Posts Tagged ‘journalists’

New York Times reporter broke the biggest rule in journalism

June 10, 2018

On previous occasions, I’ve written about the blunt way legendary New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal dealt with a conflict of interest. The story bears repeating after the indictment of a top Senate official over his contacts with reporters, including one from the Times with whom he had a romantic relationship.

The Rosenthal standard on conflicts was shaped by a remarkably similar case decades ago. Soon after a woman who had covered politics in Philadelphia was hired by the Times, a story from Philly said she had a secret affair with a politician she covered and accepted expensive gifts from him.


By Michael Goodwin
New York Post

Rosenthal asked the woman if the story was true and, when she replied yes, immediately told her to clean out her desk and said she would never again work for the paper.

Word of the incident spread quickly through the newsroom, and several female reporters complained to Rosenthal. They argued that the woman was treated unfairlyand, at which point, Abe raised his finger for silence and said something to this effect: “I don’t care if you f–k an elephant on your personal time, but then you can’t cover the circus for the paper.”

The meeting was over, case closed.

His point was not about private conduct. It was about the credibility of the paper. When the two conflict, the paper must come first.

That lesson came rushing back to me as I read about the case involving

Rosenthal asked the woman if the story was true and, when she replied yes, immediately told her to clean out her desk and said she would never again work for the paper.

Word of the incident spread quickly through the newsroom, and several female reporters complained to Rosenthal. They argued that the woman was treated unfairlyand, at which point, Abe raised his finger for silence and said something to this effect: “I don’t care if you f–k an elephant on your personal time, but then you can’t cover the circus for the paper.”

The meeting was over, case closed.

His point was not about private conduct. It was about the credibility of the paper. When the two conflict, the paper must come first.

That lesson came rushing back to me as I read about the case involving James Wolfe, the longtime security director of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Federal prosecutors charged Wolfe with three counts of lying to investigators about his contacts with reporters, one of whom is Ali Watkins, who covers federal law enforcement for the Times.

The feds allege that Wolfe used encrypted phone apps and other tools to leak secret information. One article cited was written by Watkins on April 3, 2017, when she worked for BuzzFeed, and involved Carter Page. Part of the orgy of leaks targeting President Trump, the article says Page “met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative” in 2013.

As part of the probe into Wolfe, the government seized e-mail and phone records belonging to Watkins, although it reportedly has not accessed the contents. Nonetheless, the Times and others reacted with outrage, saying the seizure threatens a free press.

“All leak investigations — whether they directly target reporters or not — are a grave threat to press freedom,” the Freedom of the Press Foundation said in a statement. “Whistleblowers are the lifeblood of reporting, and the Trump administration is directly attacking journalists’ rights by bringing these cases.”

I agree that any government action that chills free expression is worrisome, but the First Amendment is not a license to break the law. As such, the foundation’s condemnation is so wrong-headed that it serves only to undercut support for media freedom.

Its absolutism about the “grave threat” of all leak investigations is ridiculous and, if that were the law, it would be impossible for America to keep any secrets.

Moreover, the suggestion that Wolfe was a whistleblower is not based on known facts. There is, however, strong evidence that he was leaking secured information to reporters, including his lover, ­although he is charged so far only with lying.

While many details remain unknown, it is already clear that Watkins’ highly unethical conduct pre­sents a problem for press defenders. Hers is not the hill they should volunteer to die on.
Start with the fact that Watkins admits she was sleeping with Wolfe when she covered his Senate panel for BuzzFeed and Politico.

Although sexual relationships with sources are taboo at most large news organizations, editors at BuzzFeed and Politico said they knew about Watkins’ relationship with Wolfe, but allowed her to continue covering the panel.

The admission is shocking yet not surprising given the collapse of journalism standards in the age of Trump. Pure hatred of this president in newsrooms across America is blinding editors and reporters to basic fairness and glaring conflicts of interest.

Public trust in the media is at an all-time low, and this case illustrates a seedy link between the Washington press corps and the Washington swamp.

The Times says Watkins informed editors of the romance when she joined the paper in December of 2017, but she claimed Wolfe never gave her classified information and said the relationship had ended.

Yet whether Wolfe gave her classified information or merely routine secrets shouldn’t matter. The point is that her secret relationship with a source created a serious conflict of interest in her coverage.

Another ethics problem is that the Times reports that the paper learned only Thursday that the Justice Department had notified Watkins last February that it seized her phone and e-mail records.

Her decision to withhold that critical fact from editors should weigh heavily against her. It also should temper the outrage of her defenders, given that she wasn’t alarmed enough to disclose the seizure and continued to write about the Trump administration while hiding her role in a criminal investigation.

Indeed, other journalists are highlighting tweets Watkins wrote last year saying the Senate intel panel suspected the White House of leaks. That raises the possibility she was spreading disinformation to protect Wolfe from suspicion.

So far, the Times says it won’t fire her, reflecting how deeply it is caught in a web of its own making. As more facts emerge, will it continue to excuse Watkins’ behavior because of its own anti-Trump bias, or will it measure her against its traditional standards of professional integrity?

I know what Abe Rosenthal would do. In fact, he would have done it already.

Charles Krauthammer

The announcement by Charles Krauthammer that he has weeks to live is unbearably awful news. A psychiatrist-turned-speechwriter-turned-Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Krauthammer
is the most incisive commentator of our era.

