What 'The Post' Gets Wrong

Steven Spielberg’s The Post (2017) briefly opens with Daniel Ellsberg, then-military analyst but now-famed whistleblower, in Vietnam in 1966, recording the military activities of the U.S. government for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Immediately after this scene, the film shifts to show Ellsberg, a few years later, illegally copying the highly-classified documents that reveal the U.S.’s then-ongoing, decades-long, incriminating role and involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, spanning the course of multiple presidencies. As Ellsberg noted in his memoir, “In the fall of 1961 it didn’t make very long to discover in Vietnam that we weren’t likely to be successful there. It took me less than a week, on my first visit. With the right access, talking to the right people, you could get the picture pretty quickly. You didn’t have to speak Vietnamese, or know Asian history or philosophy or culture, to learn that nothing we were trying to do was working or was likely to get better.”

The Post tracks the publishing of these documents, the Pentagon Papers, in 1971 by journalists at the Washington Post, paying particular attention to its owner and publisher, Katharine Graham, as she struggles to maintain authority over her company while trying to appease her reporters, investors, and close friends—the last of whom also happen to be a part of the political elite. Editors, reporters, and bureaucrats argue over the legality and ethics of publishing the Pentagon Papers, and the film follows the internal dispute within the Washington Post, as well as the paper’s competition with The New York Times. The Post, despite addressing issues concerning the freedom of the press, offers an overall weak critique on the content and actual significance of the Pentagon Papers, as well as on the fraught relationship between the news media and the government, as it focuses more on maintaining their established norms and on the connections and tensions between gender and power during the 1960s and early ‘70s in America.

Background on U.S. Involvement in Vietnam

 A slight flick or tap on one domino is all that is needed to send the rest in its path toppling down in succession—one right after the other. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower co-opted this example to apply to international politics, arguing that a communist government exercising control in one nation will swiftly lead to communist takeovers in neighboring states, thereby resulting in a region’s quick ‘fall’ to communist rule. The so-called domino theory manifested itself as a significant part of U.S. foreign policy in successive presidential administrations with respect to Southeast Asia. President Harry S. Truman, though he disliked the way France ruled its colonies, came to France’s aid, in order to help France reassert its colonial rule in Vietnam, a political move the U.S. saw as a way to help prevent the domino effect from taking place in the region, believing South Vietnam to be vulnerable and North Vietnam already fallen.

Ngo Dinh Diem, before he became the first President of the Republic of Vietnam, was educated in the United States, where he had been in exile. The U.S. later helped Diem, an anti-communist nationalist, exercise power in South Vietnam, despite the fact that he was a devout Catholic in a country where the population was primarily rural and Buddhist. Diem’s rule was plagued with nepotism and corruption—he sought out and arrested his political dissenters, most of whom were communists, and later refused to hold elections for reunification. Naturally, Diem was an incredibly disliked ruler, so removed from his rural, Buddhist population, yet his unpopularity and refusal to hold elections did not prevent the U.S. from coming to his aid. When Diem asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower for more aid to fight the communist insurgent movement, Eisenhower agreed, and when John F. Kennedy became president in 1960, he also adhered to a policy of containment favorable to the Diem government.

It was not until 1963 that the U.S. finally changed its official position on Diem’s leadership, despite some concerns among U.S. officials noted as early as 1955, and considered an alternative to his rule. Diem was eventually overthrown from power and assassinated in November of 1963 in a military coup—backed by the U.S., the same country that helped Diem rise to power in the first place and gave him aid during the conflict in Vietnam. In fact, it was Kennedy’s advisors in South Vietnam who actively encouraged military leaders who were plotting against Diem.” In essence, the U.S. contributed to and maintained an oppressive rule in South Vietnam, one which used intimidation and terror against its own population, ostensibly because of its fear of the domino effect.

However, the domino theory is not simply or exclusively associated with the ‘threat’ of communism or viewed as inherently bad, and for some, it is even considered a beneficial effect. Noam Chomsky, a good friend of Daniel Ellsberg’s, argued in his book, How The World Works, that the domino effect, in its actual application by the U.S., selectively attacks smaller countries with few resources, not necessarily small countries likely to fall to communism. Chomsky wrote, “In fact, it’s the weakest, poorest countries that often arouse the greatest hysteria.” Using Grenada as an example, while also referencing similarities of U.S. involvement in other states such as Chile; Indochina; and El Salvador, Chomsky further stressed that “The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, ‘Why not us?’" In other words, it is not the threat of communism, necessarily, that precipitates U.S. agitation in small, foreign countries, but rather the “threat of the good example”—the threat of economic stability, and how that has the potential to diminish the U.S.’ power and influence in a given region.

