Full Court Press
The electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn said that it had closed its plant in the Chinese city of Taiyuan on Monday after a riot. The compoany claimed that a fight broke out in an employee dormitory on Sunday. State-run media say that 5,000 riot police were called in to restore order.
Tech reporter Liau Yun Qing of ZDNet summarizes a Chinese language report on the riot:
Local news site Sohu Finance said the riot involved Foxconn employees and security guards. While the actual reason for the riot was unknown, rumors suggest it started because a security guard had beat up an employee which caused the dissatisfaction of other employees, the news site said.
The Taiyuan factory makes the iPhone 5. Earlier this month, a journalist from the Shanghai Evening Post infiltrated the factory to see how the world's hottest gadget gets made. You can read an English translation of his expose at MIC Gadget.
Foxconn claims that the fracas was confinded to the dormitory and that no production equipment was damaged. So far, the mainstream English-language media are only telling Foxconn's side of the story. This imbalance might reflect pro-corporate bias. But it's also difficult for the mainstream press to get the workers' perspective on short notice. The workers are on lockdown.
None of the mainstream accounts I've read have commented on this information asymmetry. So far, I've seen no evidence that the reporters are demanding access to workers, which they should be doing.
The alternative gadget press, which claims to have sources inside the plant, is telling a very different story. MIC Gadget's exclusive report, supplemented by cell phone pictures from the scene, contradicts the official story. There are no pictures of damage to the production line, but MIC Gadget's sources on the scene say that iPhone production equipment was damaged during riot. The site also reports that local gangsters showed up to join the melee after being contacted by workers inside.
Foxconn's stock fell 3% on Monday, which suggests the markets aren't buying the company's assurances that the riot won't delay production of the iPhone 5.
Foxconn has become synonymous with harsh working conditions for electronics workers. At least 14 Foxconn workers committed suicide in 2010. The company has since raised wages and installed nets to catch jumpers. In 2012, workers threatened mass suicide to protest working conditions.
Shortly after the mass suicide threat, the chairman of Foxconn's parent company, Hon Hai, invited a zoo director to instruct his general managers on animal control techniques, which he hoped they would apply to the workforce:
“Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache,” Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou said.
The Taiyuan plant has already seen smaller labor disturbances this year. Many workers have complained bitterly about harsh treatment by company security guards. Apple is already scrambling to get the iPhone 5 to consumers. If this unrest causes further delays, it may send a message that a dissatisfied workforce is a false economy.
[Photo credit: Methodshop, Creative Commons.]
Even people who generally consider themselves pro-labor often balk at supporting teachers strikes because, they argue, "teachers strikes hurt kids." In Dissent, Joanne Barkan casts a critical eye on that simplistic formulation. Chicago's students are being victimized, she argues, but not by teachers striking for air conditioned classrooms and payment for the extra hours they'll be asked to work when the schoold day is extended:
Yes, schoolchildren in Chicago are victims, but not of their teachers. They are victims of a nationwide education “reform” movement geared to undermine teachers’ unions and shift public resources into private hands; they are victims of wave after wave of ill-conceived and failing policy “innovations”; they are victims of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which turned inner-city public schools into boot camps for standardized test prep; they are victims of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, which paid states to use student test scores—a highly unreliable tool—for teacher evaluations and to lift caps on the number of privately managed charter schools, thus draining resources from public schools. Chicago’s children are victims of “mayoral control,” which allows Rahm Emanuel to run the school system, bully parents and teachers, and appoint a Board of Education dominated by corporate executives and political donors.
In about an hour, several major unions will join the Occupy Wall Street protesters for a mass rally and march in New York City and Clear it with Sidney will be there. Here's a map of the route. Stay tuned for a report this evening.
Rick Welts, president of Phoenix Suns, comes out (in The New York Times); Jane Mayer writes a blockbuster about the Obama Administration's dangerous obsession with leaks
The most important and the most depressing piece of 2011 is by Jane Mayer in the current New Yorker. When the history of this era is written, Jane’s work about American torture under Bush and “national security” under Obama will stand out as being some of the most courageous and intelligent journalism of our time.
In stark contrast to many of her national security rivals in the Washington bureau of The New York Times (especially the ones with alliterative names) Mayer never gives the impression that she is merely repeating the official government line.
Jane’s story this week is a horrifying tale of the persecution through unnecessary federal prosecution of Thomas Drake, a 54-year-old former employee of the National Security Agency, a whistle blower who was disgusted by waste and mismanagement–and the implementation of some of the most intrusive and most illegal surveillance programs in the history of the republic.