In his columns and appearances on Fox News, Krauthammer demonstrated an exceptional gift for precision of thought and language. Permanently paralyzed by an accident, he often delivered his opinions with a wry wit.

He withdrew for surgery nearly a year ago and said in a Friday letter that he was cancer-free a month ago, but now the cancer is back and spreading rapidly.

“My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live,” he wrote. “This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”

Thank you for lighting the way, Charles Krauthammer. May you rest in eternal peace.


Can Voters Bring Down Turkey’s Erdogan?

June 9, 2018

When Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian president called snap elections, many people thought he’d steamroll his opponents. But they’ve drawn together, and he just might lose.



June 8, 2018

Muharrem Ince was having a good week. The boisterous, silver-haired Ince is the main opposition candidate running against Turkey’s longtime leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan for president of Turkey. He was speaking to a crowd in the overwhelmingly ethnic Kurdish town of Van on June 4. And he was letting the incumbent have it.

Ince played a video of Erdogan giving a speech to a Kurdish audience the day before, then suddenly stopping and leaving the podium when his teleprompter malfunctioned.

“Those who speak from the teleprompter cannot solve the Kurdish issue,” Ince said. “Those who speak from the heart can.”

Erdogan called the snap June 24 elections in April, likely hoping to catch his opponents off guard and consolidate power as president following a referendum last year that grants new powers to the head of state and transforms the nation of 83 million from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

The election comes at a time when Turks and international observers have grown worried about Erdogan’s arrogation of power, especially after a failed July 2016 coup attempt that ignited a crackdown by the president against opponents, journalists and civil society. Since then, Turkey has been governed under emergency law. Thousands of people have been arrested, tens of thousands purged from the civil service, and the press severely restricted. After these elections were announced, Erdogan’s opponents initially feared the president would steamroll his opponents to consolidate even more power.

But Turkey’s embattled opposition for once has failed to follow the script. Three important opposition parties have joined together with a smaller party to form a block that includes liberals, Islamists, and nationalists, and they have pursued a strategy to woo the minority Kurds who are seen by many analysts as the lynchpin of the elections.

Both Ince and Meral Aksener, the elegant auburn-haired female leader of the new nationalist party called Iyi, are charismatic on the stump, taking square aim at Erdogan, who will be running for reelection on the same day as voters decide on a new parliament. Their alliance includes the Islamist Felicity Party, which is led by one of Erdogan’s former fellow travelers, and another minor party.

All the major opposition parties appear to be coordinating strategies to energize their bases and maximize their shares of seats in parliament against the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, while seeking to deny Erdogan an outright majority in the presidential race in order to trigger a July 8 runoff.

“The opposition has been rejuvenated,” says Sinan Ulgen, a Turkey specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Now the opposition is driving the agenda. In the past it was the Erdogan and the AKP. Erdogan is still most likely to win. But there is enough reason to think that the outcome is far from being pre-ordained.”

The election is the first since the referendum last year and will immediately trigger the changes, transforming Turkey’s government by eliminating the post of prime minister and shifting authorities between parliament and the executive. Critics say the new system will be more autocratic, giving the president too much power, while Erdogan’s supporters say it will make the government more democratic and accountable.

Truth is, no one’s quite sure how the new system will operate in practice. But anxiety over a potential watershed moment in Turkey’s political history has galvanized Erdogan’s opponents.

For once Turkey’s opposition parties are trying to break out of their various bubbles. Ince, the secularist, is noting that his sister wears the hijab and that he doesn’t oppose religious piety. Aksener, head of a political trend traditionally hostile to Kurdish aspirations, has called for allowing the jailed Kurdish presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, out of prison. Felicity, the Islamist party, holds campaign events featuring music and dancing.

To be sure, Erdogan remains Turkey’s most popular politician, and not just because his fiery fusion of Islamist and nationalist populism appeals to a broad swathe of voters. Over the 16 years that Erdogan and the AKP have dominated Turkish politics, the country’s GDP has tripled, pulling poor, rural Turks into the ranks of the urban middle class. His path to winning a majority of votes appears far clearer than that of the opposition. AKP members and supporters say they are content to run on their track record, including Erdogan’s ability to generate giant public works projects like airports and hospitals.

“The opposition doesn’t have a great vision or clear vision for what they will do; they don’t promise any hope to people,” Harun Armagan, an AKP spokesman, told The Daily Beast. “We will work for a society where everybody will able to go to university, get the best health care. We are working for nuclear power plants to make 100 percent of Turkey’s energy produced here.”

Polls show Erdogan winning in a head-to-hand match with Ince, the candidate of the secular liberal People’s Republican Party, known as the CHP, which is Turkey’s second largest party. But it’s only a slight majority. Many Turks have been concerned about Erdogan’s heavy-handed rule over the last five or six years. Plus, Turkey’s economy has been faltering, with the lira hitting all-time lows and inflation at double digits, burdening consumers in Erdogan’s base.

“They’ve stumbled because the economic numbers are bad,” said Aaron Stein, a Turkey specialist at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. “Life is more expensive. The government blames outside powers for the troubles. But people are savvy enough to understand the government is largely responsible.”

