Tuesday, October 29, 2013



To the Editor:
    President Barack Obama has shown less aptitude for peace-making than the Nobel Committee expected. Herewith, a little coaching.
    Promises to not spy on her in the future are not enough. This is the point at which Prime Minister Merkelneeds a good-faith offering. I suggest admiral Keith Alexander's head. In a box. Tied in magnetic tape. If he's a loyal American, he'll do it for our national interest. And if he's not, he mustn't be kept as head of NSA.
    Ongoing violations of Americans' basic rights are driving us towards armed revolution.  Representative Rush Holt's bill repealing the PATRIOT act and resetting the FISA statute to the version of 1979 deserves immediate action.
   Aside from the foreign and the domestic fronts, you're doing great. Keep it up.
Barry Haskell Levine

The White House on Spying

Published: October 28, 2013 122 Comments

The White House response on Monday to the expanding disclosures of American spying on foreign leaders, their governments and millions of their citizens was a pathetic mix of unsatisfying assurances about reviews under way, platitudes about the need for security in an insecure age, and the odd defense that the president didn’t know that American spies had tapped the German chancellor’s cellphone for 10 years.

Readers’ Comments

Is it really better for us to think that things have gone so far with the post-9/11 idea that any spying that can be done should be done and that nobody thought to inform President Obama about tapping the phone of one of the most important American allies?
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, kept repeating that Mr. Obama ordered a review of surveillance policy a few months ago, but he would not confirm whether that includes the tapping of the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, or the collection of data on tens of millions of calls in France, Spain and elsewhere. It’s unlikely that Mr. Obama would have ordered any review if Edward Snowden’s leaks had not revealed the vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic spying. Mr. Carney left no expectation that the internal reviews will produce any significant public accounting — only that the White House might have “a little more detail” when they are completed.
Fortunately, members of Congress have been more aggressive in responding to two broad disclosures. One, that both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations misinterpreted the Patriot Act to permit the collection of metadata on phone calls, emails and text messages of all Americans, whether they were international or domestic. And, second, that the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were being stretched to excuse the routine collection of data from 60 million telephone calls in Spain and 70 million in France over two 30-day periods.
Legislation scheduled to be introduced on Tuesday by Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, would end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications data.
The administration has said that such data collection is permitted by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, although Mr. Sensenbrenner, who wrote that section, has said it is not. The bill, the U.S.A. Freedom Act, would require that the “tangible things” sought through data collection are “relevant and material to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” They would also have to pertain to a foreign power or its agent, activities of a foreign agent already under investigation or someone in touch with an agent.
Currently, the government conducts metadata collection by periodically vaguely informing a federal court in secret that it is working on security-related issues.
The bill would require a court order in order to search for Americans’ communications in data collected overseas, which falls under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and it would restrict “reverse targeting” — targeting a foreigner with the goal of getting information about an American. The bill would not address spying on foreigners, including such abuses as in the Merkel affair. Those activities are governed by a presidential order that is secret and certain to remain so.
We are not reassured by the often-heard explanation that everyone spies on everyone else all the time. We are not advocating a return to 1929 when Secretary of State Henry Stimson banned the decryption of diplomatic cables because “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” But there has long been an understanding that international spying was done in pursuit of a concrete threat to national security.
That Chancellor Merkel’s cellphone conversations could fall under that umbrella is an outgrowth of the post-9/11 decision by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that everyone is the enemy, and that anyone’s rights may be degraded in the name of national security. That led to Abu Ghraib, torture at the secret C.I.A. prisons, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, grave harm to international relations, and the dragnet approach to surveillance revealed by the Snowden leaks.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Is Glenn Greenwald the future of journalism?


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine 
Date: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 7:17 AM
Subject: re: Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?
To: "letters@nytimes.com"

To the Editor:
   The corporate media model requires that an editor worry about getting her/his reporter into tomorrow's news conference.  In such a position, an editor can be intimidated. And so it happened that this newspaper blew the biggest news story of 2004. Bill Keller was called into the White House and was told to quash Eric Lichtblau's story of widespread illegal wiretaps, and he did it.
   The presidential election of 2004 should have been contested against the backdrop of a presidential impeachment hearing. One of the candidates for the highest office in the land had been shown to be directing a vast pattern of criminal activity.
   The Press is protected in our Constitution to make that sort of intimidation harder. But it still requires journalists--and editors--with spine.
Barry Haskell Levine

Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?

