Sinclair’s right-wing agenda troubling


By Don Corrigan

Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s plan to buy Chicago-based Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion has come under fire and there’s no shortage of local and national critics.

Criticism is also being directed at the FCC, which will violate its own rules for reining in monopoly media growth if commissioners seal the deal for Sinclair. In the St. Louis market, KDNL (Channel 30) is now owned by Sinclair and the purchase of Tribune would add KTVI (Channel 2) and KPLR (Channel 11) to its media stable.

On the national level, Sinclair’s plan would provide it with 233 television stations reaching 72 percent of American households. While the FCC has rules allowing a single company to reach no more than 39 percent of the nation’s households, the FCC is cutting corners with a “UHF discount.” This permits stations broadcasting on higher UHF frequencies to count only one-half their audience against the previous cap of 39 percent.

Opponents of the FCC action argue that the Trump FCC is disposed to bend the rules as a payback for Sinclair’s unflinching support of candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 election. They note that Sinclair provided its affiliates with admiring coverage of Republican Trump and critical coverage of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Among the national critics of the Sinclair takeover of Tribune are industry rivals such as cable companies, T-Mobile USA, American Cable Association and Dish Network LLC.

The American Television Alliance issued a statement noting that the FCC “giving Sinclair a pass on local ownership limits in cities like Seattle, St. Louis and Oklahoma City would all but guarantee more blackouts and higher prices for consumers in those markets.”

Dish Network followed suit with its own statement noting that “Sinclair’s pattern and practice have become a matter of record: buy a station, cut the local staff, move resources and decision-making to corporate headquarters, and let localism suffer… Sinclair’s recent earnings remove any lingering doubt over whether that pattern and practice will somehow abate with this acquisition.”

Industry opponents of the buyout also note that in markets such as Seattle, St. Louis, Portland, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, the new arrangement would give Sinclair an unfair advantage in courting advertisers. It could offer local advertisers discounted “multi-station buys” while punishing advertisers who place their messages with a local TV rival.

Politicizing News

As media industry opponents focus on monopoly practices, other critics are upset by an expansion of Sinclair with its propensity to use biased and fake news. Among these national critics are Common Cause, United Church of Christ, Free Press and well-known pundits and comedians from Robert Reed at the Chicago Tribune to John Oliver at HBO.

According to Free Press, liberal media watchdog, “Sinclair’s practice of forcing stations to promote an extreme conservative perspective and distorts local news actively threatens the well-being of marginalized communities across the nation, specifically communities of color and immigrants.”

Free Press added that the appearance of a quid pro quo arrangement between the Trump administration and Sinclair also raises concerns Sinclair is trading positive coverage for regulatory favors.  While Sinclair is welcome to an editorial viewpoint, it is not entitled to distort news coverage to those ends, or to extract tailor-made changes to FCC rules, according to Free Press.

Comedian John Oliver demolished the Sinclair deal and its news practices in a recent 19-minute segment of “Last Week Tonight.” Oliver took aim at a little-known company coming up with $4 billion to buy television outlets to politicize them, like FOX News. Oliver showed several examples of typical Sinclair broadcasts, which lean “noticeably conservative” and which are often conspiratorial in nature.

“If the opinions were confined to just the commentary or the ad breaks, that would be one thing,” said Oliver. “But Sinclair can sometimes dictate the content of your local newscasts as well, and in contrast to FOX News, a conservative outlet where you basically know what you’re getting, with Sinclair, they’re injecting FOX-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors, the two people who you know, and who you trust… You may not realize it’s happening,” Oliver warned, “because Sinclair and its digital news subsidiary, Circa, not only produce and send packages to their stations; they even write scripts that local anchors use to introduce the pieces.”

Oliver then showed local anchor after local anchor, across the country, using the exact same words to introduce a story about Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Although Flynn is one of the Trump associates caught up in the so-called “Russian collusion probe,” the Sinclair piece made it look as if he were the victim of a “personal vendetta” by a misguided FBI.

Oliver asked: Why is this being carried on local news? Why is the content so biased? Why is there no context about Flynn’s activities with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign?

Local Reaction

St. Louis County media activist Tom Flanagan said he fears no one is paying attention to what is about to happen in the Gateway City’s media market. He said clergy, unions and progressives need to raise their voices against a right-wing media machine that will come to dwarf the influence of FOX Cable News.

“I don’t think many in St. Louis are aware it’s happening,” said Flanagan. “There are so many attacks on rules and regulations which protect people and the environment now, it is just hard to keep up with it all.

“It is also happening so often that I see a feeling of apathy on issues like who controls the news media,” added Flanagan. “Issues of the day that seem to be more intensely felt are social ones like immigration, persecution of Muslims, race relations, LGBTQ discrimination and health-care coverage.”

Flanagan pointed out that fairness in reporting on any and all of these issues would be compromised by a Sinclair takeover with three of its 233 TV stations owned in St. Louis. This is why media ownership constitutes a sort of umbrella issue that all progressives should be concerned about, Flanagan said.

St. Louis area native Jeffrey Blevins, who now heads the journalism department at the University of Cincinnati, noted that Sinclair is known to be heavy-handed in its selection of news content, telling stations that certain segments (with a rightward bent) are “must runs” which takes the editorial decisions out of the hands of local station managers.

“Essentially, Sinclair promises to be a localized, and more insidious form of Fox Cable News after its acquisition of Tribune,” according to Blevins, and he added: “Consider the impact that Clear Channel had on radio broadcasting after it began gobbling up stations and replacing locally-produced public affairs programming with syndicated conservative talk shows, such as Rush Limbaugh.”