In contrast to his usual energetic, combative image, the 64-year-old Erdogan appears tired and easily flustered on the campaign trail, as shown by the teleprompter mishap. In the past he’s been blessed with colorless opponents who made him look good. His main rival in 2014, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, was a bland chemist who refused to hold rallies during the holy month of Ramadan. Even then Erdogan won with less than 52 percent of the vote. The referendum last year adopting a presidential system passed by about the same margin.

“Of course, Erdogan may lose,” Veli Agbaba, a CHP lawmaker and party leader, told The Daily Beast. “At the end of 16 years there is an AKP that is old, outdated and cannot offer anything new to the public. All they do is promise a bad copy of our election manifesto.”

In Ince, the president has met a worthy opponent, a streetfighter who’s 10 years younger and has roots in the same rough Black Sea town of Rize that Erdogan’s family comes from. “He’s such a shot in the arm for the opposition—charismatic, a good speaker,” said Stein. “He attacks Erdogan on substantive issues.”

Aksener, 61, also plays a vital role. She broke away from the National People’s Party, or MHP, after its leader Devlet Bahçeli aligned with Erdogan. She could pull nationalist voters away from the president’s camp. The Felicity party gives quavering pious voters queasy about Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies an excuse to vote against him.

Notwithstanding the fact its leader is in jail, the People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, which draws Kurdish and leftist votes, will be key. Demirtas, a brash and outspoken 45-year-old, was locked up in November 2016, accused of supporting armed Kurdish separatists in their decades-long war against the Turkish state. So he is unable to campaign himself except through brief social media appearances. Erdogan also competes for the votes of pious and traditional Kurds, so whether and how they vote will be a crucial factor in the election outcome.

For the opposition to deny the AKP a majority in parliament, under current rules the Kurdish-led HDP likely needs to win more than 10 percent of the vote, which would allow it to form a bloc in parliament.

“Kurds are the ones that will determine the outcome,” said an analyst at one research organization, who spoke on condition she not be identified. “The rest of the vote are consolidated. But the Kurds—no one knows which way they will sway.”

Opposition candidates see this election as the best chance they have to weaken Erdogan, if not defeat him, by at least snatching away control of parliament. Opposition parties have promised a return to the parliamentary system, bolstering of democratic institutions, and an end to Turkey’s combative regional role and what they describe as Erdogan’s divisive domestic policies. Askener, who has hired Google AdWords to promote her candidacy and the party, has promised among other things to lift Erdogan’s outlawing of Wikipedia.

“Erdogan politics, which is constantly fighting both inside and outside, will end,” said Agbaba, the CHP lawmaker. “We will bring about social peace among the divided sections of our country, and we will repair our neighbors’ and international relations.”

Erdogan supporters acknowledge recent economic troubles, but say they’re confident that voters will continue to trust the president based on his lengthy track record. Erdogan has been either president or prime minister of Turkey since 2003, and previously served as the highly popular mayor of Istanbul, the country’s commercial and cultural heart. Armagan, of the AKP, said that volunteers flood the party’s offices asking to help out with the elections. He dismissed the opposition’s gestures toward embattled groups, including Kurds, that the AKP has sought to draw into politics over the years by addressing mundane concerns such as irrigation in rural areas and housing costs.

“The strategy the opposition has is very cheap,” he said. “They think they will get the pious vote if they have a candidate who wears hijab, that if you put up a Kurdish candidate you get the Kurdish vote. It’s like a white American saying, ‘I have black friends.’”

Turkey’s united opposition alarms AKP as election approaches

June 8, 2018

Erdogan could be at risk of losing parliamentary majority, say analysts

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling

Supporters of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party, wave flags as they wait for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan deliver a speech ahead of June 24 elections © AP

By Laura Pitel in Ankara

The stall belonging to the Justice and Development Party in the middle of downtown Ankara looks a little lonely. While Turkey’s ruling party, known as the AKP, has some ultra-nationalists for company, facing them down on the other side of the capital’s Kizilay Square are four opposition parties that have teamed up to take them on.

Activists say that the atmosphere on the opposition side of the street is upbeat and co-operative. “We are competitors but we’re working together,” said Hamza Gursoy, a retired civil engineer handing out flyers for the nationalist Good party. “We have come together to fight [president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.”

With just over a fortnight to go until crucial parliamentary and presidential elections, that is precisely what alarms AKP members. “Everyone is worried,” admitted one government official. “This is going to be our hardest election so far.”

Mr Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since the AKP swept to power in 2002. The president is still the nation’s most popular politician. But as Turkey grapples with deep political, economic and social turmoil, some pollsters and analysts suggest that he could be at risk of losing his parliamentary majority — and even be forced into a second round run-off of the presidential contest for the first time.

Either scenario would be a crushing setback for a leader who relies on success at the ballot box to justify his domineering style of rule.

Economic backdrop worries AKP insiders

The vote on June 24 is a landmark moment for the Turkish president. Victory would not only secure him five more years in office, but also ensure he fulfils his long-held ambition to transform the country from a parliamentary system to the presidential model. The change was approved in a narrowly won and contentious referendum last year.

But party insiders complain that the AKP campaign for the snap vote is lacklustre. They miss the talents of Erol Olcok, an election mastermind who was killed on the night of a 2016 coup attempt. “People are not enthusiastic this time — neither us nor our voters,” said one official. “We are just saying the same things as before: we built a new bridge, we are building a new airport. There are no good slogans, no good songs.”