Published: October 27, 2013 187 Comments
Enlarge This ImageMuch of the speculation about the future of news focuses on the business model: How will we generate the revenues to pay the people who gather and disseminate the news? But the disruptive power of the Internet raises other profound questions about what journalism is becoming, about its essential character and values. This week’s column is a conversation — a (mostly) civil argument — between two very different views of how journalism fulfills its mission.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Bill KellerGlenn Greenwald broke what is probably the year’s biggest news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the National Security Agency. He has also been an outspoken critic of the kind of journalism practiced at places like The New York Times, and an advocate of a more activist, more partisan kind of journalism. Earlier this month he announced he was joining a new journalistic venture, backed by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, who has promised to invest $250 million and to “throw out all the old rules.” I invited Greenwald to join me in an online exchange about what, exactly, that means.
Dear Glenn,
We come at journalism from different traditions. I’ve spent a life working at newspapers that put a premium on aggressive but impartial reporting, that expect reporters and editors to keep their opinions to themselves unless they relocate (as I have done) to the pages clearly identified as the home of opinion. You come from a more activist tradition — first as a lawyer, then as a blogger and columnist, and soon as part of a new, independent journalistic venture financed by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Your writing proceeds from a clearly stated point of view.
In a post on Reuters this summer, media critic Jack Shafer celebrated the tradition of partisan journalism — “From Tom Paine to Glenn Greenwald” — and contrasted it with what he called “the corporatist ideal.” He didn’t explain the phrase, but I don’t think he meant it in a nice way. Henry Farrell, who blogs for The Washington Post,wrote more recently that publications like The New York Times and The Guardian “have political relationships with governments, which make them nervous about publishing (and hence validating) certain kinds of information,” and he suggested that your new project with Omidyar would represent a welcome escape from such relationships.
I find much to admire in America’s history of crusading journalists, from the pamphleteers to the muckrakers to the New Journalism of the ’60s to the best of today’s activist bloggers. At their best, their fortitude and passion have stimulated genuine reforms (often, as in the Progressive Era, thanks to the journalists’ “political relationships with governments”). I hope the coverage you led of the National Security Agency’s hyperactive surveillance will lead to some overdue accountability.
But the kind of journalism The Times and other mainstream news organizations practice — at their best — includes an awful lot to be proud of, too, revelations from Watergate to torture and secret prisons to the malfeasance of the financial industry, and including some pre-Snowden revelations about the N.S.A.’s abuse of its authority. Those are highlights that leap to mind, but you’ll find examples in just about every day’s report. Journalists in this tradition have plenty of opinions, but by setting them aside to follow the facts — as a judge in court is supposed to set aside prejudices to follow the law and the evidence — they can often produce results that are more substantial and more credible. The mainstream press has had its failures — episodes of credulousness, false equivalency, sensationalism and inattention — for which we have been deservedly flogged. I expect you’ll say, not flogged enough. So I pass you the lash.
Dear Bill,
There’s no question that journalists at establishment media venues, certainly including The New York Times, have produced some superb reporting over the last couple of decades. I don’t think anyone contends that what has become (rather recently) the standard model for a reporter — concealing one’s subjective perspectives or what appears to be “opinions” — precludes good journalism.
But this model has also produced lots of atrocious journalism and some toxic habits that are weakening the profession. A journalist who is petrified of appearing to express any opinions will often steer clear of declarative sentences about what is true, opting instead for a cowardly and unhelpful “here’s-what-both-sides-say-and-I-won’t-resolve-the-conflicts” formulation. That rewards dishonesty on the part of political and corporate officials who know they can rely on “objective” reporters to amplify their falsehoods without challenge (i.e., reporting is reduced to “X says Y” rather than “X says Y and that’s false”).
Worse still, this suffocating constraint on how reporters are permitted to express themselves produces a self-neutering form of journalism that becomes as ineffectual as it is boring. A failure to call torture “torture” because government officials demand that a more pleasant euphemism be used, or lazily equating a demonstrably true assertion with a demonstrably false one, drains journalism of its passion, vibrancy, vitality and soul.
Worst of all, this model rests on a false conceit. Human beings are not objectivity-driven machines. We all intrinsically perceive and process the world through subjective prisms. What is the value in pretending otherwise?
The relevant distinction is not between journalists who have opinions and those who do not, because the latter category is mythical. The relevant distinction is between journalists who honestly disclose their subjective assumptions and political values and those who dishonestly pretend they have none or conceal them from their readers.
Moreover, all journalism is a form of activism. Every journalistic choice necessarily embraces highly subjective assumptions — cultural, political or nationalistic — and serves the interests of one faction or another. Former Bush D.O.J. lawyer Jack Goldsmith in 2011 praised what he called “the patriotism of the American press,” meaning their allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government. That may (or may not) be a noble thing to do, but it most definitely is not objective: it is quite subjective and classically “activist.”
But ultimately, the only real metric of journalism that should matter is accuracy and reliability. I personally think honestly disclosing rather than hiding one’s subjective values makes for more honest and trustworthy journalism. But no journalism — from the most stylistically “objective” to the most brazenly opinionated — has any real value unless it is grounded in facts, evidence, and verifiable data. The claim that overtly opinionated journalists cannot produce good journalism is every bit as invalid as the claim that the contrived form of perspective-free journalism cannot.
Dear Glenn,
I don’t think of it as reporters pretending they have no opinions. I think of it as reporters, as an occupational discipline, suspending their opinions and letting the evidence speak for itself. And it matters that this is not just an individual exercise, but an institutional discipline, with editors who are tasked to challenge writers if they have given short shrift to contrary facts or arguments readers might want to know.