The Department of Defense commissioned a secret study, the Pentagon Papers, which documented the true, detailed, imperial history of U.S. involvement in Indochina, revealing the bloodshed and aggression at the hands of the American empire. However, this significance is hardly ever articulated in The Post. The message throughout the film is that the report showed how presidential administrations realized the war was unwinnable, yet that they continued to send forces. There is no comment on the extent to which the U.S. even played a role in Diem’s rise and fall to power, and hardly any mention is made of the 2 million Vietnamese civilians and 58,000 Americans that died during the conflict in Vietnam. The slight frustration expressed in the film, especially by Katharine Graham’s character, seems more to do with the fact that her good friend, the Secretary of Defense, lied to her.

Gender Equality and Plutocracy

About halfway into film, one of the board members in the Washington Post newsroom remarks to another while looking at a framed photograph of Katharine’s late husband, Phil, of how John F. Kennedy found Phil to be the smartest man he ever met. The other board member agreed—“For Kay’s father to hand her husband the company…says something about the guy.” Tom Hanks’ character, Ben Bradlee, without missing a beat, responds, “I thought it said something about the time.” This comment from Bradlee is just one of the many examples in this film that positions gender inequality—in an uncomfortable, almost forced, and performative way—as a major part of the story on the publishing of the Pentagon Papers.

Although gender equality was a significant movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s, The Post overplays its importance in the telling of this historical event. Second-wave feminism dominated the 1960s and ‘70s, the time period in which this film is set, focusing on issues such as workplace employment, sexuality, family, and reproductive rights. Nancy A. Hewitt, professor of history and gender studies at Rutgers University, wrote in her book, No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, about “how normative accounts of the second wave feminist movement often reach back to…the emergence of women’s consciousness-raising (CR) groups in the late 1960s.” The film is ostensibly about freedom of the press and the importance of having a check on government power, yet it seems as if the focus is actually on women in the workplace, as it repeatedly attempts to posit Graham as a feminist protagonist, almost likening her plight to that of Hillary Clinton’s.

The Post, without question, is a timely film—and therefore already assumed to be an important work of art despite its quality—for it confirms the necessity of freedom of the press in the age of Donald Trump. However, this principle is totally independent of Graham’s management of the Washington Post. Not only are the stakes low in the film regarding the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, but they lack meaning and relatability to the general populace: The stakes are reductively centered around the need to beat The New York Times in publishing this story, the potential negative effects on the offering price for Washington Post on the stock market, and the possibility of Graham losing her authority and inheritance—all of which downplay the actual relevance of the Pentagon Papers and what they mean to citizens, who care more about knowing the facts on the ground to help inform their beliefs about the Vietnam War than they do about a newspaper heiress and the state of her company.

And despite the Nixon government’s injunction against The New York Times after it publishes the first story on the Pentagon Papers, the antagonists actually seem to be the men in suits, the investors, the alpha all-male members of the board at the Washington Post. Graham, although a ‘news queen’ and a rich lady cozy with the political elite, is frequently portrayed as a victim in the workplace. Her lack of agency is overplayed, from a moment early on in the film when she tries speaking in a board meeting about the Washington IPO and the future of the company—she stutters, and the man to her left speaks over her, relaying her exact idea and words to the rest of the board members, with the camera then showing a dejected, defeated Graham.

There are numerous other scenes and dialogue along this line in the rest of the film. At one point, a colleague of Graham’s notes that buyers are skittish with women in charge, and at another, it is revealed that many people think Graham occupies a position she shouldn’t have. Another blatant and over-emphasized example of this takes place at a dinner scene, when the men start talking about politics, and the women get up and leave, go to the other room, and then proceed to talk about stereotypical feminine topics such as style and President Richard M. Nixon’s daughter’s wedding.

In her book, Professor Hewitt further wrote that the emergence of the women’s movement and related organizations “All signaled a rising number of white, middle-class women unwilling to be treated like second-class citizens in the boardroom, in education, or in bed.” This seems fitting in the case of Graham and Hillary Clinton, both of whom are representative of a particular brand of neoliberal-feminism that prioritizes the advancement of rich, white women belonging to the elite, but the sympathetic portrayal of Graham (and McNamara) in this film regarding the publishing of the Pentagon Papers in The Post is fraught, for its rendering of history establishes plutocracy as acceptable in society as long as it can be equally practiced by both genders.

It is telling how the movie is wrapped up on the ‘brave’ decision of one: Katharine Graham, the publisher and owner of the Washington Post, who is often shown looking distressed when not attending fancy brunches or throwing even fancier parties for her rich friends—not so much on their source, Daniel Ellsberg, and the consequences he possibly could have faced as the whistleblower behind the leaks. Ellsberg was way more likely to be charged under the Espionage Act, and even Graham’s own reporters found themselves in more unsettling situations than her—Chief Justice Warren Burger greeted two Post reporters one night at his front door holding a pistol and wearing a bathrobe. However, as Bradlee noted in his memoir, he refused to publish this encounter in the newspaper out of fear of Chief Justice Burger. 

Strange Bedfellows: The Political Elite and the News Media

The following exchange in The Post takes place between Tom Hanks’ character, editor Ben Bradlee, and Meryl Streep’s character, Katharine Graham.