The issue of media monopoly in St. Louis and nationwide has long been a concern of Jessica Brown, founder of the Gateway Media Literacy Partners. She has taught media literacy at the university level for 14 years. She said the Sinclair takeover will result in fewer opportunities to bring new voices and diversity to television in the metro St. Louis market.

“Media literacy is a survival skill; a skill essential to the survival of democracy,” said Brown. “People need to study and to act. People underestimate the power of one, and the power of constant communication with station managers, producers, reporters. Speak up about missing voices in stories; or misinformation in news broadcasts.

“Get in touch with advertisers as well,” said Brown. “A good advertiser boycott campaign can work, especially via social media. I believe we need to talk to a variety of stakeholders: our neighbors; the groups we belong to; our local, state and national political representatives. Demand that our media environment remains open to the public and that a local community’s myriad voices be heard.  And, we also need to support alternative media.”


Algorithms monitor marketplace of ideas

By Fu Tao and William A. Babcock

Algorithms are pervasive in our daily lives. Every action we accomplish online could not be achieved without them.

As evidence, simply quickly thumb through New York Times articles from this year and you will easily find coverage on how algorithms are designed to complete tasks that had not been under our radar before. Using algorithms, cosmetics are customized to each consumer’s skin tone. Algorithm-driven chatbots, an application of artificial intelligence at a low-level, are used by customer companies such as Domino’s for customers’ orders or inquiries. Sensors, equipped with algorithms, detect the change of heart beat, eye movement and body temperature of drivers to provide “drowsy” warnings.

And of course there are other more well-known applications of algorithms such as those used by search engines to make ranking decisions.

Algorithms have also been used in journalism and the media industry. Konstantin Dörr, a media researcher at the University of Zurich, refers to the former as Algorithmic Journalism. The task of generating automated reports is realized by bots. An Internet bot, or simply “bot,” as a nickname for a software robot, is a software application doing automated, sometimes repetitive, jobs based on artificial intelligence. Some also call this software-generated, no-human-intervention stories robo-journalism.

In early 2014, the Los Angeles Times ran a story online of an earthquake that hit the Los Angeles area eight minutes after it had happened. But the story contained a footnote — “This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author,” according to Atlantic magazine. This early report about earthquakes was automatically generated based on a pre-written template by a bot designed by Ken Schwencke, a Los Angeles Times journalist and database producer.

In 2014, the Associated Press announced its use of a news-writing bot called Wordsmith, for short U.S. corporate earnings stories. Wordsmith’s algorithm could spot trends in data and choose appropriate words to formulate reports featuring the AP style. Last year, the AP expanded its use of artificial intelligence to its coverage of Minor League Baseball games.

The AP is not alone in journalistic automation. According to Nieman Reports, the New York Times, ProPublica, Forbes, Yahoo, and Oregon Public Broadcasting all use algorithms to generate reports on business, sports, education, public safety, and earthquake impacts, to be exact.

The New York Times also developed a content marketing bot called Blossom to help its social media editors decide which stories might be trending on Facebook among the 300 stories it publishes everyday. In 2016, Heliograf, the Washington Post’s bot, made its first debut at the Rio Olympics churning out scores and schedules of the matches.

The list of writing bots by some major U.S. news organizations includes:

News Organization Launched in Bot’s Name Purpose Developer
Los Angeles Times 2014 Quakebot Earthquake Ken Schwencke
 Associated Press 2014 Wordsmith Business Automated Insights
New York Times 2015 Blossom Content marketing The NYT
 Washington Post 2016 Heliograf Sports The Post

Algorithms per se are supposedly neutral as they are the specified sequences of logical operations based on mathematics and statistics, designed to offer solutions. That said, last year saw algorithms for social media go out of control.

Tay, Microsoft’s chatbot, cutely designed to engage American millenials, was expected to learn from conversations over time. Trolls at 4chan, however, deliberately took advantage of Tay’s vulnerability in design and taught her to tweet racist and genocidal slurs hours after launching, according to Microsoft’s blog. Microsoft thus had to shut her down, made a public apology, and promised to keep her offline till algorithmic problems are solved.

Facebook, which had some 1.94 billion monthly active users worldwide as of the first quarter of this year, has received criticism on its algorithm for Trending, a service added in 2014 providing users a personalized list of popular topics. A National Public Radio report showed some Facebook users complained the Women’s March, a protest involving about 1 million people, did not show up in their Trending topics.

Monitoring claims of fake news

But the most disastrous criticism Facebook received during last year’s presidential election was trending fake news. A most recent Guardian report stated even after Facebook adopted the initiative to flag possible fake news with the help of users and third-party fact-checkers, it proved ineffective. Facebook’s news feed algorithm was also cast in doubt for possibly suppressing news representing conservative views, though Facebook denied the algorithm bias.

News aggregators such as Google News and Reddit use algorithms for customized news recommendations. In Reddit, factors affecting whether a post will appear on the front page include shares, keywords, number of up-votes or down-votes received, timing of submission and the amount of contacts.

Still, there are concerns algorithms may result in trending polarized opinions that create filter bubbles, a concept raised by Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy, a website for “meaningful” viral content, to refer to the “personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms.”

While one of the goals of journalism is to provide a marketplace of ideas, it appears the door to this marketplace increasingly is being guarded by an algorithm doorkeeper. But this begs the question: Since human beings have created algorithms, isn’t it disingenuous to place blame on the technology itself and not on its creators?