People are not enthusiastic this time — neither us nor our voters. There are no good slogans, no good songs

Others worry about the economic backdrop. The lira has lost close to a fifth of its value against the dollar in recent months, a problem exacerbated by Mr Erdogan’s hostility to interest rate rises, analysts say. Food prices have risen 11 per cent year-on-year.

The president’s decision in March to alter the electoral rules to boost his own support could also backfire and improve the chances of the opposition. Parties are now allowed to form alliances to overcome a quirk of the Turkish electoral system that requires them to secure more than 10 per cent of the national vote to enter parliament. Three opposition parties joined together under the rule in an unusual show of co-operation. A fourth party, the Kurdish-dominated People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is not part of the pact but has received support from its rivals.

As a result, AKP officials fear that it has become easier for the opposition to gain a majority in parliament. Alive to that danger, Mr Erdogan has warned voters that splitting their ballot to vote for him but not his party is “sinful”. This week, a presidential adviser suggested that the government could call a fresh election if AKP falls short of a majority.

Good party uses Google to gain publicity

The presidential race is also uncertain. AKP officials say they are confident that Mr Erdogan will win in the first round by crossing the 50 per cent mark. Even if there is a run-off, a challenger would struggle to beat him, analysts say. But opposition parties hope that, in a head-to-head, Mr Erdogan could suddenly find the momentum against him.

Despite operating under heavy constraints, with a state of emergency in place since the 2016 coup attempt and the media dominated by pro-government outlets, the opposition has been energetic and creative in recent weeks. The Good party, which has been granted barely any time on the airwaves, has instead gained social media fame by buying up Google ads that ask voters searching for “freedom” to try again after polling day.

Muharrem Ince, a former physics teacher who is the presidential candidate for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition, has performed a Turkish folk dance on stage and deployed an elaborate array of props to explain rising fuel prices and the nation’s reliance on food imports.

In contrast, even the students standing under the AKP’s orange, blue and white bunting in Kizilay Square admitted their campaign can appear lacklustre. They attributed it to the constraints of electioneering during the holy month of Ramadan, with many party members and voters fasting during daylight hours. They add that Mr Erdogan’s surprise decision to call the elections almost 18 months ahead of scheduled has limited their preparation time.

Despite the ruling party’s nerves, some analysts remain convinced that the AKP will emerge victorious. Emre Erdogan, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said the AKP’s messages of concern were aimed at boosting turnout. “I believe the AKP will keep their majority. Erdogan is a very strong actor. They will spend enormous amounts of money,” he said.

Others are less sure. “These elections are very hard to predict,” said Turkmen Goksel, of Ankara University. “We may see some surprising results.”

US envoy to reporters: ‘Keep your mouths shut’ on criticizing Israel over Gaza

June 4, 2018

David Friedman says the media should either figure out how anyone could have better dealt with the border protests or stop its negative coverage of the Jewish state

Times of Israel
David Friedman speaking to the media in Jerusalem on June 4, 2018. (Lior Mizrahi)

David Friedman speaking to the media in Jerusalem on June 4, 2018. (Lior Mizrahi)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attacked the media on Monday over what he said was a failure to fairly cover deadly protests on the Gaza border over the past months few months, advising reporters to “keep your mouths shut” unless they know better than Israel how to deal the demonstrations.

Friedman allowed that some criticism of Israel may be legitimate, but said journalists should have worked harder to find alternatives to Israel’s use of lethal force, which has left scores of Palestinians dead, before accusing the state of wrongdoing.

“It would seem to me that in a journalistic environment, where nine out of ten articles that are written about the Gaza conflict are critical of Israel, you’d think that some journalists would take the time and go and meet with experts and try to understand what could have done differently or better before they criticize. And I just haven’t seen it,” Friedman said at an event in Jerusalem organized for foreign media.

Friedman said he had spent a great deal of time speaking to military experts in the US, Israel and other countries about the proper rules of engagement — which he said reporters should have done — and had found that the criticism of Israel was for the most part unfounded.

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza strip and Israel east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

Hinting that his criticism was mainly geared at The New York Times, Friedman said reporters should “just keep your mouths shut until you figure it out. Because otherwise, all you’re doing is creating impressions that have no basis in fact. They fit a narrative. They fit an opinion. They fit an agenda. But it’s not reporting, because it’s not based on hard, factual analysis.”

Israel has defended its use of tear gas, as well as lethal force, as a means of defending the Gaza border during violent riots which saw tens of thousands of people gather at the fence weekly, starting March 30. The protests peaked on May 14, coinciding with the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

Military officials said terrorists used the protests as cover to carry out attacks on troops or try to damage or infiltrate across the border. Most of the over 110 people killed were member of Hamas or other terror groups, according to Israel and Gazan sources.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Criticism of Israel renewed on Friday after a Gazan medic was shot and killed while apparently trying to help wounded protesters during a border demonstration. The IDF said it was investigating the case.

Friedman said experts had told him tear gas, water cannons and other nonlethal means of crowd dispersal would not have been effective during the weeks of riots, but did not provide more detail.

“If what happens isn’t right, what is right? What do you use instead of bullets?” he asked rhetorically.