BRADLEE: I know that the bankers can change their mind. That’s—and I know what is at stake. You know, the only couple I knew that both Kennedy and LBJ wanted to socialize with was you and your husband, and you own the damn paper. It was just the way things worked. Politicians and the press, they trusted each other so they could go to the same dinner party and drink cocktails and tell jokes while there was a war raging in Vietnam.

GRAHAM: I don’t know what we’re talking about. I’m not protecting Lyndon.

BRADLEE: No. You got his former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara—the one who commissioned this study. He’s one of about a dozen—

GRAHAM: I’m not protecting him…

BRADLEE: —out on your patio.

GRAHAM: I’m not protecting any of them. I’m protecting the paper.

Aside from this one scene of dialogue, and even then, there is no valid, legitimate critique of Graham and her very close relationship with the Washington elite, specifically Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The same can be said of Bradlee’s own very close relationship with President John F. Kennedy, who, as mentioned earlier, also perpetuated U.S. involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. It is almost as if The Post glamorizes the relationship between newspaper owners, publishers (and the press in general), and the political elite through all the scenes of fancy parties, expensive dinners, and conversations between Graham and Bradlee, using first names as they casually speak and reminisce about past presidents with whom they had close friendships.

When Graham is alone with McNamara at her home in the film and confronts him about the Pentagon Papers, he attempts to defend himself by basically pointing to Nixon as the real villain. However, it becomes quite clear that people such as McNamara see Nixon as a threat, similar to the way in which many people today see current President Donald Trump as a threat—Nixon and Trump are viewed as threats to established norms and to the press’ previous close, friendly relationship with the White House. Nixon, in this example, is not necessarily painted as a threat, as a villain, to the live of thousands of Americans and Vietnamese civilians. The body count does not seem to be too much of a concern as is the their desire to maintain their previous way of reporting, in the case of the press, and legislating, in the case of the politicians.

There is an obvious parallel here to Trump and President Barack Obama—what matters, in terms of the mainstream media’s criticism of a president, is how kind and respectful each president is to each news group. Nixon and Trump were obvious threats to the press and politicians’ decorum and norms, not to any concerns necessarily over body count. However, this goes both ways, as Nixon also felt ‘betrayed’ by the press. Graham wrote in her memoir, Personal History, that “In mid-November, Nixon made a tough speech on Vietnam, implying that most of the American people supported him in what he was doing and that only the press was critical.” Nixon was wrong about this, as it is widely known that many American people were against the war and that it was incredibly unpopular, and this was the case even while the American people were unaware of the incriminating, damning content of the Pentagon Papers, of the actual truth of the U.S’ involvement in the conflict in Vietnam.

Moreover, Graham revealed that “In March, President Nixon called me to suggest that I invite Henry Kissinger to an editorial lunch to brief us on administration thinking on Vietnam. The very next week, Kissinger came to lunch, a meeting that was the start of a long relationship with the paper and with me.” Graham further shared that “As time went on, I saw much more of Henry Kissinger. He was still single and occasionally asked me out to do something casual at night…People have often asked how I handled friends like Henry insofar as the paper was concerned. It varied with different people, but certainly no one at the Post or Newsweek went any easier on Henry because we were friends.” As much as Graham insisted that her close friendships with all the elite Washington insiders did not influence her coverage, it is hard to believe that, especially when she repeatedly also talked about inviting “several administration people in to editorial lunches,” such as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Attorney General John Mitchell.

Graham also recalled in her memoir that “There was still a good deal of traffic between the administration and people throughout the Post company. I was trying to keep open the channels of communication, and for the most part during the first year of the Nixon administration everything remained polite and professional.” While it seems as if Graham’s intentions are sound, the press is not supposed to serve the government—it is supposed to hold those in power accountable for their actions, not exactly to be friendly with them or to operate as their public mouthpieces. This is mentioned and stressed briefly once in the film, and while the sentiment makes sense and is true, its place in this film and its particular telling of this historical event is curious—precisely because the film constantly depicts Graham pandering to her rich, political elite friends, and because there is no harsh critique regarding this fraught relationship between the press and the government that existed as that time and still persists today for many mainstream outlets.

One of the Washington Post’s lawyers in the film advises that they hold off on publishing for a little bit and wait to contact the government first to let them know they have this story and to give them some advance warning. This gives the government time to respond and let the press know if there is any information in the documents that could potentially harm an American citizen or the country’s national security. Interestingly, there is not much said in the film on the very real conversations at the time that still persist today regarding national security and freedom of the press. There is one scene where the government says that this could damage national security, but the film does not dive much deeper into this loaded conversation. Journalists at adversarial outlets today, such as The Intercept, followed this very procedure suggested by the lawyer in the film when publishing the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Drone Papers, and other highly-classified documents leaked to the press by whistleblowers. This is one way the press can maintain a relationship with the government that is not compromising in the way that it was and still is with top editors and publishers at mainstream news outlets, such was the Washington Post. 

