National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Ford Foundation funded think tank “Global Americans” yesterday published an article claiming a redfish documentary contains “lies and distortions” regarding the role that the media, including its own website, has played in the crisis that has ravaged Nicaragua since April this year.
The redfish documentary called “The New Battle for Nicaragua” aims to redress the imbalance caused by one-sided media coverage which focuses on violence at the hands of the Nicaraguan state and its supporters while largely ignoring the crimes committed by the opposition.
The documentary has been viewed almost half a million times and received an overwhelmingly warm reception by Nicaraguans who have widely shared the story on social networks, frequently dubbing it the first report by international media which provides balanced coverage of the crisis.
Nevertheless, Global Americans claims the aim of the documentary “is to distract”, because it mentions the history of US government intervention and ongoing financing to opposition groups in Nicaragua. The think tank claims this funding is merely for “education- and democracy-related projects” and is “not the cause of this year’s protests.”
However, the article fails to mention that Global Americans itself published an article earlier this year which details the millions spent by the US government financed NED “laying the groundwork for insurrection in Nicaragua”. In addition to this stunning admission by the think-tank regarding American efforts to destabilise Nicaragua, redfish’s documentary highlights visits by Nicaraguan student opposition leaders to US Senators vocally opposed to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, along with statements by US President Donald Trump condemning his Nicaraguan counterpart while imposing sanctions designed to weaken and foment unrest against the Nicaraguan government.
Global Americans makes no effort to address the effects of longstanding and ongoing interference in Nicaraguan politics, which comes as no surprise as the think tank is a project of the NED and the Ford Foundation. Both of these “soft power” organisations have a long history of working with the US establishment to stimulate destabilisation across the world – the latter having been founded by US giant Henry Ford, who is infamous for his anti-semitic past, inspiring none other than Adolf Hitler and later facilitating the CIA‘s “cultural Cold War” against the Soviet Union and Western European communist parties.
It seems that for some the Cold War is still alive. redfish rejects the attempt to discredit its work through anti-Russian fear mongering and invites Global Americans to take a more serious look at the effect that money coming from its own sponsors is having on causing bloodshed and economic violence against people living south of its border.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
Skyscrapers. Tents. Dreams. Nightmares. Words can’t adequately describe the extent of LA’s conflicting scenery. This city in which all has been deemed possible now seems more like the setting for a downward spiral into untold misery for the have-nots. What for a few remains a playground, a heaven on earth, is quickly becoming a suffocating hell for the tens of thousands living without shelter.
Watch Marcel Cartier’s full report “Humanitarian crisis in Hollywood”.
Almost 60,000 people across LA County are currently homeless, with a further 10,000 living out of their cars or other vehicles. In 2015 the city’s Mayor Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a state of emergency paving the way for the United Nations to send a Special Rapporteur to investigate extreme poverty in the US at the end of last year.
The magnitude of the UN coming to inspect the conditions of scores of people living in tents in the middle of one of the wealthiest cities in the US cannot be overstated. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s investigation in cities like LA led him to conclude that “the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion.”
“It Shocks People from Other Countries”
For years now Skid Row in downtown LA has been home to the greatest concentration of homelessness in the US. There is nothing particularly new about tents piling up street after street in the 49-square block area. In fact it has been building up over more than one hundred years due to a corresponding concentration of social services and resources in the area. More recently, Skid Row gained the reputation of being a dumping ground of the city’s homeless, a place where hospitals and emergency services literally dump homeless people in the streets instead of providing or finding them shelter.
Rev. Andy Bales, the CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, a Christian organization committed to providing services to the homeless in the middle of the Skid Row, has become the city’s authority on the crisis. His personal experience of living on the streets and then losing his leg due to three flesh eating diseases is harrowing.
It was Bales’ testimony at a city council hearing in 2015 which moved the Mayor to seriously consider declaring a state of emergency and when I met him I got the sense that while he is keen to tell his story, he’s more eager to find solutions to a crisis which he said “shocks people from other countries”.
I was one of those people. Even though I am a US citizen by birth, I grew up for the most part in western Europe which has contributed to an inner conflict when it comes to my own country, one which was stoked further at the sight of such shocking inequality in LA.
While poverty, homelessness and inequality are all pervasive throughout Europe, particularly as post-World War Two welfare states become infected by the doctrine of austerity, conditions in the US where a welfare state never really existed in the first place, are overtly more dire.
Rampant individualism has always been the name of the game, and the consequences are horrifyingly obvious.
Refugee Camps in the Shadow of Hollywood
Bales is armed with the statistics that confirm what’s visible on the streets outside the Union Rescue Mission – a humanitarian crisis.
One of the most staggering is that there are just nine permanent toilets and five temporary ones for 2,500 people. Skid Row, in the world’s most powerful economy, has 180 toilets less than the minimum standard for a United Nations refugee camp in Syria.
While I am uncomfortable comparing the plight of people fleeing the trauma of war to homeless people in southern California, what I have witnessed during travel to camps in Iraq and Syria in the past year are sanitation conditions far more advanced than what I found in Skid Row.
