Friday, May 16, 2014

Resurrecting the Lede: The New York Times on the F.C.C. and Net Neutrality

Yesterday (May 15th), the New York Times published a story by Edward Wyatt on the FCC’s “net neutrality” decision.  Here are the first two paragraphs of the story, and what I believe was the headline (See note below), as it appeared on the  NYT web site yesterday:
F.C.C. Votes to Move Ahead on Net Neutrality Plan
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes. 
While the rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data, they would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan, those considered net neutrality purists, argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against other content.
When I read this, I contributed the following comment (slightly edited):
This story is published in a seriously deceptive way. The headline and the first paragraph make it sound like the decision reinforces openness and equality, with language about "guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content."  Only when you read the second paragraph, after the introductory "while"--which actually means "in contradiction with what we just implied"--does the reader learn that the decision will "allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service," which means precisely that everyone else will be relegated to a slower lane, creating, ipso facto, "discriminat[ion] against legal content"! The headline could and should have read: "FCC Votes to Allow Internet Content Discrimination"!  Why did the NYT feel the need to present the case so misleadingly? 
When I went to write about this for the blog today, I found that the story had been substantively re-written, including the headline.* The article now begins like this:
F.C.C. Backs Opening Net Neutrality Rules for Debate
WASHINGTON — Federal regulators appear to share one view about so-called net neutrality: It is a good thing.
But defining net neutrality? That is where things get messy.
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to open for public debate new rules meant to guarantee an open Internet. Before the plan becomes final, though, the chairman of the commission, Tom Wheeler, will need to convince his colleagues and an array of powerful lobbying groups that the plan follows the principle of net neutrality, the idea that all content running through the Internet’s pipes is treated equally.
While the rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data, they would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan, those considered net neutrality purists, argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against other content.
Yesterday’s lead paragraph, with its flat claim that the FCC’s proposal is “aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet,” has been changed to a kind of “Well, ‘net neutrality’ means different things to different people” plaint.  This at least implicitly recognizes that the FCC’s claim that it’s working for net neutrality is not accepted by everyone. “Moving Ahead on Net Neutrality” also has significantly different implications than “Opening Net Neutrality Rules for Debate.”

Still, the article maintains the misleading and contradictory sentence that now begins the fourth paragraph.  This sentence, beginning with “While the rules,” contains, in its first clause, an assertion about what the rules “are meant” to do--prevent some data from being provided more slowly--that is proved false by the second clause, which states that the rules allow some data to be provided more quickly for a fee. The article then goes on to treat the idea that allowing paid fast lanes on the internet means actual discrimination in content delivery as if that idea were a peculiar conceit of net neutrality “purists.”

This is another example of the construction of a false ambiguity that complexifies a clear distinction—an ambiguity that pretends the point of the FCC’s proposed rules may not be what it obviously is.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, former cable industry lobbyist, is trying to approve a system of differential speeds of content delivery on the internet in order to provide cable and telecom companies with a new profit stream. That is the opposite of net neutrality. There’s no ambiguity or debate or mystery about this. 

Wheeler’s claim—namely, that such a system is “meant” to “guarantee an open internet” and preserve net neutrality—is not of equal credibility with the claim that the system he proposes will undermine net neutrality. The attempt to present these as equally compelling claims is an egregious example of the journalistic tactic of constructing a false equivalence in order to avoid identifying the weakness and mendacity of positions promoted by those who are powerful and respected.

You know, we must consider the idea that Republican Voter ID laws are “meant” to preserve the integrity of the vote as equally credible as the idea that they are meant to reduce voter turnout by disfavored populations.

I’d also ask: Should not the NYT acknowledge its re-write of the story? The paper very carefully acknowledges one edit: a change in the number of protesters cited in the article. But it gives no hint of the much more substantial re-write from the "earlier version," which changed the lede significantly.

All the news we print in fits.


Note

*Thus my uncertainty about the headline. The original story has been preserved on local news sites that picked up the NYT feed yesterday; some have the headline: “FCC votes to pursue net neutrality rules.” I cannot remember specifically, but the headline strongly suggested that the FCC had ratified net neutrality, as my comment to the NYT implies. See also the post on this at DailyKos.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sealed With A Kiss: Mabel and Kathleen Talk Armed Self-Defense



In a previous post (The Rifle on the Wall: A Left Argument for Gun Rights), I remarked that: “Only in the ridiculous political discourse of the United States, where Barack Obama is a “marxist" (or any kind of “leftist” at all) can citizens' right to gun ownership be considered a purely right-wing demand.”  I discussed how it was the Black Panthers who embraced gun rights forty-some years ago, much to the consternation of conservative Republicans, including California governor Ronald Reagan. And I mentioned how the Panthers themselves were inspired by Robert Williams, a North Carolina activist, whose book, Negroes With Guns, made the forceful case for armed resistance to racist oppression in the United States.

Robert Williams died in 1996, and Rosa Parks delivered a passionate eulogy. Mabel Williams, Robert’s amazing wife, outlived him for many years, continuing her own activism.  Mabel died on April 19th.

In the video clip below (about 10 minutes, see full discussion here), from a conference on “Self Respect, Self Defense & Self Determination” held in Oakland in 2004, you’ll see what a amazing woman she was, as she and Kathleen Cleaver discuss the issue of armed self-defense in the black community.  They talk about how Williams argued that an armed black community “reduced the level of violence,” since it forced murderous white racists “to make a calculation: are they willing to risk their superior life to take your inferior life.” They discussed how “all the black people had guns…It was just not even discussed. You had guns. ..If in fact they heard the Klan was going to ride, they would be prepared. There was no discussion. ” They stressed that, for black revolutionaries: “That was fundamental: the notion that people had to accept the responsibility for standing up for themselves.” 

You know, just a couple of gun nuts.

In this clip, Mabel starts out by describing how Robert’s radicalism was energized by the kind of incident that, we must (and don’t) remember, was completely ordinary in these United States. It was an incident that got Robert “accused ..of being a communist, of course,” since only communists would raise a fuss about such things. Mabel Williams tells us how the story of Robert Williams and Negroes With Guns began, as do many great stories, with a kiss:

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Good for the Gander:
Ukraine's Demise Accelerates

A further look at the Ukraine debacle, in seven pieces.

Montagueski and Capuletovitch
(Cool Photo. Remember what happened to Romeo and Juliet.)

Ukraine, Interrupted

“Ukraine” means “borderland,” and if there were ever a country suffering a borderline personality disorder—barely “keeping itself together,” as we say—it is Ukraine. Suddenly, it’s been deprived of its meds (discounted gas and other Russian-provided subsidies), and goaded into a schizophrenogenic family crisis (the American-sponsored overthrow of its elected government, resented by half the country).  After the maidan mania, came the Crimea depression, and now, it seems, rapid and radical decompensation.

Before the maidan winter games, if some in the country (Kiev “liberals”) were looking for the cure from Dr. America and Nurse NATO, standing by to treat the flailing patient with their straitjacket of austerity and electroshock-and-awe therapy, perhaps some are now realizing that these practitioners’ cures only increase the crazy.

Since my last detailed post, the Ukraine situation has indeed been devolving rapidly, both within the country and on the level of international geopolitics.  It’s hard to see where Ukraine is going—whether it will survive as a unified state at all (even sans Crimea), and it is hard to see how seriously the world will be riven by a “new Cold (or even hot) War.” American political and media discourse is now completely dominated by the “aggressive Russia/nasty Putin” meme, but it would be wise to look carefully at the different axes of major, and lesser-included subsidiary, contradictions to see the real web of tensions which the “new Cold War” narrative is designed to occlude.

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