And so, while the First Amendment and freedom of the press is often brought up during the film, the characters in The Post do not exactly stress that the public has the right to know this information. It is almost as if that is an afterthought, as the focus is mostly on being able to be the outlet that publishes this huge story first, which is also interesting given that the Washington Post was not even the first outlet to publish the Pentagon Papers—that credit belongs to the New York Times. In short, The Post tells a story about the publishing of the Pentagon Papers that is alienating, primarily because the viewer is set out to root for a rich newspaper heiress, not the source Daniel Ellsberg, or really even the other Post reporters and editors involved in the story. The stakes are to maintain a cordial relationship between the newspaper and the White House administration, to protect the Washington Post’s IPO, and to maintain Katharine Graham’s inheritance. This film highlights the very real discrimination of women in the workplace all throughout, not just in dialogue but also through body language. But The Post ends up stressing gender more so than protection of whistleblowers, even though both are important, yet arguably the latter is more so in this particular event. The film, however, also highlights the importance of protecting Washington elite insiders and how that is considered necessary and common among relationships between the press and the government. The film’s decision to focus on the power dynamics, especially in relation to gender—although these are both very real and important problems still existing in today’s society and media landscape—diminishes the actual significance and content of the Pentagon Papers, which is arguably one of the most important stories every published.

Works Cited

Bradlee, Benjamin C., Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and Sally Quinn. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2017.

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
Graham, Katharine. Personal History. 1., Visage books ed. New York, NY: Vintage books, 1998.

Hammer, Ellen J. Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kimball, Jeffrey P. To Reason Why: The Debate about the Causes of U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War. Eugene, Or.: Resource Publications, 2005.

Lesley Anne Warner. Money in the Bank--Lessons Learned from Past Counterinsurgency (COIN) Operations. RAND Corporation, 2007.

Nancy A. Hewitt. No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2010.

Noam Chomsky. How the World Works. Soft Skull Press, 2011.

Sandra C. Taylor. “Tracing the Origins of U.S. Involvement in Vietnam.” OAH Magazine of History 1, no. 1 (April 1985).

Steven Spielberg. The Post. Film. 20th Century Fox, 2017.

Victor Bator. Vietnam, a Diplomatic Tragedy: The Origins of the United States Involvement. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1965.

Kamala Harris Is Not Your Champion

Shortly after the 2016 election, a close friend and I speculated about who might run for president against Donald J. Trump when he’s up for reelection, assuming he doesn’t get impeached before then. My friend, who has some background in California politics, brought up Kamala Harris, as she’s been on his radar for about five years now. He said, in the most matter-of-fact way, that Kamala Harris will be president—it might not be in 2020, but it’s going to happen one day. I didn’t think too much of his comment at the time. I just went ahead and followed her on Twitter, and that was it.

But then I saw her name come up on my timeline in late January when she spoke out against the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Harris made the right (and no-brainer) decision to vote no on DeVos’ nomination—unfortunately, DeVos’ nomination was confirmed after Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie in the Senate, marking the first time in U.S. history a vice president has ever cast a deciding vote on the confirmation of a Cabinet nominee. (Speaking of DeVos, her brother Erik Prince, the founder of the disdainful military company Blackwater, recently offered a proposal to Trump in which he advocates replacing troops in Afghanistan with private contractors—and about 5,500 of them. Because evil runs in the family, and because war should be privatized and never-ending.)

On Twitter, Harris reiterated why she voted against DeVos’ nomination, and while her reasons are sound, her tweets still managed to feel somewhat performative—and robotic. Two things were clear: Kamala Harris is smart, and she’s gunning for the presidency.

It was obvious that she was trying to appeal to the Left, and given that the Democrats lost not only the election but majorities in both the House and the Senate, the entire party should follow suit if it wants the support of millennials and others who rallied behind Bernie Sanders. However, the Left is going to need way more than just politically expedient rhetoric from centrist liberals to be able to trust someone like Harris. We need actual results—especially when it comes to policies that many people are actually in favor of, such as single-payer healthcare—instead of false promises that are quickly abandoned once the politician assumes office. As Ryan Cooper noted a few weeks ago, “Harris has sometimes displayed a rather Hillary Clinton-esque tendency to say the right thing but not follow through in a vigorous way.”

But what are we to expect from a party that only cares about optics? During her campaign, Hillary Clinton sounded exactly like the college freshman who just took Gender 101 and learned about intersectionality—but unlike that college freshman, Clinton sought to capitalize on her newfound (or rather, contrived) ‘wokeness’ to gain political power at the expense of groups she ostensibly cares about—women, minorities, LGBTQ, the working class, etc. Clinton treated the electorate as if it was so fractured, and as a result, her ‘progressive’ rhetoric centered around identity politics and came off as performative—since we all know she’s more conservative than a significant portion of her own base.

While Harris has supported many progressive causes—she most recently made headlines again after putting out a plan to end the pay gap for black women—she is still not the champion that the Democratic Party needs. Her background as a former prosecutor should be seen less as a qualification than as something that’s actually troubling and in need of further examination. What’s also disturbing is that Harris doesn’t seem ashamed about her record at all, as she loves to remind us, “I’m a prosecutor,” which has become her annoying catchphrase. What Harris says on Twitter can be ‘on point’ and make her look like she’s been on the right side of history this whole time, but her background as a prosecutor easily suggests otherwise.

