Judge not, that ye be not judged.
-- Matthew 7:1-5 --
Introduction. Freedom House describes itself as
"an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.
We analyze the challenges to freedom, advocate for greater political rights and civil liberties, and support frontline activists to defend human rights and promote democratic change."
The Washington-based organization recently published its annual report, "Freedom in The World 2017." The major finding: "With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom."
Is Freedom House really an "independent watchdog organization"? And does it do what it claims -- work to expand freedom and democracy?
Is Freedom House free?
In Freedom House´s case, the naked truth is inseparable from the naked lunch -- what is at the end of the fork. From who is putting hamburgers on their table.
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We all like freedom. Same holds for house.
How, then, could anybody possibly complain about an organization named Freedom House?
In its own words,
“Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that advances freedom around the world by supporting democratic change, monitoring freedom, and advocating for human rights.
Today, more than two billion people worldwide live under authoritarian regimes that deprive them of the most basic freedoms, the ones many of us take for granted: the freedom to vote, to voice opinions, to seek justice, to live where they want, or choose their own faith. Support Freedom House today and help the women and men who live in societies where freedom is denied or under threat.”
There is a key unspoken assumption in that declaration. Societies actually exist in which freedom is (i) not denied and/or (ii) not under threat. That assumption – very American – is unacceptable because freedom everywhere is always under threat and/or denied.
We will return to this freedom-has-been-acquired presumption. It is culture-bound at best, an outright lie at worse.
Usually, whenever the words Freedom House appear, two other words instantly follow: non-government organization. Is Freedom House what it claims to be -- independent?
Is Freedom House free?
One tiny bit of information is missing on the web site of these give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death freedom fighters: who are these masked men anyway? Who pays their bills? When I lived there, rents on Dupont Circle where Freedom House´s main office is located, weren`t free. And what about its 150 employees? How do they put hamburgers on the table? Freedom House, for some strange reason, does not tell us.
For financial information we had to look elsewhere – to Wikipedia.
80% of Freedom House`s budget is paid by the United States Government. Federal dollars increased from $12 to $20 million in 2004-2005 (Bush years), so Uncle Sam clearly felt he was getting his money`s worth.
He who pays the fiddler calls the tune. With the government paying most of the tab, Freedom House is non-governmental in name only. Watch out -- this self-proclaimed independent watchdog organization needs to be watched. The judge of entire nations needs to be judged.
As for the fiddler´s tune, pay it – I mean, play it – again, Sam…
On May 1, 2012, Freedom House released a report, “Freedom of The Press 2012.” Its core finding:
“Of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2011, … a total of 66 (33.5 percent) were rated Free, 72 (36.5 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 59 (30 percent) were rated Not Free…The analysis found that only 14.5 percent of the world’s inhabitants lived in countries with a Free press, while 45 percent had a Partly Free press and 40.5 percent lived in Not Free environments.”
Dear Reader, I know the following conclusion will astonish you, given who is giving Freedom House this day its daily bread: the United States has a free press. It scored 18 points (0 to 30 qualifies for a “Free Press” merit badge, 31 to 60 as “Partly Free” and 61 to 100 as “Not Free.”)
Free, Not Free: Of course, everything depends on definitions. In that regard, Freedom House presents its methodology with one of the most incredible boasts I have ever seen:
“The foundation of Freedom House`s work is its analysis…Freedom House's rigorous research methodology has earned the organization a reputation as the leading source of information on the state of freedom worldwide.”
The leading source on freedom. Talk about thinking big. If the assertion is true, Freedom House is truly a great organization. If not, well, it is something else.
Let`s take a look at the methodology so highly vaunted. First, though, I had better explain something to all you non-social scientists out there: the necessity to operationalize abstract concepts and terms.
