum Custody detention is a form of abuse or torture, nor whether the military is correct when it says it is often required in espionage cases, even for people awaiting trial. I only know that it's been used for much of our history, in one form or another, and I wouldn't mind if it was aggressively researched and debated out in the open, and ultimately abolished. Toward that end, some of this attention will certainly be a good thing. But I also think it's simply convenient to use this allegation in the Manning case, alone, when tens of thousands are held in the same conditions, and the motive for doing so has much less to do with Manning, and far more to do with Wikileaks, and the people milking such a sensational story for all that it's worth. And it is that reality, a part of the very nature of today's mass media, and its role in controlling—or reshaping—our nation, that is my paramount concern.
And so it goes
To me, FDL, and to a lesser extent, Glenn Greenwald, have not been reporting fairly about facts of the Bradley Manning story. They are telling only the facts conducive to their agenda; those that further embarrass the Obama Administration they openly despise, and which advance the career trajectories of Greenwald and Hamsher. It's an obvious motive, and many insiders and their critics know it's true. These are very ambitious New Media entrepreneurs, with more political clout than they should have, who are preying on the emotions of the civil libertarian hearts in their audience in the same manipulative manner that Fox News often sells their agenda.
They are standing outside Bradley Schiavo's hospital room, knowing she cannot really tell us much, and urging everyone to take up arms to save her life. They know that thousands will do that based on nothing more than their rhetorical flourishes added to some flimsy reporting of a case which they are now all too much a part of.
As much as Greenwald and Hamsher would both seem to think that my writing and complaints have been all about them, the fact is, they are merely examples of a larger point I wanted to make. And that is my greater concern about how our completely flaccid media sits back and allows these few people to grow a story so very large, with little vetting by the people who cover the media and the topics like Manning. Why is it my job to do this? Why do I have to educate a famous blog about the traditions of disclosure which might have alerted more people to an appearance of a conflict of interest when FDL was citing their in-house torture expert as the validation for a sensational, globally covered allegation against the United States military and the Obama Administration.
Had people asked questions early on, when Greenwald and Kaye first started to lean heavily on the "this is just torture" allegation, more experts might have stepped in to have honest debate about it, and then journalists could have made sense of their various positions with careful and thorough reporting. Had that happened, a lot of wasted time, ink, bytes, and honest emotion would have been spared. Time and emotion that might have been spent on many of the other big stories of the past 8 weeks, and Team Manning would have been seen as merely a valuable opportunity to open up the public's eyes to what are certainly very real and probably excessive Maximum Custody Detention policies in our jails and prisons.
The bitch of it is…
I share many concerns with some FDL bloggers, and certainly Greenwald. I really don't believe Hamsher has any convictions at all, so discussing her goals and motives would sound a bit disingenuous and silly. Greenwald, on the other hand, has a keen insight into the 2-tiered system we live in, one for the rich, and one for everyone else, and that is always worth talking about. But Glenn never seems to bring forth any solutions, or even frameworks for finding any. Like Chris Hedges, he seems to wallow in the mechanics of this deepening plutocratic morass, and rarely seems very interested in finding, nor even discussing solutions that might change our nation's course. Perhaps he just lacks imagination, I don't really know him well enough to speculate. I just know he's famous for argument, but nearly invisible when it comes to action.
I believe he's missing a golden opportunity to help out by joining others (including me), by attacking the plutocracy much more effectively, using one of the very weapons the founders had intended for us to use: the free press. But not by using his previous strategy of going after every "symptom" of that plutocratic disease (Obama, Wall St.. etc..), but rather, by focusing on how the elite so often willfully manipulate our system, often by distracting us with endless verbiage and rhetorical noise that leads us directly away from seeing the core mechanics of how they, and their corporate right and religious conservative partners, are holding sway over our media, government, public discourse, and elections.
In my view, Greenwald, Hamsher, and others on the left have served their agenda quite nicely in recent years, by sometimes creating such distractions in the first place, but more often by relentlessly pumping up their noise level to the point where any other messages or movements get washed away in a sea of directionless decibels. And this just allows the Shadow Elites who push the buttons of our plutocracy to thrive and grow ever stronger. While they could be very helpful to progressives finding meaningful ways of fighting back against these elites, I don't see Team Manning as part of any solutions, presently. But they are very much part of the problem.
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