As Yale law professor Jack Balkin told Mayer, “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state”–something which comes much closer to George Orwell’s nightmare vision in 1984 than most people realize. Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration”–although torture is a notable exception to that statement.
Among the scariest developments is the perversion of a program called ThinThread, developed by Bill Binney, a now-retired NSA analyst. “Binney estimated that there were some two and a half billion phones in the world and one and a half billion I.P. addresses. Approximately twenty terabytes of unique information passed around the world every minute. Binney started assembling a system that could trap and map all of it.”
Binney actually believed that if ThinThread had been deployed before 9/11, it would have detected the plans for the attacks before they occurred. “Those its of conversation they found too late?” Binney said. “They would never have happened.”
But the NSA bureaucracy focused instead on a rival system called Trailblazer, which was abandoned in 2006 after it had become a $1.2 billion flop.
When ThinThread was finally put to use by the agency, it was stripped of the controls Binney had built into it which would have prevented it from being used to spy on Americans, in direct violation of Federal Law. Binney says his program was twisted. “I should apologize to the American people,” Binney said. “It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.” Binney added that Thomas Drake had taken his side against the N.S.A.’s management and, as a result, had become a political target–leading to what appears to be a wholly unjustified Federal prosecution that could send him to jail for thirty-five years.
The single most horrifying fact in Mayer’s story: Binney believes that the NSA now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later. Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google.
Look for 60 Minutes to take up this story next Sunday.
~ . ~ . ~
This week’s other must read story is Dan Barry’s superb account in The New York Times of the coming out of Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, who had spent his entire career in the closet because of the neanderthal attitude of professional sports towards every gay man and woman who participates in them. Barry does a magnificent job of describing Welt’s three-decade long odyssey to honesty, including the extremely supportive role of National Basketball Commissioner David Stern.
The story notes that when former N.B.A. player John Amaechi announced that he was gay in 2007, that prompted former N.B.A. star Tim Hardaway to say that, as a rule, he hated gay people.
Note to Hardaway, and his fellow homophobes everywhere: the only people who ever make statements like that are invariably afraid that they might be gay themselves.
People who are certain they are straight are never upset by gay people at all.
Pulitzer winner David Leonhardt, National Magazine Award winner Scott Horton, Filmmaker Mary Murphy, New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti
Winner: Mary Murphy, for her superb documentary Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mocking Bird, which opens today at the Quad Cinema in New York and soon in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Mobile, Long Beach, Palm Springs and Norfolk, Va.
Murphy, a veteran journalist, fell in love with Scout as a child and has fashioned a beautiful love letter to her creator and this great American novel. Watch the trailer here or listen to Murphy charm her interviewer on NPR here. And then get yourself to the theatre as soon as possible, for a treat for the whole family.
Sinner: Mark Mazzetti, whose coverage of American torture will forever live in infamy. His latest contribution to his torture canon, the day after Osama Bin Laden was assassinated, was a story (with Helene Cooper and Peter Baker) which credulously adopted the line of former Bush administration officials (as Mazzetti has done dozens of times before) who were desperately trying to convince the world that torture was the main reason that Bin Laden had been located. The offending paragraphs were these:
The raid was the culmination of years of painstaking intelligence work, including the interrogation of CIA detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe, where sometimes what was not said was as useful as what was...
It wasn’t until after 2002, when the agency began rounding up Qaeda operatives and subjecting them to hours of brutal interrogation sessions in secret overseas prisons that they finally began filling in the gaps about the foot soldiers, couriers and money men Bin Laden relied on.
Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.
This prompted FCP to write the following e-mail to Mazzetti, Times executive editor Bill Keller, managing editor Jill Abramson, and Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet:
Everything I've read today--from Feinstein's press conference to Donald Rumsfeld in NewsMax [Rumsfeld reversed himself under neocon pressure the following day] to Jane Mayer to the round-up in Talking Points Memo--suggests that your strong implication on the front page of today's newspaper that torture played an essential role in developing the information that led to Osama's killing is flatly false... Judging from what everyone else has said today, once again, for the umpteenth time, all you are doing is repeating the CIA line to protect the people who tortured their prisoners.
I trust tomorrow's newspaper will either
1) retract the implication of those graphs
2) provide some substance to support them?
Keller acknowledged receipt of the e-mail but did not respond to it; Abramson and Mazzetti ignored it. Baquet wrote, “Good to hear from you again. I’m not sure I read those paragraphs the way you did.”
