Media News 2021-24

 

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Several major media trends are seriously undermining American democracy and other quality of life issues. Among these developments are:

  • breaking news imgaeGovernment censorship, falsehoods, restrictions of access or covert manipulation;
  • Financial cutbacks in newsrooms eroding professional standards;
  • Slanted or otherwise manipulative "news" techniques;
  • Heavy-handed political control, increasingly with partisan agendas, over schools, colleges, textbooks
  • Outright "fake news" that makes scant pretense of honest coverage.

To counter such practices, we link to significant news reports and commentary below. The materials are in reverse chronological order and are drawn primarily from large news organizations and expert commentators. Most focus on U.S. mass media, but some items related to global press freedom, education, high tech, religion, sports and other entertainment.

    • Andrew Kreig / Justice Integrity Project editor

       

      andrew kreig c span

      The Justice Integrity Project's editor (shown above during a 2014 lecture shown on C-SPAN, is a public affairs commentator, author and attorney in the communications field

      Andrew Kreig, the editor of the materials excerpted below, is a former newspaper reporter, magazine editor and columnist. Also, he was the president / CEO (from 1996 to 2008) of the Wireless Communications Association, a Washington, DC-based trade association that advocated for wireless Internet services and advanced applications on behalf of members that included leading communications companies. For years, he edited its daily bulletins and supervised its conventions that gathered prominent government officials, companies, educators and other thought leaders in advanced communications.

      Also, he is the author of two books addressing problems in the news media that harm civic life. Read more.

      Based on such experience, the news excerpts below are chosen to illustrate important news and trends. The excerpts cite language from the outlets except for subheads and an occasionally clearly marked 'Editor's note.'

 2021-24

Note: This segment of our near-daily summary of Media News encompasses news stories that began in 2021. For previous periods extending back to 2018, kindly visit these links: 2018, 2019 and 2020.

February 2024

 

Feb. 22

 

education department seal Custom 2

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration cancels $1.2 billion in student loans with new repayment plan, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden will start notifying 153,000 student loan borrowers enrolled in the Save repayment plan that their debts — totaling $1.2 billion — have been forgiven. Starting Wednesday, President Biden will email 153,000 student loan borrowers enrolled in his signature repayment plan to let them know their debts — totaling $1.2 billion — have been forgiven.

The notice makes good on the administration’s promise to accelerate forgiveness for borrowers with low original balances who are enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education (Save) plan. Rather than wait 20 to 25 years for relief through other income-driven repayment plans, enrollees in the Save plan who borrowed less than $12,000 can have their debt wiped clean after 10 years of payments. The Education Department had originally planned to begin forgiveness in July but started identifying eligible borrowers this month.

People who are notified do not need to take any further action to receive loan forgiveness. Student loan servicers, the middlemen who collect payments on the federal government’s behalf, will begin discharging the debt in coming days, according to the department. Next week, the agency plans to directly contact borrowers who would be eligible for early cancellation under the Save plan but are not currently enrolled.

ny times logoNew York Times, At Harvard, Some Wonder What It Will Take to Stop the Spiral, Anemona Hartocollis, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). At a summit of university presidents, the talk was about Harvard and its plummeting reputation.

When 70 university presidents gathered for a summit at the end of January, the topic on everyone’s mind was the crisis at Harvard.

The hosts of the summit treated the university, battered by accusations of coddling antisemitism, as a business-school case study on leadership in higher education, complete with a slide presentation on its plummeting reputation.

The killer slide: “Boeing & Tesla Have Similar Levels of Negative Buzz as Harvard.”

In other words, Harvard, a centuries-old symbol of academic excellence, was generating as much negative attention as an airplane manufacturer that had a door panel drop from the sky and a car company with a mercurial chief executive and multiple recalls.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale’s School of Management, organized the summit. “Despite near 400 years of history, the value of brand equity is nowhere near as permanent as Harvard trustees think it is,” he said in an interview. “There used to be a term in the industry of something being the Cadillac of the industry. Well, Cadillac itself is, you know, sadly not the Cadillac of the industry anymore.”

Many of the presidents attending the summit saw the erosion of Harvard’s brand as a problem not only for the school, but also by extension for the entire enterprise of higher education. If Harvard could not protect itself, then what about every other institution? Could Harvard’s leadership find an effective response?

There was a hint of a more assertive approach by Harvard on Monday, when the university announced that it was investigating “deeply offensive antisemitic tropes” posted on social media by pro-Palestinian student and faculty groups. The groups had posted or reposted material containing an old cartoon of a puppeteer, his hand marked by a dollar sign inside a Star of David, lynching Muhammad Ali and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Harvard took the action at a time when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has begun to scrutinize its record on antisemitism. On Friday, the committee issued subpoenas to Harvard’s interim president, the head of the school’s governing board and its investment manager, in a wide-ranging hunt for documents relating to the university’s handling of campus antisemitism claims. The threat of the subpoenas led PEN America, a writers’ group that defends academic freedom, to warn against a fishing expedition.

There is also a lawsuit against Harvard, calling the university “a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment,” as well as federal investigations into charges that the university ignored both antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus.

washington post logoWashington Post, How everything became a ‘psyop’ for conservative media, Jeremy Barr, Feb. 22, 2024. It’s not just Taylor Swift. Right-wing pundits are branding everything from climate change to the Hunter Biden case a ‘psyop,’ though the conspiracy-tinged phrase is losing grip on an actual definition.

It’s not just Taylor Swift. Right-wing pundits are branding everything from climate change to the Hunter Biden case a ‘psyop,’ though the conspiracy-tinged phrase is losing grip on an actual definition.

Lately, it’s become popular in conservative media circles to brand certain things as a psychological operation, or “psyop.”

Climate change, for example. Or covid. Or the media coverage of Donald Trump. Or even the prosecution of Hunter Biden.

Technically, “psyop” is a U.S. military term, referring to various kinds of campaigns to get inside the heads of adversaries. In a classic psychological operation during the Vietnam War, the U.S. government blasted messages over loudspeakers that were meant to urge Viet Cong soldiers to defect. Ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it was millions of leaflets dropped on cities to undermine support for then-President Saddam Hussein. “Who needs you more? Your family or the regime?” one flier asked.

But conservative media personalities have begun using the term in vaguer and wilder ways, seemingly to allege government conspiracies targeted at American citizens — something that would be illegal, even if any of these theories were remotely plausible.

washington post logoWashington Post, Vice, former digital-media darling, to end website, lay off hundreds, Elahe Izadi and Will Sommer, Feb. 22, 2024. Once valued at more than $5 billion for its vaunted appeal to younger audiences, the company filed for bankruptcy last year

vice newsVice, the swashbuckling media upstart once valued at more than $5 billion for its vaunted appeal to young audiences, is effectively shuttering its independent news operations.

Bruce Dixon, chief executive of Vice Media Group, told employees Thursday that “several hundred” positions will be eliminated, and the company will no longer publish at its flagship website, Vice.com, although he left open the possibility of Vice providing content through other media organizations.

“It is no longer cost-effective for us to distribute our digital content the way we have done previously,” he wrote in a memo. “Moving forward, we will look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model.”

The downfall of Vice represents one of the biggest media busts in recent memory, as the company went from darling of the digital media era to bankruptcy. Last year, Vice Media Group filed for bankruptcy and was sold for $350 million to its former lenders, led by giant investment firm Fortress Investment Group.

Journalists who had done work for Vice spent the day furiously trying to save their work after hearing rumors that the site could imminently shut down. As of Thursday evening, the site was still accessible, and employees were told they would learn more about their fate early next week.

“We are out of the daily news business,” said a person familiar with Fortress’s thinking, speaking on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss personnel matters but offering no specifics on how many people would remain. “This company was built in such a way that no longer works as part of the media landscape.”

Vice Media Group also includes other brands, such as Refinery29, a digital site aimed at young women, which will continue to operate, although executives “are in advanced discussions to sell this business, and we are continuing with that process,” with more news expected in the coming weeks, Dixon wrote in the memo.

ny times logoTampa Bay Times, Tampa media figure Tim Burke indicted on conspiracy charges, Justin Garcia, Dan Sullivan and Jay Cridlin, Feb. 22, 2024. Burke, a nationally recognized media consultant, was released after appearing in federal court Thursday in Tampa.

Tampa media consultant Tim Burke was charged Thursday with 14 federal crimes related to alleged computer hacks at Fox News.

Federal law enforcement officials arrested Burke, 45, on Thursday morning. He appeared in handcuffs in a Tampa federal courtroom Thursday afternoon, wearing a brown sweater, white collared shirt and dark jeans, and was released on his own recognizance shortly thereafter.

The indictment charges Burke with one count of conspiracy; six counts of accessing a protected computer without authorization; and seven counts of intercepting or disclosing wire, oral or electronic communications.

Burke runs Burke Communications, a media and political consulting company. He produces a wide range of video content, including for high-profile media clients like HBO and ESPN. He previously worked for the online news outlets Deadspin and the Daily Beast.

According to the indictment, Burke and an unnamed person used “compromised credentials” to access and save protected commercial broadcast video streams, then disseminate specific clips after taking steps to mask where they came from and how they were obtained.

Burke is married to Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak, who was present when Burke was led into the courtroom. In a statement provided by an aide, Hurtak defended Burke, who also managed her 2023 campaign for office.

“I am confident in my husband’s innocence, and I support him completely,” Hurtak stated. “I will not be making additional statements regarding this matter.”

FBI agents last May searched the Seminole Heights home where Burke and Hurtak live. The agents took electronic devices and computers he used for his media business.

ny times logoNew York Times, John Avlon, CNN Commentator, Enters Race for Long Island Swing Seat, Nicholas Fandos, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). Mr. Avlon, a Democrat who helped found the centrist political group No Labels, is seeking to unseat the Republican incumbent, Representative Nick LaLota.

John Avlon, a Democrat and former CNN political analyst, announced on Wednesday that he would enter a crowded congressional primary to try to flip a Republican-held swing seat on Long Island.

A moderate who once worked for Rudolph W. Giuliani and helped found the centrist political group No Labels, Mr. Avlon emerged in recent years as a piercing critic of former President Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party he has refashioned in his image.

In an interview, Mr. Avlon, 51, said he felt compelled to step from journalism into the political fray to help “break this fever” and oust “MAGA minions who are not even trying to solve problems in the national interest.”

“The seriousness of the times really sunk into me,” he said.

Winning the Suffolk County district will be no easy task for a Democrat. It is currently held by Representative Nick LaLota, a first-term Republican. Though President Biden won the district by 0.2 percentage points in 2020, Mr. LaLota sailed to an 11-point victory two years later.

Democrats in Washington do not currently consider the district a top-tier target on par with more favorable suburban swing seats elsewhere in New York. But that could still change, as Democrats in Albany weigh whether to use a rare mid-decade court-ordered redistricting process to draw a more favorable congressional map.

Mr. Avlon has deep connections in New York City politics and journalism. He served as Mr. Giuliani’s policy adviser and chief speechwriter during his mayoralty and presidential campaign, or, as Mr. Avlon said, “when he was sane.” Mr. Avlon later joined The Daily Beast as a columnist, and rose to be its editor in chief before joining CNN as an on-air commentator full time in 2018.

But his ties to the district are shallower. A longtime Manhattan resident, he bought a house in 2017 in Sag Harbor, the wealthy Hamptons enclave, with his wife, Margaret Hoover. She is a conservative who hosts “Firing Line,” the PBS talk show. Voting records show that Mr. Avlon voted in Suffolk County for the first time in 2020.

Critics in both parties waited only moments to pounce on Thursday.

Ms. Goroff was more diplomatic, saying she would “welcome anyone who is ready to join the fight.” But behind the scenes, her allies were already sharpening attacks on Mr. Avlon’s residency and his political history with Republicans that are likely to burst into the open in the coming months.

Feb. 21

washington post logoWashington Post, Virginia labor unions come out against plan for new Caps, Wizards arena, Teo Armus, Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). A group of labor unions said on Tuesday they oppose a proposal to move the Washington Capitals and Wizards from downtown D.C. to Alexandria, Va., dealing another blow to a plan that is already facing increasingly tall hurdles among legislators in Richmond.

Officials behind the plan as well as Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the teams’ owner, had said they would commit to hiring union labor at the new arena. But the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO — which represents construction laborers as well as concession stand employees at the teams’ current home at Capital One Arena — said the plan lacks necessary labor protections for the workers who would build it ­— or similar union commitments for private development projects in the entertainment district that would go around the Alexandria facility.

“Taxpayers should not make a massive investment in a project that is only going to create more low-wage jobs for local workers,” Virginia Diamond, president of the AFL-CIO’s Northern Virginia arm, said in a statement.

The unions’ stance — which follows a breakdown in their negotiations with state officials and Monumental — is likely to influence state and local lawmakers who have said labor support is essential for the $2 billion project.

Inside Ted Leonsis’s decision to move Wizards, Capitals to Virginia

Virginia state lawmakers and the Alexandria City Council must approve the proposal for it to move forward, and several Democrats in the legislature and on the council said they would vote no if organized labor was opposed.

“If they’re against it, then the arena deal is probably going to have a very difficult time,” said Virginia House Speaker Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth). “If it dies, it dies.”

But a public statement of opposition from organized labor does not mean that the deal is dead. The final weeks of the legislative session are likely to see intense negotiating, and labor leaders may continue to try to work out a deal with Monumental and state officials.

washington post logoWashington Post, A reporter investigated neo-Nazis. Then they came to his house in masks, Will Sommer, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The chilling visit to Raw Story reporter Jordan Green’s home represents an increasingly common tactic by extremist groups.

raw story logo squareJordan Green reports on extremists for the news website Raw Story, where his stories have included alleged neo-Nazis joining the U.S. military or protesting at drag shows. For the past few months, he has worked on an investigation into a teenage gang that local police had linked to a spate of racist vandalism, including a brick attack on a Jewish center in Pensacola, Fla.

As Green prepared to publish his story, neo-Nazis came to his house.

Green’s reporting had found that the Pensacola gang was part of a larger online network known as 2119 Blood and Soil Crew, with members operating in several states. On Feb. 10, five people connected to 2119 appeared outside his home in Greensboro, N.C., according to Green, as well as photos the group itself shared on social media.

Some wore skull face masks, a common accessory for violent neo-Nazi groups, according to the photos they posted on Telegram, a social media messaging app popular with far-right extremists. One had a shirt with a skull and a message praising the Einsatzkommando, German death squads in the Holocaust. Another held a sign aimed at Green: “Freedom of press does not equal freedom from consequences.”

Before leaving, the group held up lit flares and made “sieg heil” gestures, the photos showed. Afterward, members of the group posed happily in a picture posted to social media at a marker for the “Greensboro Massacre,” the site where white supremacists fatally shot five labor organizers in 1979.

“Opposition move freely when they feel immune,” a member posted on the group’s Telegram account. “Remove that privilege.”

The intended message was obvious to Green: Stop reporting on 2119. But Green hasn’t been deterred. On Tuesday, Raw Story published Green’s investigation into 2119, as well as Green’s account of the attempted intimidation.

The attacks on Green represent an increasingly common tactic by extremist groups against journalists who seek to uncover their activities.

In 2020, federal prosecutors charged five alleged members of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division with intimidating a ProPublica reporter and other journalists covering the group by “swatting” them, or faking emergency calls to police to provoke a violent response against their targets. In 2023, the former head of another neo-Nazi group was charged with making death threats toward a reporter, which included allegedly sending an image of a gun aimed at the reporter’s face.

Feb. 20

National Press Club, Press Club leaders condemn Russian court ruling on Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention, call on U.S. leaders to take action, Bill McCarren, Feb. 20, 2024. Following is a statement from Emily Wilkins, president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the National national  press club logoPress Club Journalism Institute, on a Russian court’s ruling on Tuesday that American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for Radio Free Europe, will remain in pretrial detention.

alsu kurmasheva“We are appalled by the Russian government’s unjust detention of Radio Free Europe journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S. citizen, on politically motivated charges for more than four months. We condemn the senseless cruelty of today’s decision by the Supreme Court of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan keeping Alsu in pretrial detention. Alsu’s lawyers had requested that she be transferred to house arrest due to issues including her state of health.”

“We call for the Russian government to immediately release Alsu, along with Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Every day they remain in prison is an outrage.”

“The world cannot stand idly by and allow journalists to be used as political pawns by the Russian government. The United States government can do more to help secure Alsu’s release, and we call on the Biden Administration to take action.”

“The U.S. State Department has yet to designate Alsu as wrongfully detained as it has other U.S. citizens held in Russia. The designation would raise the profile of the case against Alsu, effectively labeling it as politically motivated.”

“We call on the State Department to immediately designate Alsu as wrongfully detained. Secretary Blinken must act now. Every day of inaction is another day too long.”

Feb. 19

 

 

sinclair broadcast logo custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Sinclair’s recipe for TV news: Crime, homelessness, illegal drugs, Sarah Ellison, Feb. 18, 2024 (print ed.). The local news powerhouse, whose chairman recently bought the Baltimore Sun, focuses on fear in broadcasts that often align with Donald Trump’s view of cities.

Every year, local television news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting conduct short surveys among viewers to help guide the year’s coverage.

A key question in each poll, according to David Smith, the company’s executive chairman: “What are you most afraid of?”

The answers are evident in Sinclair’s programming. Crime, homelessness, illegal drug use, failing schools and other societal ills have long been core elements of local TV news coverage. But on Sinclair’s growing nationwide roster of stations, the editorial focus reflects Smith’s conservative views and plays on its audience’s fears that America’s cities are falling apart, according to media observers, Smith associates, and current and former staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company matters.

Smith, an enthusiastic supporter of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump who has built Sinclair into one of the largest television station operators in the country, purchased the Baltimore Sun last month. In a private meeting with the Sun’s journalists, he urged them to emulate coverage at the local Sinclair station, Fox45, which in 2021 produced a documentary titled simply “Baltimore Is Dying.”

Sinclair’s local network of 185 stations across the country makes it an influential player in shaping the views of millions of Americans, especially at a time when local newspapers are rapidly being gutted — or closed altogether.

As Sinclair increasingly fills the void, it offers its viewers a perspective that aligns with Trump’s oft-stated opinion that America’s cities, especially those run by Democratic politicians, are dangerous and dysfunctional.

washington post logoWashington Post, Paramore rejects Tenn. honor after Allison Russell denied same recognition, Jonathan Edwards and Tobi Raji, Feb. 19, 2024 (print ed.). Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D) brought two resolutions to the floor of the lower chamber on Monday, both of them congratulating Nashville-area musicians on winning their first Grammy awards the week before.

One was for Paramore, a Tennessee-based emo-pop band that had won Grammys for best rock album and best alternative music performance. The other was for Allison Russell, a folk musician who had won the Grammy for best American roots performance.

The resolutions were so perfunctory that they were placed on the chamber’s consent calendar, a grouping of noncontroversial bills that representatives pass en masse.

But Rep. Jeremy Faison (R) had a problem with one of them. With an objection, he removed the resolution honoring Russell from the consent calendar, while not doing the same for the one honoring Paramore. Jones responded that singling out Russell, who is Black, is a “shameful” example of “Jim Crow thinking.” Paramore, whose members are White, rebuked Faison’s objection as “blatant racism.”

In a statement sent by the Tennessee House Republican Caucus, Faison said that, as a member of the Republican leadership, he had been approached by several members with questions about Russell, “which made it appropriate for us to press pause on that particular resolution.”

Feb. 18

washington post logoWashington Post, Tucker Carlson faces new backlash over Putin interview after Navalny death, Adela Suliman and María Luisa Paúl, Feb. 18, 2024 (print ed.). Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson is facing a fresh wave of criticism over his controversial interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week — and his subsequent comments that “every leader kills people” — following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Friday.

tucker carlson 2022Navalny died suddenly in an Arctic Russian prison colony Friday, collapsing after he felt “unwell” after taking a walk, Russia’s prison service said. Russian opposition figures, and some global leaders, called it a state-sponsored murder.

On Feb. 8, just over a week before Navalny’s death, Carlson made global headlines when he aired a two-hour interview with Putin. He framed it as a media coup — even as critics noted that Putin dominated the interview, offering rambling accounts of Russian history while Carlson spent most of the time in silence.

For Putin nemesis Alexei Navalny, long-feared death arrives in Arctic prison

Then on Monday, Carlson was questioned at the World Government Summit in Dubai, asked by Egyptian journalist Emad Eldin Adeeb why he did not challenge Putin on Navalny, freedom of speech in Russia, or restrictions on the opposition ahead of upcoming elections.

Feb. 17

 

truth social logo

Politico, Trump’s Truth Social nears Wall Street listing that could yield millions, Declan Harty, Feb. 17, 2024 (print ed.). The deal could inject some $300 million into the company, which operates Trump’s social media bullhorn, Truth Social.

politico CustomDonald Trump may be finally headed for Wall Street.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has signed off on one of the last outstanding hurdles to a more than two-year-old planned merger to take the former president’s media venture public, according to the companies behind the deal, Trump Media & Technology Group and Digital World Acquisition Corp.

Now, pending final approval from investors, Trump Media would join the ranks of thousands of other public companies trading in the U.S. The deal could inject some $300 million into the company, which operates Trump’s social media bullhorn, Truth Social. And Trump himself will gain a major stake in the company.

“I never thought it would get to this point,” said Julian Klymochko, CEO of Accelerate Financial Technologies, which operates a fund focused on so-called blank-check companies like Digital World that seek to acquire private companies to take them public. “Deals die on the vine, but this one somehow managed to survive despite seemingly everything going against it.”

The SEC’s green light is a surprising turn for the beleaguered deal — injecting new hope into Trump’s next act in business, just as the presumptive GOP nominee’s campaign against President Joe Biden heats up.

Shares in Digital World Acquisition Corp., or DWAC, skyrocketed more than 25 percent on the news Thursday.

Since the beginning, the planned union has been mired in regulatory issues, market volatility and looming deadlines that have posed existential threats to the deal.

The SEC began investigating the transaction soon after its unveiling in late 2021, resulting in insider trading charges against a trio of Florida men involved in the deal as well as a separate settlement with Digital World over the company’s disclosures. Digital World agreed to pay $18 million last year to resolve the allegations.

Executives for Digital World and Trump Media have had to push investors repeatedly for more time to complete the deal.

Feb. 15

elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, Terrorists Are Paying for Check Marks on X, Report Says, Kate Conger, Feb. 15, 2024 (print ed.). The report shows that X has accepted payments for subscriptions from entities barred from doing business in the U.S., a potential violation of sanctions.

x logo twitterX, the social media platform owned by Elon Musk, above, is potentially violating U.S. sanctions by accepting payments for subscription accounts from terrorist organizations and other groups barred from doing business in the country, according to a new report.

The report, by the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit focused on accountability for large technology companies, shows that X, formerly known as Twitter, has taken payments from accounts that include Hezbollah leaders, Houthi groups, and state-run media outlets in Iran and Russia. The subscriptions, which cost $8 a month, offer users a blue check mark — once limited to verified users like celebrities — and better promotion by X’s algorithm, among other perks.

The U.S. Treasury Department maintains a list of entities that have been placed under sanctions, and while X’s official terms of service forbid people and organizations on the list to make payments on the platform, the report found 28 accounts that had the blue check mark.

“We were surprised to find that X was providing premium services to a wide range of groups the U.S. has sanctioned for terrorism and other activities that harm its national security,” said Katie Paul, the director of the Tech Transparency Project. “It’s yet another sign that X has lost control of its platform.”

Mr. Musk has said that he wants X to be a haven for free speech and that he will remove only illegal content.

twitter bird CustomSince Mr. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter in 2022, the company has made drastic changes to the way it does business — in some cases spurning advertising in favor of subscription dollars. It has also restored thousands of barred accounts and rolled back rules that once governed the site.

Mr. Musk also did away with Twitter’s verification policy, in which staff members vetted politicians, celebrities, journalists and others, granting them a blue check mark to show they were real. Instead, people now pay for those badges, and popular paid accounts are eligible to receive a cut of the revenue for ads displayed next to their posts. Subscriptions for organizations cost $1,000 per month, a tier that comes with additional perks and a gold check mark.

(X still denotes official government accounts with a complimentary check mark, now gray.)

It is unclear how the organizations and people highlighted in the report skirted X’s rules to pay for their premium status. (Mr. Musk has laid off roughly 80 percent of X’s staff.) Because X no longer verifies the identities of users before granting check marks, it is also possible that the accounts discovered by the Tech Transparency Project belong to impersonators.

Congressional legislation known as the Berman amendments provides for the free flow of information, without penalties, between the United States and countries that it has placed under sanctions. Internet companies have previously leaned on the amendments, including in 2020 when TikTok argued that they protected the app from an effort by President Donald J. Trump to block U.S. citizens from downloading it. But it’s unclear whether the argument would cover financial transactions on a social media service.

Feb. 13

Covert Action Magazine, Hugh Aynesworth: CIA Media Asset, FBI Informer, Friend of Lyndon Johnson White House and Media’s Darling JFK Assassination “Lone Nutter” Journalist Dies at 92, Jeremy Kuzmarov, Feb. 13, 2024. In 1967, the CIA issued a memo to its army of media “assets” instructing them on how to counter so-called “conspiracy theorists” who challenged the veracity of the Warren Commission report, which determined that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of President John F. Kennedy.

One of the CIA’s “assets” is believed to have been Hugh G. Aynesworth, a long-standing reporter for The Dallas Morning News who made a career of trying to invalidate the claims of so-called JFK conspiracy theorists.

Aynesworth died on December 23 at his home in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 92.

Texas television station KERA published a laudatory obituary heralding Aynesworth, who started working at The Dallas Morning News in 1960, describing him as a “renowned Dallas journalist and bestselling author.” The article went on to quote Robert Mong, the former editor-in-chief at The Dallas Morning News, who said: “Personally, I don’t know that there’s ever been a better reporter to come out of Dallas, really.”

But according to noted JFK researcher Robert Morrow, “Hugh did the same thing to truth and the JFK assassination as [serial killer] Ted Bundy did to the Florida State University Chi Omega house on January 15, 1978, except Aynesworth [producer of a Netflix documentary on Ted Bundy] did his butchering for 60 years.”

A native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, who started his journalism career as freelancer for the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram and sports writer for the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Times Record, Aynesworth claimed to have been the only reporter present in both Dealey Plaza, when Kennedy was fatally shot, and the Texas Theatre when police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald.

Aynesworth also claimed to have been present in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters when Jack Ruby shot Oswald and was the first newspaperman to get an interview with Oswald’s widow, Marina, whom he bragged about having an affair with.[4]

In a May 1967 Newsweek article “The JFK Assassination Conspiracy,” which he sent an advanced copy to White House Press Secretary George Christian, Aynesworth accused New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison of engaging in bribery to advance what Aynesworth considered to be conspiratorial theories about the JFK assassination.

Feb. 10

 

james okeefeMedia Matters for America, Investigative Commentary: James O’Keefe is using dating apps to find targets for undercover videos and recruiting media matters logofollowers to sell it as “journalism,” Audrey McCabe, Research contributions from Jack Winstanley, Feb. 10, 2024. O’Keefe, above, has offered to pay $5,000 for usable footage obtained with the same tactic. 

James O’Keefe, the ousted founder of Project Veritas who is now trying to build up O’Keefe Media Group as a new outlet for his right-wing sting operations, has been targeting Democratic officials and high-level corporate employees through dating apps, luring them to meet up, and secretly recording them speaking about their jobs. O’Keefe is also trying to recruit followers to employ the same tactics, promoting a $20 webinar and claiming that he will pay $5,000 for usable footage from fake dates with targets.

After being ousted from Project Veritas last year, O’Keefe is trying to build up O’Keefe Media Group through sting operations targeting political opponents and videotaping them on fake dates. O’Keefe has released videos of at least four sting operations that were based on footage obtained under the cover of dates. [NPR, 2/21/23; Twitter/X, 1/25/23; YouTube, 6/22/23, 1/24/24, 1/31/24]

O’Keefe has introduced a “D.C. Swamp Exposed” series, releasing two videos on January 24 and 31 that purport to expose political corruption. Both videos — the first with a Capitol Hill intern and the second with a White House cybersecurity official — were captured on fake dates, at least one of which was set up using Tinder. [YouTube, 1/24/24, 1/31/24]

O’Keefe claimed, “Tinder has just gotten rid of my profile, ladies and gentlemen. Tinder has shut down James O’Keefe’s dating profile.” He then said, “I guess I’m going to use Grindr from now on.” [Twitter/X, 1/31/24]

O’Keefe claimed that O’Keefe Media Group plans to release a new investigation every Wednesday. He also said he intends to expand the program by recruiting followers to set up their own stings. [Real America’s Voice, War Room, 2/1/24; Twitter/X, 10/30/23]

heather cox richardsonLetters from an American, Commentary: Feb. 10, 2024, Heather Cox Richardson, right, Feb. 10, 2024. A key story that got missed yesterday was that the Senate voted 64–19 to allow a bill that includes $95.34 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan to advance a step forward. In terms of domestic politics, this appears to be an attempt by those who controlled the Republican Party before Trump to push back against Trump and the MAGA Republicans.