Just two years ago, Harris, while working as a prosecutor, sought to block gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates. Sure, she might say now to trans folk that she will “fight for your rights,” but that lip-service doesn’t inoculate her previous record from any criticism.

Harris also has yet to offer an explanation for why she declined prosecuting Steven Mnuchin’s bank in 2013 despite its blatantly obvious foreclosure violations. Interestingly enough, in 2016, she was the only Senate democratic candidate to receive a donation from Mnuchin. According to public records, Mnuchin primarily donates money to various state Republican Party chapters. He’s also given money to individual Republican politicians including Paul Ryan, Trump, and Scott Walker—three egregiously abhorrent people whose politics, on the surface level, are drastically different from Harris’. (On a side note, Mnuchin’s wife just made headlines after she went on a long, condescending rant about how she’s better and richer than someone who commented on one of her Instagram photos.)

It’s fair to bring up these criticisms and expect an honest response from Harris, especially since it’s pretty clear that she’s going to run for president. She has already met with top Clinton donors—in the Hamptons, no less. But centrist democrats are accusing the Left of being racist or misogynistic because of their criticism of Harris. It’s the whole 'Bernie Bro’ narrative again at play, and it’s important to not gloss over this, as this type of rhetoric is as dangerous as it is inaccurate. I wrote about this back in April when feminist historian Susan Bordo argued that millennial women, at least the ones who liked Bernie and his plans, were to blame for Clinton’s pathetic loss to Trump. Just replace Clinton’s name for Harris’, and the parallels become even more obvious:

The Clinton campaign also constructed and polluted the media with the false narrative of the ‘Bernie Bros’ in what is now a classic example of neoliberals co-opting the language and rhetoric of the left to paint themselves as victims and to distract from the bad policies of their failed candidate. When faced with any type of critique, Clinton supporters rushed to appropriate social justice language and cry ‘misogyny.’

Liberal talking heads believed that all Bernie supporters were men, and the only reason for their opposition to Hillary must be due to their sexism. No one could possibly be opposed to Hillary’s hawkish views or her intimate ties with Wall Street or her support of drones. If men supported Bernie, it was obviously because they were sexist. If women supported Bernie, it was because they were self-hating, or, as ‘feminist icon’ Gloria Steinem put it, just following the boys. And Madeleine Albright, the future slumlord of Hell, let us millennial women know that a special place was designated for us there if we failed to support Hillary.

The Left now has to constantly defend itself from these absurd accusations—we have to repeatedly explain we aren’t critical of people like Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, or Cory Booker because we’re racist and/or sexist. Prominent women on the Left have written extensively on how these inaccurate portrayals actually leads to the erasure of women and people of color on the Left. It’s such a cop-out for neoliberal white women to deflect legitimate criticism and instead blame everything on “white boys” (and Russia). To be honest, I went through a somewhat embarrassing full-misandry phase myself late in high school and during my first year of college—until I later realized that the people who have done the most harm to me haven’t been white boys but white women. These are people who purport to care about people of color only when it’s convenient for them, because if they actually cared, they would support economic policies that would end up redistributing power and wealth to minorities and working class people.

It’s sad that I feel the need to defend my criticism of Harris by prefacing whatever I say with, “Hey, like Kamala Harris, I am both a woman and a person of color, so I can speak up about this, and you can trust me when I say that my problems with Harris have nothing to do with her race or gender.” It also just says a lot about how centrist liberals have tainted identity politics over the years. My reasons for not rallying behind Harris should be on valid on their own, without any need for me to mention my own gender/race to get liberals to even hear me out and take me 1% more seriously.

Kamala Harris, despite her support for many great progressive causes, is still very much a part of the neoliberal machine that cost us this past election. The Democratic Party can’t risk making the same mistake twice—it needs to move more to the Left if it wants the support of millennials, and to have a real chance at actually beating Trump in 2020. The Left needs to keep pushing Harris and other Democrats further to our side because we can’t afford to be pragmatic about universal healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, or about the criminal justice system. Harris needs to listen to us and our concerns and demands, not to the Clinton donors she’s cozying up to in the Hamptons—these are people who have continuously failed us and are in major denial about the state of their own party. We’re not trying to silence Harris, or interrupt her. We’re trying to get her to respond to legitimate criticism. But for someone who doesn’t shy away from being outspoken in public, Kamala Harris is staying pretty quiet.

Democrats Only Have Themselves to Blame—Not Millennial Women

Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo blames millennial women for “the destruction of Hillary Clinton” in a newly-published extract from her book. Our historical naiveté is contrasted with Bordo’s apparent “lived history,” which actually reads more as historical amnesia. Yes, we ‘millennial feminists’ might not have been around when the GOP was trying to take Bill Clinton down in “a series of witchhunts,” but we were around when Hillary was shilling for the Saudis, calling for a regime change in Libya in 2011, and raking in millions for speeches given to Goldman Sachs.