However, in the following day’s paper, there was indeed a new story on the front page by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage which seemed to take back the implication of Mazzetti’s story:
As intelligence officials disclosed the trail of evidence that led to the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding, a chorus of Bush administration officials claimed vindication for their policy of “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding...But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out.
Harper’s contributing editor Scott Horton, whose writing about torture always features all of the skepticism and sophistication which Mazzetti’s–and, frequently Shane’s–so often lack–said this to FCP about the first day story in the Times:
I'm quite sure that this is precisely the way the folks who provided this info from the agency wanted them to be understood, but there is certainly more than a measure of ambiguity in them, planted with care by the NYT writers or their editors. This episode shows again how easily the Times can be spun by unnamed government sources, the factual premises of whose statements invariably escape any examination.
Winner: the very same Scott Horton, for winning a National Magazine Award for his blockbuster piece in Harper’s which explored the possibility that what had been described as the suicide of three prisoners at Guantanamo may actually have been murders committed by their captors. FCP first wrote about Horton’s piece in January of last year.
Horton’s reporting directly contradicted an earlier piece in The New York Times magazine and the Times has alternated between ignoring Horton’s story and denigrating it. Happily, the judges of the National Magazine Awards felt very differently about it.
Sinners: The Pulitzer Board for awarding Joseph Rago a Pulitzer for “for his well-crafted, against-the-grain editorials challenging the health care reform advocated by President Barack Obama.” As the Nation’s Greg Mitchell pointed out, the young Rago’s arguments were not only utterly predictable but also frequently “fact-challenged.”
Among the editorials for which Rago was honored was one in which he blasted PolitiFact for identifying the right’s successful branding of Obama’s “government takeover of health care” as its “lie of the year”–which of course, is exactly what it was.
Winner: David Leonhardt, whose Pulitzer Prize for his superb economic analysis in the New York Times was as deserved as Rago’s honor was misguided. For many years, Leonhardt has done a brilliant job of making the field of economics accessible to his lay readers. And the fact that FCP has known Leonhardt since birth--and shared the same table at Passover for more than three decades--has absolutely nothing to do with this citation.
Winner: Barack Obama, for his splendid interview with Steve Croft for 60 Minutes in which he explained all of the risks in the operation and all of the very sensible reasons for burying the terrorist at sea–and not releasing any photographs of his corpse afterwards.
Obama on Osama with Steve Kroft
President Obama announcing the Death of Osama Bin Laden; The Terrorist in his prime
Above the Fold
There are plenty of reasons to rejoice over the death of Osama Bin Laden, including the sense of closure his killing should bring to the relatives of all the victims of his heinous attacks.
But one of the most important reasons isn’t being mentioned much at all: the commando raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan is the first truly effective response the United States has managed since the terrorist launched his horrific assault against us almost ten years ago.
The tragedy of the deaths of thousands of civilians in those four airplanes, and in the three buildings they crashed into, was fearfully compounded by George Bush’s response to it.
Instead of staying with a limited operation in Afghanistan–and an all-out effort to hunt down the man responsible for 9/11--the president and his neocons used these events to play perfectly into the hands of the man who perpetrated them.
George Bush did that by launching a huge, completely unnecessary war in Iraq, where we are still bogged down almost a decade later, a war which killed and maimed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraquis--and has left that country still barely governable today. It also did as much as anything else to bankrupt the Federal treasury.
Instead of bringing Bin-Laden to his knees, for a very long time the war in Iraq had exactly the opposite effect. As the indispensable Juan Cole pointed out today,“aside from the sheer scale of destruction in Iraq set off by Bush’s illegal and ill-considered adventurism,” the worst thing about this war was the way it “clearly gave al-Qaeda an opening to grow and expand and recruit. I think if Bush had gone after Bin Laden as single-mindedly as Obama has, he would have gotten him, and could have rolled up al-Qaeda in 2002 or 2003. Instead, Bush’s occupation of a major Arab Muslim country kept a hornet’s nest buzzing against the US, Britain and other allies.”
And as my Hillman colleague Hendrik Hertzberg blogged today, yesterday’s raid “underlines one of the many weaknesses of the ‘war’ metaphor and mentality that was immediately adopted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks: the simplistic notion that the key to defeating Al Qaeda was the military conquest and occupation of territory. Not for the first time, that notion has been exposed as tragically misleading.”