The thing is, once you have publicly declared your “subjective assumptions and political values,” it’s human nature to want to defend them, and it becomes tempting to omit or minimize facts, or frame the argument, in ways that support your declared viewpoint. And some readers, knowing that you write from the left or right, will view your reporting with justified suspicion. Of course, they may do that anyway — discounting whatever they read because it appeared in the “liberal” New York Times — but I think most readers trust us more because they sense that we have done due diligence, not just made a case. (I once saw some opinion research in which Times readers were asked whether they regarded The Times as “liberal.” A majority said yes. They were then asked whether The Times was “fair.” A larger majority said yes. I guess I can live with that.) I work now in the realm of opinion, but as a news reporter and editor I defined my job not as telling readers what I think, or telling them what they ought to think, but telling them what they needed to know to decide for themselves. You are right, of course, that sometimes the results of that process are less exciting than a hearty polemic. Sometimes fair play becomes false equivalence, or feels like euphemism. But it’s simplistic to say, for example, unless you use the word “torture” you are failing a test of courage, or covering up evil. Of course, I regard waterboarding as torture. But if a journalist gives me a vivid description of waterboarding, notes the long line of monstrous regimes that have practiced it, and then lays out the legal debate over whether it violates a specific statute or international accord, I don’t care whether he uses the word or not. I’m happy — and fully equipped — to draw my own conclusion.
If Jack Goldsmith, the former Bush administration lawyer, had praised the American press for, in your words, “their allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government” then I would strongly disagree with him. We have published many stories that challenged the policies and professed interests of the government. But that’s not quite what Goldsmith says. He says that The Times and other major news outlets give serious consideration to arguments that publishing something will endanger national security — that is, might get someone killed. That is true. We listen respectfully to such claims, and then we make our own decision. If we are not convinced, we publish, sometimes over the fierce objections of the government. If we are convinced, we wait, or withhold details. The first time I ever faced such a decision was in 1997 when I was foreign editor, and a reporter learned of a dispute between Russia and Georgia, the former Soviet republic, over what to do with a cache of highly enriched uranium left behind after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The dispute was interesting news. But when the reporter checked, it turned out the stockpile was completely unsecured, available to any terrorist interested in constructing a dirty bomb. We were asked to hold the story until the material was fenced and guarded — and we did so. It was not a hard call.
So what would your policy be on publishing information that some would argue jeopardizes national security? (I realize this is not an entirely hypothetical question.) Would you even let them try to make the case?
Why would reporters who hide their opinions be less tempted by human nature to manipulate their reporting than those who are honest about their opinions? If anything, hiding one’s views gives a reporter more latitude to manipulate their reporting because the reader is unaware of those hidden views and thus unable to take them into account.
For instance, I did not know until well after the fact that [Times correspondent] John Burns harbored some quite favorable views about the attack on Iraq. He not only admitted in 2010 and 2011 that he failed to anticipate the massive carnage and destruction the invasion would wreak but also viewed the invading U.S. soldiers as “ministering angels” and “liberators.” Does that make him an activist rather than a journalist? I don’t think so. But as a reader, I really wish I would have known his hidden views at the time he was reporting on the war so that I could have taken them into account.
It is, I believe, very hard to argue that the ostensibly “objective” tone required by large media outlets builds public trust, given the very low esteem with which the public regards those media institutions. Far more than concerns about ideological bias, the collapse of media credibility stems from things like helping the U.S. government disseminate falsehoods that led to the Iraq War and, more generally, a glaring subservience to political power: pathologies exacerbated by the reportorial ban on any making clear, declarative statements about the words and actions of political officials out of fear that one will be accused of bias.
As for taking into account dangers posed to innocent life before publishing: nobody disputes that journalists should do this. But I don’t give added weight to the lives of innocent Americans as compared to the lives of innocent non-Americans, nor would I feel any special fealty to the U.S. government as opposed to other governments when deciding what to publish. When Goldsmith praised the “patriotism” of the American media, he meant that U.S. media outlets give special allegiance to the views and interests of the U.S. government.
One can, I guess, argue that this is how it should be. But whatever that mindset is, it is most certainly not “objective.” It is nationalistic, subjective and activist, which is my primary point: all journalism is subjective and a form of activism even if an attempt is made to pretend that this isn’t so.
I have no objection to the process whereby the White House is permitted to give input prior to the publication of sensitive secrets.
Indeed, WikiLeaks, advocates of radical transparency, went to the White House and sought guidance before publishing the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, but the White House refused to respond, then had the temerity to criticize WikiLeaks for publishing material that it said should have been withheld. That pre-publication process is both journalistically sensible (journalists should get as much relevant information as they can before making publication decisions) and legally wise (every Espionage Act lawyer will say that such consultation can help prove journalistic intent when publishing such material). For all the N.S.A. reporting I’ve done — not just at The Guardian but with media outlets around the world — the White House was notified by editors before the fact of publication (though in the vast, vast majority of cases, their demands that information be suppressed were disregarded due to lack of specific reasons in favor of suppression).
My objection is not to that process itself but to specific instances where it leads to the suppression of information that ought to be public. Without intended rancor, I believe that the 2004 decision of The Times to withhold the Risen/Lichtblau N.S.A. story at the request of the Bush White House was one of the most egregious of such instances, but there are plenty of others.
In essence, I see the value of journalism as resting in a twofold mission: informing the public of accurate and vital information, and its unique ability to provide a truly adversarial check on those in power. Any unwritten rules that interfere with either of those two prongs are ones I see as antithetical to real journalism and ought to be disregarded.
Dear Glenn,
“Nationalistic,” your word for the “mindset” of the American press, is a label that carries some nasty freight. It is the dark side of the (equally facile) “patriotic.” It suggests blind allegiance and chauvinism. I assume you do not use it casually. And I can’t casually let it stand.
The New York Times is global in its newsgathering (31 bureaus outside the U.S.), in its staffing (for starters, our chief executive is British) and especially in its audience. But it is, from its roots, an American enterprise. That identity comes with benefits and obligations. The benefits include a constitution and culture that, compared with most of the world, favor press freedom. (That is why your editors at The Guardian have more than once sought us as partners in sensitive journalistic ventures — seeking shelter under our First Amendment from Britain’s Official Secrets Act.) The obligations include, above all, holding the government accountable when it violates our laws, betrays our values, or fails to live up to its responsibilities. We have spent considerable journalistic energy exposing corruption and oppression in other countries, but accountability begins at home.

