Wandering Eye: Obama and Jon Stewart, DHS tracks protesters on social media, and more

The Intercept has noticed that social media accounts are public. In an alarming piece, the website reports that the Department of Homeland Security monitors the social media accounts of protesters "even for events expected to be peaceful." Citing documents released by the department for a Freedom of Information request, the website, founded by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar to report on national security matters, reports that "a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation's capital." A government agent apparently found useful a map of "conflict zones" in Ferguson, Missouri last summer—a map produced by a Reddit user. This "raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights," The Intercept says—that and whether the DHS, with its $60 billion budget, "has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities." The premise of the story is that the federal government should not be aware of the information that every other internet-connected person on the planet is, or can be, aware of. The story quotes several civil liberties specialists who equate the monitoring of protest activities with "disruption." But none of the documents cited—and, indeed, no evidence from real life—suggests this is the case. "According to the [DHS] email, the DHS-funded DC Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency decided to conduct 'a limited stand-up . . . to monitor a larger than expected Funk Parade and two other mass gathering events' in case 'any Baltimore-related civil unrest occurs.' It appears that the only Funk Parade in DC occurs in the historically black neighborhood of U Street," The Intercept reports. One wonders what sort of story would have emerged from the news that DHS did not monitor social media to discover where large crowds might gather in public. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


At a conference at Brown University in March, the poet Kenneth Goldsmith read excerpts of Michael Brown's autopsy report, presenting it as his poetry. In May, poet Vanessa Place got a lot of pushback on her latest performance art/poetry project, in which she tweets quotes by the black character Mammy from the racist novel "Gone With the Wind." Both of these "conceptual" poets are white, and both have claimed to have good intentions with this work. But intentions don't matter, because they're both examples of the way white supremacy works, that white people can co-opt and control the voices and struggle of black people. "Goldsmith cannot differentiate between White Supremacy and Poetry. In fact, for so many the two are one and the same," writes the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo (MCAG), a radical anonymous collective which, it seems, operates primarily across the internet to protest and expose white supremacy in the small pockets of literature, poetry, and art but also, well, the rest of the world. This interview with Brooklyn Magazine is particularly illustrative of MCAG's goals and is a fascinating read. It is, understandably, fueled by anger and exhaustion, and their words here are poems themselves. They show what poetry and art can do, which is to not accept the way things are, to reach people and speak out boldly and actively against it and take it over. Their work has a tone that some white people would try to police and call "offensive" which means that it's working. (Rebekah Kirkman)


President Lyndon Johnson, deep into Vietnam and having just seen a report critical of the war from Walter Cronkite, reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country." The American people still place that level of trust in an anchorman, only in 2015 that anchorman is really a faux anchorman: Jon Stewart. Fittingly, Politico has a report on the steps Barack Obama's administration made to woo the influential comedian and host of "The Daily Show." Stewart was summoned to the White House in 2011, during a budget fight, and in 2014, before Obama went on TV to say "there will be costs" if Russia messed with Ukraine. Citing Stewart's ability to turn the issues of the day into viral videos, Politico says the White House realized "Stewart can, at times, be a more potent influence on policy than Obama himself. The 52-year-old funnyman is widely credited with changing how the government treated military veterans and Sept. 11 first responders and for canceling a hyper-partisan CNN talk show. His broadsides against President George W. Bush’s Iraq war and a series of Obama missteps had a searing effect on how Americans thought about Washington." In addition to the White House visits, Stewart apparently had access to top Obama aides who "knew Stewart's voice mattered and made sure to field calls and emails from the host and Daily Show staff." (Brandon Weigel)

Copyright © 2019, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy