Monday, May 23, 2016

Daily Links: Protesters Shot in Baghdad and NPR Gives Saudis a Pass

The Worst New Thing in the World Today
The situation in Iraq somehow managed to get worse over the weekend. Protesters, led by Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, once again rallied against the corrupt central government in Baghdad after another week of inaction. The protesters pushed their way into the fortified green zone, where the government offices are located. Unlike with past protests however, this one ended violently. Security forces reportedly responded with live ammunition, wounding dozens and possibly even killing some protesters according to some sources. This is one more scandal for a government that already has its share of problems, including struggling to confront ISIS, dealing with low oil prices, and the constant issue of corruption. Tough to say whether this will be a tipping point for the present regime, but things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Other Bad News
The US has rejected an apparently sincere proposal from Russia to collaborate on airstrikes against violent extremists in Syria. The primary excuse offered by the US is as predictable as it is misleading--that the Russians are focused on protecting Assad while the US is focused on attacking the Islamic State. Of course, the trouble here is that one of Assad's primary opponents is the Islamic State, so there's some natural overlap in the two objectives even if we take them at face value. Digging deeper, the unfortunate truth is that the other leading faction fighting Assad is allied with / led by Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's Syria franchise. This fact has led the US to weigh the competing policy objectives of overthrowing a dictator we dislike and fighting the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11. To most Americans, this probably would not seem like a tough call. In practice, however, the US can be found pursuing both objectives, depending on the day--occasionally conducting airstrikes against Al Qaeda, while also providing arms and training to groups allied with them.

The Silver Lining
Today's good news comes in the form of a gaffe by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Actually, perhaps calling it a gaffe is too generous; it wasn't a spontaneous remark but rather a premeditated campaign graphic that happened to make no sense. The Clinton campaign created a Venn Diagram that was supposed to communicate that an overwhelming majority of gun owners and Americans, support universal background checks. All they really communicated was that they don't know how Venn Diagrams work. Read Reason's enjoyable attempt to decipher the message if you're in the mood for a laugh.

If You Only Read One (More) Thing
Check out Daniel Larison's recent analysis of Saudi crimes in Yemen. In particular, Larison focuses on a recent interview that NPR featured with a Saudi official on the subject. The Saudi spokesman overtly lies in the interview, which NPR eventually dismisses it as a difference of opinion instead of actually correcting it. Larison also notes the failure of NPR to ask any hard-hitting questions or follow-ups in the rest of its interview. While he seems overly critical in some ways, the overall point is certainly correct.

It's worth reading alongside the original transcript, because it shows how ostensibly objective media organizations like NPR can subtly frame stories in ways that are favorable to the US and/or its allies.  This doesn't mean NPR is evil or that there's a conspiratorial effort by higher-ups at NPR to influence public opinion. Indeed, NPR tends to be better than most. That said, this piece is a helpful reminder that even "objective" journalism usually has a bias built-in. It's also why we believe that writers and commentators should declare their biases openly instead of pretending they don't exist.

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