How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!
--William Shakespeare, “The Tempest,” Act 5, Scene 1 --
Where does freedom of the press end and libertinage for newspapermen begin?
That is the question behind the recent tempest in the America media teapot over Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador.
Going over editorials from D.C, New York and San Francisco, one thing becomes clear: they are not journalism but rather something resembling journalism.
Which is not to say the editorials are not worth reading. On the contrary. In talking about others, the American press reveals a great deal about itself.
Too much, in fact.
O wonder! Why so many newsmen are throbbing at the bone:
On February 6, 2011, El Universo, an Ecuadorian newspaper, published an article by its editorialist, Emilio Palacio. On March 21, President Correa filed a defamation lawsuit against Palacio and the three newspaper owners. On July 20, the ruling came down: three years in prison for each owner and Palacio, plus a $40 million fine. The decision is under appeal. (UPDATE 2-16-2012. Time 12:04. Moments ago, President Correa won the appeal. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17060578 ).
Before continuing, I’d better explain something…
Once upon a time, back when the earth was still warm and there where goodly creatures, Western culture made a difference between fact and value, is and ought, description and evaluation.
If I say, for example, a movie “was released in 2011,” that statement pertains to an objective, impersonal reality in the realm of fact/is/description. Released in 2011: true or false? If, on the other hand, I say the same movie is “lousy,” I am expressing something quite different -- an opinion, a value/ought/evaluation. There is no true or false opinion; you either agree or disagree according to your own tastes, experiences, sensitivities.
Objective versus subjective statements, then. Unlike the thing resembling it, in journalism objective material is placed everywhere but the editorial page, which is set aside for opinions. Opinions, in turn, are confined to the editorial page. Each in its place.
Sounds simple -- if not simple-minded. Yet, I spent 3 months last year reading the Washington Post every day. All sorts of opinions, evaluations, prescriptions, incitements to action and other subjective expressions were everywhere, including the front page.
Conclusion: Washington Post owners, editors and reporters do not know the difference between opinion (a movie is “lousy”) and fact (the movie “was released in 2011.”)
Or do they?
In truth, it makes no difference if they know the difference.
American newspapers are not guided by the facts/opinions separation. Their gold standard is Joseph Pulitzer, hard-charging publisher of New York World and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Pulitzer discovered that he could drive circulation and profits up by mixing opinions and facts, sensationalism and objective reporting.
Pulitzer changed American media forever. Out was journalism defined in the standard sense of Merriam Webster: Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation. In was journalism defined in a second sense, also offered by Merriam Webster: writing designed to appeal to popular taste or public interest.
I always found it prescient that the prize most coveted by the American press carries Pulitzer’s name. That anybody could be proud of winning it is totally beyond me. Receiving a Pulitzer is on the order of being awarded -- as was Henry Ford -- the Nazis’ Grand Cross of the German Eagle. The reason for the comparison: Joseph Pulitzer was an unabashed, unabridged war-monger.
Confounding of facts/opinions and hyperventilating advocacy of violence: could there be a relationship?
With that background, let’s look at the Correa affair, starting at its origin, the Palacio article.
My first question to American editors: did you bother to read what Palacio wrote? The article is a mere mouse click away: www.eluniverso.com
What’s that you say? You don’t understand Spanish? You never let that stop you before from being experts on Latin America. Read away, then.
Like everyone else, Emilio Palacio is certainly entitled to his opinion. And I am entitled to mine…
I defy anybody who understands Spanish to read his article, “NO a las mentiras,” and not be struck by its brash shrillness. It is an over-the-top piece; out of 600 words, you will find Dictador/Dictadura 11 times. Apparently, Palacio thinks he can make his point by dulling his audience into submission. In the process, he crosses the boundary separating anger from hate.[i] And that’s not the only boundary the article crossed.
Fortunately, bad writing is not a crime. Unfortunately, “NO a las mentiras” has other problems…
Its ideas are not only multiple but parallel, serial but discontinuous, additive and not cumulative, and if conflicting, allowed to conflict. They brought back memories from long ago -- of schizophrenics I worked with in a large county hospital. It’s hard to believe it, but the disconnected pieces once formed one-and-the-same firecracker that exploded and blew apart in all directions. To those who want to reconnect them, I wish them the very best of luck.
That said, Palacio is an editorialist. His article was on the editorial page, the realm of opinion. He is a guy spouting off, that’s all. He has a perfect right to do so…up to a point.