MAGA lawmakers had demanded border security measures be added to a national security supplemental bill that provided this international aid, as well as humanitarian aid to Gaza, but to their apparent surprise, a bipartisan group of lawmakers actually hammered out that border piece. Trump immediately demanded an end to the bill and MAGA obliged on Wednesday, forcing the rest of the party to join them in killing the national security supplemental bill. House Republicans then promptly tried to pass a measure that provided funding for Israel alone.

At stake behind this fight is not only control of the Republican Party, but also the role of the U.S. in the world—and, for that matter, its standing. And much of that fight comes down to Ukraine’s attempt to resist Russia’s invasions of 2014 and 2022.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is intent on dismantling the rules-based international order of norms and values developed after World War II. Under this system, international organizations such as the United Nations provide places to resolve international disputes, prevent territorial wars, and end no-holds-barred slaughter through a series of agreements, including the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Genocide Convention, and the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war.

CBS News via Yahoo, Social welfare organization or political party? Why No Labels may need a label, Cristina Corujo, Updated Feb. 10, 2024. For cbs news logomonths, the group No Labels has mounted an aggressive ballot access drive, aiming to put a candidate on the 2024 presidential ballot in as many states as possible. No Labels says it wants to give American voters "a better choice" than what seems increasingly likely to be available from the major parties: a rematch between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

Though the group has succeeded in obtaining a ballot line in 14 states, critics have raised questions about how No Labels, which is not a political party, plans to run a candidate in the 2024 presidential race.

What is No Labels?

No Labels was founded in 2009 by Nancy Jacobson — the wife of Mark Penn, who was Hillary Clinton's chief strategist on her Senate and first presidential campaigns — as a 501(c)(4) organization. This tax designation means No Labels is a social welfare organization, a group that "may engage in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office provided that such intervention does not constitute the organization's primary activity," according to the IRS. Initially, No Labels aimed to unite Democrats and Republicans trying to solve some of Congress' most intractable problems.

But by 2021 its mission had evolved. No Labels began working on a nationwide ballot access project to "enable the potential nomination of an independent Unity ticket in 2024," its website says.

In pursuing ballot access in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., No Labels has raised a backlash from Democratic leaders and groups that fear the group's candidate could take votes from President Biden and hand the presidency to Trump.

Some Democratic members of Congress and groups have also accused No Labels of acting like a political party, despite its tax-exempt social welfare organization status.

No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy said that No Labels is not acting like a party because it is "not specifically advocating for or against [a] candidate."

"A group like No Labels has a right to get on the ballot without being considered a political committee," he said.

But in some states where it has obtained a ballot line, No Labels has already been recognized as a political party. Maine's secretary of state recently recognized it as an official political party early this year after it reached the signature threshold necessary, the state's election commission said.

William Galston, one of the group's co-founders, told CBS News that he decided to part ways with the movement when its "mission shifted" and started working on its possible independent presidential movement for 2024.

"I decided that this was such an important issue for me that I can no longer in good conscience remain in a fairly senior and visible advisory position inside No Labels," Galston said.

Two No Labels donors accused group of "bait and switch"

That alleged shift in mission is already the subject of a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court. In January, two members of the Durst family, one of New York City's most prominent real estate families, accused the group of a "bait and switch," contending No Labels diverged from its original mission of encouraging bipartisan legislation to pursue a possible 2024 third-party presidential bid.

The lawsuit says No Labels solicited funds nearly a decade ago pitching "bipartisan activism aimed at achieving common-sense solutions that appeal to the average American." It was a goal that convinced Douglas and Jonathan Durst to donate $145,000 to the group. But the Durst cousins now regret it, claiming No Labels "has lost its way, abandoned its original mission, and fundamentally betrayed its donors' trust in the process."

No Labels' finances have also been questioned in recent months because its organization as a social welfare organization means it is not required to disclose its donors. Political parties, however, must regularly disclose who their donors are and how much they donated.

The group says it will address this. In a press briefing last year, Clancy said once a campaign with a candidate is announced, No Labels would be "subject to every campaign finance requirement." No Labels spokeswoman Martini clarified that it would be the ticket — the presidential and vice presidential candidate, and not No Labels — that would be subject to campaign finance laws, and the ticket "would be entirely separate from the No Labels 501(c)(4) organization."

When will No Labels announce its presidential candidate?

No Labels is still considering whether it should proceed with its presidential unity ticket. Clancy says the group should reach a decision on this "somewhere in mid-March."

Although No Labels has offered scant information about its candidate selection process, it has said it will hold a virtual convention and then announce a nominee. The group has not said who, if anyone, would be eligible to run but has mentioned that the selection process will be conducted by its own members.

Galston believes that although the group claims to be bipartisan, the influence of former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan over No Labels shows that the group prefers "to put a Republican on the top of the ticket, [rather] than a Democrat." Hogan resigned from the board of No Labels early this year and endorsed GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley. He announced Friday that he's running for Senate.

Haley was commended by No Labels founding chairman and former independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman as someone who "really deserves serious consideration" when asked by CBS News about putting her at the top of a No Labels ticket.

"If we decide to put forth a ticket, we'll have full details on exactly how that ticket will be selected," Clancy said. "Our focus is making sure we can just get on the ballot, because that's really everything if you're not on the ballot, this whole discussion is academic," he added.

Where has No Labels qualified for the ballot?

No Labels has been able to qualify for the ballot in 14 states so far: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah.

Clancy says No Labels is expected to be able to obtain ballot access in 32 states because some states will only allow the group to qualify "as a placeholder" for a candidate.

For this reason, Martini said that regarding roughly dozen and a half states, that it's the candidate who would be pursuing the qualification because of state requirements that there be an actual candidate or because "the ballot access requirement is far less burdensome for the candidate to pursue than for No Labels to pursue without the candidate." She pointed out that in Massachusetts, for example, the state would require 60,000 signatures from an organization like No labels, "but only 10,000 from a candidate."

Thirteen states require a named candidate: Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Feb. 9

 

vladimir putin hand up palmer

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin interview with Tucker Carlson shows Kremlin outreach to Trump’s GOP, Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova, Feb. 8, 2024 (print ed.). As Russian state television propagandists salivated over Tucker Carlson’s interview with President Vladimir Putin (shown above in a file photo), the first of Carlson’s falsehoods about his visit to Moscow was punctured, fittingly enough, by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who presumably helped arrange the whole strange venture.

tucker carlson 2022Carlson, right, the conservative former Fox News host with a history of airing bogus “news,” claimed — falsely — that prominent U.S. newspapers and television outlets had refused to interview Putin since his invasion of Ukraine and were ignoring Russia’s perspective. Carlson labeled Western media as “corrupt” and accused them of lies on Tuesday in a video confirming that he was in Moscow for a Q&A with the president.

dmitry peskov“Mr. Carlson is wrong,” Peskov, left, said during his daily briefing for reporters. “We receive many requests for interviews with the president.”

Peskov conceded that the Kremlin routinely blocked media interview requests from large Western outlets, but he said it gave Carlson the nod because “his position is different” from the major “Anglo-Saxon media.” (Anglo-Saxon is a common blanket jab at the West even when mostly Americans are involved.)

Carlson’s assertion was astonishing, given that two journalists who are U.S. citizens are now jailed in Russia: Evan Gershkovich, of The Wall Street Journal, who was accused of espionage and seized by Federal Security Service agents last year during a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg, and Alsu Kurmasheva, of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who has dual U.S. and Russian citizenship and who was arrested in October while visiting Russia from Prague where she had been living.

The Kremlin’s decision to allow the interview demonstrated Putin’s interest in building bridges to the disruptive MAGA element of the Republican Party, and it seemed to reflect the Kremlin’s hope that Donald Trump would return to the presidency and that Republicans would continue to block U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Halting aid from the United States, which is Ukraine’s biggest Western supporter, could provide Russia with a path to victory in the nearly two-year war. Although the war is largely at a stalemate, Ukraine is facing critical shortages of soldiers, ammunition and weapons as it battles a much larger and better-equipped Russian force.

Putin portrays himself as a guardian of traditional conservative values, showing common cause with MAGA conservatives, who have opposed gender-neutral bathrooms. Putin has made repeated, derisive references about the West’s promotion of transgender rights.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary:Tucker Carlson: the perfect candidate for Logan Act prosecution, Wayne Madsen, left, Feb. 9, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2024. Tucker Carlson's sycophantic interview of Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin marks an additional violation of the 1799 Logan Act by the fired Fox host and promoter of fascist strongmen around the world.

wayne madesen report logoThe Logan Act bars private U.S. citizens from engaging in their own foreign policy. The act is particularly useful in curbing private citizens from treating with foreign governments that are either at war with the United States or its allies, subject to economic and political sanctions by the United States and its allies, or pose a national security threat to America. By fluffing for Putin in a two-hour conspiracy-laden interview during which the Russian strongman suggested that President Biden was not in charge of the government but fronting for some deep state cabal, Carlson showed himself to be the type of person the framers of the Logan Act had in mind when they enacted the law.

Russian FlagViolations of the Logan Act are felonies. The two 19th century prosecutions under the act involved individuals not involved in criminal conspiracies against the U.S. government. Other threatened Logan Act prosecutions involved sitting members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives acting in their constitutional capacities. The threatened prosecution of former Secretary of State John Kerry by the Trump Justice Department was rejected by the U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of Manhattan and the District of Maryland for being a political misuse of the Logan Act.

Carlson presents a wholly different case. He has become a virtual roving ambassador for the American far-right in currying favor with fascist leaders around the world. He championed the government of far-right Hitler- and Mussolini-praising former President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. Carlson praised Bolsonaro supporters who, in January 2023, violently stormed Brazilian government buildings in the capital of Brasilia to prevent the inauguration of the man who defeated Bolsonaro in the 2022 election, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Repeating the same fascist tripe he used in January 2021 when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by the far-right to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president, Carlson echoed Bolsonaro's charge that the 2022 election was rigged in Lula's favor.

Likewise, Carlson's fawning interviews of Hungarian fascist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Argentina's far-right and unhinged President Javier Milei, and Alberta's far-right secessionist Premier Danielle Smith fit in nicely with what can only be described as a fascist shadow foreign policy regime that also involves Steve Bannon, Elon Musk, Fox's Lachlan Murdoch, Sebastian Gorka, and other fascism-loving cockwombles.

Carlson is not a journalist but a fascist provocateur. He has been seen on the streets of Madrid protesting alongside Spanish fascist Vox Party leader Santiago Abascal against amnesty for Catalan independence leaders. Carlson, along with Bannon, has praised far-right xenophobe street brawlers in Ireland who have protested against the government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin, in rambling interview, barely lets Tucker Carlson get a word in, Francesca Ebel, Feb. 9, 2024. Russian President Vladimir Putin spent the first 30 minutes of his two-hour interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson giving a revisionist historical tirade on the founding myths of Russia and Ukraine, the breakup of the Soviet Union and NATO expansionism.

From there, admonishing Carlson when he interrupted, Putin pontificated on everything from the war in Ukraine and relations with the United States, the case of imprisoned American reporter Evan Gershkovich, and even on artificial intelligence.

By the end of the conversation, it was clear that Putin had no intention of ending his brutal war against Ukraine. But Carlson, who was sacked from Fox last year, seemed ready to surrender. Putin offered to keep talking. Carlson, evidently exhausted by the Russian leader’s long-winded conspiracy theories and grievances against the West, thanked him and called it quits — far short of the media coup that he had been touting.

Analysts said Putin’s choice to talk to Carlson was based partly on his perceived sympathy — the former Fox host has repeatedly dismissed criticism of Putin over the years — and the opportunity to appeal to the more MAGA reaches of the Republican Party during an election year. That could boost Donald Trump’s chances of reelection and convince Republicans to continue to block U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Carlson spent most of the interview in silence, or looking confounded.

He did not ask a single question about Russia’s attacks on civilian areas or critical infrastructure in Ukraine, which have killed thousands. There was no mention of the war crime allegations facing the Russian leader or the forced deportation of Ukrainian children. Absent too were questions on Russia’s sweeping political crackdowns on Putin’s critics or the long jail sentences meted out to ordinary Russians staging antiwar protests.

Instead, Carlson posed increasingly esoteric questions — including whether any world leader could be a true Christian — and at times appeared to goad Putin into alleging a U.S. deep state and promote other conspiracy theories.

At several moments, when Carlson tried to interject, he was chastised by the president.

“I’ll tell you, I’m coming to that. This briefing is coming to an end. It might be boring, but it explains many things,” said Putin in a condescending tone.

“It’s not boring. [I’m] just not sure how it’s relevant,” said Carlson.

Putin’s domination of the interview with Carlson was a stark contrast with a grilling that the Russian leader received from Austrian news anchor Armin Wolf, who won acclaim in 2018 by repeatedly challenging him and putting him on the defensive.

Carlson himself appeared to acknowledge the challenges of interviewing an increasingly reclusive autocrat with a 24-year history of dodging questions and dominating interviews.

Ruminating on the interview afterward in a gilded antechamber at the Kremlin palace, Carlson said that the start of the interview had taken him by surprise, with “an extremely detailed history going back to the 9th century of the formation of Russia.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: The big problem with the hyped interview, Will Sommer, Feb. 9, 2024. It was none other than Putin himself, whom the erstwhile cable-news star somehow let ramble to the point of tedium.

Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow should have been a big win for both of them.

For Putin, it was a chance to explain his justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine to a sympathetic voice in American conservatism, just as congressional Republicans are considering whether to approve a Ukrainian aid package. For Carlson, it was an opportunity to bolster his relevance after being fired from Fox News last year — and promote his new media venture at the same time.

But Carlson’s much-touted interview, recorded on Tuesday and released on Thursday evening, ran into a problem as soon as it began. In his attempt to justify the invasion, Putin spent a significant part of the interview focused on a tedious recounting of Russian and Ukrainian history, to the point that Carlson became irritated and two began to clash.

Putin’s lengthy version of the history between the two countries — which he’s laid out before, and has been criticized as a revisionist pretext for war by some historians — went back as far as the 9th century, namechecking the likes of “Prince Rurik” and “Prince Yaroslav the Wise” in an attempt to argue that Ukrainians are actually Russian.

But that rambling account seems unlikely to resonate with Carlson’s die-hard conservative audience in the United States.

There was a sense even among some of Carlson’s allies that the interview had failed to reach its full promise. On X, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn — who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying about his own contacts with the Russian government — said viewers should understand that Carlson was probably subjected to negotiated terms about the interview.

 

Michael Mann, then-professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, arrives at the “Before the Flood” premiere on day 2 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Sept. 9, 2016, in Toronto. A jury on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, said Mann was defamed 12 years ago when a pair of conservative writers compared his depictions of global warming to a convicted child molester. (File Photo by Evan Agostini via Invision and AP.)

Michael Mann, then-professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, arrives at the “Before the Flood” premiere on day 2 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Sept. 9, 2016, in Toronto. A jury on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, said Mann was defamed 12 years ago when a pair of conservative writers compared his depictions of global warming to a convicted child molester. (File Photo by Evan Agostini via Invision and AP.)

ap logoAssociated Press, Jury awards climate scientist Michael Mann $1 million in defamation lawsuit, Suman Naishadham, Feb. 9, 2024 (print ed.). A jury on Thursday awarded $1 million to climate scientist Michael Mann who sued a pair of conservative writers 12 years ago after they compared his depictions of global warming to a convicted child molester.

Mann, a professor of climate science at the University of Pennsylvania, rose to fame for a graph first published in 1998 in the journal Nature that was dubbed the “hockey stick” for its dramatic illustration of a warming planet.

The work brought Mann wide exposure but also many skeptics, including the two writers that Mann took to court for comments that he said affected his career and reputation in the U.S. and internationally.

“It feels great,” Mann said Thursday after the six-person jury delivered its verdict. ”It’s a good day for us, it’s a good day for science.”

In 2012, a libertarian think tank named the Competitive Enterprise Institute published a blog post by Rand Simberg, then a fellow at the organization, that compared investigations into Mann’s work to the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University who was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple children. At the time, Mann worked at Penn State University, too.

Mann’s research was investigated after his and other scientists’ emails were leaked in 2009 in an incident that brought further scrutiny of the “hockey stick” graph, with skeptics claiming Mann manipulated data. Investigations by Penn State and others found no misuse of data by Mann, but his work continued to draw attacks, particularly from conservatives.

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data,” Simberg wrote. Another writer, Mark Steyn, later referenced Simberg’s article in his own piece in National Review, calling Mann’s research “fraudulent.”

The jury in Superior Court of the District of Columbia awarded Mann $1 in compensatory damages from each writer; it also awarded punitive damages of $1,000 from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn. It announced its verdict after four weeks of trial and one day of deliberations.

washington post logoWashington Post, Seiji Ozawa, groundbreaking Asian conductor, dies at 88, Tim Page, Feb. 9, 2024. In the 1970s, at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his studiously hip, turtle-necked, love-beaded image made him seem a new sort of music director for a new age.

Seiji Ozawa, the shaggy-haired, high-voltage maestro who served as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for almost 30 years and was widely considered the first Asian conductor to win world renown leading a classical orchestra, died Feb. 6 at his home in Tokyo. He was 88.

The Seiji Ozawa International Academy Switzerland announced the death on its webpage but did not provide an immediate cause.

Mr. Ozawa, who underwent treatment for esophageal cancer in 2010, had been in fragile health for years. He was expected to conduct the Boston Symphony in July 2016 but pulled out that May because of what was described as a “lack of physical strength.”

It was a melancholy coda for a man who had arrived in Boston in the early 1970s as a long-haired and fashionably clad maestro who exuded youthful energy. He seemed a sharp contrast to the middle-aged, tuxedoed Northern Europeans who had long dominated the podium in classical music.

The March 2024 cover of British Vogue. (Steven Meisel/British Vogue)

The March 2024 cover of British Vogue. (Steven Meisel/British Vogue)

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: For British Vogue’s editor in chief, the March cover is a mic drop, Robin Givhan, Feb. 9, 2024. Edward Enninful’s final cover for the magazine celebrates diversity in all its forms and challenges the fashion industry to keep aiming for full inclusion.

When Edward Enninful became editor in chief of British Vogue in August 2017, he made history as the first man and the first Black person to lead the century-old glossy publication. He arrived with a significant amount of good will within the fashion industry along with the burden of high expectations. British Vogue was known for its substantial prose, its upper-crust lineage and its mostly White staff and cover models.

Enninful ends his time at the magazine with the March issue; Chioma Nnadi took over as head of editorial content in October. His final cover image — a group photograph that is a feat of logistics and synergy — looks back at Enninful’s accomplishments, but it also challenges the industry to keep moving forward and aiming for full inclusion, not just on the runways and in advertising, but in retail, design studios and on corporate boards.

 

Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel (Feb. 8, 2024 po+ol photo by Oliver Contreras).

 Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel (Feb. 8, 2024 po+ol photo by Oliver Contreras).

ap logoAssociated Press, The FCC is outlawing AI-generated voices in robocalls as concerns grow around their ability to deceive voters, Ali Swenson, Feb. 9, 2024 (print ed.). The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday outlawed robocalls that contain voices generated by artificial intelligence, a decision that sends a clear message that exploiting the technology to scam people and mislead voters won’t be tolerated.

The unanimous ruling targets robocalls made with AI voice-cloning tools under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a 1991 law restricting fcc logojunk calls that use artificial and prerecorded voice messages.

The announcement comes as New Hampshire authorities are advancing their investigation into AI-generated robocalls that mimicked President Joe Biden’s voice to discourage people from voting in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary last month.

Effective immediately, the regulation empowers the FCC to fine companies that use AI voices in their calls or block the service providers that carry them. It also opens the door for call recipients to file lawsuits and gives state attorneys general a new mechanism to crack down on violators, according to the FCC.

jessica rosenworcel fcc“Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters,” the agency’s chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, right, said in a news release. “We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice.”

Under the consumer protection law, telemarketers generally cannot use automated dialers or artificial or prerecorded voice messages to call cellphones, and they cannot make such calls to landlines without prior written consent from the call recipient.

The new ruling classifies AI-generated voices in robocalls as “artificial” and thus enforceable by the same standards, the FCC said..

Those who break the law can face steep fines, maxing out at more than $23,000 per call, the FCC said. The agency has previously used the consumer law to clamp down on robocallers interfering in elections, including imposing a $5 million fine on two conservative hoaxers for falsely warning people in predominantly Black areas that voting by mail could heighten their risk of arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination.

Feb. 8

ny times logoNew York Times, New York Times Co. Added 300,000 Digital Subscribers in Fourth Quarter, Katie Robertson, Feb. 8, 2024 (print ed.). At the end of the year, The Times had 10.36 million subscribers, 9.7 million of them digital-only.

The New York Times Company added 300,000 paid digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2023, the company said on Wednesday, helping to push annual revenue for digital subscriptions above $1 billion for the first time.

The Times reported total revenue of $676.2 million in the last three months of the year, essentially flat compared with a year earlier. Adjusted operating profit increased 8.5 percent, to $154 million.

It was “a strong year for The Times that showcased the power of our strategy to be the essential subscription for every curious person seeking to understand and engage with the world,” Meredith Kopit Levien, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

The company has focused in recent years on pushing a bundle of products to subscribers: its core news report as well as games like Wordle and Spelling Bee; its product review site, Wirecutter; a recipe app; and The Athletic, its sports news website.

The Athletic, which The Times bought two years ago for $550 million, continued to lose money in the fourth quarter. But its operating loss shrank to $4.4 million, from $9.6 million a year earlier. Revenue at The Athletic grew 31.3 percent, to $38.5 million.

At the end of the year, The Times had 10.36 million subscribers, 9.7 million of them digital-only. The company has a stated goal of 15 million subscribers by the end of 2027.

Feb. 7

Politico, Tucker Carlson faces media fury over Putin interview, Claudia Chiappa, Feb. 8, 2024 (print ed.). The controversial pundit is interviewing the Russian leader. Now other journalists are raging at “this SoB.”

tucker carlson 2022Tucker Carlson, right,  is interviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin. The reaction has been apoplectic.

politico CustomCarlson, a conservative pundit and former Fox News anchor who has repeatedly questioned support for Ukraine’s war effort, announced Tuesday night his plans to sit down with the Russian president during his trip to Moscow.

In a video that racked up more than 60 million views by Wednesday morning, Carlson said he was interviewing Putin “because it’s our job. We’re in journalism. Our duty is to inform people.”

But Carlson’s monologue, in which he lambasted Western media and claimed it wasn’t making an effort to hear Putin’s side of the story, has sparked backlash from American and Russian journalists.

“Many journalists have interviewed Putin, who also makes frequent, widely covered speeches,” wrote Anne Applebaum, an American journalist and historian, on X (formerly Twitter). “Carlson’s interview is different because he is not a journalist, he’s a propagandist, with a history of helping autocrats conceal corruption.”

Carlson, who was ousted by Fox last year, said the interview would be published “unedited” and “not behind a paywall” on his personal website. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday confirmed that the interview had already taken place, but did not share when it would air.

While Western media outlets have done “scores of interviews” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Carlson said, “not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of the other country involved in this conflict, Vladimir Putin.”

“Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now,” he said. “They’ve never heard his voice. That’s wrong.”

While it’s true that Carlson will be the first American to interview Putin since the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, journalists from major outlets in the United States and Europe were quick to point out that this is not for lack of trying.

“Does Tucker really think we journalists haven’t been trying to interview President Putin every day since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine?” Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, railed on X. “It’s absurd — we’ll continue to ask for an interview, just as we have for years now.”

Politico, Commentary: Tucker Carlson joins long line of ‘useful idiot’ journalists helping tyrants, Jamie Dettmer, Feb. 9, 2024 (print ed.). The notorious Walter Duranty of the New York Times and Nazi broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw offer cautionary tales.

politico CustomTucker Carlson is far from being the first Western journalist to have aligned himself with the enemy. There’s a long tradition of the likes of Hitler and Stalin finding pliable Brits and Americans to do their propaganda for them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin can be confident he won’t be facing any zingers in his interview with Carlson, due to be broadcast on Thursday night in the U.S. It will probably be more an exercise in sycophancy akin to the softball encounter between Carlson and Donald Trump last August. Indeed, it could be an attempt to map out the contours of another Trump-Putin love-in.

After all, Carlson nailed his colors to Putin’s mast long ago. He’s argued Washington should take Russia’s side in its war on Ukraine and dubbed Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “dangerous authoritarian” — not a description, apparently, he thinks applicable to the Russian leader. He has also always been in tune with Putin’s calls for “traditional values” — which in Russia tends to mean the abuse of LGBTQ+ rights.

The most obvious parallel with Carlson’s fawning approach to a Russian despot is arguably the New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, bureau chief in Moscow from 1922 to 1936.

After proving his loyalty and writing glowing accounts of the Communists’ Five-Year Plan he was granted an exclusive interview by Stalin. He failed to report on the Holodomor, the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933, and attacked those who tried to get the word out, including Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist. “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda,” Duranty noted in one false article.

Historian Mark von Hagen later wrote that Duranty’s reporting was just rehashed Soviet propaganda at odds with the “experience of the peoples of the Russian and Soviet empires.” But it had impact. Sally Taylor, author of a critical biography, argued Duranty’s reporting was a factor in U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision in 1933 to grant official recognition to the Soviet Union. Later, when Stalin’s atrocities became public knowledge, Duranty said: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”

That attitude didn’t do the New York Times any favors over the years and Duranty was repeatedly wheeled out as such an egregious example of malpractice, not least by Ukrainians. The paper concedes the coverage that won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 is “largely discredited.”

Duranty was a true believer, insisting the ends justified the means. Much like American socialist reporter John Reed, author of 10 Days That Shook the World, who worked for the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, translating decrees and news about the Bolshevik government in the early days around the 1917 revolution.

Feb. 6

washington post logoWashington Post, The school bus is disappearing. Welcome to the era of the school pickup line, Andrew Van Dam, Feb. 6, 2024. Parent drop-offs at school soared during the pandemic, and bus use fell, but only among kids whose parents graduated from college. What’s going on?

The yellow school bus must be the most iconic means of transportation in American history. But the operative word in that sentence is “history.” For the first time on record, most American students are whisked to school in a private vehicle.

In 2022, youths of almost every age shifted from bus to Buick, with 53 percent of U.S. students getting dropped off at school or driving themselves, according to our analysis of the recently revamped National Household Travel Survey. The survey, from the fine folks at the Federal Highway Administration, collects detailed transportation data, including trip logs, from about 17,000 Americans in about 8,000 households.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Newspapers cried wolf at the dawn of the internet. AI is the real wolf, Jim Albrecht (senior director of news ecosystem products at Google from 2017 to 2023), Feb. 6, 2024. ChatGPT and its cousins constitute a real threat to news organizations. The courts — or Congress — need to act fast to stop them.

The news publishing industry has always reviled new technology, whether it was radio or television, the internet or, now, generative artificial intelligence. After all, newspapers long had a monopoly on the distribution of information, and each innovation pared back the exclusiveness of that franchise.

The news industry’s problem has also been my problem. For the past seven years, I ran a team at Google focused on making the web ecosystem more hospitable to news publishers. We built products to make the production of expensive journalism cheaper (giving them cutting-edge AI document analysis and transcription tools), to make it easier for people to buy subscriptions, and to let publishers showcase their editorial viewpoints and thus find their audiences more effectively. In aggregate, these things delivered billions of dollars of value to publishers around the world.

But they did not fundamentally alter the fact that the internet had hollowed out the value of the daily newspaper. Back in the day, if you wanted to know a sports score, a stock quote, a movie showtime, where the garage sales were or what concerts were coming up, you looked in the newspaper. Now, the web allows you to find this information more quickly elsewhere. So, if consumers once had 20 reasons to buy a newspaper, now they had only one: news — the labor-intensive, expensive work of reporting and writing the news — which isn’t a thing advertisers are especially excited to be associated with.

To combat this turn of affairs, news publishers, first in Europe but increasingly around the world, began turning to regulators and legislators to restore their past dominance — or at least their profitability. And I had to figure out how Google would respond to these demands.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bluesky, a trendy rival to X, finally opens to the public, Will Oremus, Feb. 6, 2024. The upstart social network has been by invitation only since its launch last year.

When Jack Dorsey, then Twitter’s CEO, tweeted in 2019 that he planned to create a new, “decentralized” form of social media, most people scratched their heads. But Jay Graber immediately got excited.