To start with, what is freedom? To make the word meaningful, I need to operationalize it, i.e., define it in terms of indicators that are observable, objective, not artibrary and preferably quantifiable. An example of one such indicator of freedom: the ability to travel around one`s country without prior government approval. Note: official travel control is observable and identifiable. It is also not debatable: either prior approval (i) exists or it (ii) does not. In that regard, my personal opinion about it – “I don`t believe prior approval is needed" -- means nothing.
I will say it again: any real indicator is observable, concrete. For that reason, to say that an indicator of freedom is “justice combined with equality,” is false. Here I have defined one abstraction in terms of another abstraction. No real indicator is present. Stated differently, I have not said what I mean.
With those notes in mind, how does Freedom House´s methodology stack up?
The methodology Freedom House uses to evaluate freedom of the press around the world consists of 23 questions. I saw on its web site a reference to 109 indicators; I ran a search and couldn´t find them. However, I did locate 124 bullets or subpoints for all questions. I assume they are the indicators, and will proceed accordingly.
Any reasonable review of the 23 questions instantly raises yet more questions:
A specific case. Question A7: “Are media regulatory bodies, such as a broadcasting authority or national press or communications council, able to operate freely and independently?” Obviously, freely and independently are subject to all sorts of interpretations; they are abstract. Hence, they need to be defined by indicators. Freedom House offers this indicator: “Are decisions taken by the regulatory body seen to be fair and apolitical?” Here freely and independently has been defined as fair and apolitical. Two abstractions have been defined in terms of two other abstractions: what is fair? Apolitical? Around and around we go, floating around in the clouds, never touching earth. Which is why no real indicator was offered.
As for the word seen (to be fair):
Freedom House`s methodology is flooded with subjective, arbitrary, imprecise terms. Throughout the 124 indicators you will find the words regularly, routinely, undue interference, unduly onerous, extensive, substantial, undue influence, adequate presence, sufficient level, highly concentrated. They are a clue to what we are in for:
We are in the realm of judgment, not facts. Real indicators deal with the latter. (To clarify: a real indicator would define routinely as once a week, once a day, etc.)
Presenting phony indicators, that is to say, defining one abstraction or opinion/evaluation in terms of another, is not Freedom House`s only problem. Some questions and their indicators are blatant tautologies. In such cases, the assumption is the conclusion; the conclusion, the assumption. Example: question B4: “Do journalists practice self-censorship?” Here is one of Freedom House´s indicators: “Is there widespread self-censorship in the state-owned media? In the privately-owned media?”
Self-censorship is a crucial phenomenon. But what is it exactly? At first blush, such terms (pornography, national security, middle class, organic food, etc.) seem obvious. On closer examination, however, they melt in the hand. Because its indicator only rephrases the term it supposedly defines, Freedom House tells us that self-censorship is…self-censorship. We are sent from Pontius to Pilate.
To conclude this point: Freedom House makes no attempt to do what it demands of others, i.e., use non-arbitrary objective criteria (A4). Research tools exist which work to accomplish that goal. My first research job in grad school was a content analysis of a certain nation´s government radio broadcasts. Thousands of hours were spent coding and entering data, then analyzing them with the Statistical Package for The Social Sciences, notably factor analysis. The key question: did the broadcasts become more bellicose when a future act of agression by that country was at hand? Did the broadcasts predict war? The word bellicose had to be defined precisely, objectively, nonarbitrarily. In such matters, personal opinions and judgments not only don`t count, they bias and defeat the purpose of the study. Human lives were at stake. Given its nonsubjective approach, the research successfully answered the key question.
Freedom of the press can and should be defined by objectve, nonarbitrary indicators, then measured and analyzed quantitatively, using content analysis of actual media reports. On the other hand, if you want to measure PEOPLE´S OPINIONS AND JUDGMENTS about freedom of the press in their or other countries, go ahead. That is, in fact, what Freedom House is doing; it admits in its methodology presentation:
“The findings are reached after a multilayered process of analysis and evaluation by a team of regional experts and scholars. Although there is an element of subjectivity inherent in the index findings, the ratings process emphasizes intellectual rigor and balanced and unbiased judgments.