Who’s watching the watchdog?

In his article, “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”, Engin Bozdag, Privacy by Design Lead at Philips, the Netherlands, writes human beings are the designers of algorithms and they can manually affect results of algorithms. When Facebook fired its human editors whose duties had been writing descriptions for Trending stories and manually adding news to Trending to ensure diversity and inclusiveness, fake news about Fox News host Megyn Kelly was kicked out for endorsing Hillary Clinton immediately trended.

But as GJR has reported in the past, there are fewer media watchdogs any longer monitoring the marketplace of ideas. The New York Times recently terminated the position of public editor (also called readers’ representative or ombudsman), claiming the position is now superfluous. Other U.S. newspapers had also eliminated this position. Nor are there any longer any news or press councils, citywide or national, left in America. Few news organizations have media reporters or editors, and most “media critics” have gone the way of the dodo bird. And media organizations that even still have media ethics codes are hard pressed to even find them.

With the media’s ethics toolbox all but empty, algorithms, and those who create and monitor them, have become one of the very few arbiters of what’s any longer right or truthful or responsible or fair in the media. That’s scary.

Last year the National Science and Technology Council released the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, providing the guide for future artificial intelligence research and design. One of the strategies is to understand and address the ethical, legal and societal implications of AI. The Plan warns that “many concerns have been voiced about the susceptibility of data-intensive AI algorithms to error and misuse, and the possible ramifications for gender, age, racial, or economic classes.”

Algorithm-driven AI clearly is the trend, and journalism and the media industry are following — and often leading — this trend. Accordingly, it is time to add more ethical reconsideration to the design and use of algorithms in the news and mass media industry.

Trump’s attack on black athletes in light of St. Louis’ civil rights protests


by William H. Freivogel

President Trump says his insistence NFL players stand for the national anthem brings Americans together. He claims race has nothing to do with his criticism of the black athletes.

Yet Trump’s Twitter tirade has divided Americans on what the flag and national anthem represent and what constitutes true patriotism. Moreover, race has everything to do with the president’s singling out black athletes and his insistence that team owners fire them for their uppity behavior.

Trump is not the first president to use the American flag or race as wedge issues. But he is the first president to regularly use his bully pulpit to bully American citizens who displease him.

Trump’s “Twitter War” on black athletes is occurring at a time when St. Louisans are protesting police brutality, when the nation is celebrating the Little Rock 9 and when PBS is broadcasting a definitive history of the Vietnam War. Echoes of strife and racial injustice from half a century ago reverberate through today’s events.

Today’s civil rights protests are reminders of protests and police abuse during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when most Americans approved of police beating demonstrators with nightsticks.

They’re reminders of a time when veteran white journalists and politicians admonished Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. against the March on Washington, predicting mayhem in the streets would damage prospects for the Civil Rights Act.

They’re reminders of times when journalists and politicians failed to differentiate between violent and non-violent protests.

They’re reminders of a time when a white woman with a kindly face could spit in the face of a young black student seeking an education in Little Rock.

They’re reminders of a time when another president used patriotism and flag-waving to mobilize his Hard Hat supporters in the Silent Majority against young anti-war protesters.

They’re reminders of a time when those who opposed the Vietnam War were viewed as unpatriotic, even though they thought patriotism required them to challenge their country when it was wrong.

Who owns the flag and patriotism?

Trump says a football player taking a knee during the national anthem makes that athlete a “son of a bitch,” unpatriotic and disrespectful of the military.

But since when do the flag and the National Anthem belong only to flag-wavers and the military? Since when do they represent only those Americans who salute? Don’t these national symbols also represent the dissenters, the protesters, the war critics, and, yes, even those who burn the flag in protest?

Bob Costas, the sports broadcaster who got a start in St. Louis, put it well.

“This is no disrespect to the military,” he said. “Martin Luther King was a patriot. Susan B. Anthony was a patriot. Dissidents are patriots. School teachers and social workers are patriots. Patriotism comes in many forms and what has happened is that it’s been conflated with a bumper sticker-style kind of flag-waving and with the military only, so that people cannot see that in his own way Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing. And so too are some of these other players.”

Nothing to do with race?

Despite the White House claim the president’s tweets have nothing to do with race, Kaepernick has explicitly said he is protesting the mistreatment of African-Americans and people of color by predominantly white police forces.

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions may think there is no problem with the way police treat minority communities, but events in St. Louis show otherwise.

For almost two weeks protesters have demonstrated against a judge’s decision to acquit former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley of murder in the death of African-American suspect Anthony Lamar Smith. They also have demonstrated against the larger issues of racial injustice that have long persisted in this land of Dred Scott.

The judge may have been legally justified in concluding there was “reasonable doubt” of Stockley’s guilt on the murder charge, just as a grand jury may have been legally correct in deciding not to prosecute Officer Darren Wilson for the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. After all, it is a victory for civil rights when the judicial system protects the liberty of someone scorned in the streets.

Still, both police killings and the way the militarized police violated the First Amendment rights of citizens and journalists during the ensuing protests show there are much bigger civil rights issues at stake — that St. Louis and the nation have a long way before achieving equality.

Too many times police escalate confrontations with suspects as Stockley did during the high-speed chase through St. Louis streets, as Wilson did in stopping Brown for jaywalking, as New York police did with the deadly choke-hold on Eric Garner for selling illegal cigarettes and as Cleveland police did when they killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he held a starter pistol in a park.

