The Trump-Russia Saga and the Death Spiral of American Journalism ~ Chris Hedges


De-Pressed – by Mr. Fish

The media caters to a particular demographic, telling that demographic what it already believes — even when it is unverified or false. This pandering defines the coverage of the Trump-Russia saga.

Reporters make mistakes. It is the nature of the trade. There are always a few stories we wish were reported more carefully. Writing on deadline with often only a few hours before publication is an imperfect art. But when mistakes occur, they must be acknowledged and publicized. To cover them up, to pretend they did not happen, destroys our credibility. Once this credibility is gone, the press becomes nothing more than an echo chamber for a selected demographic. This, unfortunately, is the model that now defines the commercial media.

Read more from Chris Hedges on Substack: The Trump-Russia Saga and the Death Spiral of American Journalism

Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship | The White House

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy.  Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet.  This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.  When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.  They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology.  Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms.  As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.

As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes.  It is essential to sustaining our democracy.

Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse.  Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms “flagging” content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.  As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician’s tweet.  As recently as last week, Representative Adam Schiff was continuing to mislead his followers by peddling the long-disproved Russian Collusion Hoax, and Twitter did not flag those tweets.  Unsurprisingly, its officer in charge of so-called ‘Site Integrity’ has flaunted his political bias in his own tweets.

At the same time online platforms are invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans’ speech here at home, several online platforms are profiting from and promoting the aggression and disinformation spread by foreign governments like China.  One United States company, for example, created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party that would have blacklisted searches for “human rights,” hid data unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party, and tracked users determined appropriate for surveillance.  It also established research partnerships in China that provide direct benefits to the Chinese military.  Other companies have accepted advertisements paid for by the Chinese government that spread false information about China’s mass imprisonment of religious minorities, thereby enabling these abuses of human rights.  They have also amplified China’s propaganda abroad, including by allowing Chinese government officials to use their platforms to spread misinformation regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

As a Nation, we must foster and protect diverse viewpoints in today’s digital communications environment where all Americans can and should have a voice.  We must seek transparency and accountability from online platforms, and encourage standards and tools to protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse and freedom of expression.

Sec2.  Protections Against Online Censorship.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States to foster clear ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet.  Prominent among the ground rules governing that debate is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (section 230(c)).  47 U.S.C. 230(c).  It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified: the immunity should not extend beyond its text and purpose to provide protection for those who purport to provide users a forum for free and open speech, but in reality use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.

Section 230(c) was designed to address early court decisions holding that, if an online platform restricted access to some content posted by others, it would thereby become a “publisher” of all the content posted on its site for purposes of torts such as defamation.  As the title of section 230(c) makes clear, the provision provides limited liability “protection” to a provider of an interactive computer service (such as an online platform) that engages in “‘Good Samaritan’ blocking” of harmful content.  In particular, the Congress sought to provide protections for online platforms that attempted to protect minors from harmful content and intended to ensure that such providers would not be discouraged from taking down harmful material.  The provision was also intended to further the express vision of the Congress that the internet is a “forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”  47 U.S.C. 230(a)(3).  The limited protections provided by the statute should be construed with these purposes in mind.

In particular, subparagraph (c)(2) expressly addresses protections from “civil liability” and specifies that an interactive computer service provider may not be made liable “on account of” its decision in “good faith” to restrict access to content that it considers to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable.”  It is the policy of the United States to ensure that, to the maximum extent permissible under the law, this provision is not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that — far from acting in “good faith” to remove objectionable content — instead engage in deceptive or pretextual actions (often contrary to their stated terms of service) to stifle viewpoints with which they disagree.  Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike.  When an interactive computer service provider removes or restricts access to content and its actions do not meet the criteria of subparagraph (c)(2)(A), it is engaged in editorial conduct.  It is the policy of the United States that such a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.