Frankly, I would write him off as a friendly neighborhood hysteric had he not tossed out a disastrous punch line: he asserts that President Correa ordered the army to shoot “sin previo aviso contra un hospital lleno de civiles y gente inocente.” (without warning at a hospital full of civilians and innocent people).
Had -- as we do here -- Palacio prefaced his statement with In my opinion, it seems, perhaps, I wonder if, I suspect, I believe, etc., he would have stayed in the realm of opinion -- but he didn’t. In fact, to this day he sticks to his guns (curious expression) that President Correa ordered the shooting. He even rejected Correa’s offer to forget the whole thing in exchange for a simple apology.
Ordered the shooting. With that allegation we enter the realm of fact, not opinion. Correa committed a crime against humanity: true or false? Palacio cannot escape responsibility by crawdading his way under the rock of editorialist -- a guy with an opinion. With the genocide claim, he stepped over a line.
What you just read is counter to prevailing thought in the U.S. The New York-based Human Rights Foundation, for example, on October 31, 2011, published a legal report, The Case of Emilio Palacio Urrutia. A major conclusion:
[A]ccording to international human rights law, the prohibition of the criminalization of expressions is applicable, with particular emphasis, in cases where these expressions were “subjective opinions” or “value judgements.”
The opinions expressed by Palacio are part of the opinion section of El Universo -- not a news section. Their intent was not to report news events in a journalistic or documentary manner, but to express the point of view of the journalist. Therefore, all of Palacio’s opinions must be considered subjective and value judgments, and they are protected under international human rights law. (p.21)[ii]
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Beware. What the Foundation lawyer in effect is arguing: newspapers can say whatever they want as long as they put it on the editorial page.
In practice, the editorial page as Free Territory is tantamount to making defamation and libel legal. I say that because if the Foundation’s position prevails, guess where newspapers are going to place certain, ah, “controversial” articles. Result in real life: the editorial page becomes the gateway for libertinage of newspaper owners. Make no mistake, you who value freedom of the press: what was originally intended to be a page for the free expression of ideas, opinions, judgments, evaluations and analyses, will become a weasel hole.
As observed of the Washington Post, the trend is to put opinion everywhere – which means the editorial page is creeping, spreading over the entire newspaper. What’s at the end of the trail: absolute, not relative, carte blanche for newpaper owners. Libertinage.
Don’t let them do it. When they come after you, Dear Reader, and call you a traitor or a child molester, costing you your job and marriage, and get away with it because they put it on the opinion page, don’t say you were not warned.
All of Palacio’s opinions must be considered subjective and value judgments. Must? Really? By whom? Not me. Sorry, Human Rights Foundation: the claim that Correa ordered the army to shoot is NOT subjective or a value judgment. It is (1) true or (2) false. The fact Palacio printed it on the opinion page doesn’t change that reality.
Somewhere, on a parallel, serial, discontinuous, additive plane out there, Palacio has an inkling that he crossed the boundary between fact and appraisal. He says “Si cometí algún delito, exijo que me lo prueben…” (if I commited a crime, I insist they prove it.) He thereby acknowledges the possibility that he committed a crime, even though his article appeared on the opinion page and therefore (according to Human Rights Foundation) is ipso facto exempt from legal action.
In journalism, as opposed to the thing resembling it, if I write “You are a skunk,” it is not up to YOU to prove you are NOT a skunk. The responsibility falls on ME, the maker of the claim, to prove that you ARE a skunk. As any lawyer in the U.S. will tell you, that is not how it works in the U.S.; however, is that old-fashioned, common sense view of the burden of proof and responsibility still found in other places, e.g., Ecuador? Apparently, Palacio had no evidence to support his factual claim that Correa ordered the army to fire away; hence the court decided against him.
* * *
As noted, the ruling against Palacio and El Universo came down in July. Then something astounding happened all over the United States. Nothing. Nothing at all. All Quiet on The Western Front. The Eastern Front too, for that matter.
Six months later, all hell mysteriously broke loose.
The Washington Post grabbed the bugle and sounded the charge. In an editorial[iii] dated January 11 we discover that President Correa,
an autocratic acolyte of Hugo Chavez who is usually and deservedly ignored outside of his own country, will get a little attention Thursday when he hosts Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As he basks in the aura of a more notorious international pariah, allow us to recount what Mr. Correa really ought to be known for: the most comprehensive and ruthless assault on free media underway in the Western Hemisphere.