And too many times police, in responding to mostly peaceful civil-rights protests, ignore the rights of people to protest in public places. The “kettling,” or herding of protesters in downtown St. Louis on the Sunday after the not-guilty verdict, was a blatant example of St. Louis police officers defiantly violating the constitutional rights of protesters. Police failed to warn non-violent demonstrators they were involved in an illegal assembly, instead surrounding them, refusing to let them leave the area and then using chemical agents while arresting them.

If the Justice Department were doing its job — as it did during the Obama administration — it would have launched a “pattern or practice” investigation of St. Louis police practices. The Obama Justice Department’s investigation of Ferguson police and municipal courts found long-standing and egregiously unconstitutional practices.

The Justice Department has the power and responsibility to conduct this kind of police investigation as a result of a law passed because of the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. But Sessions and Trump are not enforcing the law.

The pattern and practice of the Trump presidency is undeniable: From the Obama birther claim, to branding illegal immigrants as rapists, to pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to equivocation in the face of Nazis and white supremacists, to a demand that ESPN fire a black commentator, to the weekend war on black athletes.

Perhaps Colin Kaepernick has a patriotic point to make when he kneels on the field to bring attention to America’s unfulfilled promise.

The view from China

By Lu Fan

Chinese media think that U.S. and South Korean media are inaccurately framing relations between China and North Korea as China acting as big brother to the North. This inaccurate framing results in an expectation that China will take an important role in controlling North Korea’s nuclear program. It’s called “China’s responsibility theory.”

The basis for reasons for the theory is:

  • Korea even pledged allegiance to some feudal dynasties in China in history
  • In 1950s, China sent troops to the Korean peninsula to support Pyongyang against the United States Army.
  • China remains North Korea’s biggest trading partner. According to Observatory of Economic Complexity, 85 percent of North Korea’s imported commodities come from China.

However, this is not what Chinese government or its official media think. A commentary in Global Times on Sept. 7, a newspaper launched and published by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of Chinese Communist Party, said the influence China has on North Korea has been mistakenly exaggerated, and that playing a leading role in the Korean Peninsula issues is beyond China’s capability.

“North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapon is the result of the abnormal politics of the whole Northeastern Asian. North Korea itself and the U.S. are responsible for this result. Some Chinese overestimate the power of China…” However, a reader commented below the article: “Since China has chosen to let North Korea be independent on how to develop, then China has to accept the consequence of doing so.”

Another commentary in this newspaper published in July said “the U.S. and South Korea always try to frame the complicated situation based on their own logic, ” so “China’s responsibility theory” prevails. The commentary also called for official guidance on public opinions to eliminate “China’s responsibility theory” as Chinese government usually guide and shape public opinion by publishing information and reporting on official media.

A program called Chinese Perspective (Shendu Guoji) of CCTV, the state-run TV station in China, also made a similar point in March when South Korea and the U.S. were conducting joint military exercises. The program blamed the U.S. for forcing North Korea to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and later prepare for war.   The editor of the program said, “The more pressure the U.S. puts on North Korea, the more North Korea develops nuclear weapons. The Korean nuclear crisis has entered a vicious cycle,” and cited Hua Chunying, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The cause and crux of the North Korean nuclear issue lies not with China, but with America. The nature of the North Korean nuclear issue is a North Korea/U.S. conflict… and the one who caused the problem should solve it.”

The editor of Chinese Perspective also says the current situation is a result of “extreme mutual distrust between the U.S. and North Korea.” The initiative to solve the problems is in the hand of the U.S., according to Teng Jianqun, director of the Institute of U.S. Studies at the China Institute of International Studies.   According to Teng, the U.S. wouldn’t sign the peace treaty because “it would not have the excuse to cause chaos, stir up trouble and create tensions” on the Korean peninsula.

There were a few dissents to this consensus view. Qiu Zhenhai, an analyst of Hong Kong Phoenix TV Station, said on Sept. 7 that the U.S. and China need to take responsibility for solving the nuclear issue as they are the two largest economic powers in the world.

To respond to North Korea’s possessing and launching nuclear weapons, South Korea deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system. China has opposed deployment of Thadd in South Korea from the very beginning, saying it threatened the safety of China and Chinese people. China News Live, a program of Hong Kong Phoenix TV Station, reported that China regards North Korea developing nuclear weapons as extreme, but the deployment of Thaad is as extreme as North Korea because it threatens the peace of Korean Peninsula. Yang Xiyu, a member of China Institute of International Studies, said in an interview in China New Live that Thaad gives North Korea an excuse to launch missiles, which is a security threat to China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. as well as the Sino-U.S. cooperation on North Korea nuclear issue.

A commentary of Global Times in August refers the action of South Korea deploying Thaad as reckless and stupid because Thaad isn’t going to solve nuclear problem. It also says that Western countries always bear moral arrogance towards non-Western world, which needs to be restrained because the situation is not as simple as only NK did something wrong.

Social media in—entertainment, fear and censorship

Before North Korea’s missile launch Sept. 3, Chinese social media users considered Kim Jung-un’s missile launch a threat only in words. Many social media users had joked that such news about Trump and Kim fighting in words should be moved to entertainment section.

However, things changed Sept. 3. At first, most mainstream media reported that an earthquake happened in North Korea. About nine hours later, CCTV published on Weibo, a Twitter-like social networking site in China, that North Koreans were conducting nuclear missile test according to Chinese government’s preliminary judgment.