(b)  To advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section, all executive departments and agencies should ensure that their application of section 230(c) properly reflects the narrow purpose of the section and take all appropriate actions in this regard.  In addition, within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in consultation with the Attorney General, and acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), shall file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC expeditiously propose regulations to clarify:

(i) the interaction between subparagraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of section 230, in particular to clarify and determine the circumstances under which a provider of an interactive computer service that restricts access to content in a manner not specifically protected by subparagraph (c)(2)(A) may also not be able to claim protection under subparagraph (c)(1), which merely states that a provider shall not be treated as a publisher or speaker for making third-party content available and does not address the provider’s responsibility for its own editorial decisions;

(ii)  the conditions under which an action restricting access to or availability of material is not “taken in good faith” within the meaning of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) of section 230, particularly whether actions can be “taken in good faith” if they are:

(A)  deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service; or

(B)  taken after failing to provide adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard; and

(iii)  any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section.

Sec3.  Protecting Federal Taxpayer Dollars from Financing Online Platforms That Restrict Free Speech.  (a)  The head of each executive department and agency (agency) shall review its agency’s Federal spending on advertising and marketing paid to online platforms.  Such review shall include the amount of money spent, the online platforms that receive Federal dollars, and the statutory authorities available to restrict their receipt of advertising dollars.

(b)  Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall report its findings to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

(c)  The Department of Justice shall review the viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform identified in the report described in subsection (b) of this section and assess whether any online platforms are problematic vehicles for government speech due to viewpoint discrimination, deception to consumers, or other bad practices.

Sec4.  Federal Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States that large online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the critical means of promoting the free flow of speech and ideas today, should not restrict protected speech.  The Supreme Court has noted that social media sites, as the modern public square, “can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”  Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1737 (2017).  Communication through these channels has become important for meaningful participation in American democracy, including to petition elected leaders.  These sites are providing an important forum to the public for others to engage in free expression and debate.  CfPruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 85-89 (1980).

(b)  In May of 2019, the White House launched a Tech Bias Reporting tool to allow Americans to report incidents of online censorship.  In just weeks, the White House received over 16,000 complaints of online platforms censoring or otherwise taking action against users based on their political viewpoints.  The White House will submit such complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

(c)  The FTC shall consider taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, pursuant to section 45 of title 15, United States Code.  Such unfair or deceptive acts or practice may include practices by entities covered by section 230 that restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.

(d)  For large online platforms that are vast arenas for public debate, including the social media platform Twitter, the FTC shall also, consistent with its legal authority, consider whether complaints allege violations of law that implicate the policies set forth in section 4(a) of this order.  The FTC shall consider developing a report describing such complaints and making the report publicly available, consistent with applicable law.

Sec5.  State Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices and Anti-Discrimination Laws.  (a)  The Attorney General shall establish a working group regarding the potential enforcement of State statutes that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices.  The working group shall also develop model legislation for consideration by legislatures in States where existing statutes do not protect Americans from such unfair and deceptive acts and practices. The working group shall invite State Attorneys General for discussion and consultation, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

(b) Complaints described in section 4(b) of this order will be shared with the working group, consistent with applicable law. The working group shall also collect publicly available information regarding the following:

(i) increased scrutiny of users based on the other users they choose to follow, or their interactions with other users;

(ii) algorithms to suppress content or users based on indications of political alignment or viewpoint;

(iii) differential policies allowing for otherwise impermissible behavior, when committed by accounts associated with the Chinese Communist Party or other anti-democratic associations or governments;

(iv) reliance on third-party entities, including contractors, media organizations, and individuals, with indicia of bias to review content; and

(v) acts that limit the ability of users with particular viewpoints to earn money on the platform compared with other users similarly situated.

Sec6.  Legislation.  The Attorney General shall develop a proposal for Federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.

Sec7.  Definition.  For purposes of this order, the term “online platform” means any website or application that allows users to create and share content or engage in social networking, or any general search engine.