One of Bin Laden’s principal goals was to rid Saudi Arabia of American troops, and less than two years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all but 220 of some 5,000 American soldiers had been withdrawn from the Saudi kingdom. His other mission was to do everything he could to weaken the United States–and by giving the fools in the Bush Administration the pretext they had been praying for to invade Iraq, Bin Laden succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
There is something else important that we can all be grateful for today. By the time Bin Laden was finally hunted down, the extraordinary events of the Arab spring had made it clearer than ever that his ideas have already been relegated to the dustbin of history. Again, Juan Cole explains:
Bin Laden was a violent product of the Cold War and the Age of Dictators in the Greater Middle East. He passed from the scene at a time when the dictators are falling or trying to avoid falling in the wake of a startling set of largely peaceful mass movements demanding greater democracy and greater social equity. Bin Laden dismissed parliamentary democracy, for which so many Tunisians and Egyptians yearn, as a man-made and fallible system of government, and advocated a return to the medieval Muslim caliphate (a combination of pope and emperor) instead. Only a tiny fringe of Muslims wants such a theocratic dictatorship. The masses who rose up this spring mainly spoke of “nation,” the “people,” “liberty” and “democracy,” all keywords toward which Bin Laden was utterly dismissive. The notorious terrorist turned to techniques of fear-mongering and mass murder to attain his goals in the belief that these methods were the only means by which the Secret Police States of the greater Middle East could be overturned.
As Dr. Wahid Abd-al-Majid, an adviser at the Al-Ahram Center for Political Studies, explained to al-Arabiya a couple of weeks ago, Bin Laden’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri “dreamt of being the one who topples President Husni Mubarak, only for the president to be toppled by the youth in a peaceful and democratic revolution that has absolutely no connection to Al-Qa’ida’s long-held claims.”
Finally, yesterday’s success will give pause to Barack Obama’s critics, who have long berated him for his supposed incompetence in foreign affairs. The splendid outcome of this daring raid fulfilled a specific promise that candidate Obama made during the presidential campaign in 2007. Because of it, Obama is probably more powerfu today than he has been at any other time since he entered the White House. And the notion that any of the Republican dwarfs now toying with a run for the presidency might offer him a serious challenge seems even more farcical than it did before.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the only thing left that is holding up a bill that would prevent a government shutdown is the intransigence of Republican extremists in the House, who are demanding the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood.
How extreme are those extremists? As the indispensable Steve Benen has reported, Oklahoma neanderthal Senator Tom Coburn, and Minnesota’s maniacal Michelle Bachman–yes, Michelle Bachman!–have both said they are in favor of a bill without the Planned Parenthood rider. So the Tea Party members in the House are way to the right of Coburn and Bachman–which means they probably think Glenn Beck is a hopeless moderate.
Meanwhile, Paul Krugman vivisects the “responsible conservatives”–everyone from David Brooks to The Economist–who have been praising Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget. (The Economist called it “a brave counterproposal” which “puts fiscal responsibility at the centre of his plan"–although even this Republican-friendly publication admits that “Too much of the gain goes to the rich, and too much of the pain is felt by the poor.”)
Krugman sees things rather differently in today's Times.
"...The G.O.P. plan turns out not to be serious at all. Instead, it’s simultaneously ridiculous and heartless. ..Republicans have once again gone all in for voodoo economics — the claim, refuted by experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves. [The Congressional Budget Office] finds that a large part of the supposed savings from spending cuts would go, not to reduce the deficit, but to pay for tax cuts...
"The point here is that privatizing Medicare does nothing, in itself, to limit health-care costs. In fact, it almost surely raises them by adding a layer of middlemen. Yet the House plan assumes that we can cut health-care spending as a percentage of G.D.P. despite an aging population and rising health care costs.
"The only way that can happen is if those vouchers are worth much less than the cost of health insurance. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2030 the value of a voucher would cover only a third of the cost of a private insurance policy equivalent to Medicare as we know it. So the plan would deprive many and probably most seniors of adequate health care...
"In short, this plan isn’t remotely serious; on the contrary, it’s ludicrous. And it’s also cruel."
Donald Trump, Glenn Beck, Brian Williams
Above the Fold
Glenn Beck and Fox News have finally parted company–a welcome event which the New York Times chose to bury deep inside the Business Section this morning. Beck’s contract expires in December, but the Times predicted he would leave the network long before that.
In yet another ridiculous on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand story, Times reporters Bill Carter and Brian Stelter barely hinted at all of Beck’s on-air felonies, calling his show
“a daily broadcast platform for a libertarian strain of politics that is also evident in the Tea Party, a movement he embraced. Critics loudly condemned him for living with his own facts — but that only seemed to widen the conspiracy that he outlined each night, aided by a growing number of chalkboards in his studio.”
