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Subject to Debat: What did ABC Know and When Did It Know It?

| Fri Sep. 14, 2007 3:41 AM EDT

In the end, it was Pascal Riché, a Paris-based former Washington correspondent for France's Libération newspaper, who uncovered a scandal at a top US television news network. On September 7, Pascal reported that an ABC counterterrorism consultant, Alexis Debat, had faked an interview with Sen. Barack Obama that he published under his name in a French journal, Politique Internationale, and that he had published other alleged interviews in the same journal with Sen. Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. It turns out, ABC itself later reported, the interviews were apparently fabricated.

Riché also reported that Debat claimed to have a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne that he did not in fact complete, and that he had exaggerated his CV in other respects—claiming to be an advisor to the French Ministry of Defense on transatlantic issues, for instance, when in fact he had been a lowly desk clerk in the bowels of the ministry for less than a year; claiming to be a visiting professor at Middlebury College, when in fact he had been a visiting instructor for a short winter term at Middlebury, and other such exaggerations. Mother Jones has obtained an annotated CV of Debat's—whose claims to be a former government official have apparently long irritated the government in Paris—outlining these and other discrepancies. (ABC believed the annotated CV was prepared by the French embassy, but sources now say it may have been annotated by a Washington-based French academic.)

Though Debat, often described in the American media as "a former French defense official," insisted he would clear his name and sue Riché and his online magazine Rue89 for slander, the alleged fabricated interviews soon became a problem not just for Debat but for ABC. Since 2002, the network has employed Debat as a counterterrorism consultant and sometimes reporter, sending him to far-flung locations to report on Al Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. (For the past year and a half, Debat has also served as the director of the terrorism and national security program at the Nixon Center; he resigned "for personal reasons" this week, an official with the Nixon Center said.)

Sources also say that Debat claimed in the spring to have received a "large chunk of money" from the Pentagon to conduct a study concerning radical Islam; when I inquired about the contract, a Defense Department official said he would check into it.

Following Riché's report, ABC publicly announced that it had demanded Debat's resignation in June, after obtaining the annotated CV and investigating his claims to have a doctorate. ABC said it had investigated his reports then, and was undertaking a more extensive investigation upon learning of the fabricated interviews at Politique Internationale, but that to date, it was confident that all of Debat's reports for ABC had been vetted and multiply sourced and were standing up to scrutiny.

Interviews with journalists, think tank associates, and a former government official indicate that there were warning signs about Debat for years—even within the network itself. Two journalists familiar with Debat's work point to ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross not only as the victim of Debat's alleged deceptions, but as an enabler, who has promoted sensational stories—including some that Debat brought the network—at the expense at times of rigorous journalism standards. (Ross did not return Mother Jones' phone call by press time, although an ABC executive has been in touch by phone and email.) They also say that they do not believe ABC has properly investigated Debat's reporting at all.

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Preview New Joe Strummer Documentary

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 7:17 PM EDT

Joe Strummer
If you were intrigued by my review of Redemption Song, the biography of Clash front man Joe Strummer, but weren't sure you could stomach 600 pages about anything, then there may be an easier way to relive some of the punk rock legend's life. Julien Temple, director of Sex Pistols pic The Filth and the Fury, has a new documentary about the life of Joe Strummer, and it's getting pretty good reviews. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten uses archival footage of Strummer's own voice from his BBC radio show as narration, bringing the singer-songwriter (who died in 2002) eerily back to life. It currently has an 8.2/10 user rating on IMDB, and a 100% "tomatometer" rating at Rotten Tomatoes (that's good).

The film is now playing in Europe and Japan, but has only had a few festival screenings in the U.S.; a limited stateside release is planned for November 2nd. Watch the trailer below.

188 More Species Deemed Near Extinction

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:51 PM EDT

Today the World Conservation Union (also known, for reason too arcane to go into, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or IUCN) came out with its "Red List" of species threatened with extinction. There are 188 additions to the list, bringing the total up to 16,306. There's particularly bad news about great apes and coral reefs, but across taxonomic board, the news is "quite bleak," said Jane Smart, who heads the group's species program.

As Mother Jones' Julia Whitty wrote in Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth's Vanishing Biodiversity:

1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 3 amphibians, 1 in 3 conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analyzed, but fully 40 percent of the examined species of planet Earth are in danger, including up to 51 percent of reptiles, 52 percent of insects, and 73 percent of flowering plants.
By the most conservative measure—based on the last century's recorded extinctions—the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson and other scientists estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on Earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.
We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been—and will never be—known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by the year 2100.
You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that 7 in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming, and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by most everyone outside of science. In the 200 years since French naturalist Georges Cuvier first floated the concept of extinction, after examining fossil bones and concluding "the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some sort of catastrophe," we have only slowly recognized and attempted to correct our own catastrophic behavior.

The rate of extinction is due to a variety of factors, but nearly all are human induced, including climate change, habitat loss, invasive species (transported by us), the plight of the oceans, and so on. As Julia notes:

All these disappearing species are part of a fragile membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin, writes E.O. Wilson, that it "cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered." We owe everything to this membrane of life. Literally everything. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The materials of our homes, clothes, books, computers, medicines. Goods and services that we can't even imagine we'll someday need will come from species we have yet to identify. The proverbial cure for cancer. The genetic fountain of youth. Immortality. Mortality.
The living membrane we so recklessly destroy is existence itself.