Like any endeavor run by human beings, ours is imperfect, and sometimes we disappoint. Critics on the left, including you, were indignant to learn that we held the N.S.A. eavesdropping story for more than a year, until I was satisfied that the public interest outweighed any potential damage to national security. Critics on the right were even more furious when, in 2005, we published. Honorable people may disagree with such decisions, to publish or not to publish. But those judgments were the result of long, hard and independent calculation, a weighing of risks and responsibilities, not “fealty to the U.S. government.”
Readers’ Comments

By the way, since you mention WikiLeaks, one of our principal concerns in turning those documents into news stories in 2010 was to avoid endangering innocent informants — not Americans, but dissidents, scholars, human rights advocates or ordinary civilians whose names were mentioned in the classified cables from foreign outposts. WikiLeaks’ attitude on that issue was callous indifference. According to David Leigh, The Guardian’s lead investigator on that story, Julian Assange said, “If they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them.” (Assange denies saying this, but David Leigh’s track record earns him considerable credibility.) Google executive Eric Schmidt says Assange told him he would have preferred no redactions. On several occasions I’ve said that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks should be entitled to the same press freedoms as The New York Times. But let’s not pretend they have the same sense of responsibility.
New subject?
Pierre Omidyar, your new employer, thinks he has seen the future of journalism, and it looks like you. In an NPR interview, Omidyar said that “trust in institutions is going down” and now “audiences want to connect with personalities.” So he is building a constellation of stars, “passion-fueled” soloists, crusading investigators. I know you don’t speak for Omidyar, but I have some questions about how you see this new world.
First, it has become a cliché of our business/profession/craft that journalists are supposed to build themselves as individual “brands.” But journalism — especially the hardest stuff, like investigative journalism — benefits immensely from institutional support, including a technical staff that knows how to make the most of a database, editors and fact-checkers who fortify the stories, graphic designers who help make complicated subjects comprehensible and, not least, lawyers who are steeped in freedom-of-information and First Amendment law. In the Snowden coverage, you worked within the institutional structure of The Guardian and, for a little while, The Times. So what’s so different about the new venture? Is it just a journalistic institution by another name?
Second, in an interview with my old friend David Cay Johnston you said coverage of governments and other big institutions is about to be radically changed because of the pervasiveness of digital content. Governments and businesses depend on vast troves of information. All it takes, you said, is access and a troubled conscience to create an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning. But it seems to me it takes one other thing: a willingness to risk everything. Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence for the WikiLeaks disclosures, and Snowden faces a life in exile. The same digital tools that make it easy to leak also make it hard to avoid getting caught. That’s one reason, I think, the overwhelming preponderance of investigative reporting still comes for reporters who cultivate trusted sources over months or years, not from insiders who suddenly decide to entrust someone they’ve never met with a thumb drive full of secrets. Do you really think Snowden and Manning represent the future of investigative journalism?
And, third, will Pierre Omidyar’s New Thing be a political monoculture, or do you expect there will be right-wing Glenn Greenwalds on board?
Back to you.
Dear Bill,
To understand what I mean by “nationalistic,” let’s examine the example we’ve discussed: The N.Y.T.’s non-use of the word “torture” to describe Bush-era interrogation techniques. You say that the use of this word was unnecessary because you described the techniques in detail. That’s fine: but the N.Y.T. (along with other media outlets) did use the word “torture” without reservation for the same techniques — when used by countries that are adversaries of the U.S. That’s what I mean by “nationalism”: making journalistic choices to comport with and advance the interests of the U.S. government.

I don’t mean the term pejoratively (at least not entirely), just descriptively. It demonstrates that all journalism has a point of view and a set of interests it advances, even if efforts are made to conceal it.