We were also alive when Hillary was still against gay marriage—one of the many causes for which she is now suddenly the vanguard. Democrats ostensibly care about women's rights and LGBTQ rights, yet they backed someone who's BFFs with some of the most sexist, tyrannical, homophobic dictators in the world—Hillary is very close with the Saudis (and receives a lot of money from them). Cultural historian Susan Bordo, however, chooses to forget all these facts.

She claims this last election season was “dominated by versions of Hillary Clinton constructed by her political opponents,” all the while failing to mention how Hillary’s campaign and the media portrayed Bernie Sanders as a crazy, old grandpa perpetually wagging his finger—as if that didn’t further minimize him as a candidate.

Clinton supporters and pundits also painted Bernie as wholly unelectable, despite polls showing that Sanders had a greater chance than Hillary of beating Trump in the general election. These liberals love data so much, yet they cast aside these poll numbers and instead took the risk of putting forth an extremely unpopular and unrelatable candidate against Trump. But, according to Bordo, we 'millennial feminists' are at fault for Trump winning the election, certainly not the older bourgeois white feminist elite to which Bordo belongs or the Democrats.

The Clinton campaign also constructed and polluted the media with the false narrative of the “Bernie Bros” in what is now a classic example of neoliberals co-opting the language and rhetoric of the left to paint themselves as victims and to distract from the bad policies of their failed candidate. When faced with any type of critique, Clinton supporters rushed to appropriate social justice language and cry ‘misogyny.’

Liberal talking heads believed that all Bernie supporters were men, and the only reason for their opposition to Hillary must be due to their sexism. No one could possibly be opposed to Hillary’s hawkish views or her intimate ties with Wall Street or her support of drones. If men supported Bernie, it was obviously because they were sexist. If women supported Bernie, it was because they were self-hating, or, as ‘feminist icon’ Gloria Steinem put it, just following the boys. And Madeleine Albright, the future slumlord of Hell, let us millennial women know that a special place was designated for us there if we failed to support Hillary.

Somehow it is so difficult for some people to understand—especially those who probably haven’t had to worry about their job security in decades—that many millennial women supported Bernie Sanders because of his coherent economic message. This isn’t about a new culture war. This is much more concrete than the politics of the ‘60s. People want public works, they want socialism. These aren’t new ideas by a longshot.

Bordo writes that Bernie was “taking advantage of justified frustration with politics as usual (a frustration more appropriately aimed at GOP stonewalling of Democratic legislation),” yet millennials don’t equate politics or business as usual with such an oversimplification—especially one that frees the Democratic Party from all blame while simultaneously casting it as the Ultimate Good (or rather the Lawful Good in the alignment meme). Young women recognized that Sanders’ economic policies would actually benefit marginalized and low-income groups far more than Hillary’s politically expedient rhetoric.

Yet Bordo stresses that Bernie’s “list didn’t include the struggle for reproductive rights or affordable child care. Nor, at the beginning of his campaign, was there much emphasis on racial justice.” She fails to recognize how these first order issues are tied directly to economics, and the consequences of Bernie’s economic policies would not only protect but redistribute power and capital to the poor and racial minorities, groups which Bordo and other liberals purport to care so much about.

Young Bernie-supporting feminists played “a big role,” Bordo writes, “in the thin edge...that gave Trump the election.” This past election season, Bordo and other Democrats seemed to have chosen to forget that primaries are often contested in a democracy. How dare anyone run against Hillary? The narrative was that the nomination was hers, and everyone should accept that and rally behind her—or be seen as a divisive, corrosive force soon to be discarded.

With the way the establishment Democrats were supporting Hillary in the primaries, she might as well have been running as an incumbent. Despite having all of these advantages, Hillary still lost. Now ‘millennial feminists’ who supported Bernie are the source of blame for getting in the way of DNC operatives’ wet dreams of anointing Hillary as president. We are the ones who damaged Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s undemocratic inside campaign to hand Hillary the nominee on a silver platter.

For Democrats, Hillary’s loss can’t possibly have anything to do with the way she ran her campaign or her record. Nor could it possibly have anything to do with young people not connecting with a robotic, war-loving establishment hack. Hillary’s loss becomes attributed to everyone but her and the Democratic Party—everyone else, including the people who voted for Jill Stein (even though the math doesn’t add up) and the people who stayed home, are to blame for Trump winning the election.

Democrats like Bordo never take blame and refuse to be even the slightest bit self-critical. They’ll blame everyone but themselves instead of thinking about why they ran such an unpopular candidate in an election season in which the stakes were so high. They’ll make the same mistakes over and over again—the voting members of the DNC in February earlier this year elected Tom Perez over lifelong progressive Congressman Keith Ellison. Bordo argues that “Bernie Sanders splintered and ultimately sabotaged the Democratic party,” as if they weren’t already doing a good job of that themselves.