Yet perhaps the comparisons don’t end there. Here in the shadow of Hollywood, I sensed a subtle type of war being waged against the poor and dispossessed. The tents symbolize a makeshift refugee camp for many of those displaced from the houses or apartments with rising rents which their wages, or lack of them, cannot keep up with. Dignity is elusive – not a right, but something that has to be purchased.
As the cost of living in Los Angeles continues to soar. So-called regeneration is making rents even more unaffordable and so the crisis is only worsening. Mayor Garcetti says he has $4.5 billion to spend to end homelessness in time for the olympics in 2028. LA Tenants Union activist Rene Moya says this is “utter claptrap” and the only housing I saw going up around me was for the rich.
NIMBY – Not In My Backyard
Over the last six years homelessness in LA has risen by a staggering 75 per cent. So while homelessness is far from a new phenomenon in the US it can no longer be kept away from the sights of people living in relative comfort.
It’s not just in Skid Row where the homelessness crisis is out of control but practically every area across greater LA including Hollywood Boulevard where tourists now walk around the homeless sleeping on the Walk of Fame.
It was here where I first heard the expression NIMBY for Not In My Backyard. The idea behind the acronym is that if the crisis is contained to certain areas, it can be ignored. In fact some property developers are building bridges between their luxury apartments, literally constructing an LA within LA, a bubble for the rich, by minimising the frequency they have to face the streets and reality around them.
One of my contacts who I worked closely with on the story told me that one of his family members who lived in a rich part of the city actually didn’t know about the extent of the crisis until he was shown video footage of the tents on Skid Row. He was shocked that this was happening in his home city that he assumed he knew intimately all his life.
However, despite the efforts described above, the crisis is so huge the middle classes and wealthier residents of LA can no longer choose to ignore it. It is in their backyard, but the services and affordable housing to tackle the problem are not. And NIMBYism is part of the problem because it encompasses the idea that affordable housing shouldn’t be built or opened up in wealthier areas, in case working-class residents would move in and taint their imagined prestige.
President Donald Trump promised to ‘Make America Great Again’, but the UN’s Philip Alston warns his plan to slash $1.5 trillion in taxes by gutting already underfunded social programs will “be fatal for many programs, and possibly also for those who rely upon them.” Alston’s scathing report published by the UN Office of the High Commissioner in December 2017 explicitly stated that the US wasn’t meeting its basic human rights obligations. Here is an excerpt:
“International human rights law recognizes a right to education, a right to healthcare, a right to social protection for those in need, and a right to an adequate standard of living. In practice, the United States is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, or growing up in a context of total deprivation.”
If the American dream truly ever existed – I would argue much of it has always been illusionary – over the course of the time I recently spent in LA, I found where it has gone to die. Skid Row should be a wake up call for the entire country, a cry for society to reassess its priorities and how truly democratic its way of life actually is in the face of a crisis where thousands of people have literally been dumped, excluded – but no matter how America tries, they will never be invisible.
In November, redfish published its first report. The journey to build our company and a different way of telling stories began.
We’re still in the “soft launch” phase – finding our feet, building our team and network, developing our style of storytelling, all out there in the public for the world to see how we’re coming into shape, warts, beauty spots and all. But, with just five stories published, we’re already making waves.
Our full launch will take place between spring and summer this year. But given that we’ve been talked about so much already, with articles recently written by 3 major media companies in a short period about redfish’s connection to RT — each full of misinformation — we want you to hear the facts from us and not through the rumour mill.
Each of the reports, first by the Daily Beast, then The Times and the Daily Mail, have been heavy on sensationalism but light on substance. The point of them is to discredit us purely by association with the mainstream media’s favourite bogeyman: Russia.
Yes, redfish’s funding comes from Ruptly, a news agency owned by RT. But that’s about all. Neither the Beast, Times or Mail have been able to discredit our editorial independence.
In the interests of transparency for all concerned, let’s also be clear about the backgrounds of these 3 organisations.
The Daily Beast is financed by billionaire media mogul Barry Diller’s InterActive Corp. Diller co-founded Fox Broadcasting Company with that other billionaire media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. Diller was one of the major financiers of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Between their respective empires, the old colleagues Diller and Murdoch have phenomenal power to influence the outcome of elections, a fact which Murdoch’s British tabloid, the Sun boasted about once with their headline after a Conservative Party election victory “It was the Sun Wot Won It”.
The Times, also owned by Murdoch, has a history of fabricating stories about Russian infiltration. In the mid 90s it even ran a totally false report claiming former leader of the Labour Party, Michael Foot, was a KGB agent. Foot sued the Times and Murdoch and was awarded a “substantial amount” in damages.
The Daily Mail was founded by Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, well known for his support for Adolf Hitler, support which was also reflected in the Mail’s editorial line. Today it’s owned by his tax dodging great-grandson and the Mail’s tradition of extreme right wing views and demonising the most vulnerable continues. Its reputation is so infamous, Wikipedia banned it last year for being an “unreliable” source. The site’s volunteer editors accused the Mail of being known “to outright fabricate facts/quotes/ even whole interviews”.