Read Julia's article. It will haunt you. As will the accompanying photo essay by Richard Ross.


The War as They Saw It

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:19 PM EDT

Two of the seven non-commissioned officers who penned a New York Times op-ed that called the war in Iraq the "pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends" were killed yesterday when their vehicle turned over on a road near Baghdad. After hearing the news, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter to the President. It reads, in part:

The tragic irony is that before their deaths, these two soldiers were not only trying to give us direction on how to end this war honorably, but they were also calling on us for help.... Mr. President, you didn't listen to Staff Sergeant Yance Gray and Sergeant Omar Mora while they were alive. I hope that you will listen to them now, as they have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

A Preview of Hillary Clinton's Health Care Plan

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:14 PM EDT

From yesterday's "presidential mashup": "I intend to dramatically rein in the influence of the insurance companies," she said, "because frankly I think that they have worked to the detriment of our economy and our health-care system."

—Nick Baumann

188 More Species Deemed Near Extinction

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:09 PM EDT

Today the World Conservation Union (also known, for reasons too arcane to go into, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or IUCN) came out with its "Red List" of species threatened with extinction. There are 188 additions to the list, bringing the total up to 16,306. There's particularly bad news about great apes and coral reefs, but across the taxonomic board, the news is "quite bleak," said Jane Smart, who heads the group's species program.

As Mother Jones' Julia Whitty wrote in Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth's Vanishing Biodiversity:

1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 3 amphibians, 1 in 3 conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analyzed, but fully 40 percent of the examined species of planet Earth are in danger, including up to 51 percent of reptiles, 52 percent of insects, and 73 percent of flowering plants.
By the most conservative measure—based on the last century's recorded extinctions—the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson and other scientists estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on Earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.
We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been—and will never be—known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by the year 2100.
You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that 7 in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming, and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by most everyone outside of science. In the 200 years since French naturalist Georges Cuvier first floated the concept of extinction, after examining fossil bones and concluding "the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some sort of catastrophe," we have only slowly recognized and attempted to correct our own catastrophic behavior.

The rate of extinction is due to a variety of factors, but nearly all are human induced, including climate change, habitat loss, invasive species (transported by us), the plight of the oceans, and so on. As Julia notes:

All these disappearing species are part of a fragile membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin, writes E.O. Wilson, that it "cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered." We owe everything to this membrane of life. Literally everything. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The materials of our homes, clothes, books, computers, medicines. Goods and services that we can't even imagine we'll someday need will come from species we have yet to identify. The proverbial cure for cancer. The genetic fountain of youth. Immortality. Mortality.
The living membrane we so recklessly destroy is existence itself.

Read Julia's article. It will haunt you. As will the accompanying photo essay by Richard Ross.

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GOP-Supported California Ballot Measure is Unconstitutional

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:07 PM EDT

Remember how the GOP's law firm in California is supporting a ballot measure to change the way the state awards electoral votes? (A move that could hand the Republicans the Presidential election.) Well, it turns out that it's "patently unconstitutional". Doug Kendall explains in Slate:

The U.S. Constitution prohibits a ballot measure that would trump a state legislature's chosen method of appointing electors. In Article II, Section 1, the Constitution declares that electors shall be appointed by states "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." That's legislature.

Tough luck, guys. Guess this race goes back to "Leans Democratic."

—Nick Baumann

Madonna and Britney Spears Threatened with Beheading

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:01 PM EDT

Madonna & Britney

The leader of a Palestinian terror group has targeted Madonna and Britney Spears for spreading "Satanic culture," and threatened to behead them. Muhammad Abdel-Al, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, based in the Gaza Strip, made the comments in a new book, Schmoozing With Terrorists, that presents interviews with members of terror organizations. Abdel-Al was quoted as saying:

If I meet these whores I will have the honor—I repeat, I will have the honor—to be the first one to cut the heads off Madonna and Britney Spears if they will keep spreading their Satanic culture against Islam... If these two prostitutes keep doing what they are doing, we of course will punish them.

NME reports the comments come just as Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie are heading to Israel to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Terrorists, they say crazy stuff.

If We Had Only Known

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

"The good intentions of the statesmen of Iraq, whose political experience is necessarily small, it is to be feared that serious difficulties may arise out of the differences which in some cases exist in regard to political ideas between the Shiites of the South and the Sunnites of the North, the racial differences between Arabs and Kurds, and the necessity of keeping the turbulent tribes under control.... These difficulties might be fatal to the very existence of the State if it were left without support and guidance."

Where did such prescient advice come from? A 1925 League of Nations report on Iraq that Roger Cohen, noted in his column this morning. The GOP loves to accuse the anti-war left of having 20/20 hindsight. Looks like foresight is 20/20, too.

—Nick Baumann

Presto Chango, It's H2O

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

According to an article in the UK's Telegraph, a British inventor has developed a plastic bottle that converts even the rankest sludge into tasty drinking water almost instantly.

The bottle, which looks a lot like the refillable types carried on bikes everywhere, can scrub virtually any water, even samples containing viruses or fecal matter. It promises to be useful to soldiers, as well as refugees and disaster victims.

Said Michael Pritchard, the brainiac behind the invention, "Something had to be done. It took me a little while and some very frustrating prototypes but eventually I did it."