Sec8.  General Provisions. (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)    the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)   the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Source: Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship | The White House

Endgame for Assange

Angela Richter is a theatre director and met Julian Assange in 2011 when she worked on a play about Wikileaks

This text is the English version of the German article “Endspiel für Assange” published in German weekly der Freitag (Issue 01/19)

Sidelined The theatre director Angela Richter visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s embassy in London. For the last time, she fears

Angela Richter


A photo was not possible in the embassy under the current circumstances. This one was taken during Angela Richter’s visit in 2014. Foto: Elfie Semotan

Julian Assange looks very pale. “Pale” isn’t quite accurate; his skin looks like parchment, almost translucent. He hasn’t seen the sun for almost seven years. He sits opposite to me in the so-called Meeting Room of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the snow-white hair, his trademark, is shoulder-length and he wears a long beard. We joke about him looking like Santa. He wears a thick down jacket and eats a piece of the sushi I brought for lunch. It is cold in the room and I regret that I left my winter coat at the reception.

It is just before Christmas, and Julian Assange has probably just had the worst time of his stay at the embassy. Since March 2018 he was de facto in isolation, no telephone, no internet and no visits. The internet ban must be particularly difficult for him; it was not only his field of work, but his only access to the world.

The mood in the embassy is tense; the new ambassador is due to arrive. They have turned off the heating and taken the bed, he sleeps on a yoga mat. I cannot help the impression that everything possible is being done to make his stay so difficult that he finally gives in and leaves the embassy voluntarily. But what will await him then?

It’s the first time since I’ve known him that he really looks drained, his former boyish face, which always seemed peculiar to the silver-white hair, has adapted to his age. The nine months of isolation have visibly weakened him, he has become leaner, but in our conversation he seems mentally strong and more determined than ever.

Surrounded by microphones

When I ask him how he had endured the isolation for so long, he replies that he was almost delighted at first. He was sure that such a flagrant violation of his human rights would cause great public outrage and European politicians would stand up for him because of pressure from the media. Nothing of the sort happened, however, and as the months passed, he lost faith.

In the meantime, it has even become public that the US authorities had filed criminal charges against Julian Assange. Charges that were supposed to remain under lock and key until Assange could no longer escape arrest. They confirm what Assange has feared for years and why he has often been declared paranoid in the press. But even after this revelation there is no indignation.


Since 2007, the disclosure platform has made it possible to publish documents anonymously. In 2010, it launched a video entitled Collateral Murder, which shows how civilians and journalists were killed in the attack by a US combat helicopter in Baghdad. In 2011, Wikileaks published 7,000 military documents on the incidents in Guantánamo. The platform attracted criticism when it published thousands of emails from the Democratic Party in the 2016 US election campaign. At the end of 2010 Sweden issued an international arrest warrant against Assange for “minor rape”. To avoid extradition, he fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. He fears that he will be tried for treason in the USA. Sweden closed the investigation in May 2017. In the USA, he allegedly has been charged.

His stay in the embassy, granted as political asylum in 2012, now resembles more and more a detention with rigid punishments. The isolation has still not been completely lifted, from Friday evening until Monday morning there is still a ban on contact, and anyone who wants to visit him has to submit a formal application to the embassy. There were probably also rejections, he tells me. I was lucky and got two of the requested four hours approved.

I have visited Julian Assange about 30 times between 2012 and 2017 at the Ecuadorian Embassy. This resulted in three theatre plays and a friendship with one of the most controversial people of our time. It was not always easy to defend him, especially since the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA, for which many journalists, former supporters and friends of mine have made him jointly responsible. Moreover, most journalists seem to have agreed that there is a mad conspiracy between Trump and Putin, with Assange as intermediary and helper. At the end of November, the Guardian claimed that Paul Manafort, head of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had met Assange three times in London: in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Fidel Narváez, the then Ecuadorian consul in London, has formally denied this. WikiLeaks initiated legal proceedings against the Guardian and Manafort publicly and denied the meetings. His name does not appear in the Ecuadorian Embassy’s guest book and there are no images of him entering or leaving one of the world’s best-monitored buildings.

Assange, of course, followed all this; when I ask him about it, he only says that the story in the Guardian is fictitious. As he enquires about my family and we eat sushi, we try to ignore that we are surrounded by cameras and microphones. Even in the small kitchen in the hallway there is now a camera installed, which used to be the only corner without surveillance where we sometimes withdrew. Recently, embassy staff has been changed one by one, the new staff doesn’t know Assange well, only the cleaning lady is the same. The diplomats who sympathised with him are no longer there.