According to the BBC, the popular social networking site Weibo and mobile APP Wechat (Chinese version of WhatsApp) were highly censored after the launch. Weibo users still cannot see any results if searching for the word “hydrogen bomb” on Weibo until this GJR newsletter is posted. Instead, they see a notice of “according to relative law, regulation and policy, the search results of ‘’ are not shown.”

But Weibo users still find a way to express their feelings. One of the users “Yaoguangxiao_wayne” posted on Sept. 5: “As a Chinese, one of the surviving skills is to sort out the truth from various life-concerning but paradox information from authoritative sources. Since the day before yesterday (Sept 3), (the official media) have been deleting posts and announce that the test has no influence on China while publishing such information via the Weather Bureau…” The information this user refers to is that Chinese Weather Bureau announced they had started an emergency security alert and warned of a burst of nuclear environment pollution, suggesting an emergency plan for members of the public to protect themselves.

Chinese Weather Bureau announced on Sept. 10 they had withdrawn such an alert after they had tested the air and found nothing dangerous.   However, many users left comments below this post that they do not believe the Weather Bureau’s claim that there was nothing dangerous.

South Koreans more worried about U.S. and Trump than North Korean nuclear threat

By Jin Lee

If you Google, South Korea and Seoul are listed as two of the safest countries and cities in the world. That South Korea is the safest country is sharply contrasted with the images of the Korean Peninsula, as described recently by the media in both the United States and around the world. Although North Korea has been a big headache to the U.S. since the Cold War, the nuclear threat of North Korea became more intense lately, especially since President Donald Trump took office.

It is true North Korea’s nuclear testing appears improved enough to threaten the U.S. The missile launched late in August traveled some 1,700 miles and flew over the Japanese territory. Time magazine said, given the distance and type of the missile, the recent test shows North Korea is targeting the U.S. territory of Guam. Indeed, North Korea stated it is “examining a plan” to strike Guam with missiles, hours after Trump warned the North in early August that any threat to the U.S. would face “fire and fury.”

This situation is translated as a “crisis” on the entire Korean Peninsula by both the U.S. and international news media. The frequently appearing news coverage on the Peninsula is heightening the world’s attention and fear as the headlines of major news agencies demonstrate. For instance: “Putin warns of ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea” (CNN, Sept. 5), “Trump renews threat of force against North Korea over nuclear weapons” (Washington Post, Sept. 8), “Trump: ‘Sad day’ for North Korea if U.S. takes military action” (Reuters, Sept. 8).

However, media in South Korea show the situation in a different light, as “the crisis” is not perceived as provocations of the North and thus fail to draw attention by South Korean citizens. On Aug. 29, when North Korea confirmed the “success” of a ballistic missile test, the most read news stories on South Korean portal websites, Naver and Daum, were “Gangseo District residents (in Seoul) disagreement over a planned special education school for disabled children,” “South Korea spy agency admits attempting to rig 2013 presidential election for the conservative party,” “Hurricane Harvey resulted from global warming,” and weather news. News about the nuclear threat from North Korea’s missile test was located below these and other national news stories and South Koreans saw little news of North Korea’s nuclear tests.

On Twitter on that day, South Korean users massively tweeted about “a clear sky signaled the arrival of the fall in Korea” while sarcastically but rarely mentioning the missile test. South Korea’s fall sky, while clear, is difficult to see due to air pollution from China. One tweet was retweeted more than 41,000 times, saying:

“N.K.: Missile launched! East Sea, passed! Japan, passed!

Japan: OMG, what’s going on? Military provocation? War?

S.K.: Wow, such a fall sky today”

The number of retweets of this tweet demonstrates while South Koreans know about North Korea’s testing, they are not alarmed and see it simply as “old” news.

In U.N. speech on September 19, Trump threatens “to totally destroy North Korea” calling Kim Jong Un as “rocket man.” South Korean newspapers translate it into Korean in their online news articles. One comment on the news article on the Web amounted 1,865 likes within four hours, said, “Is this correct translation? Don’t mistranslate and write news overreacting. I am more scared by journalism that provokes fear and plays on South Koreans than by North Korea’s nuclear threat.”

When Trump tweeted “Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad” on September 17, major South Korean news agencies mistranslated: “A long gas pipe line is formed in North Korea now. Regretful.” Then news continues, “This tweet seems to show Trump’s opinion opposed to President Moon’s discussion of an idea to connect gas pipe lines through South Korea, North Korea, and Russia in Moon’s last visit in Russia. The point is made that Trump’s tweet may criticize South Korea attempting to enhance economic cooperation with North Korea through negotiations with Russia, an ally of North Korea. Given that Trump tweet mentions a call with President Moon, there is a chance Trump might have delivered his opinions directly to President Moon.”

Major news agencies in South Korea are undergoing journalists’ protests, being accused of news managers’ interference in news coverage in favor of the previous government (President Lee, President Park) and Korean conservative party (Liberty Korea Party) after the center-left party Democratic Party won 2017 presidential election and became the ruling party.

Reasons for this lack of concern are varied. One might blame political indifference of young generations or one might blame the characteristic of Twitter as one of the new media where “soft news” is more consumed than “hard news” as users are free to say anything at any moment. Too, there are other explanations for indifference or sarcasm toward North Korea’s missile tests, which are found on new media, such as Twitter, Facebook and other online sites.