Knowledge Journalism Final

Image Analysis Can Help Detect Fake News

By Aqsa Ahmad

As anxiety about the spread of fake news rises among the news media and the public, researchers argue that images can be analyzed to verify the truthfulness of news stories.

Based on data from various news events shared on popular Chinese website Sina Weibo, a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, researchers developed a model that counts the number of images per news event to distinguish between real and fake news.

“Apart from their popularity and great impact on news diffusion, images also have distinctive distribution patterns for real and fake news visually and statistically,” write Zhiwei Jin and Juan Cao, the study’s authors.

With an accuracy rate of 83.6 percent, the adoption of this model might have helped prevent the spread of many false stories that emerged during the election, including one about Hillary Clinton and her campaign running a child sex trafficking ring in a pizzeria.

This past weekend, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina drove to the Washington D.C pizzeria to investigate the alleged conspiracy and ended up shooting the floor after failing to find any evidence of child abuse. No one got hurt and police arrested the man in question, Edgar Welch, but such a conflict comes amid growing concerns many members of the media and public have over the influence of fake news on the election.

In their study, Jin and Cao looked at the number of tweets and the number of images for each news event in their data set and found that fake news stories tend to have lower image-to-tweet ratios (meaning fewer images per news event) compared to real news stories.

Along with quantity, the researchers also took into account the diversity of images accompanying news events and observed that images in fake news stories are less diverse—in other words, fake news stories lack a variety of images taken by different sources and are limited in amount.

“People tend to report news with images taken by themselves at the event scene. If the event is real, then various images taken by different witnesses would be posted on microblogs. If the event is fake, there are very few images or repeatedly posted images,” explain Jin and Cao.

A microblog is another term used to describe a social media platform (such as Sina Weibo, Twitter, or Tumblr) where users can make short posts frequently. According to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, a majority of adults in the U.S.—62 percent—get their news from social media platforms, with nearly six-in-ten Twitter users getting their news from Twitter.

“However, the convenience of publishing news also fosters the emergence of various fake news. Without verifying the truthfulness of news, fake news would spread promptly through social networks and result in serious consequences,” warn Jin and Cao.

Existing approaches to news verification focus mainly on the text content of news tweets, relying on statistical features such as tweet length, word count, and the use of URLS or hashtag topics.

Jin and Cao state that not all of these textual features are effective for news verification and instead argue that images play a crucial role for news verification. 

The researchers claim that tweets with images are more popular and have greater influence in propagating news due to their ability to convey information more vividly than text-only tweets. Moreover, as tweets have a 140-character limit, many users include images along with their news stories in an attempt to fit in more information.

“In our real-world data set collected from Sina Weibo, the ratio of image to tweet is more than 0.516. This indicates more than half of tweets come along with images on average,” write Jin and Cao.

Their own image-focused method boasts a verification accuracy rate 7 percent higher than that of existing text-focused approaches.

However, Jin and Cao’s method relies on “authoritative sources to form a convincing ground truth of the truth value of news events in the data set”—including Xinhua News Agency, a media organization that is subordinate to the Chinese central government.

In other words, the researchers’ method uses a state-run news agency, which might not be the most reliable or truthful source, to determine which news events in their data set constitute real or fake news. While Xinhua, as the official press agency of China, might be ‘authoritative,’ it has often been accused of spreading disinformation and propaganda itself. 

Given the recent rise and influence of fake news, the researchers’ model sounds promising in preventing the spread of false stories. However, the use of such a program by a state actor could lead to the suppression of free speech and dissenting political views. Instead of detecting and eliminating fake news, it could be used to identify and then neuter real news stories, leaving only the approved fake ones.

In response to a question about fake news at Monday’s Press Briefing, White House Press Secretary John Earnest said, “Given the First Amendment questions that are raised, the role of the government to play in all of this is going to be necessarily limited by that.”

While the government censoring fake news might raise some First Amendment issues, it could also help prevent the spread of false stories that not only affect public opinion and politics but also incite misinformed people, such as the armed man in the D.C. pizzeria, to act in ways that might endanger others.

Even after the confrontation, many still continue to push the fake news story that the pizzeria is harboring child sex slaves including: Twitter user Jeffrey Marty, who has 24,000 followers and poses as a representative of a made-up district in Georgia, and Michael G. Flynn, the son of Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the incoming National Security Adviser. Michael G. Flynn was subsequently fired from President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team.

If used properly, image analysis as a means for automatic news verification may be effective in preventing false conspiracy theories that have real life consequences.








The devil you don’t know: Clinton’s response to the Brussels attacks


Liberals and conservatives alike are raking Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over the coals for their responses to the Brussels attacks — Trump for advocating torture and the deportation of Muslims, and Cruz for advocating increased police surveillance of Muslims. Of particular note was the NYPD’s criticism of Cruz, despite the fact that his plan is based off of former NYPD tactics.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s response, playing up US “values” and “humanitarian obligations,” has been described as “smart, substantive” by The New York Times. At a speech to Stanford University students, Clinton said, “We face an adversary that is constantly adapting and operating across multiple theaters so our response must be just as nimble and far-reaching.”