An idealistic, former software developer who had tried unsuccessfully to build her own social media system, Graber, then 28, saw Twitter’s involvement as the key to making the idea a reality. She applied and was chosen in August 2021 to lead the project, called Bluesky, and soon convinced Twitter honchos that it would work best as an independent organization, so that it wouldn’t be dependent on Dorsey for support.
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“I didn’t see the future,” Graber said in an interview Monday, referring to the subsequent ouster of Dorsey as Twitter’s CEO and sale of the company to Elon Musk. “But as I like to say, the captain can always sink the ship.”

Today, Bluesky is opening to the public after nearly a year as an invitation-only app, with Graber as its CEO. With a little over 3 million users, it’s mounting a long-shot bid to take on the company that spawned it — and to set social media on a course that no single captain can control.

On the surface, Bluesky looks familiar to anyone who has used Twitter or Meta’s Threads, with a feed full of text posts and images from people you follow. Underneath, however, the company is building what Graber calls “an open, decentralized protocol” — a software system that allows developers and users to create their own versions of the social network, with their own rules and algorithms. She compared the idea to email, where users of different apps like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo Mail can interact freely because they all run on the same underlying technology.

That system is a work in progress. So far, Bluesky is the only social network using its protocol. But it already has some features that set it apart.

For instance, users can subscribe to feeds where algorithms prioritize the most popular posts overall or the posts most popular among the people they follow. There are also options for feeds geared to their specific areas of interest, such as science or art. And users can toggle personal moderation settings that either “hide,” “warn” or “show” categories of content such as nudity, violence, spam and hate-group iconography.

washington post logoWashington Post, Toby Keith, country superstar from ‘Honkytonk U,’ dies at 62, Harrison Smith, Feb. 6, 2024. Keith sold more than 40 million albums, mixing flag-waving anthems such as “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” with easygoing drinking songs such as “Red Solo Cup.”

Toby Keith, a former rodeo hand, oil rigger and semipro football player who became a rowdy king of country music, singing patriotic anthems, wry drinking songs and propulsive odes to cowboy culture that collectively sold more than 40 million records, died Feb. 5 at 62.

His death was announced on his official website, which did not give further details. Mr. Keith announced in June 2022 that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, adding that he had received chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

A brawny singer-songwriter with piercing blue eyes and an Oklahoma twang, Mr. Keith cultivated a persona as “the big, bad outlaw who hides a big, soft heart,” as music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine once put it. He could be ornery, cantankerous, self-deprecating and sensitive, recording mournful ballads about heartbreak and desire, as well as party songs about raising hell, drinking whiskey from a paper cup and getting high with his friend Willie Nelson.

ny times logoNew York Times, Fake and Explicit Images of Taylor Swift Started on 4chan, Study Says, Tiffany Hsu, Feb. 6, 2024 (print ed.). The lewd images probably originated as part of a challenge on one of the internet’s most notorious message boards, according to researchers.

taylor swift uncreditedImages of Taylor Swift that had been generated by artificial intelligence and had spread widely across social media in late January probably originated as part of a recurring challenge on one of the internet’s most notorious message boards, according to a new report.

Graphika, a research firm that studies disinformation, traced the images back to one community on 4chan, a message board known for sharing hate speech, conspiracy theories and, increasingly, racist and offensive content created using A.I.

The people on 4chan who created the images of the singer did so in a sort of game, the researchers said — a test to see whether they could create lewd (and sometimes violent) images of famous female figures.

The synthetic Swift images spilled out onto other platforms and were viewed millions of times. Fans rallied to Ms. Swift’s defense, and lawmakers demanded stronger protections against A.I.-created images.

Graphika found a thread of messages on 4chan that encouraged people to try to evade safeguards set up by image generator tools, including OpenAI’s DALL-E, Microsoft Designer and Bing Image Creator. Users were instructed to share “tips and tricks to find new ways to bypass filters” and were told, “Good luck, be creative.”

Sharing unsavory content via games allows people to feel connected to a wider community, and they are motivated by the cachet they receive for participating, experts said. Ahead of the midterm elections in 2022, groups on platforms like Telegram, WhatsApp and Truth Social engaged in a hunt for election fraud, winning points or honorary titles for producing supposed evidence of voter malfeasance. (True proof of ballot fraud is exceptionally rare.)

Rules posted by 4chan that apply sitewide do not specifically prohibit sexually explicit A.I.-generated images of real adults.

ny times logoNew York Times, Dartmouth College Will Again Require the SAT for Applicants, David Leonhardt, Feb. 6, 2024 (print ed.). The change will go into effect starting next year. Here’s why other selective colleges may follow Dartmouth’s lead.

dartmouth logoDartmouth College announced this morning that it would again require applicants to submit standardized test scores, starting next year. It’s a significant development because other selective colleges are now deciding whether to do so. In today’s newsletter, I’ll tell you the story behind Dartmouth’s decision.

Like many other colleges during the Covid pandemic, Dartmouth dropped its requirement that applicants submit an SAT or ACT score. With the pandemic over and students again able to take the tests, Dartmouth’s admissions team was thinking about reinstating the requirement. Beilock wanted to know what the evidence showed.

Three Dartmouth economists and a sociologist then dug into the numbers. One of their main findings did not surprise them: Test scores were a better predictor than high school grades — or student essays and teacher recommendations — of how well students would fare at Dartmouth. The evidence of this relationship is large and growing, as I explained in a recent Times article.

A second finding was more surprising. During the pandemic, Dartmouth switched to a test-optional policy, in which applicants could choose whether to submit their SAT and ACT scores. And this policy was harming lower-income applicants in a specific way.

The researchers were able to analyze the test scores even of students who had not submitted them to Dartmouth. (Colleges can see the scores after the admissions process is finished.) Many lower-income students, it turned out, had made a strategic mistake.

They withheld test scores that would have helped them get into Dartmouth. They wrongly believed that their scores were too low, when in truth the admissions office would have judged the scores to be a sign that students had overcome a difficult environment and could thrive at Dartmouth.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Pray for the Baltimore Sun, Erik Wemple, Feb. 6, 2024 (print ed.). Will the Baltimore Sun morph into urban apocalypse porn?

That’s an open question now that David Smith, the 73-year-old executive chairman of the sprawling Sinclair Broadcast Group, purchased the daily. As reported in the Baltimore Banner, Smith, who grew up in Baltimore, suggested in a staff meeting that Sun reporters mimic the work of Fox Baltimore (WBFF/Fox45), a Sinclair property famous for its dramatized coverage of crime. So, it bears considering: What would a Sinclairized Baltimore Sun look like?

The Sun is a storied American daily founded in 1837 and the winner of 16 Pulitzer Prizes, not to mention the largest newspaper in Maryland.

There’s an ideological gap at the heart of this story. The editorial board of the Baltimore Sun, like those of many American newspapers, leans to the left. Though many TV stations in the country are driven solely by ratings — and they’re happy to bash politicians of every stripe — Sinclair has upended the industry by inserting a conservative bent to coverage, including persistent pro-Trump commentary.

Even when newspapers are gasping for breath and reducing staff, the Sun doesn’t need a business model powered by fearmongering, conflicts of interest and, in fairness, a history of investigative work. Could that formula even migrate to a daily newspaper?

Unlikely.

Feb. 5

ny times logoNew York Times, Google’s Once Happy Offices Feel the Chill of Layoffs, Nico Grant, Feb. 5, 2024. Job cuts, which could continue throughout the year, have created a glum mood at what was arguably Silicon Valley’s most exuberant workplace.

When Diane Hirsh Theriault’s co-worker returned from lunch to Google’s Cambridge, Mass., office one afternoon in October, his work badge couldn’t open a turnstile. He quickly realized it was a sign that he had been laid off.

google logo customMs. Hirsh Theriault soon learned that most of her fellow Google News engineers in Cambridge had also lost their jobs. More than 40 people in the news division were cut, a company union said, though a number of them were later offered jobs elsewhere inside Google.

Ms. Hirsh Theriault’s experience is increasingly common at Google, where rolling job cuts in recent months, after a year of significant layoffs, have employees on edge. The layoffs have slowed down projects and prompted employees to spend working hours trying to learn which work groups have been hit and who could be next, said 10 current and former Google employees, including some who asked for anonymity so they could speak candidly about their jobs.

What’s more, the layoffs have shifted the narrative that long defined working at Google; that it was more of a tinkerer’s community than a workaday office, where creativity and thinking out of the box was encouraged. That it was a fun, different kind of place to work.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said more than a year ago that the company would cull 12,000 jobs, or 6 percent of the work force, describing it as “a difficult decision to set us up for the future.”

Those cuts have trickled into this year in what Mr. Pichai said could be much smaller, rolling layoffs throughout the year. Since early January, the company has cut more than a thousand jobs, affecting its ad sales division, YouTube and employees working on the company’s voice-operated assistant.

washington post logoWashington Post, The U.S. economy is booming. So why are tech companies laying off workers? Gerrit De Vynck, Danielle Abril and Caroline O'Donovan, Feb. 5, 2024 (print ed.). Google, Amazon, Microsoft and a raft of others fired thousands of workers in January, continuing a layoff wave that began in 2022.

The first time Julian Chavez got laid off from his job as a digital ad sales rep at web.com didn’t turn him off from the tech industry. Neither did the second time when he was laid off from ZipRecruiter. By the third time, though, Chavez had had enough.
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“I really loved what I did,” said Phoenix-based Chavez in a text message. “But the layoffs got me jaded.” Now he’s pursuing a graduate degree in psychology.

Chavez is one of hundreds of thousands of tech workers who’ve been laid off in the past two years in what now seems like a never-ending wave of cuts that has upended the culture of Silicon Valley and the expectations of those who work at some of America’s richest and most powerful companies.

Last year, tech companies laid off more than 260,000 workers according to layoff tracker Layoffs.fyi, cuts that executives mostly blamed on “over-hiring” during the pandemic and high interest rates making it harder to invest in new business ventures. But as those layoffs have dragged into 2024 despite stabilizing interest rates and a booming job market in other industries, the tech workforce is feeling despondent and confused.

The U.S. economy added 353,000 jobs in January, a huge boost that was around twice what economists had expected. And yet, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Discord, Salesforce and eBay all made significant cuts in January, and the layoffs don’t seem to be abating. On Tuesday, PayPal said in a letter to workers it would cut another 2,500 employees or about 9 percent of its workforce.

The continued cuts come as companies are under pressure from investors to improve their bottom lines. Wall Street’s sell-off of tech stocks in 2022 pushed companies to win back investors by focusing on increasing profits, and firing some of the tens of thousands of workers hired to meet the pandemic boom in consumer tech spending. With many tech companies laying off workers, cutting employees no longer signaled weakness. Now, executives are looking for more places where they can squeeze more work out of fewer people.

Feb. 4

washington post logoWashington Post, Joe Madison, radio host who merged talk format and activism, dies at 74, Brian Murphy, Feb. 4, 2024 (print ed.). Calling himself the Black Eagle, Mr. Madison was an influential voice for decades in Washington and later on satellite radio.

joe madison mlk panel at NPC Jan. 12 2016 IMG 1905 Small 2Joe Madison, a civil rights activist who found his voice as an influential talk radio host known as the Black Eagle and whose decades on the air often pushed listeners to action with his tagline: “What are you going to do about it?,” died Jan. 31 at his home in Washington. He was 74.

Mr. Madison, shown in a 2016 photo at the National Press Club, had prostate cancer, said his daughter, Monesha Lever.

During an era when mainstream talk radio became increasingly dominated by conservative views, Mr. Madison pushed hard in the other direction since the 1980s. He worked the microphones at Black-oriented stations including Washington’s WOL — and later exclusively on satellite radio — with a passion he said was instilled as a young NAACP leader in Detroit.

“I’m in the media, but I’m not a journalist,” he once said. “I’m an advocate and activist who has a talk show.”

His audiences gravitated to his uncompromising style, relished his biting retorts and cheered on his personal crusades such as hunger strikes to protest Republican-led attempts to block federal voting rights legislation. When the bills died in the Senate, he called off the fast in late January 2022. His weight had dropped from 194 pounds to below 165. He also learned his cancer, once in remission, had returned and spread.

He often called his work “staying on the battlefield.” His radio studio, he said, was his way of honoring the lunch counter protests in the South during the civil rights movement or the bus seat in Montgomery, Ala., that Rosa Parks refused to give up for a White passenger in 1955. This was a powerful niche Mr. Madison carved out, said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, which covers talk radio and similar formats.

Many of Mr. Madison’s causes were part of the wider spotlight: raising alarms about gentrification in traditional minority neighborhoods; probing police shootings involving Black suspects; and opposing Sudan’s battles against separatists in what became the new nation of South Sudan in 2011.

Feb. 3

 

 

llewellyn king photo logo

White House Chronicle, Commentary: Denigration of the Media Has Become a Political Mainstay, Llewellyn King (executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle" on PBS), Feb. 3, 2024. In the 1990s, someone wrote in The Weekly Standard — it may well have been Matt Labash — that for conservatives to triumph, they had to attack the messenger rather than the message. His advice was to go after the media, not the news.

Attacking the messenger was all well and good for the neoconservatives. Still, their less-thoughtful successors, MAGA supporters, are killing the messenger.

The press — always identified as the “liberal media” — is now often seen, due to relentless denigration, as a force for evil, a malicious contestant on the other side.

No matter that there is no liberal media beyond what has been fabricated from political ectoplasm. Traditionally, most proprietors have been conservative, and many, but not most reporters, have been liberal.

It surprises people to learn that when you work in a large newsroom, you don’t know the political opinions of most of your colleagues. I have worked in many newsrooms over the decades and tended to know more about my colleagues’ love lives than their voting preferences.

This philosophy of “kill the messenger” might work briefly, but down the road, the problem is no messenger, no news, no facts. The next stop is anarchy and chaos — you might say, politics circa 2024.

Add to that social media and its capacity to spread innuendo, half-truth, fabrication and common ignorance.

The political turmoil we are going through is partly a result of media denigration. People believe what they want to believe; they can seize any spurious supposition and hold it close as a revealed truth.

This is a trade of imperfect operators but an essential one. For better or for worse, we are the messengers.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bill Ackman and Mark Zuckerberg Fail to Land Candidates on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, Anemona Hartocollis, Feb. 3 2024 (print ed.). The candidates had promised to challenge the university’s leadership, but failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot for the board.

It’s hard to get into Harvard, even if you’ve done it before.

harvard logoMark Zuckerberg, head of Meta, and Bill Ackman, head of the Pershing Square hedge fund, discovered as much, in their failed push to get dissident candidates onto the Harvard Board of Overseers, one of the university’s two governing bodies.

The candidates — a slate of four backed by Mr. Ackman and one candidate backed by Mr. Zuckerberg — said on Friday that they had not collected enough petition signatures to get on the April ballot for election to the board.

“We are disappointed but greatly appreciate all the support,” Zoe Bedell, an assistant U.S. attorney, who ran on the Ackman slate, said in a statement on Friday. “We look forward to trying again next year.”

Their failure raised the question of how much support existed for Mr. Ackman’s persistent campaign against Harvard’s leadership over the past few months.

Mr. Ackman touted the candidates’ military experience, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s candidate, Sam Lessin, is a venture capitalist and a former employee of Facebook (as Meta was formerly known).

But they could not surmount the first hurdle: collecting the 3,238 signatures from Harvard alumni to get their names on the ballot for the April election.

Feb. 2

ny times logoNew York Times, Can This A.I.-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? It Has for Our Columnist, Kevin Roose, Feb. 2, 2024 (print ed.). A start-up called Perplexity shows what’s possible for a search engine built from scratch with artificial intelligence, Kevin Roose writes. Kevin Roose used the Perplexity search engine for several weeks to report this column.

For my entire adult life, whenever I’ve had a question about the world or needed to track down something online, I’ve gone to Google for answers.

But recently, I’ve been stepping out on Google with a new, A.I.-powered search engine. (No, not Bing, which is dead to me after it tried to break up my marriage last year.)

It’s called Perplexity. The year-old search engine, whose founders previously worked in A.I. research at OpenAI and Meta, has quickly become one of the most buzzed-about products in the tech world. Tech insiders rave about it on social media, and investors like Jeff Bezos — who was also an early investor in Google — have showered it with cash. The company recently announced that it had raised $74 million in a funding round led by Institutional Venture Partners, which valued the company at $520 million.

Many start-ups have tried and failed to challenge Google over the years. (One would-be competitor, Neeva, shut down last year after failing to gain traction.) But Google seems less invincible these days. Many users have complained that their Google search results have gotten clogged with spammy, low-quality websites, and some people have started looking for answers in places like Reddit and TikTok instead.

Intrigued by the hype, I recently spent several weeks using Perplexity as my default search engine on both desktop and mobile. I tested both the free version and the paid product, Perplexity Pro, which costs $20 per month and gives users access to more powerful A.I. models and certain features, such as the ability to upload their own files.

Hundreds of searches later, I can report that even though Perplexity isn’t perfect, it’s very good. And while I’m not ready to break up with Google entirely, I’m now more convinced that A.I.-powered search engines like Perplexity could loosen Google’s grip on the search market, or at least force it to play catch-up.

I’m also scared that A.I. search engines could destroy my job, and that the entire digital media industry could collapse as a result of products like them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

ny times logoNew York Times, The biggest impact of generative A.I. will be in banking and tech, a new report says, Steve Lohr, Feb. 2, 2024 (print ed.). A new generation of artificial intelligence is poised to turn old assumptions about technology on their head.

For years, people working in warehouses or fast food restaurants worried that automation could eliminate their jobs. But new research suggests that generative A.I. — the kind used in chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT — will have its biggest impact on white-collar workers with high-paying jobs in industries like banking and tech.

A report published Thursday by the Burning Glass Institute, a nonprofit research center, and SHRM, formerly the Society for Human Resource Management, stops short of saying the technology will do away with large numbers of jobs. But it makes clear that workers need to better prepare for a future in which A.I. could play a significant role in many workplaces that until now have been largely untouched by technological disruption.

For people in tech, it means they may be building their A.I. replacements.

“There’s no question the workers who will be impacted most are those with college degrees, and those are the people who always thought they were safe,” said Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute.

For hundreds of corporations, the researchers estimated the share of payroll spending that goes to workers employed in the 200 occupations most likely to be affected by generative A.I. Many of those jobs are held by affluent college graduates, including business analysts, marketing managers, software developers, database administrators, project managers and lawyers.

Companies in finance, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, have some of the highest percentages of their payrolls likely to be disrupted by generative A.I. Not far behind are tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Meta.

Getting A.I. to do human work could result in big savings for those companies. The research estimates that banks and some tech companies spend 60 to 80 percent of their payrolls, or more, on workers in occupations most likely to be affected by the new technology.

The retail, restaurant and transportation industries are least likely to be affected by generative A.I., the report found. Companies like Walmart, McDonald’s and Delta Air Lines mostly employ workers without college degrees who perform roles like helping customers, stocking shelves, cooking food and handling baggage. They spend less than 20 percent of their payrolls on employees in occupations most likely to be affected by generative A.I.

ny times logoNew York Times, Universal Music Group Pulls Songs From TikTok, Ben Sisario, Feb. 2, 2024 (print ed.). The music giant, home to stars like Taylor Swift and Drake, had threatened to withdraw licenses for its tracks if they failed to come to a new agreement.

taylor swift uncreditedThe music giant, home to stars like Taylor Swift, right, and Drake, had threatened to withdraw licenses for its tracks to the social media juggernaut if they failed to come to a new agreement.

Videos on TikTok began to go silent early Thursday, after combative licensing negotiations broke down this week between the popular social media platform and Universal Music Group, the giant company that releases music by artists like Taylor Swift, Drake, U2 and Ariana Grande.

On Tuesday, a day before its licensing contract with TikTok was set to expire, Universal — the largest of the three major record companies — published a fiery open letter accusing TikTok of offering unsatisfactory payment for music, and of allowing its platform to be “flooded with A.I.-generated recordings” that diluted the royalty pool for real, human musicians.

TikTok confirmed early Thursday that it had removed music from Universal, and videos on the app began to show the effects of the broken partnership. Recordings by Universal artists were deleted from TikTok’s library, and existing videos that used music from Universal’s artists had their audio muted entirely. Universal songs were also unavailable for users to add to new videos.

A video posted by Kylie Jenner in September, for example, using a song by Lana Del Rey, who is signed to a Universal label was silent, with a note saying, “This sound isn’t available.” (Commenters to the video had remarked on the music.) Other videos carried similar statements, including “Sound removed due to copyright restrictions.”

When users went to the official profiles for Universal artists like Swift and Grande — who is scheduled to release a new album next month — the tabs that would normally display dozens of tracks that users could add to their own clips were either entirely bare or reduced to a handful of brief snippets.

 

Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers in the 1976 film “Rocky.” (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Sylvester Stallone, left, and Carl Weathers in the 1976 film “Rocky.” (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

washington post logoWashington Post, Carl Weathers, ‘Rocky’ nemesis who became action star, dies at 76, Staff and wire reports, Feb. 2, 2024. The onetime NFL linebacker played Apollo Creed in four installments of the “Rocky” franchise.

 

john fettermanPolitico, Fetterman expresses support for striking and laid-off journalists, Samantha Latson, Feb. 2, 2024. This month has been off to a trying start for the news business.

Sen. John Fetterman, above, on Friday expressed support for journalists who have taken to picket lines or have been laid off from their jobs in the past few weeks.

“A living wage and a fair contract are necessary to maintain a free press, and that’s what we need to maintain a functioning democracy,” Fetterman (D-Pa.) said in the statement.

His statement came a day after more than 200 journalists from the Chicago Tribune and seven other newsrooms staged 24-hour walkouts across the country on Thursday, demanding fair wages and contract negotiations. Fetterman specifically pointed to a local outlet that participated: the Morning Call in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, whose website calls it the “the third largest newspaper in Pennsylvania.”

It wasn’t the first media walkout of the year. Two weeks ago, members of the Los Angeles Times Guild walked out of newsrooms following an announcement from management about plans to lay off a “significant” portion of its journalists.

2024 has been off to a trying start for the news business. Over 500 journalists were laid off from newsrooms in January alone, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That number doesn’t account for layoffs announced at The Messenger and The Wall Street Journal this week as well.

The Messenger announced plans to shut down on Wednesday — less than a year after its launch — with founder Jimmy Finkelstein citing financial difficulties. Fetterman took aim at the “billionaire owners of The Messenger” who “shut down the news site and fired hundreds of workers with zero notice.”

Fetterman urged a resolution to ongoing contract negotiations.

“Management needs to stop dragging their feet and give these workers what they deserve,” he added. “We’ve seen through the historic United Auto Workers deal, the SAG-AFTRA agreement, and so many other labor actions over the last year just how powerful workers can be when they stand together and demand their fair share.”

Feb. 1

Reveal, Merger of Mother Jones, The Center for Investigative Reporting Is Official, Staff Report, Feb. 1, 2024. The merger of two of the country’s most storied and trusted investigative news organizations, Mother Jones and The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), took effect Feb. 1, forming a news outlet that reaches millions of people each month through in-depth reporting across social media, websites, video, radio, podcast, and print.

“This is a moment of tremendous urgency for journalism and for democracy,” said Monika Bauerlein, CEO of the newly merged organization. “By merging, we can shine a light into more dark corners, and reach more people with investigative reporting on the issues that matter most.”

The integrated newsroom will continue to produce Mother Jones’ magazine and website, the Reveal radio show and podcast, and documentary films such as The Grab, which investigates efforts to control the planet’s supply of food and water.

Leadership of the organization includes Bauerlein; Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief; Reveal host Al Letson; and Robert J. Rosenthal, CEO emeritus. The organization currently reaches an audience of 10 million per month, including 3.5 million across digital platforms, 1.8 million on radio and podcasts, and nearly 500,000 print or newsletter subscribers.

Mother Jones was founded in 1976, and CIR in 1977, and they have frequently produced joint reporting projects over the years, including an investigation last year about how the nation’s largest chain of psychiatric hospitals harms foster kids; a report in 2022 about national efforts to restrict people’s ability to vote; and an investigation in 2021 about labor abuses at sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic.

The Center for Investigative Reporting is a national nonprofit news organization that produces Mother Jones magazine and website, and Reveal radio show and podcast, which combined reach a monthly audience of 10 million across TV, radio, podcasts, print, websites, social media, and newsletters. The organization is headquartered in San Francisco, and operates additional offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Feb. 2

ny times logoNew York Times, Universal Music Group Pulls Songs From TikTok, Ben Sisario, Feb. 2, 2024 (print ed.). The music giant, home to stars like Taylor Swift and Drake, had threatened to withdraw licenses for its tracks if they failed to come to a new agreement.

taylor swift uncreditedThe music giant, home to stars like Taylor Swift, right, and Drake, had threatened to withdraw licenses for its tracks to the social media juggernaut if they failed to come to a new agreement.

Videos on TikTok began to go silent early Thursday, after combative licensing negotiations broke down this week between the popular social media platform and Universal Music Group, the giant company that releases music by artists like Taylor Swift, Drake, U2 and Ariana Grande.

On Tuesday, a day before its licensing contract with TikTok was set to expire, Universal — the largest of the three major record companies — published a fiery open letter accusing TikTok of offering unsatisfactory payment for music, and of allowing its platform to be “flooded with A.I.-generated recordings” that diluted the royalty pool for real, human musicians.

TikTok confirmed early Thursday that it had removed music from Universal, and videos on the app began to show the effects of the broken partnership. Recordings by Universal artists were deleted from TikTok’s library, and existing videos that used music from Universal’s artists had their audio muted entirely. Universal songs were also unavailable for users to add to new videos.

A video posted by Kylie Jenner in September, for example, using a song by Lana Del Rey, who is signed to a Universal label was silent, with a note saying, “This sound isn’t available.” (Commenters to the video had remarked on the music.) Other videos carried similar statements, including “Sound removed due to copyright restrictions.”

When users went to the official profiles for Universal artists like Swift and Grande — who is scheduled to release a new album next month — the tabs that would normally display dozens of tracks that users could add to their own clips were either entirely bare or reduced to a handful of brief snippets.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Your Product Is Killing People’: Tech Leaders Denounced Over Child Safety, Cecilia Kang and David McCabe, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Senators criticized the chief executives of Meta, TikTok, Snap, X and Discord for not doing enough to prevent child sexual abuse online.

Lawmakers on Wednesday denounced the chief executives of Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord, accusing them of creating “a crisis in America” by willfully ignoring the harmful content against children on their platforms, as concerns over the effect of technology on youths have mushroomed.

In a highly charged 3.5-hour hearing, members of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee raised their voices and repeatedly castigated the five tech leaders — who run online services that are very popular with teenagers and younger children — for prioritizing profits over the well-being of youths. Some said the companies had “blood on their hands” and that users “would die waiting” for them to make changes to protect children. At one point, lawmakers compared the tech companies to cigarette makers.

“Every parent in America is terrified about the garbage that is directed at our kids,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said.

The tech chiefs, some of whom showed up after being forced by subpoena, said they had invested billions to strengthen safety measures on their platforms. Some said they supported a bill that bolsters privacy and parental controls for children, while others pointed to the faults of rivals. All of the executives emphasized that they themselves were parents.

In one blistering exchange with Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, stood up and turned to address dozens of parents of online child sexual exploitation victims.

“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “No one should go through the things that your families have suffered.” He did not address whether Meta’s platforms had played a role in that suffering and said the company was investing in efforts to prevent such experiences.

The bipartisan hearing encapsulated the increasing alarm over tech’s impact on children and teenagers. Last year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, identified social media as a cause of a youth mental health crisis. More than 105 million online images, videos and materials related to child sexual abuse were flagged in 2023 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the federally designated clearinghouse for the imagery. Parents have blamed the platforms for fueling cyberbullying and children’s suicides.

  • New York Times, Here are six takeaways from the contentious hearing, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.).

 

January 2024

Jan. 31

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Judge orders Tesla to undo pay package that helped make Musk world’s richest person, Faiz Siddiqui, Rachel Lerman and Will Oremus, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). The ruling by a Delaware court stems from a Tesla shareholder lawsuit over the tech billionaire’s 2018 compensation package

tesla logoA Delaware judge on Tuesday ruled that Elon Musk’s generous 2018 compensation package, which helped make the tech entrepreneur the world’s richest person, was unfair and should be undone.

The $56 billion package, advanced by shareholders and Tesla’s board, entitled Musk to stock options in the company as it hit specific performance targets. Shareholders sued Musk, alleging the process that led to the package was improper.

The decision was earlier reported by Chancery Daily, which tracks Delaware Chancery Court matters, on Threads.

Musk issued a stern reaction on X, the social media site he bought in 2022, when it was known as Twitter.

“Never incorporate your company in the state of Delaware,” he said.

The ruling comes at a particularly tense juncture for the Tesla CEO. He has asked for 25 percent control over the company — which went on to become the world’s most valuable automaker after the pay package was implemented — after he sold off billions worth of stock to help fund his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. Investors, including some who were enthusiastic about the 2018 package, are skeptical of Musk’s request for additional control.