After reciting the Palacio case, we hear that El Universo, founded in 1921, is among “historic newspapers” and is “highly respected across the region.”
Assault. Hmmm. A strong word. I wonder if…
Enter the New York Times, the Post’s arch-rival. Or is it? On January 23, an anti-Correa editorial appeared:
The United States and others only belatedly recognized what Mr. Correa was up to…There is no doubt that his assault on a free press is an assault on democracy…All of the hemisphere’s democratic leaders, including President Obama, need to push back against Mr. Correa.
Belately recognized. Remember those words. Also, assault – there it is again. They are singularly revealing, although not in the way the New York Times intended. We will return to them.
The Los Angeles Times also weighed in on January 23 -- gosh what a coincidence:
Correa should address his government's poor record on freedom of expression instead of engaging in an international campaign against his critics.
International campaign: another intriguing word choice. Remember where you saw it.
Next came the San Francisco Chronicle on February 3.
An attack on freedom of the press anywhere is an attack on freedom everywhere.
Such an assault is under way in Ecuador, a nation ruled with a heavy hand by a lightweight dictator who seems to wish he were Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
The target: El Universo, a 90-year-old Guayaquil newspaper; one of the largest in Latin America and a leading voice for freedom and democracy in the region.
Wait a second. Chavez flunky, 90-year old El Universo as universal freedom fighter: I could swear I read that before. Indeed, the Chronicle is regurgitating what we saw in the Washington Post. There is more:
Assault: there’s that word again, the third time. The Chronicle takes things in hand and goes to the next level: “Correa has made a crusade of controlling the media in the country he rules.” Crusade: another intriguing word. Once more, keep in mind who used it.
Also, don`t forget: An attack on freedom of the press anywhere is an attack on freedom everywhere. Sounds like somebody wants to send in the troops. A case -- maybe terminal -- of shameless Pulitzer jingoism, if there ever was one. I think we had better cut to the chase, and quickly:
Is an attack on freedom what is taking place in Ecuador? Or is it something else?
All of these fire-breathing freedom-fighters, the push-back guys in D.C., New York and California were nowhere to be found back in July, when the anti-Palacio ruling came down. Silence, omerta. American newspapers were perfectly content to let the El Universo twist in the wind, to let its owners and Palacio do hard time, to let $40 million be coughed up. Nothing new in all that: those same newspapers were perfectly content to pass over in silence the Bush Administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- until, of course, it was too late to make any difference.
I wish there were only two strikes against the American media; unfortunately, a third case of omerta is on the way.
Belatedly recognized: what took the American press 6 months to get religion? Their zeal -- that of a recent convert -- tells the true story:
The campaign waged by the American press has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue at hand, of Palacio and El Universo. Something happened between July and January to get American newsmen lathered up. Something big -- as big as the American government.
Here it is.
In October, a Mexican firm, Consulta Mitofsky, released survey results of public opinion in Latin American. Of all the leaders of nations in this hemisphere, President Correa had the highest approval rating, 75%. President Obama came in 13th place at 42% behind Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo (43%). In case you’re wondering, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela ranked fifth at 55%.
Examples are contagious. Stunned, vexed, the American Government felt the need to marginalize Correa -- usually and deservedly ignored outside of his own country. Hence, the get-him campaign was launched, the let ´er rip attack, the assault, the no-holds-barred crusade of the American press belatedly, in 2012.
Bizarre, isn’t it, how in evaluating others, they describe themselves.
Actually, there is nothing odd about it. We are looking at a textbook case of psychological projection. Unconscious men manipulated by unconscious drives, puerile, violent -- there you have it. Incidentally, it is their lack of self-awareness that dooms their international campaign to be what it is: clumsy, naïve. How could it be otherwise?
How beauteous mankind is. The ad hominem attacks against Correa are -- like the Palacio article they defend -- scurrilous. Lightweight dictator, international pariah: we are looking at Pulitzer yellow journalism, not fact-supported arguments. Which is why we are not looking at freedom of the press. We are looking at license of newspapermen posing as freedom of the press.