The US envoy, who has been criticized for hawkish views closely mirroring those of Israel’s right-wing government, said the last several weeks had seen “lots and lots of criticism of Israel” in the media.

Israeli forces take position near the border between the Gaza strip and Israel east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (Thomas COEX/AFP)

“Some of it even may be legitimate. I think the State of Israel itself hasn’t concluded its own internal inquiries into what happened. Maybe there are things they could have done better. I am sure there’s always things you could do better,” he allowed, adding: “Nobody has identified, with all the criticism Israel’s gotten, nobody has identified the less lethal means by which Israel could have defended itself during the last four weeks. Nobody.”

Friedman said Israel had performed as best it could under what he described described as an unprecedented situation.

“Who did this better in some other circumstances? Where is the other case where 40,000 people rush the border under the cover of burning tires, with Molotov cocktails, pistols, kites painted with swastikas, starting fires everywhere — fires that are still burning today?” Friedman said.

“Where did that happen in some other place, where the people rushing the border were committed to killing the citizens on the other side, and somebody did it better? Where is the manual that says, when this happens, you do this, this and this, and you can avoid the loss of human life or bodily injury?”

Without this comparative analysis, “all the reporting is completely superficial,” Friedman said.

‘No democracy without free press’

During his speech, Friedman, a former bankruptcy lawyer, also had some good words for the media, hailing the First Amendment of the US Constitution and saying a free press was vital to a functioning democracy, even if it attacks positions he holds dear.

“We don’t have a democracy without a free press. It’s simply impossible to do that,” he said. “Criticism is fair game. It’s what I would expect and what I appreciate,” he added.

The comment seemed to contrast with some of those made by his boss, US President Donald Trump, who has recommended cracking down on media freedoms and dismissed critical reporting as “fake news.”

Having to grapple with the competing requirements of accuracy and speed was not a valid excuse for sloppy journalism, Friedman said Monday. While everybody is entitled to their own opinion, not everybody is entitled to their own facts, he said.

“And the facts do matter. If you get the facts wrong, there ought to be some recognition and some accountability,” he said.

“And as long as there isn’t, I think people will continue to feel comfortable with getting it first and getting it wrong. Because if you’re getting it first and you’re getting it wrong, and there’s no price to pay, you’ll do it over and over again.”


Arkady Babchenko – the man who came back from the dead — Russian secret services exposed?

May 31, 2018

Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko is the man who returned from the other side. At least, that was how it seemed for startled journalists who had gathered to hear about a “murder” probe. DW’s Nicholas Connolly was in Kyiv.

Arkady Babtschenko in Kyiv, at the press conference (Reuters/V. Ogirenko)

And there he was again — The man for whom dozens of obituaries had just been written and whose name had been added to a journalists’ memorial in Moscow only hours before.

Arkady Babchenkoreturned to the land of the living in the company of Ukraine’s secret service chief and prosecutor general.

The journalist was found by his wife outside the couple’s apartment, bleeding and apparently having been shot multiple times. Reporters had gathered on Wednesday to find out more about the “murder” investigation, with the official line being that he had died.

It was then that Vasyl Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, announced that the press would have the opportunity to speak to Babchenko themselves.

The 41-year-old entered the room, clad in a black sweater, to applause and gasps.

“I’m still alive,” he said.

Proving a link

Babchenko thanked Ukraine’s security services for saving his life before apologizing to his wife for putting her through such an ordeal. His hosts explained that the stunt had been necessary to lull the individuals suspected of ordering and organizing a hit against the Kremlin critic into a false sense of security. The aim all along had been to collect further evidence linking the plot’s alleged lynchpin with Russian secret services.

They presented grainy footage purporting to show the plot’s organizer handing over thousands of dollars to the man tasked with shooting Babchenko. The intended shooter turned out to be working for Ukrainian security services. Minutes later yet more footage was shown – this time of a middle-aged man being arrested on a busy city street before being bundled away by plainclothes agents. This, they said, was the organizer of the plot to kill Babchenko. Not only Babchenko, but as many as 30 other Russian exiles in Ukraine.

Read more: ‘Killing’ of Babchenko: A big show raises lots of questions

Barely able to contain his satisfaction, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko read out a series of earlier comments from political opponents inside and outside the country – slamming Ukraine’s inability to protect journalists like Arkady Babchenko. The critics, he said, had been proved wrong.

Political killings to destabilize?

President Petro Poroshenko hailed the news as a sign that Ukraine had “passed the sovereignty test” and called the day a “birthday” of sorts for the nation. But even beyond government circles there was much vocal approval online for the government’s strategy and its willingness to take risks.

Read more: Ukraine foreign minister urges tougher Russia action, World Cup boycott

But what about the cost to Ukraine’s international credibility? The hours following Babchenko’s “killing” saw Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman slam Russia’s “totalitarian machine” and call for his “killer” to be punished in a late night Facebook post. Could Groysman not have known what was going on? At about the same time Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin was at the UN in New York, where he spoke of his government’s reasons for believing that Russia would not shy away from political killings to destabilize Ukraine. But, he stressed, the investigation had only just got underway. With hindsight it seems like a remarkably measured statement. An attempt to avoid saying anything more compromising? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Elementary methods

Ukrainian MP Anton Gerashenko was adamant that the ends very definitely justified the means,

“Even Sherlock Holmes successfully faked his own death in order to get to the bottom of difficult and complex crimes. However painful that might have been for his family and Doctor Watson” – a sentiment that was echoed by many in Kyiv’s political classes.

Read more: Ukraine: The forgotten victims of Donbass

But beyond Ukraine’s borders the reaction has been much less forgiving. The head of Reporters without Borders, Christophe Deloire, called the day’s developments “pathetic and regrettable.” The OSCE’s Representative on Media Freedom, Harlem Desir, was on his way to Kyiv when news emerged that Babchenko was not after all dead. So far Ukraine’s European allies have yet to respond, but they are unlikely to appreciate being dragged into a stunt that saw everyone from Germany’s president to the British foreign secretary expressing their dismay and offering their condolences to Babchenko’s family.

The onus is now firmly on Ukrainian investigators to prove that this abuse of public trust was really worthwhile. They’ll need to show that Babchenko’s disappearance allowed investigators to conclusively prove a connection between the purported organizer of this plot and Russia’s secret services. The outside world is waiting.

Israel Concerned About F-35 Sale to Turkey, Expects U.S. to Withhold ‘Upgrade Capabilities’

May 28, 2018

Israel, U.S. discuss delivering jets without performance-enhancing software so that Israel keeps its edge

.Image of the first time an Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off, March, 2017.
Image of the first time an Israeli F-35 fighter jet takes off, March, 2017.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Israeli officials are concerned about a deal to provide F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey, and the issue is currently being discussed with the United States. A senior Israeli defense official says Israel would like to remain the only country in the Middle East with the F-35 in order to keep its military qualitative edge and out of fear that details about its capabilities would leak to neighboring countries.

Talks between Israel and the United States are centered, among other things, around software developed by the Americans that allows the “upgrading” of F-35 capabilities. Sources in Washington confirmed to Haaretz that the issue is currently “part of the negotiations” relating to the F-35 deal.

>> Israel launched world’s first air strike using F-35, air force chief says ■ Iran, Israel and an F-35 over Beirut: Fine line between deterrence and hubris | Analysis ■ Israel’s F-35 strikes carried message to both enemies and allies | Analysis

Officially, Israel denies it is holding discussions over the deal, under which Turkey is slated to receive 100 F-35 planes, and that it is only closely monitoring developments. Sources in the Israeli defense establishment predict it will be very difficult to cancel the deal, because Turkey was one of the countries that invested in the plane’s development.

The Israel Air Force is scheduled to receive the software that will improve the plane’s performance in July, and Israel is worried that Turkey will also receive it. One possibility being discussed is providing Turkey the plane without the software, thus keeping Israel’s edge.

Meanwhile, criticism of the deal is growing in Congress. A number of lawmakers are pushing a bill that would halt the implementation of the agreement to sell Turkey the planes in light of recent events in the country.

“Our concern is that Turkey is going through a very dramatic transition as a country,” says Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma and one of the leading voices on Capitol Hill against the F-35 deal.

“Turkey has gone a long way from being a NATO ally and an important partner in working against terrorism, to the situation today, where it is holding an American citizen as a bargaining chip,” he told Haaretz, referring to Andrew Brunson, a pastor under arrest in Turkey since last year. “This is not the behavior of an ally,” Lankford said.

This incident, Lankford says, is indicative of a broader change taking place in Turkey, in which the country is becoming less reliable as a U.S. ally.

“There’s tremendous amount of frustration,” he explains. “They’re arresting journalists, pastors, teachers, political opponents of the government. This is a country that is going through a very consequential transition, and I ask myself, why are we giving our best military technology to someone who is going through such a transition?

“My concern is – they’re a NATO ally, they have been a good partner for years, but if we don’t know what the country is going to be like in a few years, we should withhold this resource from them,” Lankford says. Comparing Turkey and Israel, he explains that the United States has “no hesitation with Israel. When we give them the F-35 or other military equipment, we know how they will use it. We know what they will and won’t do. I’m not sure we can say the same about Turkey.”

He adds that while he would like to “keep Turkey as an ally,” recent internal changes in Turkey and disagreements with the United Sates on foreign policy issues – including President Erdogan’s display of hostility toward Israel – should make the U.S. “take a pause” and reevaluate the F-35 deal, and potentially other forms of military cooperation as well.

A spokesperson for AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, said it hasn’t taken a position on Lankford’s bill. The Israeli Embassy in Washington has also kept silent on the issue. But a foreign policy adviser to a senator involved in the discussions told Haaretz that lawmakers who asked Israeli officials about the deal heard reservations.

“No one here has any doubt that Israel prefers to stay the only country in the region that has these attack capabilities,” he said. “The Israelis know how to make that clear, in their own ways.”

Asia’s newest drug war leaves more than 90 people dead in less than two weeks

May 28, 2018

Bangladesh: A sweeping crackdown on alleged drug dealers has left at least 91 people dead in less than two weeks

MAY 27, 2018 | 11:00 AM

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A May 18, 2018, photo shows the bodies of alleged drug dealers killed in a shooting by law enforcement officers in Chittagong, Bangladesh. (AFP/Getty Images)

A sweeping crackdown on alleged drug dealers has left at least 91 people dead in less than two weeks in Bangladesh, sparking fears of a Philippines-style “drug war” marked by extrajudicial killings.