Jan. 30

ap logoAssociated Press, 4 NHL players have been charged with sexual assault in a 2018 case in Canada, their lawyers say, Stephen Whyno, Jan. 30, 2024. NHL players Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils and Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames have been charged with sexual assault in connection with an alleged assault by several members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team.

Attorneys representing Hart, McLeod, Foote and Dube said Tuesday that each player has been charged with sexual assault by police in London, Ontario. They denied any wrongdoing on behalf of their clients.

Hart’s lawyers, Megan Savard and Riaz Sayani, said their client is facing one count of sexual assault, adding, “He is innocent and will provide a full response to this false accusation in the proper forum, a court of law.”

Legal teams representing McLeod and Dube said the players would be pleading not guilty.

“(We) will vigorously defend the case,” McLeod’s attorneys, David Humphrey and Seth Weinstein, said in a statement. “We ask that the public respect Mr. McLeod’s privacy, and his family’s privacy. Because the matter is now before the court, we will not comment further at this time.”

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Joel Embiid Wants the African Diaspora to Flourish Onscreen, Emmanuel Morgan, Jan. 30, 2024. “I’ve always been passionate about storytelling,” said the N.B.A. star, above, whose production studio will create a documentary about Memphis Depay’s success on the Dutch soccer team.

Joel Embiid knew as early as his rookie season in the National Basketball Association that he eventually wanted to enter the media industry.

Seven years later, he is now at the pinnacle of the sport — the league’s reigning most valuable player, Embiid set a Philadelphia 76ers record last week by scoring 70 points in a game — and is ready to take on that new challenge.

nba logoEmbiid, 29, who moved from Cameroon to the United States as a teenager, has created a production studio, Miniature Géant, that he hopes will amplify the culture of his home continent. The studio intends to profile athletes and entertainment figures of African descent, with an initial goal of selling content to streaming services.

“We’re dabbling in a lot of different spaces, but the common denominator is Africa and the joys and the quest of African people and the African diaspora,” said Sarah Kazadi-Ndoye, who is the studio’s lead creative executive and was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Miniature Géant’s first documentary will explore themes of race and identity as it follows Memphis Depay, a Dutch soccer player who was born to a white mother from the Netherlands and a Ghanaian father. The studio is also having exploratory conversations with the Cameroonian mixed martial arts fighter Francis Ngannou, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion. In addition to coverage of athletes, the studio hopes to also explore the entertainment world.

Embiid is one of several athletes to enter the world of content creation. The basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo recently announced the start of a production company with the ESPN analyst Jay Williams. The retired National Football League quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning created similar organizations and have released projects with ESPN and Netflix.

ny times logoNew York Times, Chita Rivera, Electrifying Star of Broadway and Beyond, Is Dead at 91, Robert D. McFadden, Jan. 30, 2024. Appearing in scores of stage productions, she dazzled audiences for nearly six decades, most memorably starring as Anita in “West Side Story.” Chita Rivera’s dancing sometimes overshadowed her thrillingly dramatic way with a song, our theater critic writes.

chita rivera memoirChita Rivera, the fire-and-ice dancer, singer and actress who leapt to stardom in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story” and dazzled audiences for nearly seven decades as a Puerto Rican lodestar of the American musical theater, died on Tuesday in New York. She was 91.

To generations of musical aficionados, Ms. Rivera was a whirling, bounding, high-kicking elemental force of the dance; a seductive singer of smoky ballads and sizzling jazz; and a propulsive actress of vaudevillian energy. She appeared in scores of stage productions in New York and London, logged 100,000 miles on cabaret tours and performed in dozens of films and television programs.

On Broadway, she created a string of memorably hard-edged women — Anita in “West Side Story” (1957), Rosie in “Bye Bye Birdie” (1960), the murderous floozy Velma Kelly in “Chicago” (1975) and the title role in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993). She sang enduring numbers in those roles: “America” in “West Side Story,” “One Boy” and “Spanish Rose” in “Bye Bye Birdie,” and “All That Jazz” in “Chicago.”

ny times logoNew York Times, At Penn, Tensions May Only Be Growing After Magill’s Resignation, Stephanie Saul, Jan. 30 2024 (print ed.). Professors at the University of Pennsylvania have begun to organize, fearing what they view as a plan by the billionaire Marc Rowan to upend academic freedom.

Campus protests are not usually aimed at a single person. But last week at the University of Pennsylvania, professors staged a rally targeting Marc Rowan, the New York private-equity billionaire.

A Penn alumnus and a major benefactor of the university, Mr. Rowan deployed his formidable resources in a relentless campaign against Penn’s president, M. Elizabeth Magill, leading to her resignation in December.

But it was what happened next that spurred the protest. Mr. Rowan sent a four-page email to university trustees titled “Moving Forward,” which many professors interpreted as a blueprint for a more conservative campus.

Amy C. Offner, a history professor who led the protest, called the document a proposed “hostile takeover of the core academic functions of the university.”

The protest of about 100 people was a sign that the discord on campus would probably continue despite Ms. Magill’s resignation, which many members of Penn’s community hoped would quell the outrage over testimony she gave at a congressional hearing that seemed to equivocate over whether students would be disciplined if they called for the genocide of the Jews.

Instead, Penn, now operating under an interim president, Dr. J. Larry Jameson, is facing a lineup of alumni, donors and students who argue that universities have been taken over by a liberal orthodoxy that tolerates or even promotes antisemitism.

Jan. 28

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Harry Connick Sr., New Orleans D.A. Criticized for Overreach, Dies at 97, Adam Nossiter, Jan. 28, 2024. The city’s top prosecutor from 1973 to 2003, he led an office that sent hundreds of Black men to prison and became known for its record of wrongful convictions.

Harry Connick Sr., a long-serving district attorney in New Orleans whose office gained national notoriety for prosecutorial overreach that eventually resulted in many reversed convictions, died on Thursday at his home in New Orleans. He was 97.

His death was announced by his son, the singer Harry Connick Jr., in a statement.

The older Mr. Connick (shown above on an album cover) was a singer himself and became locally renowned for his nightclub performances in the French Quarter. But his national reputation as a district attorney was much darker, particularly after a 2011 dissent by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that blasted the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office, under his leadership, for singular incompetence and misconduct.

Justice Ginsburg found that Mr. Connick’s subordinates systematically hid evidence that could aid the defense, in violation of the Constitution. Mr. Connick, she said, had “created a tinderbox in Orleans Parish” in which violations of the defendant’s right to be given evidence were “nigh inevitable.”

The justice excoriated Mr. Connick for his “cavalier approach,” noting that he himself acknowledged that he had “stopped reading law books” and “looking at opinions” after first being elected in 1973.

Louisiana has routinely had one of the world’s highest incarceration rates, and the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office bears much of the responsibility.

According to the Innocence Project of New Orleans, which works to free the wrongfully convicted, 32 of those convicted during Mr. Connick’s time in office, from 1973 to 2003, were “factually innocent” and later exonerated. In 27 of those cases there was prosecutorial misconduct by Mr. Connick’s assistants, the group’s director, Jee Park, said in an email.

New Orleans under Mr. Connick had “the highest known wrongful conviction rate in the world,” Ms. Park said. “I do not know of any other former or current district attorney in the country with such a devastating record.”

Race was at the heart of it. An overwhelming majority of those wrongfully convicted by Mr. Connick’s office, 96 percent, were Black, according to the Innocence Project.

“You are in the South,” said Calvin Johnson, the former chief judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, who heard dozens of cases brought by Mr. Connick’s office in 17 years on the bench. “All that was happening, it was centered around race.”

Mr. Connick was “embedded in the attitudinal thing of prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Johnson said in a phone interview — which meant, for instance, sending people to jail for 10 years for possessing marijuana.

The effect on New Orleans of all those prosecutions and convictions, over Mr. Connick’s decades in office, has been “absolutely horrific,” the former judge said. “You’ve had the traumatic impact of that,” he added. “New Orleans has not gotten over that.”

A genial man in person, Mr. Connick appeared nonplused in his later years over a reputation that had been severely tainted.

“Would you make it the legacy of Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth that they struck out a lot?” he asked in an interview with The Times-Picayune in 2012. “I have to look at myself and say this is who I am. This is what I’ve done. Perfect? No. But I’ve done nothing to go to confession about in that office. At all.”

His sudden fall appeared to him all the more bewildering because, for years, he had been one of the city’s principal local power brokers. He was elected five times to six-year terms, mostly without difficulty, and his endorsement was eagerly sought by powerful politicians, Black and white, in New Orleans.

Yet his hands-off approach to the district attorney’s office had become proverbial. Even before he began a once-a-week stint at a French Quarter club, in imitation of his son’s blossoming international career, “Connick left the courtroom work to his assistants, an ill-paid, hard-driving group, mostly men, mostly white,” the journalist Jed Horne wrote in “Desire Street” (2005), a book about the case of Curtis Kyles, whose 1984 murder conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995 because Mr. Connick’s assistants withheld evidence.

“The office locked up mostly Black men, mostly poor people, in ways that required them to hide the evidence they were supposed to disclose,” Denise LeBoeuf, a New Orleans lawyer, said in an interview. “It was under his watch. That will always be on him.”

In 1973, after working as a federal prosecutor, he ran for district attorney in New Orleans against Jim Garrison, who had received national attention for his quixotic, and unsuccessful, attempt to prove a far-flung conspiracy in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (That effort was the basis of the Oliver Stone movie “JFK.”)

For years, few in New Orleans questioned the hardball tactics of Mr. Connick and his prosecutors, even as crime remained high, the city’s economy declined and its population ebbed and grew poorer. He was even re-elected after being charged with racketeering by federal prosecutors in 1990, on allegations that he had returned betting records to a convicted bookmaker.

ny times logoNew York Times, Statue of Jackie Robinson Stolen From Kansas Park, Aimee Ortiz, Jan. 28, 2024 (print ed.). A bronze, life-size statue of the baseball player who broke racial barriers was cut at its ankles, leaving behind just its shoes and the statue’s base.

Robinson, who had been a young star with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues, broke the color barrier and became the first Black player to play in Major League Baseball when he stepped onto Ebbets Field during his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Robinson became a symbol of hope for racial equality in the country. After he retired from baseball, he continued working on civil rights issues and went on to break barriers in advertising, broadcasting and business.

Mr. Robinson “used his prestige as a star athlete to garner support for the civil rights movement,” according to the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute. Dr. King said that Robinson “made my success possible,” according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Without him, I would never have been able to do what I did.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Truman Capote Cashed In on His Friends’ Secrets. It Cost Him Everything, Ginia Bellafante, Jan. 28, 2024 (print. ed.). The rarefied social circle that embraced the writer, and then banished him, is up for re-evaluation in a new TV series, our columnist writes.

In 1979, five years before he died and four years after his exile from the Upper East Side’s social cockpit, Truman Capote appeared on a talk show as a friend of the common man. The host, David Susskind, remained unpersuaded. “You are always on people’s yachts” and in “great mansions on Long Island,” he pointed out. “The thing in Spain with the Pamplona bull runs.” Come on.

Capote gave up, reverting to a defense of his affection for the moneyed class. It had come to define him as much as his written work, the output of which had notoriously stalled after the publication of In Cold Blood in 1966. “I like rich people,” Capote said, “because they aren’t always trying to borrow something from me.”

The joke sprang from the underbrush, inadvertently poignant. If Capote was not on loan, he was there — at the most rarefied parties and dining halls, as the favored guest at Cap Ferrat — to be bartered. The terms of the exchange were relatively simple: his wit and company, his brocaded stories and dazzlingly foul mouth, traded for the devotion of the thin, beautiful, unhappily married women, up and down Fifth Avenue, who were still wearing white gloves past Stonewall and Woodstock, past Watergate and the fall of Saigon.

This world and the writer’s place in it has come up for re-evaluation with the arrival of Feud: Capote vs. the Swans” an eight-part television series on FX. The impressive cast includes Naomi Watts, Demi Moore and Diane Lane as women who contained their subversions to bed, sleeping with men who were not their husbands, and to lunch with Truman — “Tru” — Manhattan’s most celebrated gay confidant.

Whatever implicit contract existed among them was violated to very unhappy consequence in 1975, with the publication of Capote’s “La Côte Basque, 1965” in Esquire magazine. A short story that bears almost no adherence to the form, it was meant to exist as a chapter of “Answered Prayers,” the novel that famously went unfinished.

At just under 12,000 words, the story is all chatter, plotless and full of vulgar cruelties. Capote had betrayed his friends who, perhaps naïvely, did not think of themselves as material. And he had done it in service of a piece of literature that in language and sentiment reads like a set of story-meeting notes for an episode of “As the World Turns.”

Jan. 27

ny times logoNew York Times, Explicit Deepfake Images of Taylor Swift Swamp Social Media, Kate Conger and John Yoon, Jan. 27, 2024 (print. ed.). Fans of the star and lawmakers condemned the images, probably generated by artificial intelligence, after they were shared with millions online.

Fake, sexually explicit images of Taylor Swift likely generated by artificial intelligence spread rapidly across social media platforms this week, disturbing fans who saw them and reigniting calls from lawmakers to protect women and crack down on the platforms and technology that spread such images.

One image shared by a user on X was viewed 47 million times before the account was suspended on Thursday. X suspended several accounts that posted the faked images of Ms. Swift, but the images were shared on other social media platforms and continued to spread despite those companies’ efforts to remove them.

While X said it was working to remove the images, fans of the pop superstar flooded the platform in protest. They posted related keywords, along with the sentence “Protect Taylor Swift,” in an effort to drown out the explicit images and make them more difficult to find.

Reality Defender, a cybersecurity company focused on detecting A.I., determined with 90 percent confidence that the images were created using a diffusion model, an A.I.-driven technology accessible through more than 100,000 apps and publicly available models, said Ben Colman, the company’s co-founder and chief executive.

As the A.I. industry has boomed, companies have raced to release tools that enable users to create images, videos, text and audio recordings with simple prompts. The A.I. tools are wildly popular but have made it easier and cheaper than ever to create so-called deepfakes, which portray people doing or saying things they have never done.

ny times logoNew York Times, Los Angeles Times Owner Clashed With Top Editor Over Unpublished Article, Ryan Mac, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, Jan. 27, 2024. When Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire owner of The Los Angeles Times, hired Kevin Merida to be the newspaper’s top editor nearly three years ago, he hailed the journalist as someone who would maintain the publication’s high standards and journalistic integrity.

los angeles times logoBy this winter, the professional warmth between the two men had chilled. Their relationship was strained in part by an incident in December when Dr. Soon-Shiong tried to dissuade Mr. Merida from pursuing a story about a wealthy California doctor and his dog, three people with knowledge of the interactions said. The doctor was an acquaintance of Dr. Soon-Shiong’s, the people said.

The previously unreported incident occurred as The Los Angeles Times, the largest news organization on the West Coast, struggled to reverse years of losses amid a difficult market for newspapers. Mr. Merida resigned this month. Shortly afterward, the company laid off roughly 115 journalists, or about 20 percent of its newsroom.

It is not unheard-of for the owner of a publication to be consulted on sensitive reporting, particularly if it could jeopardize the newspaper legally or financially. But it is unusual for an owner or a publisher to pressure editors to stop reporting on a story well before publication, especially in cases that do not put government secrets or human lives at risk.

In a statement on Friday, Dr. Soon-Shiong disputed the characterization of how he had acted, calling it “factually incorrect.” The Los Angeles Times said in a statement that Dr. Soon-Shiong, who bought the newspaper in 2018, had made a request for “truthful, factual reporting” on the story.

In a note to staff this month, Mr. Merida said he had decided to step down after “considerable soul-searching about my career at this stage.” Dr. Soon-Shiong said at the time that it had been “mutually agreed” that Mr. Merida would leave.

Dr. Soon-Shiong’s confrontation with Mr. Merida over the unfinished article stemmed from work that a business reporter was doing on Dr. Gary Michelson, a California surgeon who made his fortune with medical patents, the three people with knowledge of the situation said.

The reporter was looking into dueling lawsuits that involved Dr. Michelson and accusations that his dog had bitten a woman at a Los Angeles park. In a suit filed by Dr. Michelson in May, he said the woman had tried to extort him. The woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dr. Michelson.

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Pennsylvania Governor Proposes to Overhaul the State University System, Stephanie Saul, Jan. 27, 2024 (print. ed.). Gov. Josh Shapiro, declaring that the system is broken, plans to place most schools under the same system and lower tuition for low- and middle-income students.

Jan. 25

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: We did not help build women’s tennis for it to be exploited by Saudi Arabia, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1991, each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles), Jan. 25, 2024. The WTA must stand for human rights. It should not hold its finals in Saudi Arabia.

Lately, we seem to be so inseparable that you might as well call us Evertilova. We have not always been so in step with each other; one of us is quiet, the other unquiet. But there is a matter on which we have always been perfectly united. Over many years we were opponents, sometimes in matches with an intensity that felt personal. Then we became friends, and then we met cancer together. Over the years, 50 of them now, no matter what occurred on the court or in our lives, we shared an understanding that we were engaged in a common cause, one that connected our hearts and amounted to our life’s work: the building of a Women’s Tennis Association tour founded on equality, to empower women in a male-dominated world.

That work is now imperiled. WTA Tour officials, without adequate consultation with the players who are the very foundation of the sport, are on the verge of agreeing to stage the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia. This is entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis and the WTA itself.

We fully appreciate the importance of respecting diverse cultures and religions. It is because of this, and not despite it, that we oppose the awarding of the tour’s crown jewel tournament to Riyadh. The WTA’s values sit in stark contrast to those of the proposed host. Not only is this a country where women are not seen as equal, it is a country where the current landscape includes a male guardianship law that essentially makes women the property of men. A country which criminalizes the LGBTQ community to the point of possible death sentences. A country whose long-term record on human rights and basic freedoms has been a matter of international concern for decades.

Staging the WTA final there would represent not progress, but significant regression.

Under Saudi law, a woman must have a male guardian to marry, and when she does, the guardianship passes to her husband. Wives are required to “obey” their husbands in such matters as whether to travel together, where to live, and the frequency of sexual relations. The unequal status of women remains deeply embedded in Saudi law, and women who actively protest this injustice risk indefinite imprisonment — for they need a male guardian’s permission to leave prison even after they have served their sentences.

We can’t sit back and allow something as significant as awarding a tournament to Saudi Arabia to happen without an open, honest discussion. To clarify and ensure transparency on these issues, we make the following common-sense recommendations.

Jan. 23

Politico, LA Times slashes newsroom as paper struggles under billionaire owner, Sarah Grace Taylor, Jan. 23, 2024. The union said cuts fell disproportionately on Black, Latino and Asian employees.

politico CustomThe Los Angeles Times on Tuesday laid off at least 115 people, including about a quarter of its newsroom, in a stunning second round of major layoffs in less than a year that underscored broader challenges facing the news business.

Cuts included reporters, editors and columnists, according to the union that represents the newsroom and social media posts from individual journalists. Layoffs fell disproportionately on Black, Latino and Asian employees who tend to have less seniority, the Guild said in a statement.

los angeles times logo“Slashing a quarter of the newsroom is devastating by any measure — to our members and their families, to our morale, to the quality of our journalism, to the bond with our audience, and to the communities that depend on our work,” the Guild said.

The action did not come as a surprise. Members of the union staged a one-day walkout on Friday in an attempt to pressure the paper’s billionaire owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, from cuts that some warned could be even more drastic.

The layoffs also follow the recent resignation of Executive Editor Kevin Merida, along with other senior newsroom managers, and difficult conditions for news organizations even with deep-pocketed owners.

Still, it was painful for journalists across the country — some of whom announced their status on social media shortly after learning their fate.

Soon-Shiong said in a story published on the Times website that the cuts were necessary because the paper could no longer lose $30 million to $40 million a year without more progress toward increasing revenue and readership, the Times reported.

Jan. 22

ny times logoNew York Times, Critics Protest Harvard’s Choice to Lead Antisemitism Task Force, Anemona Hartocollis, Jan. 22, 2024. Bill Ackman and Lawrence Summers protested the choice of a professor of Jewish history who had signed a letter describing Israel as an apartheid regime. A Harvard task force on antisemitism has gotten off to a rocky start, with complaints that the professor chosen to help lead the panel had signed a letter that was critical of Israel, describing it as “under a regime of apartheid.”

harvard logoHarvard’s new interim president, Alan Garber, announced the formation of two “presidential task forces” forces on Friday, one to combat antisemitism and the other to combat Islamophobia. The move came less than a month after his predecessor, Claudine Gay, was forced to step down over plagiarism accusations and criticism that she was weak on reining in antisemitism.

Dr. Garber’s choice for co-chair of the antisemitism task force, Derek J. Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard, met with immediate opposition from Lawrence H. Summers, a former Harvard president, and Bill Ackman, a hedge fund manager whose relentless criticism of Dr. Gay helped bring about her downfall.

Dr. Penslar was among nearly 2,900 academics, clergy members and other public figures who signed an open letter in early August, before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, condemning the Israeli government and saying it was determined to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.” The letter said that “Meanwhile, American Jewish billionaire funders help support the Israeli far right.”

The open letter was updated in December with a call for a cease-fire and an exchange of hostages and prisoners; Dr. Penslar did not sign that version.

Jan. 21

ny times logoNew York Times, Harvard Defends Its Plagiarism Investigation of Its Former President, Anemona Hartocollis, Jan. 21, 2024. In a report to a congressional committee, released on Friday, Harvard gave its most detailed account yet of its handling of the plagiarism accusations against Claudine Gay, who resigned this month as the university’s president.

harvard logoThe basic outlines of the saga were known, but Harvard had not disclosed many details, which had led to questions about the impartiality and rigor of its investigation.

In its account, Harvard defended the thoroughness of its plagiarism review. It said an outside panel had found Dr. Gay’s papers to be “sophisticated and original,” with “virtually no evidence of intentional claiming of findings” that were not hers, even as it found a pattern of duplicative language in three papers.

But its account also shows a university governing board that was slow to do a full accounting of her work. Instead, over several weeks, Harvard scrambled to investigate a steady drip of plagiarism accusations, unable to give an immediate, authoritative response to questions about Dr. Gay’s scholarship.

The report is part of a broader submission of documents by Harvard, made in response to a Dec. 20 letter from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is investigating plagiarism and antisemitism accusations against universities. That committee held the now notorious hearing on campus antisemitism at which Dr. Gay and two other college presidents were criticized for their legalistic answers to questions about antisemitism.

Jan.  20

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washington post logoWashington Post, OpenAI suspends bot developer for presidential hopeful Dean Phillips, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Jan. 20, 2024. It’s the ChatGPT maker’s first known action against the use of its technology in a political campaign.

chat gpt logoThe artificial intelligence company OpenAI banned the developer of a bot mimicking long shot Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Dean Phillips, above — the first action that the maker of ChatGPT has taken in response to what it sees as a misuse of its AI tools in a political campaign.

Dean.Bot was the brainchild of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Matt Krisiloff and Jed Somers, who had started a super PAC supporting Phillips (Minn.) ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. The PAC had received $1 million from hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, the billionaire activist who led the charge to oust Harvard University president Claudine Gay.

The bot was powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT conversational software, which the company has made available to outside developers.

The super PAC, called We Deserve Better, had contracted with AI start-up Delphi to build the bot. OpenAI suspended Delphi’s account late Friday in response to a Washington Post story on the SuperPAC, noting that OpenAI’s rules ban the use of its technology in political campaigns. Delphi took down Dean.Bot after the account suspension.

“Anyone who builds with our tools must follow our usage policies,” OpenAI spokeswoman Lindsey Held said in a statement. “We recently removed a developer account that was knowingly violating our API usage policies which disallow political campaigning, or impersonating an individual without consent.”

  • Washington Post, Silicon Valley insiders are trying to unseat Biden with help from AI

Dean.Bot, which could converse with voters in real-time through a website, was an early use of an emerging technology that researchers have said could cause significant harm to elections.

The bot included a disclaimer explaining that it was an AI tool and not the real Dean Phillips, and required that voters consent to its use. But researchers told The Post that such technologies could lull people into accepting a dangerous tool, even when disclaimers are in place.

Proponents, including We Deserve Better, argue that the bots, when used appropriately, can educate voters by giving them an entertaining way to learn more about a candidate.

Without disclaimers, experts have said, the technologies could enable mass robocalls to voters who think they’re talking to actual candidates or supporters. AI systems can also produce disinformation in ads or content, such as fake websites, at scale.

  • Washington Post, OpenAI won't let politicians use its tech for campaigning

After The Post asked We Deserve Better about OpenAI’s prohibitions on Thursday, Krisiloff said he had asked Delphi to remove ChatGPT from the bot and instead rely on open source technologies that also offer conversational capabilities that had gone into the bot’s design.

The bot remained available to the public without ChatGPT until late Friday, when Delphi took the bot down in response to the suspension, Krisiloff said. Krisiloff is a former chief of staff to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. Altman has met with Phillips but has no involvement in the super PAC, Krisiloff said.

Jan. 19

ny times logoNew York Times, Billionaires Wanted to Save the News Industry. They’re Losing a Fortune, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, Jan. 19, 2024 (print ed.). Time magazine, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times — owned by Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong — are still losing money.

There’s an old saying about the news business: If you want to make a small fortune, start with a large one.

As the prospects for news publishers waned in the last decade, billionaires swooped in to buy some of the country’s most fabled brands. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, bought The Washington Post in 2013 for about $250 million. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotechnology and start-up billionaire, purchased The Los Angeles Times in 2018 for $500 million. Marc Benioff, the founder of the software giant Salesforce, purchased Time magazine with his wife, Lynne, for $190 million in 2018.

Each time, the newsrooms greeted their new owners with cautious optimism that their business acumen and tech know-how would help figure out the perplexing question of how to make money as a digital publication.

But it increasingly looks like the billionaires are struggling just like nearly everyone else. Time, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times all lost millions of dollars last year, people with knowledge of the companies’ finances have said, after considerable investment from their owners and intensive efforts to drum up new revenue streams.

“Wealth doesn’t insulate an owner from the serious challenges plaguing many media companies, and it turns out being a billionaire isn’t a predictor for solving those problems,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, the curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. “We’ve seen a lot of naïve hope attached to these owners, often from employees.”

The losses may have the most immediate impact at The Los Angeles Times, where journalists are bracing for bad news. Kevin Merida, the newspaper’s widely respected editor, announced last week that he was resigning, a decision that came after tension with Mr. Soon-Shiong over editorial and business priorities, according to two people familiar with the matter.'

Inside the Media Industry

  • The Baltimore Sun: The largest newspaper in Maryland has been sold to David Smith, the executive chairman of the nationwide Sinclair network of television stations and other media.
  • ESPN: Pat McAfee, the Indianapolis Colts punter turned new-media shock jock, has not faced any discipline after criticizing an ESPN executive by name on the air, showing a power shift at the network.
  • cnn logoJeff Zucker’s Latest Bet: The former CNN president is investing in Media Res, the independent Hollywood studio behind the hit prestige dramedy “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+.
  • The New York Times: The newspaper sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train A.I.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sports Illustrated lays off most of its staff, threatening iconic brand’s future, Ben Strauss, Jan. 19, 2024. Much of the SI staff, and possibly all remaining writers and editors, received layoff notices Friday, which could spell the end of a publication that for decades was considered the gold standard of sports journalism.

Much of the staff of Sports Illustrated, and possibly all remaining writers and editors, received layoff notices Friday, which essentially could spell the end of a publication that for decades was the gold standard of sports journalism.
The stunners. The cheers. The home runs, hat tricks and gameday magic. Don’t miss out with The Sports Moment, a newsletter for the biggest sports news.

The union of the staff tweeted Friday that it would continue to fight for the publication of the magazine but that its future is now in the hands of the magazine’s owner, Authentic Brands Group.

“This is another difficult day in what has been a difficult four years for Sports Illustrated under Arena Group (previously The Maven) stewardship,” the union said in a statement. “We are calling on ABG to ensure the continued publication of SI and allow it to serve our audience in the way it has for nearly 70 years.”

ABG has owned the magazine since 2019 and sold the publishing rights to a company called the Arena Group. The Arena Group missed a recent payment for those publishing rights, prompting ABG to pull the publishing license and putting the future of Sports Illustrated in jeopardy.

Jan. 12

 

Edward Jay Epstein in 1966, the year he turned his master’s thesis into a best-selling book on the Kennedy assassination (Photo by Marc Green for Viking PressEdward Jay Epstein in 1966, the year he turned his master’s thesis into a best-selling book on the Kennedy assassination (Photo by Marc Green for Viking Press)..

ny times logoNew York Times, Edward Jay Epstein, Author and Stubborn Skeptic, Dies at 88, Sam Roberts, Updated Jan. 12, 2024. He questioned the findings of the Warren Commission, called Edward Snowden a prized Russian asset and exposed the diamond industry’s economic impact.