    On the difference between WikiLeaks and The N.Y.T.: The Guardian (along with The N.Y.T.) has a bitter and protracted feud with Assange (now that they’re done benefiting from his documents), so I personally would not assume their inherent credibility in disputes over what was or was not said in private. From everything I’ve seen, neither Assange nor WikiLeaks has any remote desire to endanger innocent people. Quite the opposite: they have diligently attempted to redact names of innocents, and sought White House input before publishing (which was inexcusably denied). Also, the only time a huge trove of unredacted documents was released was, ironically, when the journalist you mentioned (not one associated with WikiLeaks) published the archive password in his book.
    But to the broader point: even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that WikiLeaks’ more aggressive transparency may occasionally result in excess disclosures (a proposition I reject), the more government-friendly posture of The N.Y.T. and similar outlets often produces quite harmful journalism of its own. It wasn’t WikiLeaks that laundered false official claims about Saddam’s W.M.D.’s and alliance with Al Qaeda on its front page under the guise of “news” to help start a heinous war. It isn’t WikiLeaks that routinely gives anonymity to U.S. officials to allow them to spread leader-glorifying mythologies or quite toxic smears of government critics without any accountability.
    It isn’t WikiLeaks that prints incredibly incendiary accusations about American whistle-blowers without a shred of evidence. And it wasn’t WikiLeaks that allowed the American people to re-elect George Bush while knowing, but concealing, that he was eavesdropping on them in exactly the way the criminal law prohibited.
    As for the new venture we’re building with Pierre Omidyar: we’re still developing what it will look like, how it will be structured and the like, so my ability to answer some of your questions is limited. But I can address a few of the questions you raise.
    We absolutely believe that strong, experienced editors are vital to good journalism, and intend to have plenty of those. Editors are needed to ensure the highest level of factual accuracy, to verify key claims, and to help journalists make choices that avoid harm to innocents.
    But they are not needed to impose obsolete stylistic rules, or to snuff out the unique voice and passion of the journalists, or to bar any sort of declarative statements when high-level officials prevaricate, or to mandate government-requested euphemisms in lieu of factually clear terms, or to vest official statements or official demands for suppression with superior status. In sum, editors should be there to empower and enable strong, highly factual, aggressive adversarial journalism, not to serve as roadblocks to neuter or suppress the journalism.
    We intend to treat claims from the most powerful factions with skepticism, not reverence. Official assertions are our stating point to investigate (“Official A said X, Y and Z today: now let’s see if that’s true”), not the gospel around which we build our narratives (“X, Y and Z, official A says”).
    With regard to sources, I really don’t understand the distinction you think you’re drawing between Snowden and more traditional sources.
    Snowden came to journalists who work with newspapers that are among the most respected in the world. We didn’t just have “thumb drives” dumped in our laps: we worked for quite a long time to build a relationship of trust and to develop a framework to enable us to report these materials. How is that any different from Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to take the Pentagon Papers to The Times in the early 1970s?
    All that said, you raise an interesting and important point about the dangers posed to sources. But it isn’t just people like Manning and Snowden who face prosecution and long prison terms. American whistle-blowers who went to more traditional media outlets — such as Tom Drake and Jeffery Sterling — also face serious felony charges from an administration which, as your paper’s former general counsel, James Goodale, hassaid, has been more vindictive in attacking the newsgathering process than any since Richard Nixon.
    And even journalists in this process, such as your paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Jim Risen, face the very real threat of prison.
    The climate of fear that has been deliberately cultivated means that, as The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer put it, the newsgathering process has come to a “standstill.” Many Times national security reporters, such as Scott Shane, have been issuing similar warnings: that sources are now afraid to use the traditional means of working with reporters because of the Obama administration’s aggression. Ubiquitous surveillance obviously compounds this problem greatly, since the collection of all metadata makes it almost impossible for a source and journalist to communicate without the government’s knowledge.