The research and ratings process involved several dozen analysts—including members of the core research team headquartered in New York, along with outside consultants—who prepared the draft ratings and country reports. Their conclusions are reached after gathering information from professional contacts in a variety of countries, staff and consultant travel, international visitors, the findings of human rights and press freedom organizations, specialists in geographic and geopolitical areas, the reports of governments and multilateral bodies, and a variety of domestic and international news media.”
The judgments of visitors, professionals, etc., then, are what Freedom House collects. In and of itself, nothing is wrong there. However, you should NOT claim -- as does Freedom House -- that you are measuring freedom of the press per se. By disregarding that distinction, Freedom House falls off a cliff.
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Freedom House asks this question (B1): “Is there official or unofficial censorship?”
About official censorship, Freedom House has plenty to say. Too much, in fact. That is because
unofficial censorship is where Freedom House`s freedom ends.
Freedom House, I don´t like to be the one to tell you but in your self-proclaimed opposition to ideas and forces that challenge the right of all people to be free, you are not the leader. That honor belongs to one man -- a beacon, an icon. He is no longer with us. You know who I mean.
George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, indefatigable fighter of official censorship, came to an astonishing conclusion. The most serious censor is not official, governmental. He wrote:
“Obviously it is not desirable that a government department should have any power of censorship (except security censorship, which no one objects to in war time) over books which are not officially sponsored. But the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of…any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves [my emphasis]…
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news - things which on their own merits would get the big headlines - being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”
Out of 124 indicators of freedom of the press, Freedom House offers only 6 of the veiled censorship Orwell warned about. The reason for this glaring inattention is simple: in Orwell`s words, the media are owned by wealthy men, i.e., the oligarchy. America today has an oligarchic political system with democratic decor, accessories (see post of 9-22-2011 "The Ultimate Taboo Question"). Now, by definition no oligarchy permits real and meaningful criticism of it; indeed, in the U.S. the oligarchy doesn`t even allow one to say that America has an oligarchic political system. Freedom House is no more free to criticize the oligarchy than is anybody else, perhaps even less. 150 staffers working in high rent districts: better look once more at who is paying their bills.
One of Freedom House´s questions for evaluating freedom of the press obliquely touches on Orwell´s concern: “B1. To what extent are media outlets’ news and information content determined by the government or a particular partisan interest?” [My emphasis] I am sure some Freedom House staffer will jump up and down, contending that the underlined wording "covers" the problem of unofficial censorship. To which we respond: Why, then, don´t you just spit it out? To wit: To what extent are media outlets´ news and information content determined by wealthy media owners? That is the question.
Freedom House busies itself with official censorship issues. It does not – because it cannot – look too deeply into unofficial ones. If it did, would Freedom House discover that the United States has one of the most censored presses in the world? That conclusion, as Orwell put it, wouldn`t do.
Libertinage for media oligarchs always parades as freedom of the press (see post of 2/12/2012 "One-Eyed Jacks Versus Rafael Correa"). In leaving latent the issue of media ownership, Freedom House makes manifest for whom it is working.
But let`s look further into this matter:
Freedom House and media owners, you love to associate freedom of the press with democracy itself. Fine, since you asked for it, let`s do it:
In truth, the United States never had a democracy. It had a политей or polity, an oligarchy/democracy hybrid tending toward democracy and moderated by a large middle class (see post of 10-24-2011 "The Great American Illusion"). Look high and low, you will not find that 100% Aristotlean conclusion expressed anywhere but on this blog. You want a specific, concrete case of unofficial veiled censorship – there it is.