Edward Jay Epstein, an iconoclastic author whose deeply researched books challenged conventional wisdom about controversies ranging from whether John F. Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin to whether the whistle-blower Edward Snowden was really a Russian spy, has died in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause was complications of Covid, his nephew Richard Nessel said. He said Mr. Epstein was found dead in his apartment on Tuesday.

A professional skeptic, Mr. Epstein wrote more than two dozen nonfiction books, many involving allegations of government conspiracies and corporate dereliction. Some raised more questions than they answered.

In an improbable start to a prolific career, he debuted as an author early in 1966 when he transformed his master’s thesis at Cornell University into a book, Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth. The New York Times called it “the first book to throw open to serious question, in the minds of serious people,” the conclusions reached by the presidential panel appointed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

That very day in 1963, Mr. Epstein had borrowed his stepfather’s car and driven from New York City to the Cornell campus in upstate Ithaca, N.Y., to try to wangle his way back into school after having flunked out seven years earlier.

“The entire campus seemed eerily deserted,” he recalled in his memoir, Assume Nothing: Encounters With Assassins, Spies, Presidents, and Would-Be Masters of the Universe (2023), until he encountered a lone student, who informed him of Kennedy’s death.

Thanks to a mentor, the political scientist Andrew Hacker, whose class was one that Mr. Epstein had aced, he was readmitted and encouraged to write his thesis on the assassination. In doing so he gained access to every member of the seven-man Warren Commission except its leader, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

His book raised doubts about the commission’s finding that Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin, basing them largely on what Mr. Epstein considered serious deficiencies in the panel’s investigation. “Inquest” was published a few months before “Rush to Judgment” by Mark Lane, another in a tsunami of books suggesting that the commission had been hampered by time constraints, by limited resources and access, and by Justice Warren’s demand for unanimity to make its conclusions more credible.

“It was the only master’s thesis I know of that sold 600,000 copies,” Professor Hacker, who now teaches at Queens College, said in a phone interview.

A decade after “Inquest” was published, the House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted a much more thorough forensic investigation. Its report suggested the possibility of more than one shooter and a possible conspiracy, but concluded unequivocally: “Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at President John F. Kennedy. The second and third shots he fired struck the president. The third shot he fired killed the president.”

Mr. Epstein accepted the findings, acknowledging that they answered the questions he had raised. “In the light of the methodical and open nature of this examination, there was no mystery left,” he wrote.

Among his subsequent books were News From Nowhere: Television and the News (1973); The Rise and Fall of Diamonds (1982), which exposed the economic impact of the diamond industry in southern Africa; Deception (1989), based on his interviews with the Central Intelligence Agency’s former chief of counterintelligence James Jesus Angleton; The Assassination Chronicles: Inquest, Counterplot, and Legend”(1992); and The Secret History of Armand Hammer (1996), which detailed ties between that American businessman and the Soviet government in the 1920s and ’30s.

He also wrote How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft (2017), in which he detailed how Mr. Snowden, as a young U.S. intelligence contractor, had disclosed hundreds of American classified documents to news organizations, becoming one of the world’s most hunted fugitives. Mr. Epstein concluded that in Mr. Snowden’s defection to Russia and contact with Russian agents, he was less a heroic whistle-blower than a prized intelligence asset for Moscow.

While most of Mr. Epstein’s books won plaudits for their meticulous research, Nicholas Lemann, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote that the Snowden one was “an impressively fluffy and golden-brown wobbly soufflé of speculation, full of anonymous sourcing and suppositional language.”

Mr. Epstein’s memoir, Assume Nothing, is littered with dropped names (some 650 in the index, many of whom he actually knew). They include Jeffrey Epstein (no relation), the disgraced financier and registered sex offender, with whom Mr. Epstein palled around at one point.

In his New York Times Magazine column, William Safire once described Mr. Epstein as “the leading writer in the gray world of spies and moles.”

Sam Roberts is an obituaries reporter for The Times, writing mini-biographies about the lives of remarkable people.

ny times logoNew York Times, ESPN Used Fake Names to Secure Emmys for ‘College GameDay’ Stars, Katie Strang, Jan. 12, 2024 (print ed.). The network returned 37 Emmy statues after an investigation found it had falsified information to give awards to on-air talent ineligible to receive them.

espn logoIn March 2023, Shelley Smith, who worked 26 years as an on-air reporter for ESPN, received a call from Stephanie Druley, then the network’s head of studio and event production. Druley said she wanted to talk about something “serious” that needed to stay between the two of them, Smith recalled. She then told Smith that Smith needed to return two sports Emmy statuettes that she had been given more than a decade earlier.

That request was one of many ESPN made of some of its biggest stars last year after the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), the organization that administers the Emmys, uncovered a scheme that the network used to acquire more than 30 of the coveted statuettes for on-air talent ineligible to receive them. Since at least 2010, ESPN inserted fake names in Emmy entries, then took the awards won by some of those imaginary individuals, had them re-engraved and gave them to on-air personalities.

Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, Desmond Howard and Samantha Ponder, among others, were given the ill-gotten Emmys, according to a source briefed on the matter, who was granted anonymity because the individual is not authorized to discuss it publicly. There is no evidence that the on-air individuals were aware the Emmys given to them were improperly obtained.

“I think it was really crummy what they did to me and others,” said Smith, who worked at ESPN from 1997 until her contract expired last July.

The fraud was discovered by NATAS, which prompted an investigation by that organization and later by ESPN. Those probes resulted in sanctions beyond the return of the trophies. While it is not known who orchestrated the scheme, Craig Lazarus, vice president and executive producer of original content and features, and Lee Fitting, a senior vice president of production who oversaw “College GameDay” and other properties, were among the ESPN employees NATAS ruled ineligible from future participation in the Emmys.

In a statement, ESPN said: “Some members of our team were clearly wrong in submitting certain names that may go back to 1997 in Emmy categories where they were not eligible for recognition or statuettes. This was a misguided attempt to recognize on-air individuals who were important members of our production team. Once current leadership was made aware, we apologized to NATAS for violating guidelines and worked closely with them to completely overhaul our submission process to safeguard against anything like this happening again.

ny times logoNew York Times, Indiana University Cancels Major Exhibition of Palestinian Artist, Zachary Small, Jan. 12, 2024 (print ed.). Samia Halaby, an 87-year-old artist, has been outspoken in her support of Palestinians during the Israel-Gaza war.

The first American retrospective of Samia Halaby, regarded as one of the most important living Palestinian artists, was abruptly canceled by officials at Indiana University in recent weeks.

Dozens of her vibrant and abstract paintings were already at the school when Halaby, 87, said she received a call from the director of the university’s Eskenazi Museum of Art. The director informed her that employees had shared concern about her social media posts on the Israel-Gaza war, where she had expressed support for Palestinian causes and outrage at the violence in the Middle East, comparing the Israeli bombardment to a genocide.

Halaby later received a two-sentence note from the museum director, David Brenneman, officially canceling the show in Bloomington, Ind., without a clear explanation.

“I write to formally notify you that the Eskenazi Museum of Art will not host its planned exhibition of your work,” Brenneman wrote in the Dec. 20 letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times.

A few months earlier, Brenneman had applauded the artist’s “dynamic and innovative approach to art-making” in promotional materials, where he said the exhibition would demonstrate how universities “value artistic experimentation.”

The show’s cancellation is the latest example of the heavy scrutiny that artists and academics have faced since the war began in October. Magazine editors have been fired, artists have seen their work censored and university presidents have resigned under pressure.

“It is clearly my freedom of expression that is under question here,” said Halaby, who earned a master’s degree at Indiana University and later taught students there. She said concerns about her exhibition had been raised by a museum employee.

The retrospective, which was to open Feb. 10, had taken more than three years to organize in partnership with Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum; agreements were already signed with grant-making foundations and museums that lent artworks to Indiana University from around the country. Halaby was also preparing to unveil a new digital artwork for the exhibition, in addition to previously unseen works like a 1989 painting called “Worldwide Intifadah.”

Jan. 11

ny times logoNew York Times, In Florida, New School Laws Have an Unintended Consequence: Bureaucracy, Dana Goldstein, Jan. 11, 2024 (print ed.). Under recent rules, some students can’t take a vision test or get a Band-Aid without permission slips. And it’s up to schools to hunt them down.

Got a cut and need a Band-Aid? Want to be called Will instead of William? Or get your vision checked?

Across Florida, hundreds of thousands of students need permission slips for what was once routine in schools.

Educators in the state say recent laws and regulations around parental consent have created an entirely new bureaucracy, filled with forms and nagging phone calls to parents. The requirements have made it more difficult to provide services to children who need them — even services like vision and hearing tests.

“Nurses are spending most of their time trying to obtain permission” from parents, said Lisa Kern, director of the Florida Association of School Nurses. That permission does not always come, as busy parents — particularly those who work several jobs or do not speak English — sometimes do not respond.

The well-being of children, Ms. Kern said, “is taking a hit.”

New laws and regulations under Gov. Ron DeSantis, including his signature Parental Rights in Education Act, are intended to push back against what many conservatives see as liberal orthodoxies embedded in the school system — especially around gender and race — and that they say undermine the role of parents.

But some of the state regulations are vaguely written, school staff said, leading to confusion about exactly which school activities require written consent.

The state’s 67 districts have interpreted the laws differently. Because violating the rules could result in lawsuits or school staff members losing their jobs, many districts have proceeded cautiously, requiring permission slips for an ever-expanding list of activities and services.

Jan. 10

ny times logoNew York Times, Editor of The Los Angeles Times Steps Down, Benjamin Mullin, Jan. 10, 2024 (print  ed.). Kevin Merida, who took over the job in 2021, said in an internal note that his last day would be on Friday.

los angeles times logoWhen he joined The Los Angeles Times as its top editor nearly three years ago, Kevin Merida was hailed as a leader who would restore calm to a newsroom that had been buffeted by cost-cutting and corporate ownership battles.

Now, he’s exiting with little warning, an abrupt departure that leaves the largest news organization in the West in a state of flux.

Mr. Merida told staff members on Tuesday that he was stepping down “after considerable soul-searching about my career.”

He did not specify exactly why he was leaving, but he did say that his last day would be on Friday.

Patrick Soon-Shiong, the biotechnology billionaire who owns The Times, said in a note to the newspaper’s staff that he and Mr. Merida had “mutually agreed” that Mr. Merida should leave.

“Given the persistent challenges we face, it is now imperative that we all work together to build a sustainable business that allows for growth and innovation,” Dr. Soon-Shiong wrote.

In recent months, Mr. Merida has been at odds with members of the Soon-Shiong family on a variety of matters, including editorial decisions and business priorities, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Mr. Merida and the Soon-Shiong family have clashed over his decision to restrict journalists who signed a letter condemning Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks from covering the conflict in Gaza, the people said.

Some members of the Soon-Shiong family raised objections to Mr. Merida’s decision, one of the people said, and they were unable to reach a resolution with Mr. Merida and even discussed selling the newspaper.

Mr. Merida, 66, was named the top editor of The Times in May 2021, after previously working as a top editor at The Washington Post and ESPN. At the time, he was viewed as a stabilizing force in the newsroom, which had been buffeted by the painful erosion of its traditional business model and its stature as the pre-eminent news organization on the West Coast.

Under his leadership, the news organization won three Pulitzer Prizes, including two in 2023, for breaking news reporting and feature photography. Still, like some of its peers in the media industry, The Times has struggled to offset the declines in its print business with digital subscriptions and advertising.

Those problems were exacerbated last year in Los Angeles, where one of the major industries, Hollywood, was shut down for many months because of the actors’ and writers’ strikes. That took a toll at The Los Angeles Times: The newspaper reported on Tuesday that it had fallen short of its digital-subscriber targets.

Mr. Merida was handpicked by Dr. Soon-Shiong, who purchased the company in 2018 for $500 million. The purchase was greeted with relief by many journalists at the newspaper, who had been through years of cost-cutting at the behest of corporate owners including Tronc.

Dr. Soon-Shiong said he was acquiring the newspaper for social reasons and promised to restore it as a civic institution for the people of Southern California.

But the going has been difficult for the Soon-Shiongs, as the paper has grappled with headwinds that have afflicted the entire media industry. The family sold The San Diego Union-Tribune, a sister paper, to Alden Global Capital, a financial firm known for its cost-cutting. At one point, The Wall Street Journal reported that Dr. Soon-Shiong was exploring a sale of The Los Angeles Times, which the company denied.

In June, The Los Angeles Times announced it was cutting more than 10 percent of its newsroom staff of more than 550, citing economic headwinds.

In his note to the staff on Tuesday, Dr. Soon-Shiong said that The Times would undertake a search for Mr. Merida’s successor that would include internal and external candidates.

In the meantime, he wrote, the newspaper’s existing leadership team would continue to oversee the newsroom.

Jan. 8

 

 

Hedge fund  billionaire and Harvard critic Bill Ackman, whose criticism of Harvard's recent president on

Hedge fund billionaire and Harvard critic Bill Ackman, whose criticism of Harvard's recent president on "woke" and plagiarism grounds led to her resignation, shown with his wife, Neri Ackman, a formerly tenured professor also recently exposed as having committed what was reputed to be plagiarism in adequately citing sources (photos via CNN).

washington post logoWashington Post, Business Insider story on Harvard antagonist’s wife draws owner’s scrutiny, Will Sommer, Jan. 8, 2024. Axel Springer plans to review a Business Insider story about alleged plagiarism by Neri Oxman, wife of billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman.

Business Insider and its German parent company appear to be at odds over its reporting on plagiarism allegations against the wife of a high-profile hedge fund manager.

business insiderThe financial news site published two stories last week alleging that Neri Oxman, a prominent former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, had plagiarized repeatedly in her academic work, including lifting from Wikipedia more than a dozen times in her dissertation.

Those stories came after her husband, billionaire investor Bill Ackman, spent weeks pressuring his alma mater, Harvard University, to oust its president — initially over his contention that she had mishandled incidents of antisemitism on campus but later over reports that she had committed plagiarism earlier in her career. At one point, Ackman wrote that a Harvard student who committed “much less” plagiarism than Claudine Gay would be forced out of the university. Gay, right, resigned from the presidency last week.

Recently resigned Harvard President Claudine Gay (Associated Press file photo by Steven Senne).But when Business Insider raised plagiarism concerns about his wife’s work, Ackman excoriated the publication, accusing it of unethical journalism, promising to review its writers’ work and predicting that it would “go bankrupt and be liquidated.” In one social media post, he implied that Business Insider’s investigations editor (whom he called “a known anti-Zionist”) may have been “willing to lead this attack” because Oxman is Israeli.

Neither Ackman nor Oxman, whose companies didn’t respond to requests for comment, have pointed to any factual errors in the articles.

Still, Ackman’s complaints seemed to get the attention of Axel Springer, the German media giant that owns Business Insider. On Sunday, the company released an unusual statement saying it would “review the processes” that led up to the articles’ publication, while acknowledging that the stories were not factually wrong.

“While the facts of the reports have not been disputed, over the past few days questions have been raised about the motivation and the process leading up to the reporting — questions that we take very seriously,” the statement read.

Business Insider staffers were surprised by the Axel Springer statement, which many had not realized was coming until a New York Times reporter shared it online, according to a Business Insider employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly. A person familiar with Axel Springer’s operations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve company confidences disputed that, saying Business Insider was involved in the drafting of the statement.

In a Sunday afternoon email to employees that was reviewed by The Washington Post, Business Insider global editor in chief Nicholas Carlson appeared to push back on the idea that the stories needed a review. Carlson wrote that he would “welcome” the review but argued for the news value of the stories given Oxman’s position as what he called a “well-known academic” and start-up founder.

“I made the call to publish both these stories,” Carlson wrote. “I stand by our story and the work that went into it. I know that our process was sound. I know our newsroom’s motivations are truth and accountability.”

Business Insider has a history of reporting aggressively on the wealthy and powerful, including a 2022 story alleging that Elon Musk exposed himself to a flight attendant, which Musk called a “politically motivated hit piece.” At least publicly, that reputation hasn’t been an issue for Axel Springer, which purchased the site in 2015 for $450 million and also owns Politico.

mathias doepfner 2011But the dispute over the Oxman stories appears to touch upon an issue of major importance to Axel Springer and its CEO, Mathias Döpfner (right, shown in a 2011 photo):  Israel.

The company supports Israel openly in a way that would be unusual for a nonpartisan American media firm. Axel Springer employees in Germany — though not at its U.S. properties — must sign a mission statement that affirms Israel’s right to exist, among other issues. In 2021, the Israeli flag flew for a week in front of the company’s offices after Döpfner mandated it as a statement against antisemitism, telling anyone who had a problem with the flag to leave the company.

The person familiar with Axel Springer’s discussions said company leaders are concerned that the reporting on Oxman could have been antisemitic or anti-Zionist — even though it consists primarily of straightforward comparisons between Oxman’s publications and the texts she allegedly plagiarized from.

While Ackman hasn’t raised factual issues with the articles, he has claimed that the outlet didn’t give him and his wife enough time to comment on the second story, about Wikipedia plagiarism, with a space of roughly two hours on late Friday afternoon between when his spokesman was asked for comment and when the story was published. But Ackman first went public with the Wikipedia allegations roughly an hour before the story was published by posting on social media about the impending article, which may have affected Business Insider’s publication schedule.

While Ackman boosted the plagiarism allegations against Gay, he has questioned whether the lifting of numerous paragraphs from Wikipedia can even count as plagiarism. In a 5,100-word series of posts on X on Saturday night, Ackman compared some forms of plagiarism to spelling errors, saying it’s important to consider whether plagiarism is “pervasive” in an academic’s work.

“It does not strike me as plagiarism, nor do I think it takes anything away from her work,” he wrote of his wife’s alleged Wikipedia plagiarism.

The Axel Springer statement prompted concern from some reporters over what it said about Business Insider’s future ability to pursue investigations. In a post on social media, Julia Black, a former Business Insider reporter, said she was “extremely disturbed” and concerned that reporters covering the wealthy wouldn’t be supported by the company.

“I really hope this can become a mistake we learn from rather than a new precedent,” Black wrote.

Jan. 5

 

Recently resigned Harvard President Claudine Gay (Associated Press file photo by Steven Senne).

Recently resigned Harvard President Claudine Gay (Associated Press file photo by Steven Senne).

ny times logoNew York Times, For Harvard’s First Black President, Race Became the Unavoidable Issue, Kurt Streeter, Jan. 5, 2024 (print ed.). Claudine Gay celebrated her history making appointment. But after she resigned, she spoke very differently about her experience.

In her late September inauguration, Claudine Gay looked out at a packed audience and spoke of her pride in making history as the first Black president of Harvard in its 387 years.

“I stand before you on this stage, in this distinguished company and magnificent theater,” she intoned before continuing, “with the weight and honor of being a ‘first’ — able to say, ‘I am Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University.’”

After her resignation on Tuesday, she talked about race very differently. “Those who had relentlessly campaigned to oust me since the fall often trafficked in lies and ad hominem insults, not reasoned argument,” she wrote in a Wednesday opinion piece in The New York Times. “They recycled tired racial stereotypes about Black talent and temperament. They pushed a false narrative of indifference and incompetence.”

The painful and startling story of Dr. Gay’s brief presidency is igniting discussions of plagiarism, fairness, antisemitism and leadership. But also at its core is the unavoidable American question of race, and what role it plays in who gets ahead and how they are judged.

Her appointment came as the country was debating how to balance racial diversity and academic merit, frame history lessons about slavery and racism, and address the needs of Black and poor students.

Just as Dr. Gay took over at Harvard in July, the Supreme Court banned race-conscious admissions at colleges and universities, a decision that sprung from a lawsuit aimed at Harvard.

State legislators have enacted laws limiting what can be taught about America’s racial history. Conservative politicians and activists have targeted university programs seeking to boost diversity, equity and inclusion, and roughly 30 states are considering legislation to curb such efforts.

With its $50 billion endowment, Harvard might seem like it could soar over such battles. But the school’s elite status and the symbolism that it carries have dragged Harvard, and its leadership, straight into the fray.

“I am saddened by the inability of a great university to defend itself against an alarmingly effective campaign of misinformation and intimidation,” Randall Kennedy, a prominent Harvard legal scholar, wrote in a text message.

When Dr. Gay was installed as president of Harvard, supporters hailed her as the fresh, bold face of change. The school would now be led by the Black daughter of Haitian immigrants, a radical departure for a university with a past marred by racism and a lineage of presidents who were exclusively white and, in all but one instance, male.

Dr. Gay “embodies the path that Harvard is on,” said Natalie Sadlak, a medical student who spoke at the September inauguration. The new president, Ms. Sadlak said, represented a blending of the university’s “future and its past, a mixture of the legacy of the university and the promise of new perspectives.”

But from her earliest days in her new role, Dr. Gay operated under heightened scrutiny, with critics eager to question her qualifications and embrace of diversity and equity programs.

Opponents of efforts to diversify American campuses reacted to her promotion scornfully. Yes, since 2015, she had been a powerful administrator at the school, most recently the dean of the sprawling Faculty of Arts and Sciences. But critics argued that her scholarship was relatively thin compared with former Harvard presidents.

Adding to an already toxic brew: the clash over campus culture and politics. And Dr. Gay made enemies quickly.

In 2019, as dean, she issued a two-year, unpaid suspension to Roland Fryer, a Black economist and recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” who was accused of sexual harassment and creating an unwelcome environment in his education research lab.

Though he has returned to the university, his research lab has been disbanded. Critics say Dr. Gay targeted Dr. Fryer because he published work that went against liberal orthodoxy.

She also had a run in with Ronald Sullivan, a Black Harvard law professor and criminal defense lawyer. Students had protested his decision to represent the film producer Harvey Weinstein against rape and related charges. This role, they claimed, disqualified him from serving as dean of Winthrop House, an undergraduate residency hall.

Harvard decided not to renew his appointment and Dr. Gay criticized him, sparking outrage from the law school faculty and leading conservatives who said that the university had caved to overly sensitive undergraduates.

Dr. Gay might still be president, however, if not for her clumsy handling of the campus conflict over the Hamas attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 and the war in Gaza. Asked at a congressional committee hearing in December whether calling for the genocide of Jews would be harassment under Harvard’s code of conduct, Dr. Gay equivocated and lapsed into legalese.

“It can be,” she said, “depending on the context.”

Her missteps galvanized her opponents.

Bill Ackman, a Harvard graduate and financier, claimed on social media that in their search for president, Harvard’s board members had considered only candidates like Dr. Gay who fit neatly into the university’s goals to become more diverse.

He claimed this filtering was likely common at elite universities. Such a practice, he said, was “not good for those awarded the office of president who find themselves in a role that they would likely not have obtained were it not for a fat finger on the scale.”

A few days after the congressional hearing, accusations that Dr. Gay had plagiarized words and phrases in her scholarship handed her opponents further ammunition.

“She is hardly a ‘scholar’s scholar’, as the university magazine tried to portray her,” wrote Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist who helped make critical race theory a conservative rallying cry. He went on to attack her as a “dutiful racialist, skilled at the manipulation of guilt, shame and obligation in service of institutional power.”

Dr. Gay tried to weather the plagiarism charges. But what began as a drumbeat became a chorus of clamoring doubt that was impossible to ignore, especially as more lapses in her work surfaced.

“I see Gay as getting her post at Harvard because she was a diversity, equity and inclusion candidate, not on the basis of strong academic qualifications,” read a Dec. 21 statement by Vernon Smith, a Harvard graduate and winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics. “There are plenty of accomplished blacks who need no such ‘help.’”

“She is a discredit to Harvard,” he added.

What becomes of Dr. Gay now? She says she plans to return to her role as a Harvard professor.

Even then, she may well carry a weight familiar to many African Americans. She is now a symbol — scorned by some, hailed by others, caught in a whipsawing argument over merit, rights and race that seems to have no end.

Jan. 3

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Persecution of Harvard’s Claudine Gay, Charles M. Blow, Jan. 3, 2024. Claudine Gay, the president of charles blow beard twitterHarvard who announced her resignation on Tuesday after her problematic congressional testimony about antisemitism and mounting questions about missing citations and quotation marks in her published work, was, in part, pushed out by political forces beyond academia and hostile to it.

But the campaign against her was never truly about her testimony or accusations of plagiarism.

It was a political attack on a symbol. It was a campaign of abrogation. It was and is a project of displacement and defilement meant to reverse progress and shame the proponents of that progress.

As Janai Nelson, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., posted online, “The project isn’t to thwart hate but to foment it thru vicious takedowns.”

When Gay and the presidents of M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania botched their responses before Congress, some on the political right sensed a weakness, and it quickened them. This was their chance not only to burn a witch but to torch a coven.

The presidents’ failure to provide clear, simple answers to questions whose answers would seem obvious — opting instead for halting, overlawyered responses — was pilloried as a symptom of a disease, the descent of liberalism into a form of cultural insanity driven by an obsession with identities and protection of the perverse.

When Bill Ackman, a billionaire investor and Harvard alumnus, published a Nov. 4 letter to then-President Gay, a month before the congressional testimony, he gave away the game with a swipe at Harvard’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, complaining that it “does not support Jewish, Asian and non-L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. white students.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion, or D.E.I. — the effort to assist and support the underrepresented — turns out to be the ultimate target.

And to underscore that the vilification of the college presidents was about something more than their remarks about antisemitism, just two weeks after Ackman published his letter, he defended Elon Musk, saying that the controversial electric car maker “is not an antisemite,” even after Musk replied approvingly, on his social media platform, X, to the statement that Jewish communities “have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: How a Proxy Fight Over Campus Politics Brought Down Harvard’s President, Nicholas Confessore, Updated Jan. 3, 2024. Amid plagiarism allegations and a backlash to campus antisemitism, Claudine Gay became an avatar for broader criticisms of academia.

The resignation of Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, on Tuesday followed a lengthening catalog of plagiarism allegations that appeared to steadily sap her support among the university’s faculty, students and alumni. But for many of Dr. Gay’s critics, her departure was also a proxy victory in the escalating ideological battle over American higher education.

Taking down Dr. Gay was a “a huge scalp” in the “fight for civilizational sanity,” Josh Hammer, a conservative talk show host and writer, wrote on the social media platform X.

“A crushing loss to D.E.I., wokeism, antisemitism & university elitism,” wrote the conservative commentator Liz Wheeler.

“This is the beginning of the end for D.E.I. in America’s institutions,” said the conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who had helped publicize the plagiarism allegations.

Until last month, conservative-inspired efforts to remake higher education had unfolded primarily at public universities in right-leaning states such as Florida and Texas, where G.O.P. lawmakers and state officials could exercise their legislative and executive powers to ban diversity offices, set up right-leaning academic centers and demand changes to curriculum.

But Dr. Gay’s resignation on Tuesday secured their movement a signal victory at the country’s most storied private university, which had for weeks resisted calls for a change in leadership.

“I think there are major problems with higher education, and Harvard represents a lot of those problems,” said John D. Sailer, a senior fellow at the National Association of Scholars, a conservative education nonprofit. “To the extent those problems have been exposed, and skepticism increases towards the current best instantiation of higher education, I think that puts a lot of wind in the sails of reform.”

Dr. Gay’s defenders seemed to agree, warning that her resignation would encourage conservative interference in universities and imperil academic freedom. (Though some experts have rated Harvard itself poorly on campus free speech during Dr. Gay’s tenure in leadership.)

“This is a terrible moment,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Republican congressional leaders have declared war on the independence of colleges and universities, just as Governor DeSantis has done in Florida. They will only be emboldened by Gay’s resignation.”

Barely a month had passed since Dr. Gay had appeared, along with the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism, where their lawyerly defense of a student’s right to engage in anti-Jewish speech provoked national outrage. Some Jewish students, faculty and donors also felt Dr. Gay had been too timid in her response to the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, as well as to complaints over antisemitism on campus.

Two of the three presidents who spoke at the hearing are now out of office. (The second of those is M. Elizabeth Magill, who resigned as the University of Pennsylvania president just four days after she testified before Congress.)

ny times logoNew York Times, Harvard named Alan Garber as its interim president. Here’s what to know about him, Jacey Fortin, Jan. 3, 2024 (print ed.).  Dr. Garber is an economist and physician who told The Harvard Crimson that he regretted the university’s initial statement in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

Alan M. Garber, an economist and physician who is Harvard’s provost and chief academic officer, will now serve as its interim president.

The Harvard Corporation described Dr. Garber as “a distinguished and wide-ranging scholar” in a statement on Tuesday. “We are fortunate to have someone of Alan’s broad and deep experience, incisive judgment, collaborative style, and extraordinary institutional knowledge to carry forward key priorities and to guide the university through this interim period,” the Corporation said.

Dr. Garber, who was appointed provost in 2011, has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard and an M.D. from Stanford. He is a member of the Association of American Physicians, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.

Lawrence H. Summers, a former Harvard president and former Treasury secretary, said in an email that Dr. Garber, “who is universally liked, admired, and respected, is a superb choice as interim president.”