While some South Korean traditional media talk about a possible scenario of North Korea’s attack on the South, implying a need to strengthen the army, scholars and international news agencies point out that North Korea targets the U.S., not South Korea. The size of the Korean Peninsula, some 87,270 square miles, is about one-half the size of California. Given this, North Korea’s attempt to broaden the range of its missile is not seen by most media here as targeting the South. South Korean citizens acknowledge this, and thus show little interest in do the North’s missile tests.

In addition, North Korea has repeatedly made such threats over the years as there have been a number of such tests since the end of the Korean War. Tests of missiles have often been covered by “old” media when South Korea’s congress or government needs to conceal something. The most recent example is the corruption scandal of the former President Park. When the scandal began to be revealed, the government and conservative party (majority then) played the North Korea card to distract people’s attention by focusing on security.

However, South Koreans no longer seem to buy this idea. Thus, when the political scandal was exposed, on many online sites and new media South Korean users predicted the missile tests of the North would be performed, and thus covered by the government and news. And that’s what happened. The next day, the North’s missile test took place and the South Korean government and congress used a familiar script in addressing its population: “Dear South Korean citizens. The threat of the North Korean nuclear issue becomes more intense. However, this is the time for us to hold our hands together and push through today’s difficulties…” As this script has been repeated so many times in past years, news of the North Korean missile testing was simply dismissed by most South Koreans.

In recent weeks in South Korea there have been critiques of the Trump administration on Facebook, Twitter and the Internet. One Twitter example said “Trump or Bush? They are just same. Terrify people, evoke fear by repeating North Korea. Trump will try to sell weapons, as always.” Similar rhetoric has frequently appeared in many posts on South Korean Facebook, Twitter and in online news.

Predicted on tweets, three days after North Korea’s missile test, Trump tweeted, “I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.” A number of South Korean tweets followed, with people swearing and saying, “I knew it; this was the plan.”

Hong-gul Kim, son of Kim Dae-Jung (the 15th president of South Korea), posted his tweet, “Trump is making every effort to take advantage of this nuclear crisis of North Korea as a chance for selling the weapon.”

Reports from some South Korean news agencies criticized the U.S. Seoul Sinmun, for example, asked in early September, “Trump’s outright pressure on us to buy weapon. Is there a deal going on between South Korea and the U.S.?”

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, South Korea is a major consumer of U.S. weapons, and, the U.S. government sent about $10 billion worth of weapons to foreign countries in 2016. It has long been reported here that the U.S. exerts pressure on South Korea to purchase “high priced but low quality” American weapons.

First Amendment expert calls Post-Dispatch editorial on protests ‘irresponsible’ and imprecise

Publisher’s note:  Gregory Magarian, one of the nation’s leading First Amendment experts and a professor at Washington University Law School, criticized the Sunday Post-Dispatch editorial for irresponsibly lumping together violent and non-violent protests.  He sent this letter to the Post-Dispatch Editorial Editor Tod Robberson after the editorial criticized actions of protesters following the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley. Magarian says Robberson replied “We stand by the editorial as written.” Here is a link to the editorial and the text of Magarian’s letter.

Mr. Robberson,

I teach constitutional law at the Washington University School of Law. I specialize in First Amendment law. Two of the topics that most concern me are the freedom of the press and rights of public protest. (Being a law professor I talk too much, so I apologize in advance for the length of this message.)

With the utmost respect, I think your editorial today (Sunday) on the protests and violence this weekend (“Making sense of senseless protest violence”) was wildly irresponsible. I agree with some parts of the editorial and disagree with others, but my sharp concern goes to one particular problem: treating nonviolent protesters and violent actors as an undifferentiated mass. That approach demonizes nonviolent protesters and contributes to a growing culture in our country of hostility to free speech. A newspaper, of all entities, should know better.

Let me get two important caveats out of the way:

First, I agree without reservation that the violence and vandalism that happened this weekend are entirely wrong. My purpose here is to defend the actions of nonviolent protesters, not to condone or excuse violence in any way. (I live a block from the mayor’s house, so I’m acutely hostile toward the people who committed violence in my own neighborhood.)

Second, I don’t mean to suggest that the bad practice I’m criticizing is unusual to the P-D. In fact, the problem is endemic to media coverage of public protest. I’m writing to you because, like most people, I have special concern for my city and its institutions.

The reality of public protests, which I’m sure you know at least as well as I do, is that a lot of different people and factions participate in a variety of different actions. Most mass protests are carefully organized, with articulated goals. At the other extreme, usually at night, different elements with their own agendas get involved. In particular, two groups with violent intent come out at night: anarchist-black bloc-antifa types, whose m.o. is to hijack protests with their own more violent methods, and knuckleheads (for want of a better term) who have no political agenda but just want to break things.

The nonviolent protesters bear no responsibility — none — for the actions of violent actors. I suspect that the majority of violent actors don’t even participate in nonviolent protests, though I can’t prove that suspicion. In any event, to blame violence on the nonviolent protesters is a very dangerous kind of guilt by association. Ah, you might respond, but the nonviolent protesters create the context in which the violent actors can do bad things. In a way that’s true, but it proves far too much. By that logic, any public protest is wrong.

Imagine if the P-D broke a major corruption story about a public official. Your reporters sourced the story well and published only those allegations and claims for which they could find a solid basis. The story creates a major buzz in the city. Other, less responsible media outlets, exploiting the public anger at the official that the P-D’s reporting has triggered, publish egregious charges against the official that those other outlets know are false. The official, in response, sues the P-D for libel. That lawsuit, of course, would be indefensible.