Yesterday’s announcement came just one month after anonymous Fox officials had leaked their plan to get rid of Beck to New York Times media columnist David Carr, who wrote that Beck’s future was in jeopardy in part because he had lost a million viewers since the peak of his show’s ratings.
Carr explained, “The problem with ‘Glenn Beck’ is that it has turned into a serial doomsday machine that’s a bummer to watch.” Then Carr quoted David von Drehle, who had written a pathetically soft profile of Beck for the cover of Time magazine. “He used to be a lot funnier,” Von Drehle said.
This, mind you, is the broadcaster who managed at least 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, “and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels,” according to Dana Milbank. “Most of these were directed in some form at Obama -- as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck's nightly ‘report.’
I guess von Drehle thought that was pretty damn funny.
For the most part “sophisticated” media reporters like Carr refrained from giving their readers any real idea of what Beck was doing, while he was riding high in the ratings. As a result, the job of sharing Beck’s rantings with a larger public was left almost entirely to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Media Matters, which lists fifty of Beck’s most disgusting statements here.
The growing failure of journalists to call things by their proper names was exemplified by the refusal of the news department of The New York Times to call torture “torture” when it was carried out by the Bush administration–simply because the government didn’t want Times reporters to do so.
A particularly egregious example of the this growing embrace of sloppiness was on display last night on NBC Nightly News, when Brian Williams used a clip from what he called a “boisterous” interview that Meredith Viera had conducted with Donald Trump for use on Thursday morning’s Today show.
Williams prefaced the excerpt with this bland statement: “While we have talked with President Obama about his birth in America, that has not stopped the group Trump today called the birthers from stirring up doubts...Trump continued on this issue which has given him some traction.”
Then Trump was shown spouting various blatant lies–Obama “spent two million dollars in legal fees trying to get way from this issue” and “three weeks ago I thought he was born in America. Now I have real doubts.”
Once upon a time, when a bizarre buffoon was allowed to shout such idiocies on NBC News, the network's anchorman would have had the decency to specify to his viewers that everything they had just heard was false. But then, that might have discouraged one or two of them from tuning into the Today Show the next morning–and the only purpose of this obscene exercise was to increase the ratings of a sister show on the same network.
Fortunately, one or two print reporters are still willing to describe things as they actually are, which is what the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart did today.
In a post headlined Trump’s disgusting, dangerous dance with birthers Capehart did exactly what Williams should have done: he told it like it is:
In double-barreled interviews on NBC’s “Today Show” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump continued his disgusting and dangerous dabbling in the disproved conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. This might be good for the ratings of his television show. This might even be good for his business. But it is terrible for the nation and public discourse that someone who claims to be so smart is so willing to perpetuate a lie.
Then Capehart recited all of the indisputable evidence that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii when he said he was, including the completely authentic birth certificate which he produced long ago.
Good grief, even Glenn Beck was more sensible about this than Brian Williams, saying that Trump had made Beck feel “a little uncomfortable lately.” In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Beck said Trump was merely getting attention for attention’s sake–something Beck could achieve by walking in the streets with his pants off.
Naturally, O’Reilly thought there was nothing wrong with that: “I understand why [Trump is] doing that–he’s getting a massive amount of attention quickly”–by repeating one of the most discredited lies in the history of American politics.
The daunting mystery is why supposedly respectable reporters like Brian Williams are such willing co-conspirators in this despicable fraud.
Paul Ryan’s budget is being championed by “sensible” conservatives like David Brooks To read the sober truth about it, don’t miss the great Harold Meyerson in Wednesday’s Washington Post, where he explains what it really is: "the repeal of the 20th Century."
The cover under which Ryan and other Republicans operate is their concern for the deficit and national debt. But Ryan blows that cover by proposing to reduce the top income tax rate to just 25 percent. He imposes the burden for reducing our debt not on the bankers who forced our government to spend trillions averting a collapse but on seniors and the poor. The reductions in aid to the poor, says the budget blueprint that Ryan released, will be made “to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.” That’s a pretty good description of America’s top bankers, but Ryan’s budget showers them with tax cuts.
And for the most amazing television experience of the 21st Century, don’t miss The Kennedys, which is so much worse than anything you have read about it. The first challenge will be finding ReelzChannel on your cable box (131 for Time-Warner subscribers in Manhattan.)
Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker and Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times both gave the miniseries mixed reviews, and praised the acting of Tom Wilkinson–who is not quite as terrible as everyone else in this disaster. Whatever Franklin and Stanley are smoking, FCP doesn't want any.
Forget about all the historical inventions: they are overwhelmed by pathetic writing, terrible acting–and the cheesiest wardrobe in cable history. Whatever else you think about him, Jack Kennedy wore the most beautiful shirts of any modern American president; here, they are all off the rack from Filene’s Basement.
Spoiler alert: if you can’t Tivo it, you’ll be bombarded by what must be the longest commercial interruptions in television history.
Fortune Magazine and ProPublica humiliated themselves this morning with a story by Jeff Gerth and Allan Sloan which purports to debunk the story in The New York Times which said that General Electric paid no taxes in 2010.
Fortune and ProPublica say they were also working on the GE tax story. Apparently they are unhappy because the Times beat them into print.
These are their two complaints about the Times piece:
1. GE will not receive a $3.2 billion tax refund for 2010.
The poblem with that complaint: as even Sloan and Gerth concede, the Times never said that GE would receive a tax refund. The Times said GE would receive a “tax benefit.”
2. The Times said GE would pay no American tax on its worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, including the $5.1 billion of that total which came from its operations in the United States.
Fortune and ProPublica say that is false. How do they know?
GE chief spokesman Gary Sheffer told the Fortune/ProPublica team, "We expect to have a small U.S. income tax liability for 2010.’"
Is that liability $10?
Is it $10 million?
Gerth and Sloan have no idea–and their story says they probably never will: “The number is unlikely to ever be disclosed unless GE goes public with it, or is forced to do so. “
Sloan and Gerth write, “We're certainly not trying to denigrate the Times.”
The problem with that sentence: there is no other discernible purpose to their story.
The Bottom Line: these reporters have no evidence whatsoever that the thrust of the Times story was wrong--or even any proof that any of the details were wrong, either.
Isn’t it possible that GE is now recalculating its tax liability so that it has to pay something–“a small U.S. income tax liability for 2010"--just to make the Times look bad?
Gerth and Sloan never ask that question, and their story–headlined “Setting The Record Straight on GE’s Taxes"--does nothing of the kind
Gerth’s best-known previous contribution to journalism was Whitewater–which, of course, turned out to be no story at all. As Tom Fiedler of the Miami Herald wrote in 1996
The first reporter to fall for the tale was The New York Times' Jeff Gerth, an investigative reporter. He produced an almost incomprehensible report on the Clintons' Whitewater land investments in early 1992. But incomprehensible or not, the fact that it appeared in so prestigious a paper as The New York Times insinuated that something must have been wrong. And that meant that every other baying hound in the pack had to give chase.
The tale of the resulting journalistic feeding frenzy is artfully told in a new book titled Fools for Scandal, by Gene Lyons and the editors of Harper's Magazine. . .
Lyons begins by showing how Gerth was duped by Clinton's GOP enemies and how Gerth's original stories were so error-filled, intentionally or otherwise, that one of the key figures, former Arkansas state securities director Lee Thalheimer, called them "unmitigated horseshit."
...Nonetheless, with The Times' imprimatur, the parade of reporters from Washington, D.C., to Little Rock began, and most, like Gerth, ended up dining on the table scraps served up by Clinton's GOP enemies.
Now Gerth and Sloan have used the imprimatur of Fortune and ProPublica to smear The New York Times.
Update: ProPublica CEO Paul Steiger replies:
Charlie, I'm sorry you read it that way. We acknowledge aggressively that the nyt beat us on the story. We make clear that GE uses all kinds of maneuvers to cut its tax bill FAR below the statutory rate. We point out that GE's statements were confused and confusing. We agree that for reporting to shareholders, GE shows no tax liability. But we say that GE will pay some taxes for its 2010 tax year. And we point out how all this complexity, put back into the code since the last great overhaul in 1986, makes reform in the current environment so difficult. I think that is the opposite of shameful.
POLITICS & POLICY
Steve Benen / Washington Monthly
Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake
Scott Horton / Harper's
Jonathan Cohn at TNR
Crooks & Liars
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate
John Koblin and Felix Gilette at The New York Observer
Megan McArdle at Atlantic
Simon Johnson et al
ACLU Gay Rights Project
Sydney Schanberg won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Cambodia "at great risk" during the Indochina War. He is a former op-ed columnist for The New York Times and Newsday and a former metropolitan editor of The Times.