As a distraction I unpack a few presents for him, German wholemeal bread he loves, fresh fruit, Ovaltine, a letter with a child’s drawing sent to him by my eldest son, and a Ukrainian sausage speciality from the Crimea that a friend and former dramaturg of Frank Castorf gave me. I try again to direct the conversation towards him and his precarious situation, but that proves difficult. I hardly know anyone who says “I” as reluctantly as Julian Assange, which is amazing considering how often he is described as a narcissist and an egomaniac.

Blueprint for all of us

It is difficult to describe the complex character of Assange. But one thing has become clear to me in recent years; it is simply not conveyable to the average intellectual. He is a meticulous archivist, a courageous revelator and uncompromising iconoclast, highly emotional and at the same time factual, alongside whom most of the artists and intellectuals I know seem like petty bourgeois who sell their personal neuroses profitably.

But if Assange is not the nefarious unsympath who is to blame for his own situation through his egomania, what does that mean in reverse? Isn’t he then a blueprint for all of us? What has happened to him for years in the middle of Europe shows what could happen to anyone who dares to raise his voice and reveal the truth about the powerful. Not in Russia or China, but in the free West.

Assange never gave up his credo “Let’s make trouble”. He tells me he hoped during the isolation that he could take a little “holiday from WikiLeaks”. But then everything fell asleep somehow; no one was keen to take the helm, which is not surprising when you see the consequences. He says he thinks his isolation was a test run for what would happen if he went to prison after all: WikiLeaks would probably disintegrate slowly.

I think he’s right. Since I have known Assange, I have realised that his organisation only exists because of his immense persistence. He often cheered me up with the sentence “Courage is contagious”. I can confirm this for myself; he has this effect that you feel encouraged to risk more. His insistence on the truth of documented facts has not brought him fame and glory; to the contrary. And yet he has never given up, I have experienced some ups and downs in recent years, I have talked with him and his team in the embassy for hours, sometimes nights, but also argued, laughed, eaten, drunk, sung and trembled.

Three ambassadors were replaced during this time, the fourth one just arrived in London on the day of my visit, and his main task will probably be to get rid of Assange as quickly as possible, with the least possible political damage to Ecuador’s image. The New York Times recently reported that there had been several talks in 2017 between Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno and the now notorious Paul Manafort. Manafort had travelled to Quito to boost China’s investment in Ecuador. Allegedly, at the meeting with Moreno, there was also talk about Assange, about a deal to extradite Assange to the US in exchange for Ecuador’s debt relief. Assange jokes; wouldn’t it be ironic that the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, of all people, is now deciding on his future fate. He laughs, tormented, in the end the big money always wins. We notice that his persecution by the USA is no longer a secret, everything is open and nothing happens; It is exasperating.

In the end, it is actually four hours that I am there. When I say goodbye, we hug each other tightly, it might be the last time we see each other. Outside I also talk to some supporters who camp in front of the embassy with self-painted banners and lighted candles, they have been holding out for years, which I think is admirable.

On December 21, three days after my visit to the embassy, WikiLeaks publishes a shopping list: 16,000 procurement orders from US embassies around the world, including spy equipment. Julian Assange is online again. On the same day, the UN human rights experts of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) reiterate their 2015 demand that Britain complies with its international obligations and immediately releases the founder of WikiLeaks from the Ecuadorian embassy into freedom. This could be done by guaranteeing him free passage, or at least guarantee that he will not be extradited to the US, after short detention in Britain.

So Assange’s fate is in the hands of the United Kingdom; the UK could easily end this blatant situation, but so far it has refused. Europe is silent about it. What else needs to happen for that to change?

Obama Readies Media Push to Sell Syria Plan to Congress

The propaganda machine will be in full swing and working overtime. Trust nothing coming from MSM. NOTHING.

Obama Readies Media Push to Sell Syria Plan to Congress

A Rose in the Desert: Asma Al-Assad, Lady Diana of the Middle East —

“Vogue, incidentally, removed this article from their website and issued an ‘apology’ for publishing something contrary to the propaganda dictates of the brutish oligarchs ruling the Western Empire.”

A Rose in the Desert: Asma Al-Assad, Lady Diana of the Middle East —