El Universo, Emilio Palacio and their newly-minted friends in American boardrooms and newsrooms want you to believe they are a beauteous brave new world; alas, they are only more of the cowardly old one. Through it all, however, it cannot be said they failed to create anything. A new word arose:
Urinalism : 1. Libertinage of media owners parading as freedom of the press. 2. Lack of differentiation by the media of opinion and fact. 3. Ad hominem attacks by the media with no attempt to present supporting facts. 4. Negative media stories that offer no fair opportunity for rebuttal. 5. An editorial page serving as an excuse for defamatory articles. 6. The claim to journalism unsupported by a willingness to take risks. 7. Synonym: yellow journalism.
O.K., Post, the two Times, the Chronicle, El Universo: which are you? (1) Journalism and freedom, as you claim, or (2) urinalism and libertinage?
At bottom, the Palacio affair is a classic case of rights in conflict. On the one hand, the press definitely, positively has the right to express itself. On the other hand, citizens, including public officials, definitely, positively have the right not to be slandered. In recognizing only the right of the press and not the conflict of rights -- the whole picture -- the newsmen tell us who they are.
Gentlemen, you are one-eyed jacks. We just saw the other side of your face.
* * *
The Chronicle concludes:
In democracies, this is recognized as a duty of the press: to examine the moves of those in power. News organizations in free societies take this responsibility seriously – or should.
I couldn’t agree more. Which is why, rough tough Washington Post, give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death New York Times, fearless freedom fighter Los Angeles Times, you have some explaining to do.
I invite you to read this blog’s post of December 30, 2010: “You Be The Judge.” It discusses how George Bush may have stolen the 2000 election in Florida. With modest changes, it is the same article I sent the three of you a week after the 2000 election and which you refused to print, even as a letter to the editor. Silence. Omerta, American style. Strike three.
I should note, Dear Reader, that I am an accredited expert witness on politics in federal court, which is more than any of the staffs of any of the three newspapers just cited can say. 12 years later, I stand by "You Be The Judge."
In closing, President Correa described the Washington Post as a “far-rightist” newspaper. I have a different opinion:
The Post is a tool of the American government. Obama, Bush, JFK, Pol Pot, Hitler, Hoover, Lenin, Reagan, Elvis: it makes no difference who is in power, the Post does his bidding in exchange for…well, what, exactly? Money? Hot tips? Free Redskins tickets? Gotcha’ sex rumors and phony confidences? Dinner with 200 other attendees? A Rose Garden interview with softball questions? An invitation to the White House Christmas party?
A tool of the American Government. Unlike Palacio and El Universo, I have evidence to support my statement even though, by one-eyed jack reasoning, I don´t need it. It is something I witnessed while working at the Washington Post. The incident pertains to no small event but to the biggest affair imaginable: world war.
I will present that evidence in the next post.
[i] If Palacio is so full of vitriol he can barely stand up -- why?
One probative explanation: revenge.
Four years earlier, on May 19, 2007, in a public meeting at the presidential palace, Palacio repeatedly interrupted the president, who warned him to stop or he would be ejected. Palacio continued, and was removed.
President Correa called Palacio a “majadero” -- roughly “crude jerk.”
See and judge for yourself. The altercation is at:
[ii] The report is at http://thehrf.org/documents/Report_EPU.pdf:
The Human Rights Foundation further defends Palacio this way:
As previously stated, according to international human rights law, the prohibition against the criminalization of speech is especially applicable in cases where these expressions constitute a “faithful reproduction of information” or the “publication of information provided by third parties.”
As demonstrated above, many of Palacio’s statements are based on news reports previously published in several news outlets; hence, they constitute faithful reproduction of information or publication of information provided by third parties. (p.23)
Human Rights Foundation, I don’t want to be the one to tell you but that law is so full of holes a typical teenager can play it like a flute. I can cut and paste previously published information and information provided by third parties so as to “show” that the Human Rights Foundation is really a front for the Klu Klux Klan, they murdered Martin Luther King, JFK and Whitney Houston; are members of a Mexican drug cartel and al-Qaeda; committed genocide in Uganda and Oklahoma; are… well, anything anybody wants or has in mind.
The law referred to by the Foundation is, in sum, an open door not to freedom but to libertinage.
The Foundation would do well to show a balanced approach and shift its attention away from the rights of a handful of newspaper owners to the human rights of millions of citizens who risk being defamed under laws which are written to be evaded.
[iii] For a point by point rebuttal, see “Lo Que No Dice El Washington Post” by Fernano Alvarado Espinel of January 13, 2012. file:///E:/Lo%20que%20no%20dice%20el%20Washington%20Post%20_%20Fernando%20Alvarado%20Espinel.htm