What it all comes down to:
As this blog has consistently maintained, democracy is a direction, not a place. You will never get to A north; no such place exists. You can only get more or less north. The same is true for democracy. Now, if there is no democracy per se anywhere, then there is no freedom of the press per se anywhere. If that is true, then Freedom House´s judgments of nations as “Free” and “Not Free” are as nonsensical as Freedom House´s self-designation as a “non-governmental organization."
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"Stand with us in opposition to ideas and forces that challenge the right of all people to be free.”
Freedom House, do you actually do what you claim? Support and advocate human rights?
Shortly after the 2000 election took place, I wrote an article about how George Bush may have stolen the election in Florida. No newspaper in America, among them the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times, would print it, even as a letter to the editor. The reason takes us directly to Orwell:
(i) The conclusion that the United States President might be a thief wouldn`t do.
(ii) The media are owned by the oligarchy; George Bush was their preference.
Given (i) and (ii), veiled censorship of the article was the only possible outcome .
With minor changes, here is the censored article. Freedom House, fearless foe of anti-freedom ideas and forces, let us see what you do with it.
How To Steal An Election And Not Get Caught – Until Now
Did George W. Bush steal the 2000 election in Florida?
12 years later, the question is still hanging in the air. There may be a way to answer it.
To my knowledge, the election scam I will present here has never been revealed. [i] Insider stuff.
First, three facts were known before the 2000 election took place:
(1) The closeness of the election. One election eve headline said it all:
"Race for White House Is Seen by the Polls As Closest in 40 years." [ii]
(2) The same article noted that George Bush
"remained behind in some polls in Florida, a populous state where his brother, Jeb, is governor."
(3) Florida held the key to the White House. A report published election morning noted that Al Gore
"had waged an all-night blitz in Florida, which he told supporters, 'may very well be the state that decides the outcome of this election.'" [iii]
Close election; Bush in trouble in Florida; Florida the key. Clearly, there was a motive to cheat. But was there opportunity?
Election night, the Florida vote count dribbled in. There was
"a double turnaround by television networks which, using computer projections, reported that Mr. Gore had won Florida before deciding that that was premature, and then gave the state and the presidency to Mr. Bush before deciding again that they had drawn a hasty conclusion." [iv]
What on earth (or elsewhere) was happening?
Forget the butterfly ballot; forget hanging chad. Or rather, do not forget them, but look past them. They may have been diversions.
Starting in 1974, I directed many candidates' get-out-the-vote drives on Election Day. I saw many strange things. Among them: dead people voting.
The usual explanation: somebody collects names in cemeteries and registers those names to vote. Live people then appear at the polls using the dead people's names.
Frankly, I doubt that scam occurs to a significant degree:
First, it is too risky. All it takes is one flabbergasted precinct worker confronted with a would-be voter posing as the worker's dearly departed husband and the whole scheme is torn to shreds.
Second, the cemetery ploy relies on the live person to be honest and vote the way he is told. Well, we know about his honesty. Once the curtain closes, who knows what happens? Simply put: buying a person is one thing; will he stay bought is another.
And third, there is another way for dead people to vote without either of the disadvantages just mentioned
I am not excluding the cemetery ploy -- just discounting it. How, then, do dead people vote?
Here is the scam I mentioned. So far, it has been 100% safe; otherwise, you would know about it and would not be reading these words. 100% reliable, too.
Being unmentionable, the scam has no name. I will call it "The Long Count" in honor of the 1927 heavyweight championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.
Election night. Their civic duty ended, the voters go home. The precinct officials search the building, lock the doors.
Alone at last, the officials change hats. An uncivic duty begins. They open voter rosters along with a bottle or two (optional). Forget upstream brew -- this is a Gatorade and bourbon crowd.
The roster is the document with names of registered voters that you sign immediately before you vote.
The night crew no longer cares about voters. Their attention is fixed on non-voters -- the names with no signatures.
Roster in hand, Crew Member 1 signs the name of a person who did not vote. He signals to Crew Member 2 standing in a voting machine. Crew Member 2 pushes the button for straight Democrat, straight Republican, George Bush, Al Gore -- whatever. More sophisticated election night crews pass the rosters around; otherwise, the similarity of signatures might attract attention.