Rothermere and Murdoch combined control over half of Britain’s online and print publications. Their organisations, which are well known for representing their a political agendas, imply that there is something to worry about with redfish’s connection to RT. But, despite their immense resources, none of them offered a shred of evidence that we are not editorially independent. Nor were they able to challenge the substance of our reports.
They all questioned redfish’s transparency, with the Daily Mail implying that because our website or social media pages do not declare our source of funding, this can be taken as evidence that something suspicious is at play. Will they declare their backgrounds and extremely unsavoury ties and backgrounds explicitly on their sites?
In all seriousness, our intent has never been to obfuscate. As we are still in soft-launch we haven’t got everything up and running yet – our website is not even yet fully developed. Until we get to full launch, things will continue as they have until now. Everyone we have worked with, on each of the seven stories we have produced to date – camera crews, reporters, activists, fixers, translators etc – have all been informed how we are funded. Anyone who asks us gets a straight answer and this is easily verifiable.
There is just one person we refused to talk to.
While the Mail, Beast and Times attempted to make the case that redfish is hiding something, they themselves failed to inform their own audiences of the real reason why our team did not want to respond to the Daily Beast’s Charles Davis question about our relationship with RT.
We told them, but they chose not to tell you. So I’ll do it for them.
Davis has a track record of trolling journalists and activists who do not share his world view on social media and through outlets like the Daily Beast and others.
This has been written about extensively in Alternet. Given this background of manipulating the facts surrounding other reporters works, redfish responded to Davies’ enquiry as follows:
Davis did not go on to write about “the alternative media landscape in 2018” as he claimed he would in his email to us. But he did, as we anticipated, use his article to trash journalists, in this case me.
His lurid claims about my reporting from Libya and Syria are so inaccurate that to detail all of the errors would be unkind to an audience that deserves more entertaining reading. Put simply, they display a total ignorance by Davis of both the stories I covered and the realities of reporting from the ground in war zones. I will give one example. Davis writes:
She also accompanied pro-regime forces into Eastern Aleppo after rebels were pushed out, her report stating that militants had been using bakeries, a frequent target of Russian and Syrian government airstrikes, to build weapons
Just because Davis chose to write this sentence, does not make it any more worthy of being read. There is, as they say, nothing to see here. Anyone who has worked on the ground in Syria knows that whenever you enter a military zone, you accompany whoever controls the territory, whether it be Al Qaeda (aka Hayat Tahrir Al Sham or their associates), as would have been the case with CNN when they recently reported from Idlib (more on that later), the predominantly Kurdish forces the YPG, as I have done on several occasions, or the Syrian army.
Anyone who clicks the link to my report will see what Davis fails to mention. My crew and I captured exclusive footage of an area in Aleppo’s Old City minutes after it had been retaken by the Syrian Army, where the mine-ridden streets had not yet been cleared when we stepped into them. It was an exceptional opportunity to see parts of rebel-held Aleppo before anyone had a chance to move things around and to get an insight into what life was really like. What I found was clear evidence of rebels using civilian buildings as makeshift weapons-making factories. It might not fit Davis’ narrative, reality can be inconvenient like that. So his reporting unwittingly turned out to be a great example of what redfish will never do.
Our staff, a combination of activists with a background in media and professional journalists, were motivated to start redfish by a shared frustration of storytelling being limited by the news agenda, which is driven by a handful of corporations — often in cahoots with powerful governments — some of which I’ve referred to above.
The result is that context is so often stripped out of news reports. Here are some examples.
A Vice (15 per cent owned by, yes again, Murdoch and other such rich men) report on the bloodshed in Congo proclaims to give a brief history of the country, without mentioning perhaps the most famous Congolese person who ever lived: Patrice Lumumba. Why is Lumumba important? Because his vision as the first leader of Congo after it won independence from decades of brutal Belgian colonialism threatened to kick out the mining companies and put the Congo’s vast riches in the ownership of the people. Lumumba was assassinated in a CIA plot and his body dissolved in acid.
A CNN report from the ground in the Syrian city of Idlib, mentions Syrian and Russian airstrikes over the city without once mentioning that it is also an Al Qaeda stronghold, populated with thousands of rebels who have been sponsored and armed by the US and their regional allies.
Or a famous CNN story about the slave trade in Libya fails to mention that it all started when NATO began bombing the country on behalf of rebels who would overthrow the then government, rebels who were also well known to harbour genocidal views against the country’s sizeable black population.
The Daily Mail, Times and Daily Beast have falsely accused redfish of “obfuscation”, but we believe that the above are examples of a much more serious kind of obfuscation — reporting which tells the audience what has happened, but not the full story of how or why.
If we don’t understand the root causes of the problems facing the world we live in, how can we stop making the same mistakes or, better yet, find real solutions to those already made?
We have a long way to go but we have big ambitions. With each story we tell we will try to fulfill 2 main goals — to put the context back into the story and to offer ideas and inspiration to our audience on how to change the horrors and tragedies we expose them to.
What does Ruptly gain from this relationship with us you might ask? Utterly unique and original content, reports that captivate and show the truth. Our team has the experience and the track record of getting to places no-one else can – or cares to. Because that is what many of us have done, for years, as part of Ruptly or RT’s award-winning journalist teams, we know we can deliver.