Most of the deaths have occurred in what the Bangladeshi news media have referred to as shootouts or gunfights, although the families of several people killed have said they were arrested by police and died while in custody.

Since the operation began May 15, the death toll has ticked higher every day, the names and whereabouts of those killed filling newspaper columns but with few details of the evidence against them. Odhikar, a human rights advocacy group, said Sunday that it had counted 91 people killed in 13 days.

“There seems to be no end in sight,” began a front-page story in the Daily Star, a leading English-language paper.

Many of the dead appear from news accounts to be small-time addicts and peddlers killed in cities and far corners of the country, sometimes accused of carrying small stashes of drugs and light weapons.

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Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) soldiers stand guard during a raid on suspected drug dealers at Geneva Camp in Dhaka on May 26, 2018. (Mehedi Hasan / Associated Press)

One was 35-year-old Kamrul Islam, described by his wife as a former drug seller who left the trade 10 years ago and was earning a meager living running a food stall at a bus station in Dhaka.

His wife, Taslima Begum, who lives with her parents while Islam worked in the capital, said in an interview that his phone had been switched off since Wednesday. When relatives went to look for him at the food stall, they were told he’d been picked up by plainclothes officers.

On Friday, Begum learned from television news that Islam had been killed in what was described as a shootout with members of the Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB, the elite counterterrorism squad leading the operation.

“After we got married, my husband left his previous lifestyle. I know that he is completely innocent now,” she said.

The drug war is the latest severe move by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian government, which has faced criticism for stifling journalists, jailing political opponents and allowing law enforcement agencies to detain, torture and kill suspected Islamist militants.

By denying drug suspects due process, it has drawn comparisons to President Rodrigo Duterte’s notorious drug war in the Philippines, a shoot-to-kill campaign that has left more than 12,000 people dead in two years. Bangladeshi authorities have denied carrying out extrajudicial killings.

In launching the crackdown this month, Hasina invoked her anti-terrorism policies – the toughest of which were implemented after a 2016 attack on a Dhaka cafe that killed 23 people – and said that no offender would be spared.

“We will rescue the country from the clutches of drugs just as we did in clamping down on militancy,” she said.

Although Hasina’s government has not echoed some of Duterte’s most violent rhetoric – the Philippine leader once said, “Shoot [the drug dealer] and I’ll give you a medal” — some officials have called for a zero-tolerance policy.

One police official wrote on his Facebook page that authorities should “take the law into our own hands” and suggested punishing drug peddlers by pouring feces on their heads. (He later clarified that he wasn’t speaking literally.)

Bangladeshi police estimate that 7 million of the country’s 160 million people are addicted to drugs, most commonly yaba, a pill that contains caffeine and methamphetamine. Although the drug is not produced in Bangladesh, authorities say that more than $40 million worth of yaba pills enters the country every year from neighboring Myanmar.

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A Bangladesh border police officer displays bags of the drug yaba recovered from a passenger bus near the Myanmar border in April 2018. (Munir Uz Zaman / AFP/Getty Images)

Bangladesh has adopted a tougher stance against yaba since last summer, when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees began streaming into the country to escape deadly attacks by Myanmar security forces. Officials have arrested hundreds of refugees, or traffickers posing as refugees, on drug-related offenses.

Domestic and international human rights groups say the government is sweeping up minor offenders while ignoring the leaders of smuggling networks, including government and security officials believed to be involved in the trade.

“Instead of taking effective measures to clean up law enforcement and patronage networks and go after the kingpins, they have suddenly started this war against the little ones,” said Badiul Alam Majumdar, a human rights activist and co-founder of Shujan, a civil society organization.

“Anybody could be picked up tomorrow and branded a drug pusher. No one is safe if there is no rule of law.”

Media reports say that thousands have been arrested. On Saturday morning, hundreds of RAB personnel raided the Geneva Camp neighborhood in Dhaka, a cramped warren of concrete tenements and shops, going house-to-house with drug-sniffing dogs.

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Bangladeshi authorities arrested more than 100 people from Dhaka’s Geneva camp neighborhood on May 26, 2018. (A.M. Ahad / Associated Press)

Mohammad Saeed, a 42-year-old cook, was standing outside a public bathroom when he was arrested, he said Sunday. He was released a few hours later without being questioned, but only after he was made to sign two blank sheets of paper.

“Who knows if that will be used against me in the future,” Saeed said. “People are scared.”

Mohammad Raju, 25, said his older brother Tajun was arrested in the sweep and within hours sentenced to six months in prison by a “mobile court,” a fast-track legal process that affords defendants few protections. He said that Tajun, a 30-year-old electrician with a wife and two kids, was not a drug user.

“We support getting rid of drugs,” Raju said. “But the government should be careful that innocent people don’t suffer.”

Hasina’s government came to power in 2009 pledging to end Bangladesh’s long history of human rights abuses by law enforcement, but advocacy groups say the violations have increased. From January 2009 through last month, Odhikar recorded 429 cases of enforced disappearances and 1,528 extrajudicial killings.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has described RAB, in particular, as a “death squad” and called for it to be disbanded.

“So terrible is the record of security forces like RAB and others that ‘crossfire’ has become a widely accepted euphemism for extrajudicial killings,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director. “Bangladesh authorities, regardless of the party in power, have denied such violations and refused to ensure accountability. There should be an impartial investigation into the recent killings, and if there is a violation by a member of the security forces, they should be held to account.”