In an interview with The Harvard Crimson in November, Dr. Garber said that he regretted the university’s initial statement in response to the war in Israel and Gaza. The statement was denounced by politicians, academics and Jewish groups who said that it did not condemn Hamas strongly enough, and he spoke positively about a more forceful statement that followed from Dr. Gay, which condemned Hamas for “terrorist atrocities.”

Dr. Garber added that the crisis over the university’s response to the war has been the most serious that Harvard has faced during his tenure as provost.

“The community was immediately divided, and that is not true of every crisis that we face,” he told The Crimson. “It is a combustible situation, and one in which many people are grieving.”

Jan. 2

ap logoAssociated Press, Harvard president Claudine Gay resigns amid plagiarism claims, backlash from antisemitism testimony, Steve LeBlanc and Collin Binkley, Jan. 2, 2024. Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday amid plagiarism accusations and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say unequivocally that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

harvard logoGay is the second Ivy League president to resign in the past month following the congressional testimony. Gay, Harvard’s first Black president, announced her departure just months into her tenure in a letter to the Harvard community.

Following the congressional hearing, Gay’s academic career came under intense scrutiny by conservative activists who unearthed several instances of alleged plagiarism in her 1997 doctoral dissertation. Harvard’s governing board initially rallied behind Gay, saying a review of her scholarly work turned up “a few instances of inadequate citation” but no evidence of research misconduct.

Days later, the Harvard Corporation revealed that it found two additional examples of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution.” The board said Gay would update her dissertation and request corrections.

The Harvard Corporation said the resignation came “with great sadness” and thanked Gay for her “deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence.”

Alan M. Garber, provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president until Harvard finds a replacement, the board said in a statement. Garber, an economist and physician, has served as provost for 12 years.

Gay’s resignation was celebrated by the conservatives who put her alleged plagiarism in the national spotlight. Christopher Rufo, an activist who has helped rally the GOP against critical race theory and other cultural issues, said he’s “glad she’s gone.”

“Rather than take responsibility for minimizing antisemitism, committing serial plagiarism, intimidating the free press, and damaging the institution, she calls her critics racist,” Rufo said on X, formerly Twitter. Rufo added that “this is the poison” of diversity, equity and inclusion ideology.

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, which function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Gay, in her letter, said it has been “distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”

But Gay, who is returning to the school’s faculty, added “it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge.”

Gay and the presidents of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania came under fire last month for their lawyerly answers to a line of questioning from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate the colleges’ code of conduct.

The three presidents had been called before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce to answer accusations that universities were failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll.

Gay said it depended on the context, adding that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.” The answer faced swift backlash from Republican and some Democratic lawmakers as well as the White House. The hearing was parodied in the opening skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

 

Recently resigned Harvard President Claudine Gay (Associated Press file photo by Steven Senne).

Recently resigned Harvard President Claudine Gay (Associated Press file photo by Steven Senne).

ap logoAssociated Press, Harvard president Claudine Gay resigns amid plagiarism claims, backlash from antisemitism testimony, Steve LeBlanc and Collin Binkley, Jan. 2, 2024. Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday amid plagiarism accusations and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say unequivocally that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

harvard logoGay is the second Ivy League president to resign in the past month following the congressional testimony. Gay, Harvard’s first Black president, announced her departure just months into her tenure in a letter to the Harvard community.

Following the congressional hearing, Gay’s academic career came under intense scrutiny by conservative activists who unearthed several instances of alleged plagiarism in her 1997 doctoral dissertation. Harvard’s governing board initially rallied behind Gay, saying a review of her scholarly work turned up “a few instances of inadequate citation” but no evidence of research misconduct.

Days later, the Harvard Corporation revealed that it found two additional examples of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution.” The board said Gay would update her dissertation and request corrections.

The Harvard Corporation said the resignation came “with great sadness” and thanked Gay for her “deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence.”

Alan M. Garber, provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president until Harvard finds a replacement, the board said in a statement. Garber, an economist and physician, has served as provost for 12 years.

Gay’s resignation was celebrated by the conservatives who put her alleged plagiarism in the national spotlight. Christopher Rufo, an activist who has helped rally the GOP against critical race theory and other cultural issues, said he’s “glad she’s gone.”

“Rather than take responsibility for minimizing antisemitism, committing serial plagiarism, intimidating the free press, and damaging the institution, she calls her critics racist,” Rufo said on X, formerly Twitter. Rufo added that “this is the poison” of diversity, equity and inclusion ideology.

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, which function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Gay, in her letter, said it has been “distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”

But Gay, who is returning to the school’s faculty, added “it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge.”

Gay and the presidents of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania came under fire last month for their lawyerly answers to a line of questioning from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate the colleges’ code of conduct.

The three presidents had been called before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce to answer accusations that universities were failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll.

Gay said it depended on the context, adding that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.” The answer faced swift backlash from Republican and some Democratic lawmakers as well as the White House. The hearing was parodied in the opening skit on “Saturday Night Live.”

 

December

Dec. 29

 

claudine gay steven senne ap

wsj logoWall Street Journal, U.S. Education News: Plagiarism allegations surfaced about a year ago by critics who have circled Gay for years, Douglas Belkin and Arian Campo-Flores, Dec. 29, 2023. Behind the Campaign to Take Down Harvard’s Claudine Gay (shown above in an AP photo).

From the time she began carving her path through the most elite private schools in the nation to the presidency of Harvard University, Claudine Gay earned plaudits and promotions.

She also amassed detractors who were skeptical of her work and qualifications and outraged by what they saw as the political decisions she made as an increasingly powerful administrator.

Those two forces collided in spectacular fashion this month after plagiarism allegations that began circulating online about a year ago spilled into public view due to the efforts of conservative activists including Christopher Rufo, who has said he wants Gay removed from her job as Harvard president. The allegations have sparked criticism of Harvard over the process that led to Gay’s selection as president, the first Black person to hold the post, and the university’s transparency around how it responded to the plagiarism claims.

Harvard said it first learned about allegations of plagiarism against Gay in October and that the Harvard Corporation, the school’s 12-member governing board, engaged three political scientists from outside the university to carry out their own investigation. The school has declined to identify them or release their review.

In December, Harvard said the review revealed no evidence of intentional deception or recklessness in Gay’s work as a political scientist but did find instances of inadequate citation which “while regrettable, did not constitute research misconduct.” Gay requested corrections, and the board reaffirmed its support for her and has said additional charges of plagiarism were without merit.
Harvard President Claudine Gay’s early December House testimony about antisemitism on campus was widely criticized. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg News

What the school didn’t initially disclose is that after the allegations were brought to the governing board in October by the New York Post, the board hired a law firm that specializes in defamation law. That firm, Clare Locke, sent a 15-page letter to the Post saying the alleged instances of plagiarism were “both cited and properly credited,” according to excerpts of the letter published by the paper. The school threatened to sue the paper if it published allegations against Gay.

“Our letter responded only to specific passages identified by the Post on October 24,” the law firm said in a statement, adding that the paper “made its own decision” on whether to publish the allegations. The Post published stories this month.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the News Industry’s Uneasy Negotiations With OpenAI, Benjamin Mullin, Dec. 29, 2023. Several major publishers have been in talks to license content to the creator of ChatGPT, but agreement on the price and terms has been elusive.

For months, some of the biggest players in the U.S. media industry have been in confidential talks with OpenAI on a tricky issue: the price and terms of licensing their content to the artificial intelligence company.

The curtain on those negotiations was pulled back this week when The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, alleging that the companies used its content without permission to build artificial intelligence products.

ny times logoNew York Times, ChatGPT Helps, and Worries, Business Consultants, Study Finds, David Berreby, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The A.I. tool helped most with creative tasks. With more analytical work, however, the technology led to more mistakes.

washington post logoWashington Post, College chancellor fired for adult videos says it’s a free-speech issue, Kim Bellware, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). In 2007, when Joseph Gow was welcomed to his new post as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he sketched out a wish for the future. “In a few years,” he told the school’s alumni magazine, “I want people to be saying the same kind of nice things they’re saying about me as I start: That that guy came in, he showed us a certain way and wow, he has stuck to it, and it worked.”

Gow stuck to his ways for 16 years, becoming UW-La Crosse’s second-longest-serving chancellor, a role formerly called president. But on Wednesday, his tenure ended abruptly when the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously voted to fire him after discovering sexually explicit videos Gow, 63, had produced and filmed with his wife.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomIn statements, university officials used language such as “abhorrent” and “disgusted,” with University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman saying “specific conduct” by Gow had “subjected the university to significant reputational harm.”

Gow had already announced this fall that he was stepping down in the springtime and planned to return to the classroom, where he is a tenured communications professor. That plan is now in jeopardy as Rothman seeks to have the professor’s tenure status reviewed.

The firing and the fallout has come as a surprise to Gow, who said the regents never specified which policy he violated and did not invite him to speak or defend himself at their hastily called meeting Wednesday night. He is also surprised that videos of legal, consensual sex with his wife, Carmen Wilson, made in their private time, have run afoul of standards in a university system that just six years ago adopted a sweeping new policy on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The sexuality and relationship books the couple have co-written under pseudonyms and the videos they have filmed and produced would be covered under the school’s free-expression policy, Gow argued.

Wilson, 56, was even more succinct, arguing that the board’s actions against her husband demonstrate that “free speech is free — as long as it aligns with [their] values.”

Gow’s case comes amid a broader discussion over the extent to which employers can punish or marginalize employees for legal behavior they pursue in their private lives. In the past few years, nurses, teachers, paramedics, judges and professionals in other fields have lost their jobs after they were outed as having an account on the adult content site OnlyFans or other pornography sites. In Virginia, a woman running for a state House of Delegates seat faced backlash for performing sex acts online for tips.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Columbia’s President Has Avoided Fallout Over Israel-Gaza Protests, Sharon Otterman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The university has faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

columbia logoIn the weeks after Oct. 7, Columbia University was the scene of rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas war on American college campuses.

A Jewish student said he was assaulted after putting up posters of hostages. Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students accused one another of support for genocide in a series of heated protests and counter-protests.

But as the fall semester ended, Columbia faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in particular, were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

Supporters of Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, credit her diplomatic skills in avoiding a similar public relations crisis. But detractors said she has bent too far to the demands of Israel supporters, angering students and some faculty members but keeping powerful donors and trustees mostly happy.

She might also have benefited from a bit of luck.

When Congress invited her to a congressional hearing on antisemitism on Dec. 5 with her peers from Harvard, Penn and M.I.T., Dr. Shafik said she could not go. She told representatives that she had already planned to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, where she introduced a panel about women leaders.

The Congressional hearing did not go well. The University of Pennsylvania president lost her job and the Harvard president became mired in weeks of controversy.

Dec. 28

ny times logoNew York Times, The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I.’s Use of Copyrighted Work, Michael M. Grynbaum and Ryan Mac, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Millions of articles from The New York Times were used to train chatbots that now compete with it, the lawsuit said.

microsoft logo CustomThe New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement on Wednesday, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. chat gpt logoplatforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

Representatives of OpenAI and Microsoft could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative A.I. technologies — so called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could carry major implications for the news industry. The Times is among a small number of outlets that have built successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been hobbled by readers’ migration to the internet.

At the same time, OpenAI and other A.I. tech firms — which use a wide variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots — are attracting billions of dollars in funding.

ny times logoNew York Times, A.I. Can Make Art That Feels Human. Whose Fault Is That? Jason Farago, Dec. 28, 2023. A fake Drake/Weeknd mash-up is not a threat to culture. It’s a warning, our critic writes: We can’t let our imaginations shrink to machine size.

This was the year — ask your stockbroker, or the disgraced management of Sports Illustrated — that artificial intelligence went from a dreamy projection to an ambient menace and perpetual sales pitch. Does it feel like the future to you, or has A.I. already taken on the staleness and scamminess of the now-worthless nonfungible token?

Artists have been deploying A.I. technologies for a while, after all: Ed Atkins, Martine Syms, Ian Cheng and Agnieszka Kurant have made use of neural networks and large language models for years, and orchestras were playing A.I.-produced Bach variations back in the 1990s. I suppose there was something nifty the first time I tried ChatGPT — a slightly more sophisticated grandchild of Eliza, the ’60s therapist chatbot — though I’ve barely used it since then; the hallucinatory falsehoods of ChatGPT make it worthless for journalists, and even its tone seems an insult to my humanity. (I asked: “Who was the better painter, Manet or Degas?” Response: “It is not appropriate to compare artists in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ as art is a highly subjective field.”)

Still, the explosive growth of text-to-image generators such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and Dall-E (the last is named after the corniest artist of the 20th century; that should have been a clue) provoked anxieties that A.I. was coming for culture — that certain capabilities once understood as uniquely human now faced computational rivals. Is this really the case?

Dec. 27

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees above. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A.I. Is the Future of Photography. Does That Mean Photography Is Dead? Gideon Jacobs, Dec. 26, 2023. Mr. Jacobs is a critic and writer on photography.

John Szarkowski, the legendary curator at the MoMA, once described photography as “the act of pointing.” And for the nearly 200 years since its inception, photography has consisted of capturing a visual perspective from the physical world using light — first with light-sensitive plates, then film, then digital sensors. When digital cameras became widely available, many photographers lamented the move away from analog technology but basically Szarkowski’s definition still held: Photography consists of pointing, as a reaction to something that exists in the world.

With advent of A.I. image generators, however, this definition feels obsolete.

Generative A.I. tools can produce photorealistic images, typically in response to written prompts. These images are available for purchase from major stock photography agencies, alongside traditional photos. They routinely go viral before being debunked. They even occasionally win prestigious photography prizes. All if which has reignited a two-centuries-old debate: What exactly qualifies as a photograph?

This is not a matter of etymological nit-picking. Calling A.I. images “photographs” — a practice I encounter often — can add to a sense of disorientation in what already feels like a profoundly disorienting moment. Thanks to the ubiquity of digital cameras, we live in a world that’s already flooded with photographs — more than a trillion are taken each year. These digital images can already be easily manipulated through existing tools, including ones built into your phone. Yet they still have some direct relationship to real scenes and events that have occurred.

Now we face a new deluge of images that, however artful or convincing, are at a remove from the world. A.I. images are typically digital composites of countless existing photographs, so by what definition are they themselves real? No wonder some observers are asking “how can we believe anything we see?”

Aside from very real concerns about the livelihoods of professional photographers, especially those who work in commercial photography, I worry that A.I. image generators may leave society as a whole more vulnerable to widespread manipulation — as presaged by hoax A.I. images of Donald Trump violently resisting arrest or, somewhat more comically, of Pope Francis wearing a Balenciaga-inspired coat.

But for all the negative potential, I can also see a possibility that these developments will start a conversation about — and foster an educated skepticism of — all visual media and the relationship of these images, however they are made, to so-called truth.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I.’s Use of Copyrighted Work, Michael M. Grynbaum and Ryan Mac, Dec. 27, 2023. Millions of articles from The New York Times were used to train chatbots that now compete with it, the lawsuit said.

microsoft logo CustomThe New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement on Wednesday, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. platforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

Representatives of OpenAI and Microsoft could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative A.I. technologies — so called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could carry major implications for the news industry. The Times is among a small number of outlets that have built successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been hobbled by readers’ migration to the internet.

At the same time, OpenAI and other A.I. tech firms — which use a wide variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots — are attracting billions of dollars in funding.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Private Liberal Arts College Is Drowning in Debt. Should Alabama Rescue It? Emily Cochrane, Dec. 27, 2023. Birmingham-Southern College was about to receive a multimillion-dollar loan, but a state official said it was not a justifiable use of taxpayer money.

On a crisp fall day at Birmingham-Southern College, the students were making their way to class, stealing a few cold minutes under the golden ginkgo trees. Inside the red brick buildings that dot the 192-acre campus, professors were preparing exams for finals week, while administrators readied the first round of acceptance letters for the next school year.

Yet looming over those quintessential scenes of college life was an unsettling question: Would the school even make it to another fall semester?

The private liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., has been plagued by financial instability for years, with the 2009 recession and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the consequences of overly ambitious investments and hulking debts.

Closure seemed imminent earlier this year, until Alabama lawmakers appeared to offer a lifeline: a law tailored toward saving the 167-year-old school with a program that could loan millions of dollars. But in October, the state treasurer denied the school’s loan application, sending administrators scrambling once again to save the school.

For many outside the school, its fate is simply about whether a private school that has mismanaged its finances deserves any kind of taxpayer support, especially in a state that has chronically underfunded its public education system. But for alumni and the school’s supporters, it is also a question of whether a classical liberal arts education is still valued at a moment when colleges and universities are facing intense scrutiny over their curricula, admissions and cultures.

Dec. 25

ny times logoNew York Times, Skyhorse Expands Its Footprint in Conservative Publishing, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). An independent publishing company known for releasing books with opposing political viewpoints is buying Regnery, a well-known conservative press.

Skyhorse Publishing, which has built a reputation for taking on books other houses consider too controversial to publish, has signed a deal to buy Regnery Publishing, a conservative press that has published politicians and media personalities including former President Donald J. Trump, Senator Rand Paul and Ann Coulter.

Tony Lyons, president and publisher of Skyhorse, said the addition of Regnery bolstered his aim of publishing across the political spectrum.

“I’d like Skyhorse to be the pre-eminent free speech publishing company that publishes on all sides, so I think this is a great combination,” he said. “Regnery is the best-known conservative publishing company in America, and I think we can do things for them that they weren’t able to do for themselves.”

Skyhorse, though much smaller than the country’s biggest publishing houses, such as Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, is large for an independent publisher, with over 10,000 titles in print. It has garnered attention in recent years for taking on books that have been dropped by other companies because of scandal or public backlash.

Skyhorse acquired a biography of Philip Roth in 2021 after accusations surfaced against its author of sexual assault and misconduct, and the book was dropped by W.W. Norton. The year before, Skyhorse had picked up Woody Allen’s memoir “Apropos of Nothing” after its publication was canceled by Hachette. The book went on to become a New York Times best seller.

Skyhorse has also sparked controversy by publishing books by figures who espouse theories that are outside of the mainstream altogether, including Alex Jones, the conspiracy broadcaster whose recent book examines “the global elite’s international conspiracy to enslave humanity and all life on the planet.”

Mr. Lyons said he is “looking for a broad array of books that contradict each other.” Last year, Skyhorse released two versions of the Jan. 6 report, one with a foreword by a former speechwriter for Mr. Trump, the other introduced by a former Democratic congresswoman.

Regnery, on the other hand, has a distinctly conservative bent. Founded in 1947 by Henry Regnery, the company carved out a niche in the publishing landscape, which tends to skew to the left politically, by publishing conservative politicians and authors including Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Mitt Romney and former President Ronald Reagan, along with Christian titles, children’s books and fiction.

In a statement, David Evans, chief operating officer of Salem Media Group, Regnery’s parent company, said he believed Skyhorse “will both be a powerful steward of this important brand and an engine for its future growth.”

Regnery, which has projected sales of $10 million for 2023, will become an imprint of Skyhorse, and its 1,548 titles will be absorbed into the Skyhorse Publishing catalog. Skyhorse and Salem Media are not disclosing the terms of the sale.

Mr. Lyons said one of his aims is to get more conservative titles into bookstores. “Independent bookstores don’t carry most conservative books, but I think that stores ought to carry books that are provocative and dangerous and disturbing and that encourage dialogue and debate,” he said.

The addition of Regnery gives Skyhorse a much bigger footprint and greater clout in the conservative publishing sphere.

Mr. Lyons said that he doesn’t plan to add more liberal titles or add a left-leaning imprint because he feels the mainstream publishing marketplace is already saturated with those views.

“It’s a side of the argument that’s better represented in publishing,” he said.

Skyhorse has 20 imprints that publish a range of titles. Its catalog cuts across genres, including science fiction and fantasy novels, thrillers, cookbooks, books about sports and a pocket edition of the U.S. Constitution.

A small number of its books, however, gather outsize interest. Its best-selling book is by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — “The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health,” which was released in 2021 and makes baseless claims against Dr. Fauci. It has sold around 1.3 million copies. Mr. Kennedy is now a candidate for president and Mr. Lyons is co-chairman of a super PAC that supports him.

ny times logoNew York Times, Claudine Gay Turmoil Forces Harvard’s Secretive ‘Corporation’ Into Spotlight, Rob Copeland and Maureen Farrell, Dec. 25, 2023. Harvard's powerful board has backed its president and said little else, yet a member privately said “generational change” may be needed.

On Tuesday, the day before Harvard acknowledged more problems with its president’s scholarly work, two members of its governing body sat in a private dining room at Bar Enza, a popular Cambridge restaurant, and faced a grilling.

It was an exceedingly rare opportunity for a small group of prominent academics to speak directly to members of the reclusive board in charge of the school, as it endured a turbulent period. The campus was convulsed by demands for the resignation of Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, after allegations of plagiarism and anger over her handling of antisemitism and threats to Jewish students, which spurred a donor revolt.

The two board members, the nonprofit founder Tracy Palandjian and the private-equity executive Paul Finnegan, were told directly that they had to do more to address the ongoing maelstrom consuming the campus.

“You need to be more out front of this,” Jeff Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, recalled telling them. “If people are saying the university is making mistakes — they are talking about you!”

The secretive, powerful group that runs Harvard, known as the Harvard Corporation, has projected unity amid the unyielding turmoil around Dr. Gay. The board’s Dec. 12 announcement to stand by Dr. Gay, who is also a member, was followed by silence, even in the wake of rising demands for her removal by powerful donors, alumni and media figures.

Yet private conversations with donors, professors and others indicate that there are signs of tensions among board members. Some members have conceded they need to address the billowing storms, people involved in those conversations have said. Critics and sympathizers who have tried to privately counsel the board say members have shown little concrete impetus toward changing their approach.

At Bar Enza, the corporation members had no specific answers to the professors’ pleas for action, according to people who were there. The professors did not ask for Dr. Gay’s resignation, but rather an explanation of the board’s plan to stabilize the school, said Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist at the table. The board members offered muted apologies, and promised follow-ups.

The board members seemed aware of mounting disapproval. One toted a folder of news articles critical of the university, a Harvard spokesman confirmed.

The overall message, relayed Dr. Pinker, was that “they kind of agreed with us” that the corporation had helped create some of the problems it now needed to solve.

Ms. Palandjian told the dinner group, leaders of a Harvard council on academic freedom, that replacing the university’s president might not be going far enough to get Harvard back on course. Harvard required “generational change,” she said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Who are the members of the Harvard Corporation? Colbi Edmonds, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Harvard Corporation is a powerful board that governs the university. Here’s what we know about the members. Gay, the powerful board governing the university has been thrust into the spotlight. Despite the mounting scrutiny over Dr. Gay, the Harvard Corporation has so far shown support for her.

The board has shown unity for its embattled president. But private conversations show signs of tensions among members.

The Harvard Corporation — formally known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College — consists of 13 members (one position is currently unfilled), is responsible for the hiring of the university president and is the arbiter of major policy decisions. Members, who meet several times a year, are not paid for their role.

The board, the smaller and more powerful of two governing boards at Harvard, dates back to 1650, making it the oldest corporation in the Western Hemisphere, according to the university. For generations, the corporation was made up of only the university president and six others, but it expanded in 2010 to 13 members amid calls for clearer communication with the broader Harvard community, according to the school’s Office of the Governing Boards.

ny times logoNew York Times, Suit Against Twitter Over Unpaid Bonuses Can Proceed, Judge Rules, Johnny Diaz, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). A federal judge on Friday gave the go-ahead to a lawsuit against the social media company X, formerly known as Twitter, in which workers claim that the company promised but never paid millions of dollars in bonuses.

x logo twitterIn June, Mark Schobinger, a former senior director of compensation for Twitter who lives in Texas, sued the company, claiming breach of contract under California law. The company has its headquarters in San Francisco.

elon musk sideviewMr. Schobinger said that both before and after the billionaire Elon Musk, right, bought Twitter last year, the company had orally promised employees 50 percent of their 2022 targeted bonuses if they stayed with the company in the first quarter of 2023. However, the bonuses were never paid, according to the suit.

Mr. Schobinger filed the suit on his own behalf and on behalf of nearly 2,000 other current and former workers. The amount in dispute is greater than $5 million, according to court records.

In a three-page opinion denying the company’s motion to dismiss the case, Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Mr. Schobinger had “plausibly stated a breach of contract claim” under California law.

Mr. Schobinger maintained that he was covered by the bonus plan and that he had stayed with the company through the final possible payout date.

“Once Schobinger did what Twitter asked, Twitter’s offer to pay him a bonus in return became a binding contract under California law,” the judge wrote. “And by allegedly refusing to pay Schobinger his promised bonus, Twitter violated that contract.”

Lawyers for the company had argued that the performance bonus plan was “not an enforceable contract, because it provides only for a discretionary bonus,” the ruling said.

The judge wrote that Mr. Schobinger was not suing to enforce the discretionary bonus plan but “to enforce Twitter’s alleged subsequent oral promise that employees would, in fact, receive a percentage of the annual bonus contemplated by the plan if they stayed with the company.”

The company argued that an oral promise was not a contract and that Texas law should apply, but the judge found that California law governed the case. But, the judge wrote, “Twitter’s contrary arguments all fail.”

Dec. 24

chat gpt logo

ny times logoNew York Times, How Strangers Got My Email Address From ChatGPT, Jeremy White De, Dec. 24, 2023. Researchers used the A.I. tool to extract contact information for more than 30 New York Times employees, demonstrating the risks to privacy.

Rui Zhu, a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University Bloomington, had my email address, he explained, because GPT-3.5 Turbo, one of the latest and most robust large language models (L.L.M.) from OpenAI, had delivered it to him.

My contact information was included in a list of business and personal email addresses for more than 30 New York Times employees that a research team, including Mr. Rui Zhu, had managed to extract from GPT-3.5 Turbo in the fall of this year. With some work, the team had been able to “bypass the model’s restrictions on responding to privacy-related queries,” Mr. Zhu wrote.

My email address is not a secret. But the success of the researchers’ experiment should ring alarm bells because it reveals the potential for ChatGPT, and generative A.I. tools like it, to reveal much more sensitive personal information with just a bit of tweaking.

When you ask ChatGPT a question, it does not simply search the web to find the answer. Instead, it draws on what it has “learned” from reams of information — training data that was used to feed and develop the model — to generate one. L.L.M.s train on vast amounts of text, which may include personal information pulled from the Internet and other sources. That training data informs how the A.I. tool works, but it is not supposed to be recalled verbatim.

Dec. 23

washington post logoWashington Post, How a mega-merger could soon shake up the media industry, Jeremy Barr, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). The potential union of Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery is mostly about streaming — and keeping up with Disney and Netflix.

In a global entertainment marketplace dominated by giants such as Disney and Netflix, smaller streamers just can’t compete.

Take Paramount Plus. It’s got the “Frasier” reboot, all the “Yellowstone” spinoffs, “60 Minutes” and enough backlogged seasons of “Survivor” to sustain you through a long stay on a deserted island.

Or Max, which has CNN programming, “Friends,” “The Sopranos” and “The White Lotus,” not to mention both Guy Fieri and the Property Brothers.

Yet in an era when more consumers than ever before are shunning movie theaters in favor of home entertainment options while also cutting off their cable subscriptions, neither streamer is thriving financially.

That’s why their parent companies — already two of the biggest players in media — are considering joining forces, in hopes that their combined offerings and audience share can keep them competitive in the streaming era.

This week, Paramount held preliminary talks about a possible merger with Warner Bros. Discovery, itself the product of last year’s merger between CNN parent company WarnerMedia and lifestyle channel megalith Discovery Inc., according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment — and who cautioned that discussions were in a very early stage.

Industry analysts say the deal, if consummated, would allow both entities to better compete against Netflix and Disney, both of which boast far more paid subscribers to their streaming services. (Amazon also has a large number of subscribers for its Prime service, which includes digital video as well as shopping.)

“There’s need for consolidation for both companies,” said Dave Heger, a financial analyst for Edward Jones. “It certainly would at least put them more in the ballpark of the other big players in the industry.”
Industry analyst Brad Adgate said that it would make sense to combine WBD’s money-losing Max with the money-losing Paramount Plus, reducing costs and potentially increasing profitability.

That’s particularly important because traditional television channels are increasingly losing viewers who are canceling their cable packages and instead turning to streaming channels and free content online. And, as viewers cut the cord, cable companies are less willing to pay big bucks to television companies for their content, putting at risk one of the media industry’s most reliable sources of funding.

By packaging brands like HBO, TBS and Cartoon Network, the combined company would have more leverage to demand higher fees from distributors like DirecTV and Comcast. It would also have a larger total audience to sell to advertisers, a key piece of the revenue pie.

ny times logoNew York Times, Apple’s Newest Headache: An App That Upended Its Control Over Messaging, Tripp Mickle and Mike Isaac, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). apple logo rainbowBeeper Mini, which offers iPhone messaging on Android phones, has grown fast. Its duel with the tech giant has gotten the attention of antitrust regulators.