Of course, when Crew Member 1 sees a blank space beside a name on a roster, he does not know if the person is alive. When he signs a name, guess what can happen?
Now you know how dead people vote. Lots of them. In the "right" way, too -- always.
Dead people who vote are Democrats and Republicans, men and women, old and young. The Long Count is an equal opportunity employer.
The signing of rosters and button pushing takes time. That is why delayed reporting of election returns is the telltale heart of The Long Count.
How many votes are enough? In Florida 2000, Bush's margin was less than 600 votes. That question brings us to the second cause of The Long Count:
The final vote total is the topic of a fast and furious communications. The election crew boss passes the word up the line: we want this...we want that... He has every reason to drag out the talks, unlike the candidate. This leads to interesting -- if not always civil -- dialogue.
Theoretically, The Long Count is possible anywhere. However, the county clerk must be in on it, or at least be willing to look the other way. I know, I know: you think the clerk would not let candidates of his or her own party crash and burn. I hate to tell you, but I have known public officials who would sell out for a baked potato at the palace.
The Long Count leaves traces. They are so obvious they are overlooked.
To find them, go hunting where the ducks are.
Start with precincts in isolated, rural areas. Those are the easiest ones to control physically. In Florida that means the northern counties. Two facts about them: (i) Most of them voted for Bush in 2000. (ii) I spent six years there.
(1) Precincts with unusually high turnouts. Look not only at 2000, but also prior elections. Either those precincts are full of good citizens or they are full of something else.
(2) Among the group of precincts with abnormally high turnouts, look for precincts with abnormally high percentages for Bush. If Republican candidates usually get 70% of the vote in a precinct but Bush got 90%, a red flag should go up.
(3) The clincher: dead people voted.
When all 3 traces are present, something was -- as we say in the political trade -- "wired up." Put The Long Count at the top of the list. A handwriting expert should be called in to examine signatures in any dubious precinct roster.
I must emphasize that even if the Bushes used The Long Count, that fact does preclude the possibility that Democrats, too, exercised it. Look at both sides, and not just in Florida.
The three-point Florida study outlined above would make an excellent political science master's thesis. And it might solve once and for all the mystery of did-he-or-didn't-he.
NOTE of February 12, 2017. On reading the above words, our regular readers no doubt experienced déjà vu all over again. I can assure you nothing paranormal was involved.
Except for the introduction, the post was originally published in its entirety on May 17, 2012 ("Is Freedom House Free?") I left it as-is because I could not find any fundamental reason to change it.
[i] A similar process took place in the 1988 presidential election in Mexico. The defrauded candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, and three researchers, José Barberán, Adriana Lopez Monjardín, and Jorge Zavala wrote an outstanding study, Radiografía del fraude (Editorial Nuestro Tiempo, Mexico, 1988). I interviewed three of the authors, including Cárdenas. When I informed him I was looking all over town for a copy of Radiografia, he laughed -- “and you couldn’t find it anywhere.” He called the publisher who set aside a copy.
José Barberán noted in a letter in 1989 that the truth “will eventually come out.” It did; today, nobody disputes that the PRI party stole the election. Given the present state of American scholarship and journalism, Bush need not fear the same outcome.
[ii] Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, November 7, 2000.
[iii] Brian Knowlton, "Exhausted Candidates in a Photo Finish," International Herald Tribune, November 8, 2000.
[iv] Florida has a history of prolonged ballot counts; hence the title of the article by John Vanocur, "Election may Seem Unusual, but in Some Ways It's Déjà vu All Over Again," International Herald Tribune, November 9, 2000.
I should note that I am an accredited expert witness on politics in federal court. If I were testifying in a lawsuit, I would say what you just read. I would also prepare the pertinent statistical exhibits.