Your editorial today is a direct parallel.

You acknowledge that Friday’s daytime protests were “mostly peaceful.” Even in talking about those protests, though, you make no effort to distinguish the protesters who remained peaceful from the individuals who committed violent acts. You say “bricks and water bottles were hurled.” That passive voice is a cop-out. It implies that the “mostly peaceful” protest degenerated into the hurling of bricks and bottles. But we know that’s not what happened. “The protest” wasn’t a single, concerted phenomenon. The clergy and community organizers who engineered the major protest didn’t decide, at some point, to start throwing bricks. Most people on that street started peaceful and stayed peaceful. A much smaller number of people threw bricks bottles. Those are two very different groups of actors. They aren’t all simply “the protesters” engaged in “the protests.”

The problem gets worse as the editorial goes on. Here’s the passage that really bothers me:  “Some protesters have said they plan to attack symbols of commerce and inflict discomfort on the comfortable. Even if they rationalize property destruction as legitimate protest, why attack the mayor’s house?”

I tried to follow the first hyperlink in that passage, to see exactly what you were referencing, but the link is dead, so I have to work from my knowledge and assumptions. Protest organizers have indeed said they intend to “attack symbols of commerce and inflict discomfort,” if by “attack” you mean “disrupt.” That’s a core strategy of these protests and of the Black Lives Matter movement more broadly. You then accuse these disruption organizers of “rationaliz[ing] property destruction as legitimate protest.”

I’m having a hard time finding words to describe how much that bothers me. I don’t know of any disruption organizers who have rationalized violence. The organizers explicitly portray the disruption strategy as nonviolent — aggressive, for sure, but getting in someone’s way isn’t property destruction. However, even if some disruption organizer has rationalized violence, your “they” implies that all disruption organizers have done so. Then the passage’s second “attack” clearly refers to the vandalism of the mayor’s house. At that point, you’re portraying the architects of the disruption strategy and the vandals who physically attacked the mayor’s home as the same people.

Unless you have evidence of those linkages (which in that event you should publish), they fail every standard I’m aware of for responsible journalism.

Why does this matter? A few days ago, a KMOV reporter interviewed me about the recent incident in Kirkwood when a motorist plowed into some protesters ahead of the Stockley verdict. She wanted me to talk about the permissible conduct of drivers who encounter protests that block streets. The core of what I said was: If you’re a driver, you don’t get to run anybody down, even if they’re unlawfully blocking your way. The online version of the KMOV story got a lot of heated reactions from our fellow citizens who insisted that they of course have every right to run down protesters who block the road, and by God they’ll run those bastards down if they want to.

The right and the ability to protest publicly are crucial to a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, as that little anecdote indicates, a lot of people have an irrational hatred for protesters. (Note also the spate of recent state legislative proposals to restrict public protest in various ways.) By conflating nonviolent protesters and violent actors, the P-D (and other media outlets) feeds that irrational hatred.

I respectfully urge you and the P-D’s news and editorial departments to do better. Describe protests more accurately and precisely. Emphasize the presence in and around protests of different actors with different agendas. Identify, to the extent possible, which people and groups say and do which things in the course of protests. Emphasize not just that a day’s aggregate activities were “mostly peaceful” but that most protesters that day were entirely peaceful. Report and describe nonviolent actions with as much detail as you report violent actions. Basically, do what you usually do so well — help the public understand what’s actually going on.

Thank you for hearing me out.
Greg Magarian

The view from Taiwan

by Wen-Hung Hsieh and Shu-Ling Wu

The end of WWII led to the split of many regions in Asia. Today, the division between North and South Korea and the complexity of the situation between China and Taiwan remain two of the most pressing issues perplexing countless Asia experts. And with North Korea’s nuclear detonation in early September, the largest such to date, the situation is more tense than ever before.

North Korea and Taiwan, despite their differing political ideologies nevertheless share common ground. They are both being isolated by the international community while also being intricately connected to the United States, China and Japan. The vastly different ideologies of North Korea and Taiwan have resulted in North Korea being grouped with China while Taiwan is constantly seeking U.S. and Japanese involvement. So how does Taiwan look at the escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea?

U.S. options

On August 29, at roughly 6 a.m. local time, an abrupt missile warning from Japan’s government shocked and frightened the Japanese society. North Korea launched a missile over Japan that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. According to CNN, the launch may have been a strong message in response to the joint South Korean-American military exercises. In the wake of this incident, U.S. President Donald Trump warned North Korea that “all options are on the table.” Due to Taiwan’s unique political situation, the media in Taiwan show diverging opinions with regards to the U.S.’s responses and solutions to the military threats from North Korea.

New Taiwan Refueling, a popular talk show hosted by Liao Xiao-jun of the SET News Channel, reported the U.S. could easily stop any attack should North Korea strike at American territory.  SET has asserted the U.S. is ready to fend off North Korean missiles aimed at Guam, and any attack directed at U.S. soil would justify a full-fledged retaliation, potentially resulting in the end of the current North Korean regime.  Nonetheless, an expert of missile engineering Zhang Cheng, said the U.S. offers an alternative for Pyongyang, which is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for the stability of the regime.  The talk show emphasized that the U.S. — and the Trump administration —had the power in control of the hostile situation in the Pacific.