    So yes: along with new privacy-enhancing technologies, I do think that brave, innovative whistle-blowers like Manning and Snowden are crucial to opening up some of this darkness and providing some sunlight. It shouldn’t take extreme courage and a willingness to go to prison for decades or even life to blow the whistle on bad government acts done in secret. But it does. And that is an immense problem for democracy, one that all journalists should be united in fighting. Reclaiming basic press freedoms in the U.S. is an important impetus for our new venture.
    As for whether our new venture will be ideologically homogenized: the answer is “definitely not.” We welcome and want anyone devoted to true adversarial journalism regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, and have already been speaking with conservatives journalists like that: real conservatives, not the East Coast rendition of “conservatives” such as David Brooks. Our driving ideology is accountability journalism grounded in rigorous factual accuracy.
    Your apparent contempt for David Brooks is revealing. Presumably what disqualifies him from your category of “real conservatives” is that he puts reason over passion and sometimes finds a middle ground. As Lenin despised liberals, as the Tea Party loathes moderate Republicans, you seem to reserve your sharpest scorn for moderation, for compromise. Look at today’s Washington and tell me how that’s working out.
    We agree, of course, that the current administration’s affection for the Espionage Act and readiness to jail reporters who protect their sources have created a hostile climate for investigative reporting of all kinds. We agree that is deplorable and bad for democracy.
    There are other things we agree on, too, but this exchange wasn’t meant to be a search for common ground, so before signing off, I’d like to return once more to what I think is our most essential disagreement.
    You insist that “all journalism has a point of view and a set of interests it advances, even if efforts are made to conceal it.” And therefore there’s no point in attempting to be impartial. (I avoid the word “objective,” which suggests a mythical perfect state of truth.) Moreover, in case after case, where the mainstream media are involved, you are convinced that you, Glenn Greenwald, know what that controlling “set of interests” is. It’s never anything as innocent as a sense of fair play or a determination to let the reader decide; it must be some slavish fealty to powerful political forces.
    I believe that impartiality is a worthwhile aspiration in journalism, even if it is not perfectly achieved. I believe that in most cases it gets you closer to the truth, because it imposes a discipline of testing all assumptions, very much including your own. That discipline does not come naturally. I believe journalism that starts from a publicly declared predisposition is less likely to get to the truth, and less likely to be convincing to those who are not already convinced. (Exhibit A: Fox News.) And yes, writers are more likely to manipulate the evidence to support a declared point of view than one that is privately held, because pride is on the line.
    You rightly point out that this pursuit of fairness is a relatively new standard in American journalism. A reader doesn’t have to go back very far in the archives — including the archives of this paper — to find the kind of openly opinionated journalism you endorse. It has the “soul” you crave. But to a modern ear it often feels preachy, and suspect.
    I believe the need for impartial journalism is greater than it has ever been, because we live now in a world of affinity-based media, where citizens can and do construct echo chambers of their own beliefs. It is altogether too easy to feel “informed” without ever encountering information that challenges our prejudices.
    A few volleys back, you pointed out that polls show the American public has a low opinion of the news media. You declared — based on no evidence I can find — that this declining esteem is a result of “glaring subservience to political power.” Really? It seems more plausible to me that the erosion of respect for American media — a category that includes everything from my paper to USA Today to Rush Limbaugh to The National Enquirer to If-it-bleeds-it-leads local newscasts — can be explained by the fact that so much of it is trivial, shallow, sensational, redundant and, yes, ideological and polemical.
    I’ll offer you the last word, and then we can leave the field to commenters, if any have made it this far.

