W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Bill Clinton’

Bill Clinton: Overstating social media influence in regime change

In Debunking, Media myths on January 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Bill Clinton went to the American University campus last night to accept an award for wonkiness. In remarks accepting the award, Clinton made the outsize assertion that “whole governments have now been brought down by social media sites.”

It’s a tempting claim of new media triumphalism that begs a one-word question: Where?

Where have social media taken down repressive governments?

Certainly not in Iran, where anti-regime protests sparked by a rigged presidential election in June 2009 gave rise to the misnomer, “Twitter Revolution.”

Twitter surely helped in organizing the demonstrations in Tehran. But social media proved no match for the Islamic government’s brutal crackdown that snuffed out the protests and shut down the threat to the regime.

Besides, Twitter became a channel for erroneous information — and disinformation — during the Iranian protests. Media critic Jack Shafer wrote at the time that Twitter was “more noise than signal in understanding the Iranian upheaval.”

So where else?

Egypt? A somewhat stronger case can be made there, that new media platforms contributed to the downfall nearly a year ago of Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt, 29-year authoritarian regime.

But even there, social media cannot be seen as decisive. They acted more as propellants in Egypt than as causal or precipitating agents.

Evgeny Morozov, writing last year in the Wall Street Journal, observed that the “Egyptian experience suggests that social media can greatly accelerate the death of already dying authoritarian regimes.”

Morozov, author of the insightful book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, also noted that the anti-regime protesters in Egypt “were blessed with a government that didn’t know a tweet from a poke.”

In other words, the regime was mostly clueless about online countermeasures, how to turn social media to perverse use as instruments for identifying, spying on, and sidelining malcontents and regime foes.

Morozov wrote that “dictators learn fast and are perfectly capable of mastering the Internet” in countering populist threats to their regimes. He also noted that some authoritarian governments “have turned mostly to Western companies and consultants for advice about the technology of repression.”

A recent, searching study about social media and political upheaval across the Middle East notes:

“There can be no doubt that online activism is a significant phenomenon that has had a major impact on the Arab Spring.

“Yet, we would be wise not to exaggerate its influence.”

Mubarak’s fall, the study adds, wasn’t “the result of online activism alone. This would ignore the major roles played by those [in Egypt] who had likely not even heard of Facebook or Twitter.”

The study, written by Tim Eaton and posted online this month at New Diplomacy Platform, says social media helped mobilize opposition to Mubarak’s unpopular regime.

But Eaton adds that “events in Tunisia … appear to have been the game-changer. The success of Tunisian activists in ousting President [Zine el-Abidine] Ben Ali motivated many Egyptians to seek to replicate their feat.”

That phenomenon is known as a demonstration effect, in which tactics and events in one context serve as a model or inspiration elsewhere.

Mubarak’s regime did shut down the Internet in Egypt last year, from January 28 to February 1, in a bungled attempt to cut off the flow of online information to anti-regime activists. But the move backfired.

“It wasn’t the Internet that destroyed Mr. Mubarak,” Morozov wrote, ” it was Mr. Mubarak’s ignorance of the Internet that destroyed Mr. Mubarak.”

To assert, as Clinton did last night, that social media can take down repressive governments is to offer a simplistic message of media triumphalism, one thinly supported by empirical evidence.

It is, moreover, an explanation that shortchanges understanding of the complex mechanics of regime change.

And embracing simplistic explanations is an important way in which media-driven myths — those false, dubious, improbable stories about the news media that masquerade as factual — can take hold.

As I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, more than a few media-driven myths have emerged “from an impulse to offer easy answers to complex issues, to abridge and simplify topics that are thorny and intricate.”

Social media are not inherently democratic. Nor have they proved decisive in bringing down authoritarian regimes.


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ABC unaccountably excludes Bill Clinton from lineup of pols who led ‘double lives’

In Debunking, Media myths, Scandal on January 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

ABC News offered yesterday a risible lineup of two-timing politicians that omitted Bill Clinton, the philandering 42nd president, but included Thomas Jefferson, about whom the evidence of sexual dalliance is thin at best.

ABC’s roster of “the top eight politicians who led double lives” was posted online and promised “a look at some … tawdry affairs and public scandals” — and how the politicians implicated “weathered the storm.”

In addition to Jefferson, ABC included Grover Cleveland, the U.S. president in the 1880s and 1890s who fathered a child out of wedlock, and Eliot Spitzer, who as governor of New York consorted with a high-priced call girl.

The ABC roster also included an obscure and mostly forgotten former politician, Vito Fossella, a five-term New York congressman who in 2008 acknowledged fathering a child in an extramarital affair.

Given that the likes of Fossella made the list, it’s inexplicable that Clinton was omitted.

Clinton’s tawdry sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, began in mid-November 1995 and continued intermittently until March 1997.

Disclosures of the Clinton-Lewinsky dalliance, and falsehoods he told under oath about the affair, nearly destroyed Clinton’s presidency.

He was impeached in December 1998 on two counts — lying under oath and obstructing justice to cover up the affair — but acquitted by the U.S. Senate in February 1999 and served out the 23 months remaining in his term.

Separately, a federal judge found Clinton in contempt of court for having lied under oath about the Lewinsky affair. Clinton was barred from practicing law for five years and ordered to pay nearly $90,000 to the lawyers of Paula Jones, who had accused him of sexual harassment while he was governor of Arkansas.

Clinton was the second U.S. president impeached in office. The other was Andrew Johnson, in 1868.

ABC’s including Jefferson in its “double lives” roster was little short of baffling: Indeed, its writeup about Jefferson’s purported sexual liaison with a slave-mistress named Sally Hemings offered no small amount of exculpatory evidence.

In fact, the writeup referred to “the myth of Jefferson’s double life” and noted:

“To this day, Jefferson’s paternity of any of her children has not been established with any absolute certainty.”

ABC also pointed out that a recent and detailed study about the purported Jefferson-Hemings affair which “did not show much support for the accusations” of a sexual liaison.

That study, a 400-page work titled The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission, was compiled by a commission of Jefferson scholars charged with puncturing the myriad misunderstandings about the third president and a slave whom he rarely mentioned in his letters.

Among the misunderstandings was the DNA testing released in 1998 — about the time Clinton was facing impeachment charges — confirmed that Jefferson fathered children by Hemings.

“While the tests were professionally done by distinguished experts,” the scholars commission pointed out, “they were never designed to prove, and in fact could not have proven, that Thomas Jefferson was the father of any of Sally Hemings’ children.

“The tests merely establish a strong probability that Sally Hemings’ youngest son, Eston, was fathered by one of the more than two dozen Jefferson men in Virginia at the time ….”

One of the more than two dozen Jefferson men.

Yet, news media reports at the time characterized the DNA tests as offering “compelling evidence” of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings.

The scholars commission — a panel of 13 experts organized by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society — said that circumstantial evidence points more powerfully to Jefferson’s younger brother, Randolph (or his sons), in the paternity question.

Randolph Jefferson, the book says, was known to have socialized with the slaves at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home near Charlottesville, VA.

Randolph Jefferson was a dozen years younger than the president, and the available record offers no evidence that Thomas Jefferson “enjoyed socializing at night with Monticello slaves,” the book points out.

Eston Hemings’ was conceived around August 1807, when Thomas Jefferson was 64 and in declining health — factors that further diminish the likelihood of his paternity.

Also making ABC’s roster of politicians who led “double lives” were Mark Sanford, a former governor of South Carolina; John Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina; Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former governor of California, and Anthony Wiener, a former congressman from New York City.


Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

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