But the editorial board glossed over the tension between Clinton’s plan and her rhetoric. A plan that involves increased electronic surveillance is necessarily at odds with her rhetorical position against “demonizing Muslim Americans.” As the NSA disclosures in 2011 demonstrated, Muslims are disproportionately and indiscriminately targeted with surveillance.

The center-left media is doing all it can to cement Clinton as The Only Alternative, despite polls indicating that Bernie Sanders has a better chance of beating Trump in the general election. Sanders’ awkward performance on the PBS Newshour last night will give ammunition to hawkish Democrats. But Clinton had an equally awkward night on Twitter, unveiling a three-point plan “to defeat ISIS that was widely mocked.

If Cruz’s and Clinton’s responses are looked at, side-by-side, there are interesting similarities. Cruz advocates increased police surveillance of Muslim communities, while Clinton advocates unspecific, though ostensibly unbiased, electronic surveillance.

Clinton relies on common misunderstandings about the efficacy of electronic surveillance to hold her policy and rhetorical positions in concert. The efficacy of both police and electronic surveillance is constrained by human bias and error in the application of imperfect technologies. Once the image of electronic surveillance as an objective, all-seeing-eye falls apart, the distinction between police and electronic surveillance becomes less clear.

To be sure, both forms of surveillance “demonize” Muslims, and both Cruz and Clinton are implicated. Nor is Sanders immune to criticism. His plan to defeat ISIS by building a coalition with Saudi Arabia demonstrates that the Brussels attacks have moved everyone to the right. In a week of tragedy and bitter primary fights, not a single US presidential candidate escaped intact.

My Art Final

For my final in my art class, ARTV 10100 Visual Language: On Images, I had choose an article in the newspaper and then make a project in response to it. The article I chose was on the ongoing fight between FBI and Apple, as the FBI continues to demand Apple for access to the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooter.

I chose this article because it not only explores the ideas of privacy and security but also the extent of authority and power the U.S. government can exercise. This case is extremely important because it has the potential to set a dangerous, broad precedent in which the U.S. government can legally demand technology companies to create backdoors to essentially undermine their own existing security measures. This article delves into the question of how much authority the government can have and what the far-reaching consequences of that could be.

When thinking about what I wanted to do for my project, I was intrigued by the concept of the back door. To be clear, I find it extremely concerning that the government is asking Apple to basically write new, intentionally corrupt code in order to create a back door. Although a back door is a method of bypassing security in relation to technology, I wanted to think of it as a tangible object—instead of a method—that could take on a physical form.

My project had to installed somewhere in the Reva & David Logan Center for the Arts building in which I have class. I wanted it to be in a location that was by a door and somewhat hidden in order to physically manifest the idea of the back door as much as possible, so I chose the back door entrance to the screening room that is located in the corner of the second floor. I was also pressed for time after vomiting every 30 minutes the night before and having to go back to the suburbs for after-hours care—so I didn’t really have time to be picky.

For the project, we had to make something out of the 2-D scraps that we were supposed to have been collecting all throughout the quarter. Luckily, I had the business cards of two FBI agents in my bag of scraps, which were perfect for my project given the subject choice. I was not in trouble with the FBI, surprisingly, and was actually just questioned by them about a month earlier as part of a background investigation on a former colleague of mine trying to get a security clearance at the White House, where she now works.

I got really ill during finals week and had to complete this project in two hours, and I somehow pulled it together within that time right before final critique started. I had a broken mirror sitting outside my room for the longest time and thought I would try to finally make some use of it. I further broke down the mirror into small and large pieces and taped those pieces onto the door of the screening room. I was not careful enough when breaking down the pieces because I got cuts all over my hand and started bleeding everywhere! I cut out some scraps from two magazines I had lying around in my room, Jacobin and Dissent, and glued images and text from them onto some of the broken mirror pieces. I also had a bunch of empty cigarette boxes collected in my bag of scraps, but I decided to use the shiny paper that comes with the boxes instead and glued it onto a couple of the broken mirror pieces, as well. Basically, I went one step beyond the MFA students who just put up a crushed box of empty Newports on a wall and call it art for their thesis exhibitions.

I projected the title and image of an article written by Micah Lee for The Intercept, because I thought the article itself was really informative and helpful, as well as relevant to the subject choice of my work. Also, I am a huge fan of The Intercept and take any opportunity I can get to plug that news site into my schoolwork. Anyway, I thought the projection of that article looked good with the rest of the installation, and it added an element to the project that I thought was important to include. The article reflects this idea that we are responsible for our own privacy and security—that we must take measures into our own hands—because the government will not protect either.

I wish there was less light in the location of my installation, but I was, overall, okay with the way that it turned out! I also learned that as long as you sound like you know what you’re talking about, you can get by showing shitty and hastily-made ‘art’ and walk out with an A! Gotta love the Humanities at UChicago.