    Sunday, October 27, 2013

    With Snap of Group Photo, 3 Members of Advocacy Group Face Trial in China


    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: barry levine 
    Date: Sun, Oct 27, 2013 at 7:38 AM
    Subject: re: With Snap of Group Photo, 3 Members of Advocacy Group Face Trial in China
    To: "letters@nytimes.com"

    To the Editor:
       Selective prosecution of political dissenters on an over-broad statute that everyone violates makes a mockery of the People's Revolution. This is the "rule of law" as cynical windowdressing for capricious tyranny.
    Barry Haskell Levine

    With Snap of Group Photo, 3 Members of Advocacy Group Face Trial in China

    Published: October 26, 2013
    Enlarge This ImageHONG KONG — Three grass-roots rights advocates face trial in eastern China on Monday, with the main charge against them stemming from a group photograph snapped in the courtyard of an apartment block. That brief gathering will be at the heart of the first courtroom test of how far the government will go to extinguish the New Citizens Movement, which has pressed the Communist Party leadership under Xi Jinping to embrace democratic change.
    China Daily, via Reuters
    The three residents of Xinyu City in Jiangxi Province — Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping, and Li Sihua — face charges of illegal assembly for gathering below Ms. Liu’s second-floor home in April with other friends to take a photograph to make a political point, said Ms. Liu’s daughter, Liao Minyue, and lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong. The group displayed signs urging the release of detained protesters and the disclosure of officials’ wealth, and released the picture on the Internet. The police detained the three about a week after the photograph was taken.
    “If that counts as an illegal assembly, then it would also be an illegal assembly for school students to gather for a graduating photo,” said Mr. Zhang, the defense lawyer, in a telephone interview from Shanghai.
    The previously little-known trio has attracted widespread attention as the first detainees associated with the New Citizens Movement to face trial since the government started to round up supporters in March. The movement is a loose network of legal advocates, human rights campaigners and disgruntled citizens that began to coalesce into a more coordinated effort last year. It has demanded greater political rights, equal educational rights for all, and the disclosure of officials’ assets at a time when the comfortable lives of some officials have become a source of intense public resentment.
    “I’m personally convinced that, in fact, this is part of a coordinated nationwide campaign to attack and break up the New Citizens Movement,” Mr. Zhang said of the trial.
    “They hope to use this Jiangxi case as an opening,” said Mr. Zhang, a law lecturer who was suspended from teaching after he publicly called for democratic constitutional reforms. “They want to test the public reaction, and also test how, internally, the legal system responds.”
    The Chinese police have detained, and in some cases formally arrested, 18 participants in and supporters of the New Citizens Movement, according to Human Rights Watch. The most prominent are Xu Zhiyong, a legal advocate who was detained by the police in Beijing in July, and Wang Gongquan, a wealthy investor detained in Beijing in September. Both men are being held on charges of assembling a crowd to disrupt public order, and both have been formally arrested, making it likely they will be indicted. The police have not specified the basis of those charges
    “Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping, Li Sihua — they were supporters and participants in the New Citizens Movement, and played a major role in attracting attention in their area,” said Mr. Zhang, the lawyer. When police interrogated them, he said, many of the questions were about Mr. Xu and the movement.
    As well as the illegal gathering accusation, Ms. Liu and Mr. Wei face two other charges: “assembling a crowd to disturb the public order” and “using a cult organization to undermine the law,” said their lawyers.
    The public order allegation is based on the two handing out leaflets for independent candidates for a local People’s Congress election in 2011, and the cult allegation is based on comments that the two sent on an online messaging service in 2012, calling on friends to pay attention to the trial of a follower of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual group. Lawyers for all three defendants said they intended to plead not guilty to all the charges.
    The trial suggests how worried the Chinese Communist Party leadership is about potential challenges to its hold on power, even from citizens who have seized on the leadership’s own promises of less corruption, greater candor and greater respect for the law, said several rights lawyers and advocates. What particularly worries the government, they said, is how some disgruntled ordinary citizens, like Ms. Liu, have increasingly turned personal grievances into political demands.
    A 48-year-old former steel mill worker who was laid off, Ms. Liu embodies that transformation. Her activism started about eight years ago when she began petitioning the government for redress after the police beat her uncle, according to her daughter, Ms. Liao. Over years of complaining, however, Ms. Liu became drawn to broader demands. She unsuccessfully tried to stand as an independent candidate in elections for a local party-controlled assembly in 2011, and last year joined the emerging New Citizens Movement.
    Her fellow defendants, Mr. Wei and Mr. Li, also started off as petitioners with specific grievances and became drawn into political activism, said their relatives.
    “The New Citizen Movement went beyond individual cases to focus on broader demands about civil and political rights,” said Maya Wang, a researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch. “It’s O.K. for citizens to report injustices, but when you start organizing and issuing petitions, that becomes sensitive.”
    Chinese courts come under Communist Party control, and there is little likelihood of the trio’s escaping conviction and prison sentences, especially given the political environment.
    Since Mr. Xi became Communist Party leader in November, he has demanded that officials strengthen and defend the ideological sinews of party rule, and he also endorsed a directive identifying human rights activists and advocates of civil society as threats to the party. This month, a commentary in a party journal, Red Flag Manuscripts, amplified that warning, and accused hostile Western governments of fomenting subversion inside China by sponsoring dissidents.
    The charge of illegal gathering against the trio of activists could bring a prison sentence of up to five years. The other charges could also each bring several years in prison.
    But Mr. Zhang, the lawyer for Ms. Liu, saw some hope that the Yushui District People’s Court in Xinyu might reject the charge of illegal assembly. There were no police officers present at the photo shoot, so there was no order to disperse, one of the elements used to define the crime, said Mr. Zhang. The court’s delays in setting a trial date, and the shifting accusations against the defendants, suggested that some officials might be uneasy about prosecuting on the assembly charge, he said.

    Saturday, October 26, 2013

    N.S.A. Snooping and the Damage Done


    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: barry levine <levinebar@gmail.com>
    Date: Sat, Oct 26, 2013 at 7:21 AM
    Subject: re: N.S.A. Snooping and the Damage Done
    To: "letters@nytimes.com" <letters@nytimes.com>

    To the Editor:
       If America's allies believe " that the United States plays by its own rules and respects neither the sovereignty nor the political sensibilities of some of its closest democratic allies.", they give us too much credit. Our imperious Executive breaks our own rules with impunity.  The extra-judiciary killing of AbdulRahman al-Awlaki violated U.S. statute and our Constitution. Likewise the wiretapping of uncounted Americans.
       What is distinctive about bugging Angela Merkel's phone in all this is only that it didn't actually violate U.S. law. That's almost refreshing.
    Barry Haskell Levine


    N.S.A. Snooping and the Damage Done

    Published: October 25, 2013
    President Obama spent this week trying to persuade America’s close allies, France and Germany, that the National Security Agency’s extensive eavesdropping in those countries is under adequate control. He was not entirely successful. His efforts to reassure President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany seem to have been as incomplete as the explanations the administration has given to the American public about the agency’s excessive domestic surveillance.