Special correspondent Syed Zainul Abedin contributed to this report.

Shashank Bengali is South Asia correspondent for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @SBengali

Elon Musk wants to name his journalist-rating site after Communist newspaper

May 25, 2018

Elon Musk is taking his Twitter tantrums to a whole new level.

The increasingly irascible Tesla chief executive went on a 24-hour, anti-media tirade from Wednesday to Thursday, culminating in an online poll that saw nearly 700,000 people showing their support for his plans to create a website to vet journalists’ credibility.

Musk said that he is thinking of a site where “the public can rate the core truth” of news stories, as well as track “the credibility score” of journalists and publications.

The website would be called “Pravda,” the Russian word for “truth” and also the name of the official newspaper of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party.

Musk’s tweets were light on details, but suggested that the site would “restore the credibility of the media” by allowing the public to vote on how objective or accurate they feel publications and journalists are.

The electric-car maker has been fighting negative press for several months over production bottlenecks for its Model 3 sedan, crashes involving its cars and doubts raised by Wall Street over its cash position.

“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” Musk vented.

He continued by telling his followers that Tesla’s negative headlines are due to journalists being “under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars” lest they lose their jobs.

Thursday morning, Musk gleefully noted that the results of a poll he posted, asking Twitter users whether or not they thought his planned “media credibility rating site” was a good idea, were decidedly in his favor.

“Come on media, you can do it!” Musk taunted. “Get more people to vote for you. You are literally the media.”

Late Thursday afternoon, 88 percent of the poll’s 680,000 respondents were in favor of Musk’s proposed website, while 12 percent were opposed.

Tesla shares ended the day down 0.4 percent, at $277.85.

Musk’s frustrations boiled over following recent negative media reports about Tesla, including Consumer Reports’ decision this week to not recommend Tesla’s Model 3 sedan after criticizing it for its long stopping distances and difficult-to-use controls.

The billionaire contended that the hostile media’s advertising clients include Tesla’s biggest competitors — “fossil fuel companies & gas/diesel car companies.”

On Wednesday afternoon, he shared with his nearly 22 million followers a tweet linking to posts on the auto blog Electrek criticizing recent coverage of fatal Tesla crashes.

The 46-year-old billionaire has been particularly sensitive about negative coverage of recent Tesla crashes that have made headlines, including a fiery March wreck that saw the driver of a Model X die after hitting a concrete median while in Autopilot mode.


Journalist found dead in ‘pool of blood’ at home in northern Mexico — 100 reporters killed there since 2000

May 25, 2018


A female journalist was found dead Thursday at her home in Monterrey, northern Mexico, having apparently been severely beaten, according to law enforcement sources.

Alicia Diaz Gonzalez “was on the floor, face down, in a pool of blood having suffered blows,” a source from the Nuevo Leon state prosecutor’s office told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The 52-year-old reporter’s death was confirmed by El Financiero newspaper, where she had worked since January. Editor Mauricio Mejia called for an “urgent … official response” to the death on social media.

© AFP/File | Alicia Diaz Gonzalez, who worked for the newspaper El Financiero, was found dead in a pool of blood at her home in Monterrey, Mexico

The source added Diaz was found by her son.

Authorities have not established a motive for the crime. Diaz’s colleagues told AFP they reported on local business activity and financial issues, but denied they worked with “sensitive” information.

Last week, journalist Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead as he left his home in a suburb of Villahermosa in southeast Mexico.

His murder took place one year after Javier Valdez, who received international recognition for his coverage of drug trafficking, was gunned down in broad daylight in his native Culiacan, Sinaloa, where powerful cartels operate.

Mexico is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist, with more than 100 reporters killed since 2000. Most of those crimes remain unpunished.



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Javier Valdez Cardenas

Foreign media head to N. Korea to witness nuclear site destruction

May 22, 2018

Foreign journalists headed to North Korea on Tuesday to witness the promised destruction of its nuclear test site, a move seen as a goodwill gesture before a planned summit with the United States.

© CNES/AFP/File | The Punggye-ri site pictured in April 2017

Dozens of reporters from China, the United States and Russia departed on a charter flight from Beijing, according to Chinese state broadcaster CGTN which is part of the contingent. It showed the journalists board a small plane emblazoned with the North’s flag.

The journalists will cover the demolition of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site inside a mountain in the northeast of the country, which is scheduled to take place between Wednesday to Friday.

Agence France-Presse and some other major media organisations were not invited to cover the event.

The North has staged all six of its nuclear tests there beginning in 2006. The latest and by far the most powerful in September last year was said by Pyongyang to have been a hydrogen bomb.

The North previously said South Korean journalists would be allowed to attend this week’s ceremony, as part of a series of ice-breaking diplomatic moves following a summit between the two country’s leaders last month.

But Pyongyang refused at the last minute to accept a list of South Korean journalists. It has railed against the ongoing “Max Thunder” military aviation exercise involving the United States and South Korea, calling it “an act of provocation.”

Pyongyang has also threatened to cancel a summit between US President Donald Trump and its own leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, despite weeks of tentative rapprochement.

The North has accused the US of cornering it with a unilateral demand for denuclearisation.