Since it was introduced on Dec. 5, Beeper Mini has quickly become a headache and potential antitrust problem for Apple. It has poked a hole in Apple’s messaging system, while critics say it has demonstrated how Apple bullies potential competitors.

Dec. 21

ny times logoNew York Times, Why Is Shari Redstone, Ruler of a Vast Media Kingdom, Weighing a Sale? Benjamin Mullin, Dec. 21, 2023. She fought to keep control of her family’s media empire. Now she’s considering an exit as financial pressures mount. Godfather” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” has had several owners over the last century: Its co-founder Adolph Zukor. The industrial conglomerate Gulf+Western. At one point, it was a stand-alone public company.

But for nearly three decades, Paramount’s fate has been controlled by the Redstone family, after its pugnacious patriarch, Sumner Redstone, won a bidding war for the studio in 1994.

shari redstone mike blake reutersThat may be about to change. Shari Redstone, Mr. Redstone’s daughter (shown in a Reuters photo by Mike Blake), is weighing a sale of her family’s controlling interest in Paramount’s parent company just five years after she won a fight to retain control of her family’s media empire.

Suitors for both Ms. Redstone’s stake and the company she controls are already lining up, including Warner Bros. Discovery, the owner of HBO and the Warner Bros. movie studio, and Skydance, the movie studio that helps produce hit Paramount franchises like “Top Gun” and “Mission: Impossible.”

So far, the pursuit of Paramount has the makings of a drama fit for the silver screen.

Dec. 20

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Ruling in Colorado Will Test Conservative Approach to Law, Charlie Savage, Dec. 20, 2023. A ruling that Donald Trump is ineligible for the presidency will test the court’s methodological values.

The ruling by Colorado’s Supreme Court that former President Donald J. Trump is ineligible to be president again because he engaged in an insurrection has cast a spotlight on the basis for the decision: the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which includes a clause disqualifying people who violated their oaths of office from holding government positions in the future.

Mr. Trump has vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. It is dominated by a supermajority of six justices who emerged from the conservative legal movement, which values methods of interpretation known as textualism and originalism. Under those precepts, judges should interpret the Constitution based on its text and publicly understood meaning when adopted, over factors like evolving social values, political consequences or an assessment of the intended purpose of the provision. 

Proof, Investigative Commentary: It’s Almost Certain No Supreme Court Justices Will Recuse Themselves From the Case of the Century. But seth abramson graphicOrdinarily, They Might All Have To, Seth Abramson, left (author, lawyer, professor), Dec. 20, 2023. The United States Supreme Court has innumerable ways to reply to the recent major breaking news in Colorado—which saw the Colorado Supreme Court remove 2024 Republican Party frontrunner and former twice-impeached president Donald Trump from the 2024 GOP primary ballot in Colorado on the basis of him meeting the legal definition of an “insurrectionist” under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

seth abramson proof logoThe Colorado Supreme Court immediately stayed the execution of its order so that the SCOTUS could take up Trump’s inevitable appeal. Which it certainly will.

Anderson v. Griswold is undoubtedly “the case of the century”—given that Bush v. Gore was decided on December 12, 2000, making it technically the last great case of the last century—and more or less every attorney nationwide (this author included) expects the Supreme Court to announce that it is taking up the case sometime before January 4, 2024, the day on which (if SCOTUS hasn’t acted by then) the Colorado Supreme Court stay would be lifted and Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold be ordered to remove Trump from the state’s 2024 primary ballot (which would inevitably lead to a subsequent proceeding removing him from the state’s general-election ballot, also).

The general sense among legal analysts, this one included, is that the Supreme Court will feel that it must act on this issue and do so as quickly as possible. And that’s not just for the sake of those of Americans who know (not as a matter of opinion but fact) that Trump is an active insurrectionist who’s done far more to try to realize a tinpot tyranny in the United States than he’s charged with in his federal criminal case in Washington, D.C. or his state criminal case in Georgia.

If, in the view of one of the most conservative Supreme Courts in American history, Trump isn’t eligible to serve in public office again, the GOP will need to (i) cast about for an alternative, whether it’s Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis or another Trump (e.g., Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump) who wages an unprecedented MAGA convention “coup” at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in mid-July 2024, and (ii) deal with the certainly dramatic—and potentially even violent—fallout of losing its frontrunner at a time the man commands about 65% of the national GOP-primary vote.

But what SCOTUS can’t do—not after this week—is play at aloofness from the stark consequences of whatever it decides.

And it’s some additional breaking news from this week that explains why that is.

What would the would-be rioters have done if they couldn’t have gotten onto Capitol grounds, let alone inside the Capitol building itself?

Indeed, as a far-right armed rebellion against the United States government unfolded on January 6, it was entirely possible that a sprawling Supreme Court event could have been—had the Capitol been better defended—that horrible day’s main target, instead.

Which brings us to a most uncomfortable question: is it inappropriate for journalists to note that a second Trump term puts every Supreme Court Justice in immediate mortal danger? After all, the justices would invariably have to rule at some point in the future that Trump can’t serve a third term as he aims to do, so there can be no question that the Justices—perhaps even all nine of them—will be aligned against Trump going forward in much the same way most of Congress was on January 6.

Having said all this, judges don’t ordinarily recuse themselves because of their fear of potential future harms emanating from one of the parties before them. If the courts habitually did this, what judge would sit on any case that could end with a displeased party? Indeed, as I know from having practiced criminal law for years, there are even situations in which a judge stays on a case even after he or she has been threatened by a party. But what we’re speaking of in this instance—in Anderson v. Griswold—is quite different.

Why? Because this entire case is about the manner of threat Trump posed on January 6, and because the evidence in play relates not just to what Trump said and did at the end of 2020 and in early 2021 but what he’s already said about 2024 and (yes) 2028—words that implicate the future safety of the very federal judges Trump is about to ask to rule in Anderson v. Griswold.

Putting aside the fact that Justice Clarence Thomas should already be recused from any January 6-related case, including this one—his wife supported Donald Trump’s insurrection publicly and privately—the whole court is implicated within Anderson v. Griswold merely by the fact that an armed attack on, and occupation of, their place of business is part of the evidence relevant to the case.

So why isn’t anyone in American media discussing this unprecedented conundrum?

Detroit News, Journalist Charlie LeDuff charged with domestic violence, Kara Berg, Dec. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Journalist Charlie LeDuff has been charged with domestic violence for allegedly striking his wife.

charles leduff mugLeDuff, a former Detroit News columnist, was arrested Monday in Pleasant Ridge and was charged Tuesday with a misdemeanor domestic violence in 45th District Court in Oak Park. He was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond after his arraignment Tuesday.

LeDuff's attorney, Todd Perkins, said the victim in the case is LeDuff's wife of 31 years. Perkins asked for LeDuff to be allowed to return to living at home if his wife was OK with it.

Judge Jaimie Horowitz said there should be no contact with LeDuff's wife. Perkins argued during LeDuff's arraignment that LeDuff is a "fixture in the community."

LeDuff is a controversial journalist and is the host of a weekly podcast "No BS News Hour with Charlie LeDuff." LeDuff has worked at the New York Times, WJBK-TV and The News. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

LeDuff most recently was a columnist with The News, but the two parted ways in October after he used a euphemism for a disparaging slur for a woman against Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on X, formerly Twitter.

That came days after his last column with The News reported that, according to documents, Nessel breached an internal legal firewall created to prevent conflicts in her office amid an investigation of friend Traci Kornak, who was accused of fraudulently billing an insurance company for $50,000 on behalf of an elderly, brain-damaged client.

Dec. 19

washington post logoWashington Post, How the decline of tackle football is changing the sport’s demographics, Dave Sheinin and Emily Giambalvo, Dec. 19, 2023 (print ed.). Football participation is declining across America. Race, politics and economics are shaping which kids abandon the sport and which keep risking its toll.

For decades, few things have united America as consistently and completely as football — the autumnal obsession of small-town Friday nights, the ritualistic centerpiece of college-town Saturdays, the communal Sunday religion of a staggering percentage of the populace. In American culture, the game stands virtually alone in the way its appeal cuts across demographic lines.

But when it comes to actually playing tackle football — and risking the physical toll of a sport linked to brain damage — there are wide divisions marked by politics, economics and race, an examination by The Washington Post found. And as the sport grapples with the steep overall decline in participation among young people, some of those divisions appear to be getting wider, The Post found, with football’s risks continuing to be borne by boys in places that tend to be poorer and more conservative — a revelation with disturbing implications for the future of the sport.

While participation is falling almost everywhere, The Post found, boys in the most conservative, poorest states continue to play high school tackle football at higher rates than those in wealthier and more politically liberal areas. The politicization of the concussion crisis is forging deeper divisions between those who support youth football and those who don’t. And while precise data about football’s racial makeup is hard to come by, the demographics appear to be gradually shifting. Among kids and teens, White and Black males are playing tackle football at declining rates, while Hispanic boys increasingly take up the sport. In college, the proportion of White players is declining, and that of Black players rising, at faster rates than national demographic changes.

High-schoolers in states that voted for former president Donald Trump in 2020 played football last year at a rate roughly 1.5 times as high as those in states that went for President Biden, The Post found — a significant divide that also existed a decade ago. But poll results revealed that liberals are increasingly more likely to discourage children from playing football, while conservatives are just about as likely to recommend the sport now as in 2012.

ny times logoNew York Times, Marvel Will Part Ways With Jonathan Majors After Guilty Verdict, Jonah E. Bromwich, Erin Nolan and Nicole jonathan majorsSperling, Dec. 19, 2023 (print ed.). Jonathan Majors, who was one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising stars before misdemeanor domestic-violence charges halted his ascent, was found guilty of assault and harassment on Monday for attacking his girlfriend in a car in Manhattan.

Shortly after a six-person jury in Manhattan announced the verdict, Marvel Studios parted ways with the actor, a spokeswoman for the company said.

The jury acquitted Mr. Majors on two counts that had required prosecutors to show that he had acted with intent — one of assault and one of harassment. But jurors found Mr. Majors guilty on the two other charges after more than five hours of deliberation.

The verdict thwarted Mr. Majors’s hopes of salvaging his career by proving his innocence in the March altercation. His future in the film industry is now clouded, and he could face just under a year in jail. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 6.

ny times logoNew York Times, Apple to Pause Selling New Versions of Its Watch After Losing Patent Dispute, Tripp Mickle, Dec. 19, 2023 (print ed.). The move, which follows a patent dispute, could create a run on watch sales in the week before Christmas.

apple logo rainbowApple said on Monday that it would pause sales of its flagship smartwatches online starting Thursday and at retail locations on Christmas Eve.

Two months ago, Apple lost a patent case over the technology its smartwatches use to detect people’s pulse rate. The company was ordered to stop selling the Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 after Christmas, which could set off a run on sales of the watches in the final week of holiday shopping.

The move by Apple follows a ruling by the International Trade Commission in October that found several Apple Watches infringe on patents held by Masimo, a medical technology company in Irvine, Calif.

In court, Masimo detailed how Apple poached its top executives and more than a dozen other employees before later releasing a watch with pulse oximeter capabilities — which measures the percentage of oxygen that red blood cells carry from the lungs to the body — that were patented by Masimo.

To avoid a complete ban on sales, Apple had two months to cut a deal with Masimo to license its technology, or it could appeal to the Biden administration to reverse the ruling.

But Joe Kiani, the chief executive of Masimo, said in an interview that Apple had not engaged in licensing negotiations. Instead, he said that Apple had appealed to President Biden to veto the I.T.C. ruling, which Mr. Kiani knows because the administration contacted Masimo about Apple’s request.

Dec. 18

ny times logoNew York Times, Parler, Social Media Site Sidelined After Jan. 6, Plans Return, Chris Cameron, Dec. 18, 2023. The app, which used to draw millions of Trump supporters, is set to relaunch as he runs for president again — but it won’t try to compete with Truth Social.

parler logoParler, the social media platform popular with right-wing audiences that was removed from app stores after hosting calls for violence around Jan. 6, 2021, will relaunch early next year, the company’s new owners announced on Monday.

“We’re committed to bringing Parler back online,” Ryan Rhodes, Parler’s new chief executive, said in a statement. The app had been shut down in April after it was purchased by Starboard, a digital media company.

Mr. Rhodes, Elise Pierotti, who was previously the company’s chief marketing officer, and a third partner, Jaco Booyens, purchased the company last week, Ms. Pierotti said.

Parler, which had billed itself as a platform for “uncancelable free speech,” used to draw millions of supporters of former President Donald J. Trump and was once the most downloaded app on Apple’s App Store. But tech companies pulled their support for the platform soon after the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, saying that the company did not do enough to police posts that incited violence or crime.

 Dec. 16

Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, with a white blazer at center, and her mother, Ruby Freemans, standing at the microphone described outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, DC their ordeal of death threats and other intimidation stemming from false claims by Trump attorney Rudoph Giuiliani that they had violented election law in 2020 as election workers in Georgia (Justice Integrity Project photo by Andrew Kreig during post-verdict news conference).er ruby freeman 12 15 2023 JIP IMG 9153  Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, with a white blazer at center, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, standing at the microphone, described outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, DC on Friday evening, Dec. 15, 2023, their ordeal of death threats and other intimidation stemming from false claims by Trump attorney Rudoph Giuiliani that they had violented election law in 2020 as election workers in Georgia (Justice Integrity Project photo by Andrew Kreig during post-verdict news conference).

Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, with a white blazer at center, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, standing at the microphone, described outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, DC on Friday evening, Dec. 15, 2023, their ordeal of death threats and other intimidation stemming from false claims by Trump attorney Rudoph Giuiliani that they had violented election law in 2020 as election workers in Georgia (Justice Integrity Project photo by Andrew Kreig during post-verdict news conference).

ap logoAssociated Press, Jury awards $148 million in damages to Georgia election workers over Rudy Giuliani’s 2020 vote lies, Lindsay Whitehurst, and Alana Durkin Richer, Dec. 15-16, 2023. Former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani blasted President Joe Biden on his way out of court Friday afternoon after a jury awarded Georgia election workers $148 million in a defamation case over lies that Giuliani spread about them.

rudy giuliani recentA jury awarded $148 million in damages on Friday to two former Georgia election workers who sued Rudy Giuliani for defamation over lies he spread about them in 2020 that upended their lives with racist threats and harassment.

The damages verdict follows emotional testimony from Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who tearfully described becoming the target of a false conspiracy theory pushed by Giuliani and other Republicans as they tried to keep then-President Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election.

There was an audible gasp in the courtroom when the jury foreperson read aloud the $75 million award in punitive damages for the women. Moss and Freeman were each awarded another roughly $36 million in other damages.

“Money will never solve all my problems,” Freeman told reporters outside Washington’s federal courthouse after the verdict. “I can never move back into the house that I call home. I will always have to be careful about where I go and who I choose to share my name with. I miss my home. I miss my neighbors and I miss my name.”

Giuliani didn’t appear to show any emotion as the verdict was read after about 10 hours of deliberations. Moss and Freeman hugged their attorneys after the jury left the courtroom and didn’t look at Giuliani as he left with his lawyer.

The former New York City mayor vowed to appeal, telling reporters that the “absurdity of the number merely underscores the absurdity of the entire proceeding.”

“It will be reversed so quickly it will make your head spin, and the absurd number that just came in will help that actually,” he said.

It’s not clear whether Giuliani will ever be able to pay the staggering amount. He had already been showing signs of financial strain as he defends himself against costly lawsuits and investigations stemming from his representation of Trump. In September, his former lawyer sued him, alleging Giuliani had paid only a fraction of nearly $1.6 million in legal fees he racked up.

His attorney in the defamation case told jurors that the damages the women were seeking “would be the end of Mr. Giuliani.”

Giuliani had already been found liable in the case and previously conceded in court documents that he falsely accused the women of ballot fraud. Even so, the former mayor continued to repeat his baseless allegations about the women in comments to reporters outside the Washington, D.C., courthouse this week.

Giuliani’s lawyer acknowledged that his client was wrong but insisted that Giuliani was not fully responsible for the vitriol the women faced. The defense sought to largely pin the blame on a right-wing website that published the surveillance video of the two women counting ballots.

Giuliani’s defense rested Thursday morning without calling a single witness after the former mayor reversed course and decided not to take the stand. Giuliani’s lawyer had told jurors in his opening statement that they would hear from his client. But after Giuliani’s comments outside court, the judge barred him from claiming in testimony that his conspiracy theories were right.

The judgment adds to growing financial and legal peril for Giuliani, who was among the loudest proponents of Trump’s false claims of election fraud that are now a key part of the criminal cases against the former president.

Former Trump counsel and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani falsely claims election fraud following the 2020 presidential election, accompanied by Sydney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, right, two other Trump counsels who have since pleaded guilty in a Georgia racketeering case to making false election fraud charges (Nov. 19, 2020 file photo).

Former Trump counsel and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani falsely claims election fraud following the 2020 presidential election, accompanied by Sydney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, right, two other Trump counsels who have since pleaded guilty in a Georgia racketeering case to making false election fraud charges (Nov. 19, 2020 file photo).

Giuliani is still facing his biggest test yet: fighting criminal charges in the Georgia case accusing Trump and 18 others of working to subvert the results of the 2020 election, won by Democrat Joe Biden, in that state. Giuliani has pleaded not guilty and characterized the case as politically motivated.

Jurors in the defamation case heard recordings of Giuliani falsely accusing the election workers of sneaking in ballots in suitcases, counting ballots multiple times and tampering with voting machines. Trump also repeated the conspiracy theories through his social media accounts. Lawyers for Moss and Freeman, who are Black, also played for jurors audio recordings of the graphic and racist threats the women received.

On the witness stand, Moss and Freeman described fearing for their lives as hateful messages poured in. Freeman described strangers banging on her door and recounted fleeing her home after people came with bullhorns and the FBI told her she wasn’t safe. Moss told jurors she tried to change her appearance, seldom leaves her home and suffers from panic attacks.

“Our greatest wish is that no one, no election worker, or voter or school board member or anyone else ever experiences anything like what we went through,” Moss told reporters after the verdict. “You all matter, and you are all important.”

alex jones headshot horizontal briana sanchez pool

ap logoAssociated Press, Alex Jones offers to pay Newtown families at least $55 million over school shooting hoax conspiracy, Dave Collins, Dec. 15, 2023. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ latest bankruptcy plan would pay Sandy Hook families a minimum total of $55 million over 10 years, a fraction of the $1.5 billion awarded to the relatives in lawsuits against Jones (shown above in a courthouse pool photo by Brianna Sanchez) for calling the 2012 Newtown school shooting a hoax.

The families, meanwhile, have filed their own proposal seeking to liquidate nearly all of Jones’ assets, including his media company Free Speech Systems, and give the proceeds to them and other creditors.

The dueling plans, filed late Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston, will be debated and challenged over the next two months, with hearings scheduled for February that will result in a final order saying how much Jones will have to pay out.

Jones and Free Speech Systems, based in Austin, Texas, both filed for bankruptcy last year as the families were awarded more than $1.4 billion in a Connecticut lawsuit and another $50 million in a Texas lawsuit. A third trial is pending in Texas in a similar lawsuit over Jones’ hoax conspiracy filed by the parents of another child killed in the school shooting.

 

Matthew Perry collage

ny times logoNew York Times, Matthew Perry Died of ‘Acute Effects of Ketamine,’ Autopsy Says, Matt Stevens and Derrick Bryson Taylor, Dec. 16, 2023 (print ed.). The medical examiner said drowning, coronary artery disease and the effects of another drug contributed to his death.

Matthew Perry (shown above in a photo collage), the “Friends” actor who publicly struggled with drinking and drug use for decades, died from the “acute effects” of ketamine, an anesthetic with psychedelic properties, the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office said in an autopsy report that was released on Friday.

Perry was found unresponsive in a hot tub at his home in Los Angeles on Oct. 28. He was 54.

The medical examiner’s office said that drowning, coronary artery disease and the effects of an opioid, buprenorphine, had contributed to his death.

But the autopsy ascribed his death primarily to “the acute effects of ketamine.” Ketamine is a powerful anesthetic that has become increasingly popular as an alternative therapy for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other hard-to-treat mental health problems. It is also used recreationally.

The autopsy report said that Perry had been on ketamine infusion therapy but that the ketamine in his system could not have been from his last known therapy session, which was about a week and a half before he died.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an alert in October warning about the dangers of treating psychiatric disorders with compounded versions of the drug.

Witnesses told detectives that Perry had played pickleball at 11 a.m. His assistant left the home to run errands around 1:37 p.m., and upon returning at 4 p.m. found him “floating face down,” records say. The assistant jumped in, moved Perry onto the steps, and called 911. Paramedics who responded pulled Perry out of the water and onto the grass before pronouncing him dead, records say.

Dec. 12

washington post logoWashington Post, How flawed research helped legitimize home-schooling, Laura Meckler, Dec. 12, 2023 (print ed.). Brian Ray says home-schooled students do better. His daughter tells a different story.

Brian Ray has spent the last three decades as one of nation’s top evangelists for home schooling. As a researcher, he has published studies purporting to show that these students soar high above their peers in what he calls “institutional schools.” At home, he and his wife educated their eight children on their Oregon farm.

His influence is beyond doubt. He has testified before state legislators looking to roll back regulations. Judges cite his work in child custody cases where parents disagree about home schooling. His voice resounds frequently in the press, from niche Christian newsletters to NPR and the New York Times. As president of the National Home Education Research Institute, he is the go-to expert for home-school advocates looking to influence public opinion and public policy, presenting himself as a dispassionate academic seeking the truth.

But Ray’s research is nowhere near as definitive as his evangelism makes it sound. His samples are not randomly selected. Much of his research has been funded by a powerful home-schooling lobby group. When talking to legislators, reporters and the general public, he typically dispenses with essential cautions and overstates the success of the instruction he champions. Critics say his work is driven more by dogma than scholarly detachment.

“You see this in a lot of areas,” said Jim Dwyer, a professor at William & Mary Law School who wrote a book about home schooling. “Someone with an ideological agenda can concoct bad social science and convince naive researchers and naive audiences to accept some position. It’s clearly true of Ray. … The research he relies on is not scientifically valid.”

Taken as a whole, the academic literature shows mixed academic outcomes for home schooling: Some studies find benefits; others show deficiencies.

Nonetheless, Ray’s work, which concludes home-schoolers score far above public school students on standardized tests, has been widely cited for many years. He has exercised enormous influence in winning acceptance for the practice and minimizing regulations. J. Michael Smith, a former president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the nation’s chief home-school lobbying group, said his group “has lost track of how many times Brian Ray has been called on to help establish the validity and success of homeschooling in court rooms and legislatures around the country.”

Ray comes from a conservative Christian movement that sees home schooling as a biblically mandated counterweight to secular modernity.

A community of home-school alumni has arisen in recent years to forcefully reject this form of education. They say their parents ignored entire subjects, focused on faith over academics and were physically abusive. Among these critics is someone Ray knows well: his oldest daughter, Hallie Ray Ziebart, 43.

In interviews, Ziebart said her father taught her almost no math, routinely required her to work long hours for his nonprofit institute during school days, and whipped her and her siblings with switches and other objects when they disobeyed his orders.

Her allegations were echoed by two of her siblings and by four others who spent time at their home. Some of her charges are bolstered by journals she kept at the time. She’s voiced some of these accusations in recent years on TikTok.

Ray said in an interview that he spanked his children but vigorously disputed his daughter’s characterization that it was “abuse.”

  • New York Times, The Nation Magazine to Become Monthly, Dec. 11, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Google Loses Antitrust Court Battle With Makers of Fortnite Video Game, Nico Grant, Dec. 12, 2023 (print ed.). The case could reshape the rules of how Epic Games and other businesses can make money on the Android operating system.

google logo customA jury ruled on Monday that Google had violated antitrust laws to extract fees and limit competition from Epic Games and other developers on its Play mobile app store, in a case that could rewrite the rules on how thousands of businesses make money on Google’s smartphone operating system, Android.

After deliberating for a little more than three hours, the nine-person federal jury sided with Epic Games on all 11 questions in a monthlong trial that was the latest turn in a three-year legal battle.

The jury in San Francisco found that Epic, the maker of the hit game Fortnite, proved that Google had maintained a monopoly in the smartphone app store market and engaged in anticompetitive conduct that harmed the videogame maker.

Google could be forced to alter its Play Store rules, allowing other companies to offer competing app stores and making it easier for developers to avoid the cut it collects from in-app purchases.

Judge James Donato of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California will decide the remedies needed to address Google’s conduct next year. Google said it would appeal the verdict.

Dec. 11

washington post logoWashington Post, How flawed research helped legitimize home-schooling, Laura Meckler, Dec. 11, 2023. Brian Ray says home-schooled students do better. His daughter tells a different story.

Brian Ray has spent the last three decades as one of nation’s top evangelists for home schooling. As a researcher, he has published studies purporting to show that these students soar high above their peers in what he calls “institutional schools.” At home, he and his wife educated their eight children on their Oregon farm.

His influence is beyond doubt. He has testified before state legislators looking to roll back regulations. Judges cite his work in child custody cases where parents disagree about home schooling. His voice resounds frequently in the press, from niche Christian newsletters to NPR and the New York Times. As president of the National Home Education Research Institute, he is the go-to expert for home-school advocates looking to influence public opinion and public policy, presenting himself as a dispassionate academic seeking the truth.

But Ray’s research is nowhere near as definitive as his evangelism makes it sound. His samples are not randomly selected. Much of his research has been funded by a powerful home-schooling lobby group. When talking to legislators, reporters and the general public, he typically dispenses with essential cautions and overstates the success of the instruction he champions. Critics say his work is driven more by dogma than scholarly detachment.

“You see this in a lot of areas,” said Jim Dwyer, a professor at William & Mary Law School who wrote a book about home schooling. “Someone with an ideological agenda can concoct bad social science and convince naive researchers and naive audiences to accept some position. It’s clearly true of Ray. … The research he relies on is not scientifically valid.”

Taken as a whole, the academic literature shows mixed academic outcomes for home schooling: Some studies find benefits; others show deficiencies.

Nonetheless, Ray’s work, which concludes home-schoolers score far above public school students on standardized tests, has been widely cited for many years. He has exercised enormous influence in winning acceptance for the practice and minimizing regulations. J. Michael Smith, a former president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the nation’s chief home-school lobbying group, said his group “has lost track of how many times Brian Ray has been called on to help establish the validity and success of homeschooling in court rooms and legislatures around the country.”

Ray comes from a conservative Christian movement that sees home schooling as a biblically mandated counterweight to secular modernity.

A community of home-school alumni has arisen in recent years to forcefully reject this form of education. They say their parents ignored entire subjects, focused on faith over academics and were physically abusive. Among these critics is someone Ray knows well: his oldest daughter, Hallie Ray Ziebart, 43.

In interviews, Ziebart said her father taught her almost no math, routinely required her to work long hours for his nonprofit institute during school days, and whipped her and her siblings with switches and other objects when they disobeyed his orders.

Her allegations were echoed by two of her siblings and by four others who spent time at their home. Some of her charges are bolstered by journals she kept at the time. She’s voiced some of these accusations in recent years on TikTok.

Ray said in an interview that he spanked his children but vigorously disputed his daughter’s characterization that it was “abuse.”

News Leaders Association (NLA), NLA Board approves membership’s vote to dissolve by June 2024, Staff Report, Dec. 11, 2023. Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project will lead Sunshine Week; NLA Awards become Poynter Journalism Prizes.

During its final meeting of the year, the News Leaders Association Board of Directors unanimously approved the NLA membership’s November vote to dissolve NLA and distribute its remaining assets to nonprofit journalism organizations that can carry on NLA’s leadership, diversity and First Amendment focus.

sunshine week logo right to know squareWe are thrilled to announce that the Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Project at the University of Florida is now officially in charge of Sunshine Week, continuing this decades’ old tradition for the foreseeable future.

The NLA Awards program has now been transferred to the prestigious Poynter Institute, as part of NLA’s winding down of programs as we proceed with dissolution. For more information on the Poynter Jounalism Prizes, click here.

asne apme logoAll other NLA assets, including the diversity survey, leadership training programs, and historical records of NLA (formed in 2019 in a merger of ASNE, the American Society of News Editors, and APME, the Associated Press Media Editors) will be transferred to other non-profit journalism organizations in 2024 as we finalize work to secure a home for these important programs.

The resolutions adopted by the NLA Board on Dec. 8, 2023, take effect immediately. During the electronic membership meeting in November, a quorum was reached and 84 percent of the NLA members who participated voted to dissolve NLA by June 30, 2024.

About News Leaders Association (NLA): NLA’s mission is to help journalists thrive in diverse, sustainable newsrooms with fact-based reporting in service to democracy. To learn more about NLA, go to www.newsleaders.org.