On the other hand, another talk show, Deep Throat News, hosted by Ping Xiu-lin of Chung T’ien Television, presented a different perspective on U.S. options in the face of North Korean threats. This talk show strongly questioned America’s role as the protector of its allies in the Pacific by basing its argument on how the U.S. had responded to the new missile-testing over Japan. An invited expert on domestic and international affairs, Lai Yue-qian, said the U.S. apparently had not kept its promise to shoot down North Korean missiles flying across Japan’s territory. He claimed the anti-missile system, Patriot PAC-3, deployed in Japan and the recently deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System in South Korea, might not have the capability to intercept North Korean missiles at altitudes above 500 kilometers, which is beyond the range of interception for both anti-missile systems deployed by America in Japan and South Korea.

The talk show also suggested that had the U.S. attempted to intercept the missile and failed, it would seriously have affected the U.S.’s selling of the anti-missile systems to other nations. Furthermore, Tainan City Councilor Xie Long-jie said that with the Trump administration’s focus on America’s own domestic economy, going head to head with North Korea would not be in the U.S.’s best interests. However, Gao Si-buo, an associate professor of the Department of Law at Shih Hsin University, argued that the only option left for the U.S. is to accept North Korea as a nuclear power in the same way countries as are America, India and Pakistan, and to seek a diplomatic means to keep peace with North Korea.

Taiwan’s stance

At the August Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue in Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan is committed to its partners on a coordinated response to the instability in the Korean Peninsula through efforts such as economic sanctions on North Korea. Under Tsai’s administration, siding with the U.S. and Japan on issues regarding North Korea is aligned with her attempts in seeking partnerships with other nations to gain global recognition.

Tsai’s response has to do with Taiwan’s politically ambiguous status where Taiwan is neither a country nor controlled by China and therefore has been marginalized from world events. However, Tsai’s inclination to work with the U.S. and Japan is controversial. Storm Media Group in Taiwan, for instance, published a recent article criticizing such an approach to gain global recognition.

According to the article, this is not Taiwan’s first time being actively involved in a global crises in order to be recognized as a nation. Taiwan, for example, volunteered to send troops to assist the U.S. with the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Such attempts were never formally acknowledged by the U.S. The article’s author, Chen Zong-yi, said endangering Taiwan’s own safety in exchange for global recognition is unwise as demonstrated by Taiwan’s being targeted by terrorist groups as a result of supporting the U.S. with logistics in the Iraq War.

While Taiwan enjoys a high degree of freedom in news reporting, both the media and government examine international issues with their own interests and unique international status in mind. And the way they approach the U.S.-North Korea tension is no exception.


Authors’ note:

Wen-Hung Hsieh is a PhD student of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is currently researching topics regarding the relationship between materiality and issues of identity, with the primary focus on China, Taiwan and Japan.

Shu-Ling Wu is Assistant Professor of Chinese at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She enjoys teaching Chinese language and culture courses and aims to cultivate experts who can contribute to the exchanges and dialogues between the East and the West.  

This isn’t funny


by William H. Freivogel

My nephew, a lawyer, said recently that President Trump is hilarious. The press falls right into Trump’s trap by taking him too seriously, he said.

A few days later, my tennis partner, another lawyer, said the same thing. The press takes Trump’s tweets too literally, he said.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, wrote last week that the press has easily fallen into its assigned role in the Trump reality show by playing the part of the Evil Empire.

And last Friday, the conservative commentator on NPR’s weekly review of the news defended one of the worst weeks of the Trump presidency with peals of laughter. John Phillips of the Orange County Register said cheerfully,  “I love the speeches. And I love the Twitter feed because it’s just this never-ending festivious airing of the grievances. And look…He ran as a disruptor. He ran as a guy who was going to…drain the swamp.”

Maybe Trump would seem funny, in some crude way, if he were still a blowhard TV celebrity rather than a blowhard president occupying the most serious job on the planet — the one that protects nuclear codes and the values of what Reagan called a Shining City upon a Hill.

But last week Trump continued his unfunny war on the press, the rule of law and the principle of equality that American patriots declared as the reason to fight the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

He did all of these things in one stroke by pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been found guilty of criminal contempt after he ignored the Bill of Rights, defied the federal courts, persecuted Latinos and arrested journalists.

Pardoning Arpaio is an apt reminder of Trump’s glaring deficiencies as president.  Arpaio:

  • joined Trump in the racist, untrue birther movement to delegitimize the nation’s first black president.
  • joined Trump in calling for a border wall to keep out Mexicans.
  • ignored the orders of federal courts telling the sheriff to stop violating the Constitution by rounding up Latinos on nothing more than suspicion. Trump saw nothing wrong with the way Sheriff Joe did his job.

Former Sen. John C. Danforth, the founder of the modern Republican Party in Missouri, put Trump in his place in a Washington Post op-ed last week, saying Trump is the antithesis of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln.

Danforth wrote, “We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, and our founding principle is our commitment to holding the nation together… Lincoln believed that we were one nation, and he led us in a war to preserve the Union. That founding principle of the party is also a founding principle of the United States.

“Now comes Trump, who is exactly what Republicans are not…. We are the party of the Union, and he is the most divisive president in our history…. It isn’t a matter of occasional asides, or indiscreet slips of the tongue uttered at unguarded moments. Trump is always eager to tell people that that they don’t belong here, whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people or another group. His message is, ‘You are not one of us,’ the opposite of ‘e pluribus unum.’ And when he has the opportunity to unite Americans, to inspire us, to call out the most hateful among us, the KKK and the neo-Nazis, he refuses…. Our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril.”

Sen. Danforth is a serious man. He doesn’t seem amused.