    Related News

    The German government learned this week that the newsmagazine Der Spiegel had new evidence (presumably via information leaked by Edward Snowden) that the N.S.A. had monitored Ms. Merkel’s cellphone. On Monday, Le Monde reported that the agency had gathered data on more than 70 million phone calls and messages inside France within one 30-day period, suggesting a surveillance program that went well beyond any legitimate tracking of international terrorists.
    Mr. Obama sought to assure Ms. Merkel that her phone was not being monitored now and would not be in the future, but he seemed to indicate nothing about past monitoring. David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti reported inThe Times on Friday that Germany has evidence of monitoring going back to the George W. Bush administration.
    The Guardian also reported this week that the phone conversations of at least 35 world leaders were monitored by the N.S.A. in 2006, according to an agency memo leaked by Mr. Snowden. The N.S.A. apparently encouraged American diplomats and officials to provide phone numbers to be added to the surveillance program. Would it be surprising if foreign leaders now became much more restrictive about sharing their numbers with United States officials?
    Such surveillance undermines the trust of allies and their willingness to share the kind of confidential information needed to thwart terrorism and other threats. When the N.S.A. violates French or German law, law enforcement agencies in those nations cooperate with the agency at their own risk. There is also the more subtle damage done by the feeling that the United States plays by its own rules and respects neither the sovereignty nor the political sensibilities of some of its closest democratic allies.
    Broad data collection programs by the United States government also harm the efforts of American Internet companies to market their services internationally by casting doubt on their ability to protect privacy. Such companies face heavy legal pressures from the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies to make private data available for government scrutiny.
    And there is new pressure on European governments to seek stricter data protection in negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with the eavesdropping reports souring the political climate for these talks.
    European leaders are not naïve about the realities of international snooping. American security is built on the strength and reliability of its international alliances. These should not be put at risk merely because the N.S.A. now has the capacity to monitor more communications in more places than ever.
    A good way out of this mess would be for Washington to take up the proposal made Friday by Germany and France to negotiate a formal pact that would set mutually acceptable surveillance guidelines. The next steps must come from Mr. Obama. He should move beyond unpersuasive and vague pledges to balance security against privacy, to substantive guidelines that limit the overreaching of N.S.A. surveillance programs abroad and at home.

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    The Deaths of Innocents


    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: barry levine 
    Date: Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 5:32 PM
    Subject: re: The Deaths of Innocents
    To: "letters@nytimes.com"

    To the Editor:
      Secrecy and deception are the stock in trade of an Intelligence agency. No one is actually surprised that our CIA lies all the time in carrying out its mission. But the mission of the Central Intelligence Agency is Intelligence. In the application of deadly force, the agents, officers and contractors of our CIA are unlawful combatants. As such, they deserve no special dispensation when they lie to us about what they do in our name.
    Barry Haskell Levine


    The Deaths of Innocents

    Published: October 23, 2013 185 CommentsOne of the arguments for America’s heavy reliance on drone strikes against suspected extremists has been surgical precision. The weapons are so finely calibrated and precisely targeted, officials argue, that only militants are killed, and that collateral damage to innocent civilians is rare. These claims were always hard to accept, especially given the government’s refusal to provide corroborating data. Now two human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have marshaled impressive new evidencechallenging them.
    In separate reports released on Tuesday, Amnesty International examined in detail nine suspected drone strikes in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch looked at six suspected strikes in Yemen. The groups reached a similar conclusion — that dozens of civilians have been killed and that the United States may have violated international law and even committed war crimes.
    Mr. Obama took an important step in May when he announced that he would reduce the number of drone strikes, allow only those that posed no threat or virtually no threat to civilians, and issue guidelines codifying the use of force against terrorists, including a provision that they be shown to pose “a continuing, imminent threat to America.” The new reports provide fresh evidence that Mr. Obama’s promised policy changes are long overdue. They also require better answers from the president than the vague responses the White House has so far delivered.
    The Pakistan attacks occurred between May 2012 and July 2013 in the border region of North Waziristan, where extremists have havens and American drone strikes have been the most intensive. Amnesty International’s report, based on Pakistani and other sources, says there have been 374 strikes since 2004, including four incidents it investigated in which more than 30 civilians were killed.
    In one case, in October 2012, a 68-year-old grandmother was gathering vegetables in a field, her grandchildren nearby, when she was “blasted into pieces” by a drone strike that appeared aimed directly at her. Three months earlier, 18 male laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in a series of drone strikes on the remote village of Zowi Sidgi. The first one struck a tent where the men had gathered for an evening meal; others struck those who came to rescue the injured.
    The Human Rights Watch report on Yemen, which examined one attack in 2009 and five in 2012-13, determined that 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians, were killed in those episodes. All except one involved drone strikes; the other involved a cruise missile.
    Both President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama have used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the state of war that has existed since as cause to target terrorist suspects. But under international law, parties to armed conflict must minimize harm to civilians in a war zone and observe rules about what is or isn’t a lawful military target.
    Hence Mr. Obama’s promised guidelines. But those guidelines have never been made public, so there is no way to judge whether or how well they are being carried out. Similarly, because the government won’t talk about the attacks, there is no way of judging whether the military is honoring Mr. Obama’s pledge that “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” before authorizing a strike.
    Drones are important to America’s arsenal, not least because they can reach extremists in lawless areas who otherwise could not be captured and because they avoid putting American troops in harm’s way. But they are also creating enemies for the United States among people in Pakistan and Yemen who say the weapons are killing civilians, as well as militants. That alone argues for greater transparency and accountability from the government.