Dec. 10

ny times logoNew York Times, Elon Musk Suggests He Will Bring Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Back to X, Kate Conger, Updated Dec. 10, 2023. Elon Musk early on Sunday suggested that he would allow the right-wing provocateur and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to return to the social media platform X, which banned him more than five years ago for posting harassing messages.

Mr. Jones spent years promoting the claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was a hoax. Last year, he was ordered to pay nearly $1.5 billion to the families of eight victims of the massacre for defamation.

Also banned by Facebook and YouTube, Mr. Jones said he hoped Mr. Musk would reinstate his account on X, which was formerly known as Twitter. In an interview with Tucker Carlson that aired on X on Thursday, Mr. Jones said that users regularly called on Mr. Musk to bring him back to the platform.

“I trend all the time, ‘Hey, if you’re such an absolutist on free speech, bring back Alex Jones,’” Mr. Jones said. “I understand that he needs to go through a process before he does that.”

On Saturday, Mr. Musk responded to a user on X who said it was time for him to bring Mr. Jones back to the platform. “Ok,” Mr. Musk wrote.

Mr. Musk then started a poll, asking his 165 million followers if he should bring back Mr. Jones’s account. By early Sunday, an overwhelming majority of the nearly 2 million respondents voted in favor of Mr. Jones being reinstated. In the comments section of the poll, Mr. Musk signaled he would do just that: “The people have spoken and so it shall be,” he wrote.New York Times, Nov. 19, 2023 (print ed.).

ny times logoNew York Times, Shohei Ohtani, most coveted free agent in baseball history, to sign $700 million contract with Dodgers, Andy McCullough and Ken Rosenthal, Dec. 10, 2023 (print ed.). Shohei Ohtani, right, most coveted free agent in baseball history, to sign $700 million contract with Dodgers.

shohei ohtani dodgersShohei Ohtani’s singular pursuit of history, one man’s quest to rewrite the baseball world’s understanding of what is possible, reached another summit on Saturday when he agreed to the largest contract in the annals of major North American team sports, a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his agency CAA announced.

Ohtani announced his decision on Instagram. The deal ends years of feverish speculation about Ohtani’s future. Ohtani, a 29-year-old two-way sensation, has captivated the industry since he left Japan for Major League Baseball heading into the 2018 season. He has done things that appeared impossible in the modern era, feats that harkened back to Babe Ruth. As he traveled the country with the Los Angeles Angels this past summer, fans serenaded him with recruiting pitches. When he entered free agency, a dozen teams lined up, curious to see if they could meet his eye.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside OpenAI’s Crisis Over the Future of Artificial Intelligence, Tripp Mickle, Cade Metz, Mike Isaac and Karen Weise, Dec. 10, 2023 (print ed.). Split over Sam Altman’s leadership, board members and executives turned on one another.

Their brawl exposed the cracks at the heart of the A.I. movement. His ouster was the culmination of years of simmering tensions at OpenAI that pit those alarmed by A.I.’s power against others who saw the technology as a once-in-a-lifetime profit and prestige bonanza. As divisions deepened, the organization’s leaders sniped and turned on one another. That led to a boardroom brawl that ultimately showed who has the upper hand in A.I.’s future development: Silicon Valley’s tech elite and deep-pocketed corporate interests.

The drama embroiled Microsoft, which had committed $13 billion to OpenAI and weighed in to protect its investment. Many top Silicon Valley executives and investors, including the chief executive of Airbnb, also mobilized to support Mr. Altman.

Some fought back from Mr. Altman’s $27 million mansion in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood, lobbying through social media and voicing their displeasure in private text threads, according to interviews with more than 25 people with knowledge of the events. Many of their conversations and the details of their confrontations have not been previously reported.

At the center of the storm was Mr. Altman, a 38-year-old multimillionaire. A vegetarian who raises cattle and a tech leader with little engineering training, he is driven by a hunger for power more than by money, a longtime mentor said. And even as Mr. Altman became A.I.’s public face, charming heads of state with predictions of the technology’s positive effects, he privately angered those who believed he ignored its potential dangers.

OpenAI’s chaos has raised new questions about the people and companies behind the A.I. revolution. If the world’s premier A.I. start-up can so easily plunge into crisis over backbiting behavior and slippery ideas of wrongdoing, can it be trusted to advance a technology that may have untold effects on billions of people?

ny times logoNew York Times, Here are the key players in OpenAI’s boardroom drama, Cade Metz, Dec. 10, 2023 (print ed.). A mix of prominent tech industry figures and people not well known outside the A.I. community played big roles in the upheaval at the company.

On Nov. 17, Silicon Valley tumbled into turmoil when Sam Altman, chief executive of the high-profile A.I. start-up OpenAI, was suddenly removed by the company’s board of directors. After a five-day roller-coaster ride that encapsulated the increasingly heated battle over the future of artificial intelligence, Mr. Altman was reinstated and a new board was created. Here is a list of players in the year’s biggest tech drama:

ny times logoNew York Times, Elon Musk Suggests He Will Bring Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Back to X, Kate Conger, Updated Dec. 10, 2023. Elon Musk early on Sunday suggested that he would allow the right-wing provocateur and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to return to the social media platform X, which banned him more than five years ago for posting harassing messages.

Mr. Jones spent years promoting the claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was a hoax. Last year, he was ordered to pay nearly $1.5 billion to the families of eight victims of the massacre for defamation.

Also banned by Facebook and YouTube, Mr. Jones said he hoped Mr. Musk would reinstate his account on X, which was formerly known as Twitter. In an interview with Tucker Carlson that aired on X on Thursday, Mr. Jones said that users regularly called on Mr. Musk to bring him back to the platform.

“I trend all the time, ‘Hey, if you’re such an absolutist on free speech, bring back Alex Jones,’” Mr. Jones said. “I understand that he needs to go through a process before he does that.”

On Saturday, Mr. Musk responded to a user on X who said it was time for him to bring Mr. Jones back to the platform. “Ok,” Mr. Musk wrote.

Mr. Musk then started a poll, asking his 165 million followers if he should bring back Mr. Jones’s account. By early Sunday, an overwhelming majority of the nearly 2 million respondents voted in favor of Mr. Jones being reinstated. In the comments section of the poll, Mr. Musk signaled he would do just that: “The people have spoken and so it shall be,” he wrote.New York Times, Nov. 19, 2023 (print ed.).

ny times logoNew York Times, Shohei Ohtani, most coveted free agent in baseball history, to sign $700 million contract with Dodgers, Andy McCullough and Ken Rosenthal, Dec. 10, 2023 (print ed.). Shohei Ohtani, right, most coveted free agent in baseball history, to sign $700 million contract with Dodgers.

shohei ohtani dodgersShohei Ohtani’s singular pursuit of history, one man’s quest to rewrite the baseball world’s understanding of what is possible, reached another summit on Saturday when he agreed to the largest contract in the annals of major North American team sports, a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his agency CAA announced.

Ohtani announced his decision on Instagram. The deal ends years of feverish speculation about Ohtani’s future. Ohtani, a 29-year-old two-way sensation, has captivated the industry since he left Japan for Major League Baseball heading into the 2018 season. He has done things that appeared impossible in the modern era, feats that harkened back to Babe Ruth. As he traveled the country with the Los Angeles Angels this past summer, fans serenaded him with recruiting pitches. When he entered free agency, a dozen teams lined up, curious to see if they could meet his eye.

ny times logoNew York Times, One law firm prepared the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania for the hearing on antisemitism, Lauren Hirsch, Dec. 9, 2023 (print ed.). The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. came under fire after dodging questions about their policies.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, the leaders of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave carefully worded — and seemingly evasive — answers to the question of whether they would discipline students who called for the genocide of Jews. The intense criticism that followed led many to wonder: Who had prepared them for testimony?

It turns out that one of America’s best known white-shoe law firms, WilmerHale, was intricately involved.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ex-N.F.L. Team Employee Accused of Stealing $22 Million Bet on Football, Dec. 8, 2023. The attorney for the former Jacksonville Jaguars employee said his client was suffering from a “serious gambling addiction.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Jon Rahm, 2023 Masters champion, will leave PGA Tour for LIV Golf, Brendan Quinn, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). The 2023 Masters champion is departing the PGA Tour for LIV. The sport will be different now, our columnist writes. What’s believed to be the largest player acquisition in professional golf history is official. Jon Rahm is heading to LIV Golf and a sport already fundamentally fractured might now have its largest bargaining chip.

While terms of the deal have not been officially released and are not expected to be, as LIV has not done so with any of its other high-profile signings like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka, The Telegraph reported it to be at $566 million.

All Rahm said Thursday afternoon is the deal is “obviously good enough for someone like me to want to consider it and see this thing through.”

As part of the deal, Rahm will take control of his own LIV team franchise and serve as captain of the league’s 13th team. Asked who will be joining him on that team, Rahm only responded, “You’re going to have to wait to find out.”

Figures aside, Rahm joining LIV represents something larger than any single contract. The 29-year-old is not only the first PGA Tour defect to LIV since the June 6 framework agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF, but he’s also the best young player to join LIV and will radically change the pedigree of competition. More than that, his departure is a severe blow to a PGA Tour that has prided itself on maintaining its hold on the elite of elite players. Such a claim is empty without Rahm, a two-time major winner with 52 weeks at No. 1 in the world on his resume.

Dec. 10

 

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens to a question during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington (AP Photo by Mark Schiefelbein

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens to a question during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington (AP Photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

ap logoAssociated Press, Liz Magill, University of Pennsylvania president, resigns as antisemitism testimony draws backlash, Marc  Levy, Dec. 10, 2023 (print ed.). The University of Pennsylvania’s president has resigned amid pressure from donors and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say under repeated questioning that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

The departure of Liz Magill, in her second year as president of the Ivy League school, was announced by the school late Saturday afternoon. The statement said Magill will remain a tenured faculty member at the university’s Carey Law School.

Calls for her resignation exploded after Tuesday’s testimony in a U.S. House committee on antisemitism on college campuses, where she appeared with the presidents of Harvard University and MIT.

Blowback focused on a line of questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who repeatedly asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate Penn’s code of conduct.

“If the speech turns into conduct it can be harassment, yes,” Pressed further, Magill told Stefanik, “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”

Criticism rained down from the White House, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, members of Congress and donors. One donor, Ross Stevens, threatened to withdraw a $100 million gift because of the university’s “stance on antisemitism on campus” unless Magill was replaced.

A day later, Magill addressed the criticism, saying in a video that she would consider a call for the genocide of Jewish people to be harassment or intimidation and that Penn’s policies need to be “clarified and evaluated.”

What to know:

  • Calls for Liz Magill’s resignation exploded after a Tuesday testimony in a U.S. House committee on antisemitism on college campuses.
    Blowback focused on a line of questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who repeatedly asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate Penn’s code of conduct.
  • The presidents of Harvard and MIT also drew intense national backlash after the testimony.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: As Fury Erupts Over Campus Antisemitism, Conservatives Seize the Moment, Nicholas Confessore, Dec. 10, 2023. Republicans have been attacking elite universities for years. After a tense congressional hearing last week, many on the left are joining them.

For years, conservatives have struggled to persuade American voters that the left-wing tilt of higher education is not only wrong but dangerous. Universities and their students, they’ve argued, have been increasingly clenched by suffocating ideologies — political correctness in one decade, overweening “social justice” in another, “woke-ism” most recently — that shouldn’t be dismissed as academic fads or harmless zeal.

The validation they have sought seemed to finally arrive this fall, as campuses convulsed with protests against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and hostile, sometimes violent, rhetoric toward Jews. It came to a head last week on Capitol Hill, as the presidents of three elite universities struggled to answer a question about whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate school rules, and Republicans asserted that outbreaks of campus antisemitism were a symptom of the radical ideas they had long warned about. On Saturday, amid the fallout, one of those presidents, M. Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, resigned.

For Republicans, the rise of antisemitic speech and the timid responses of some academic leaders presented a long-sought opportunity to flip the political script and cast liberals or their institutions as hateful and intolerant. “What I’m describing is a grave danger inherent in assenting to the race-based ideology of the radical left,” said Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, at the hearing, adding, “Institutional antisemitism and hate are among the poison fruits of your institution’s cultures.”

ny times logoNew York Times, University of Pennsylvania Leadership Resigns Amid Antisemitism Controversies, Stephanie Saul, Alan Blinder, Anemona Hartocollis and Maureen Farrell, Dec. 10, 2023 (print ed.). The president, Elizabeth Magill, and the chairman of the board of trustees, Scott Bok, are leaving after pressure from donors, politicians and alumni.

The president of the University of Pennsylvania, M. Elizabeth Magill, resigned on Saturday, four days after she appeared before Congress and appeared to evade the question of whether students who called for the genocide of Jews should be punished.

Support for Ms. Magill, already shaken in recent months over her approach to a Palestinian literary conference and the university’s initial response to the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, unraveled after her testimony. Influential graduates questioned her leadership, wealthy contributors moved to withdraw donations, and public officials besieged the university to oust its president.

By Saturday evening, a day before Penn’s board of trustees was expected to meet, Ms. Magill said that she would quit. Scott L. Bok, the board’s chairman, said in an email to the Penn community that Ms. Magill had “voluntarily tendered her resignation.”

Less than an hour later, Mr. Bok announced that he, too, had resigned, deepening the turmoil at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.

Ms. Magill is the first university president to step down in connection with the uproars that have engulfed campuses since the Hamas attack and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. Other presidents remain under pressure. On Friday, more than 70 members of Congress called for the firings of Ms. Magill and two presidents who appeared alongside her in Washington on Tuesday, Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T.

But her resignation has alarmed faculty members worried about academic freedom. In response to Ms. Magill’s resignation, a group of Penn professors denounced what they saw as outside interference that imperiled the university’s integrity.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What the University Presidents Got Right and Wrong About Antisemitic Speech, David French, right, Dec. 10, 2023.  As I watched the presidents of Harvard, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania struggle last week to respond to harsh congressional david french croppedquestioning about the prevalence of antisemitism on their campuses, I had a singular thought: Censorship helped put these presidents in their predicament and censorship will not help them escape.

To understand what I mean, we have to understand what, exactly, was wrong — and right — with their responses in the now-viral exchange with Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York. The key moment occurred when Stefanik asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate school policies. The answers the presidents gave were lawyerly versions of “it depends” or “context matters.”

There was an immediate explosion of outrage, and the president of Penn, Elizabeth Magill, resigned on Saturday. But this is genocide we’re talking about! How can “context” matter in that context? If that’s not harassment and bullying, then what is?

But I had a different response. I’m a former litigator who spent much of my legal career battling censorship on college campuses, and the thing that struck me about the presidents’ answers wasn’t their legal insufficiency, but rather their stunning hypocrisy. And it’s that hypocrisy, not the presidents’ understanding of the law, that has created a campus crisis.

harvard logoFirst, let’s deal with the law. Harvard, Penn and M.I.T. are each private universities. Unlike public schools, they’re not bound by the First Amendment and they therefore possess enormous freedom to fashion their own, custom speech policies. But while they are not bound by law to protect free speech, they are required, as educational institutions that receive federal funds, to protect students against discriminatory harassment, including — in some instances — student-on-student peer harassment.

Academic freedom advocates have long called for the nation’s most prestigious private universities to protect free speech by using First Amendment principles to inform campus policies. After all, should students and faculty at Harvard enjoy fewer free speech rights than, say, those at Bunker Hill Community College, a public school not far from Harvard’s campus?

If Harvard, M.I.T. and Penn had chosen to model their policies after the First Amendment, many of the presidents’ controversial answers would be largely correct. When it comes to prohibiting speech, even the most vile forms of speech, context matters. A lot.

So if the university presidents were largely (though clumsily) correct about the legal balance, why the outrage? To quote the presidents back to themselves, context matters. For decades now, we’ve watched as campus administrators from coast to coast have constructed a comprehensive web of policies and practices intended to suppress so-called hate speech and to support students who find themselves distressed by speech they find offensive.

The result has been a network of speech codes, bias response teams, safe spaces and glossaries of microaggressions that are all designed to protect students from alleged emotional harm. But not all students.

Universities have censored conservatives? Then censor progressives too.

The best, clearest plan for reform I’ve seen comes from Harvard’s own Steven Pinker, a psychologist. He writes that campuses should enact “clear and coherent” free speech policies. They should adopt a posture of “institutional neutrality” on public controversy. (“Universities are forums, not protagonists.”) They should end “heckler’s vetoes, building takeovers, classroom invasions, intimidations, blockades, assaults.”

Dec. 9

 

Actors Jean Stapleton, seated, left, and Carroll O’Connor, seated, right, from “All in the Family” hold their Emmys for outstanding lead actress and actor in a comedy series, as they pose with co-star Rob Reiner, who won for supporting actor in a comedy series, standing left, producer Norman Lear, and executive producer Mort Lachman, standing right, in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 1978. (AP file photo.)

Actors Jean Stapleton, seated, left, and Carroll O’Connor, seated, right, from “All in the Family” hold their Emmys for outstanding lead actress and actor in a comedy series, as they pose with co-star Rob Reiner, who won for supporting actor in a comedy series, standing left, producer Norman Lear (shown more recently in a photo at  lower right), and executive producer Mort Lachman, standing right, in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 1978. (AP file photo.)

ny times logoNew York Times, Norman Lear Reshaped How America Saw Black Families, Jonathan Abrams and Christopher Kuo, Dec. 9, 2023. “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son” brought a wave of Black characters to TV, even as the shows opened up tensions over stereotypes.

Norman Lear (shown in a New York Times file photo by J. Emilio Flores).Norman Lear’s shows touched on hot-button issues such as civil rights activism, alcoholism and abortion, going far beyond the one-dimensional existence that Black characters were previously relegated to. His shows depicted television’s first two-parent Black family, an upwardly mobile Black family and the other side of the coin to his most famous character, “All in the Family’s” Archie Bunker, in Redd Foxx’s portrayal of the oft-bigoted Fred Sanford in “Sanford and Son.”

This full-rounded view of Black life in America — through characters who had failures and triumphs, struggles and aspirations — helped usher in what historians call the era of “social relevance” in television, in which TV shows and sitcoms offered more authentic depictions of Americans’ lives, said Adrien Sebro, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Scratchin’ and Survivin’: Hustle Economics and the Black Sitcoms of Tandem Productions, a book about Lear’s many television productions.

ny times logoNew York Times, One law firm prepared the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania for the hearing on antisemitism, Lauren Hirsch, Dec. 9, 2023 (print ed.). The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. came under fire after dodging questions about their policies.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, the leaders of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave carefully worded — and seemingly evasive — answers to the question of whether they would discipline students who called for the genocide of Jews. The intense criticism that followed led many to wonder: Who had prepared them for testimony?

It turns out that one of America’s best known white-shoe law firms, WilmerHale, was intricately involved.

 Dec. 9

ny times logoNew York Times, The E.U. agreed on artificial intelligence rules with a landmark new law, Adam Satariano, Dec. 9, 2023 (print ed.). The agreement over the A.I. Act solidifies one of the world’s first comprehensive attempts to limit the use of artificial intelligence.

european union logo rectangleEuropean Union policymakers agreed on Friday to a sweeping new law to regulate artificial intelligence, one of the world’s first comprehensive attempts to limit the use of a rapidly evolving technology that has wide-ranging societal and economic implications.

The law, called the A.I. Act, sets a new global benchmark for countries seeking to harness the potential benefits of the technology, while trying to protect against its possible risks, like automating jobs, spreading misinformation online and endangering national security. The law still needs to go through a few final steps for approval, but the political agreement means its key outlines have been set.

European policymakers focused on A.I.’s riskiest uses by companies and governments, including those for law enforcement and the operation of crucial services like water and energy. Makers of the largest general-purpose A.I. systems, like those powering the ChatGPT chatbot, would face new transparency requirements. Chatbots and software that creates manipulated images such as “deepfakes” would have to make clear that what people were seeing was generated by A.I., according to E.U. officials and earlier drafts of the law.

Use of facial recognition software by police and governments would be restricted outside of certain safety and national security exemptions. Companies that violated the regulations could face fines of up to 7 percent of global sales.

Dec. 8

washington post logoWashington Post, A CBS reporter refusing to reveal her sources could be held in contempt, Jeremy Barr, Dec. 8, 2023. First Amendment advocates are alarmed by the case of Catherine Herridge, who is facing an imminent court deadline and steep fines.

In a rapidly escalating case that is worrying First Amendment advocates, journalist Catherine Herridge could soon be held in contempt of court if she does not reveal her source for the investigative stories she wrote in 2017.

Herridge, now a reporter for CBS News who worked for Fox News at the time, has a Thursday deadline to explain to a federal judge why she should not face the civil sanction — and the hefty, accumulating fines that could come with it.

U.S. District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper ruled Aug. 1 that Herridge must reveal how she learned about a federal probe into a Chinese American scientist who operated a graduate program in Virginia — the subject of several stories Herridge reported for Fox.

Yanping Chen was never charged as a result of the investigation, which sought to determine whether she had lied about her military service and whether her school’s student database could be accessed from China, as the Fox News reports revealed. But after those stories brought the probe to light, Chen sued the federal government alleging that Herridge had been given leaked materials that violated her privacy, including photographs and images of internal government documents.

After Chen’s lawyers conducted 18 depositions of government and other officials without learning the source of the leak, according to her legal filing, Chen has argued that only the journalist could provide the information she needed to pursue her grievance against the government.

The judge came to the same conclusion. While acknowledging “the vital importance of a free press and the critical role that confidential sources play in the work of investigative journalists,” Cooper ruled in August that Chen’s need for the evidence “overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege.”

But First Amendment advocates disagreed, arguing that journalists can perform their public service function only if they are able to protect the identities of their confidential sources.

And they raise special concerns about Chen’s request to the judge earlier this month that Herridge should personally pay the daily fees, which could range from $500 to $5,000, rather than allowing CBS or Fox to do so.

Chen’s request came after Herridge sat for a deposition in late September but refused to reveal how she obtained the information, citing her First Amendment rights and telling Chen’s lawyer, “I must now disobey the order.”

Politico, Washington Post staffers launch 24-hour walkout, Eric Bazail-Eimil, Dec. 8, 2023. Reporters, producers, editors and business-side staffers are walking off the job as contract negotiations stall and layoffs loom.

More than 700 staffers at The Washington Post launched a 24-hour walkout Thursday after contract negotiations with the newspaper’s leadership have stalled after 18 months.

Reporters, producers, editors and business-side staffers walked off the job and began picketing outside the Post’s enigmatic downtown headquarters in the first protest action at the paper since the mid-1970s.

The Washington Post Guild, a member of the broader Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild, is accusing management of negotiating in “bad faith” as they seek to obtain a contract that they say must address pay disparities and offer employees raises and job protections as layoffs loom at the struggling storied paper.

“We still lack a contract that keeps pace with record-level inflation and guarantees workers a living wage,” the union posted in a statement online, blaming previous leadership at the Post for the company’s current financial woes.

A spokesperson for the Post said in a statement to POLITICO that “we respect the rights of our Guild-covered colleagues to engage in this planned one-day strike” and “will make sure our readers and customers are as unaffected as possible.”

ny times logoNew York Times, From Unicorns to Zombies: Tech Start-Ups Run Out of Time and Money, Erin Griffith, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). After staving off collapse by cutting costs, many young tech companies are out of options, fueling a cash bonfire.

WeWork raised more than $11 billion in funding as a private company. Olive AI, a health care start-up, gathered $852 million. Convoy, a freight start-up, raised $900 million. And Veev, a home construction start-up, amassed $647 million.

In the last six weeks, they all filed for bankruptcy or shut down. They are the most recent failures in a tech start-up collapse that investors say is only beginning.

After staving off mass failure by cutting costs over the past two years, many once-promising tech companies are now on the verge of running out of time and money. They face a harsh reality: Investors are no longer interested in promises. Rather, venture capital firms are deciding which young companies are worth saving and urging others to shut down or sell.

It has fueled an astonishing cash bonfire. In August, Hopin, a start-up that raised more than $1.6 billion and was once valued at $7.6 billion, sold its main business for just $15 million. Last month, Zeus Living, a real estate start-up that raised $150 million, said it was shutting down. Plastiq, a financial technology start-up that raised $226 million, went bankrupt in May. In September, Bird, a scooter company that raised $776 million, was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because of its low stock price. Its $7 million market capitalization is less than the value of the $22 million Miami mansion that its founder, Travis VanderZanden, bought in 2021.

ny times logoNew York Times, Universities Face Inquiry and Angry Donors Over Handling of Antisemitism, Alan Blinder, Anemona Hartocollis and Stephanie Saul, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). Congress has opened an investigation into Harvard, M.I.T. and Penn, a $100 million gift was withdrawn, and demands have grown for presidents to resign.

Harvard, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday faced threats from donors, demands that their presidents resign and a congressional investigation as repercussions mounted over the universities’ responses to antisemitism on campus.

U.S. House logoAt Penn, university trustees discussed the future of Elizabeth Magill, its president, whose congressional testimony on Tuesday set off a furor when she dodged the question of whether she would discipline students for calling for the genocide of Jews.

Her answers and similar comments by Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T. at a House committee meeting set off accusations that they were doing little to protect their own students. All three said they had taken action against antisemitism, but critics argued they had not done enough or were even fostering antisemitism on their campuses.

In response, a House committee opened an investigation into the three institutions as its chairwoman criticized the schools for failing to tackle the “rampant antisemitism” on their campuses after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: At a Hearing on Israel, University Presidents Walked Into a Trap, Michelle Goldberg, right, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). On Wednesday, michelle goldberg thumba dear friend emailed me a viral clip from the House hearing on campus antisemitism in which three elite university presidents refuse to say, under questioning by Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates school policies on bullying and harassment. “My God, have you seen this?” wrote my friend, a staunch liberal. “I can’t believe I find myself agreeing with Elise Stefanik on anything, but I do here.”

If I’d seen only that excerpt from the hearing, which has now led to denunciations of the college leaders by the White House and the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, among many others, I might have felt the same way. All three presidents — Claudine Gay of Harvard, Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T. and Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania — acquitted themselves poorly, appearing morally obtuse and coldly legalistic. It was a moment that seemed to confirm many people’s worst fears about the tolerance for Jew hatred in academia.

But while it might seem hard to believe that there’s any context that could make the responses of the college presidents OK, watching the whole hearing at least makes them more understandable. In the questioning before the now infamous exchange, you can see the trap Stefanik laid.

Finding themselves in a no-win situation, the university presidents resorted to bloodless bureaucratic contortions, and walked into a public relations disaster.

ny times logoNew York Times, Universities Face Inquiry and Angry Donors Over Handling of Antisemitism, Alan Blinder, Anemona Hartocollis and Stephanie Saul, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). Congress has opened an investigation into Harvard, M.I.T. and Penn, a $100 million gift was withdrawn, and demands have grown for presidents to resign.

Harvard, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday faced threats from donors, demands that their presidents resign and a congressional investigation as repercussions mounted over the universities’ responses to antisemitism on campus.

U.S. House logoAt Penn, university trustees discussed the future of Elizabeth Magill, its president, whose congressional testimony on Tuesday set off a furor when she dodged the question of whether she would discipline students for calling for the genocide of Jews.

Her answers and similar comments by Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T. at a House committee meeting set off accusations that they were doing little to protect their own students. All three said they had taken action against antisemitism, but critics argued they had not done enough or were even fostering antisemitism on their campuses.

In response, a House committee opened an investigation into the three institutions as its chairwoman criticized the schools for failing to tackle the “rampant antisemitism” on their campuses after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ex-N.F.L. Team Employee Accused of Stealing $22 Million Bet on Football, Dec. 8, 2023. The attorney for the former Jacksonville Jaguars employee said his client was suffering from a “serious gambling addiction.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Jon Rahm, 2023 Masters champion, will leave PGA Tour for LIV Golf, Brendan Quinn, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). The 2023 Masters champion is departing the PGA Tour for LIV. The sport will be different now, our columnist writes. What’s believed to be the largest player acquisition in professional golf history is official. Jon Rahm is heading to LIV Golf and a sport already fundamentally fractured might now have its largest bargaining chip.

While terms of the deal have not been officially released and are not expected to be, as LIV has not done so with any of its other high-profile signings like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka, The Telegraph reported it to be at $566 million.

All Rahm said Thursday afternoon is the deal is “obviously good enough for someone like me to want to consider it and see this thing through.”

As part of the deal, Rahm will take control of his own LIV team franchise and serve as captain of the league’s 13th team. Asked who will be joining him on that team, Rahm only responded, “You’re going to have to wait to find out.”

Figures aside, Rahm joining LIV represents something larger than any single contract. The 29-year-old is not only the first PGA Tour defect to LIV since the June 6 framework agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF, but he’s also the best young player to join LIV and will radically change the pedigree of competition. More than that, his departure is a severe blow to a PGA Tour that has prided itself on maintaining its hold on the elite of elite players. Such a claim is empty without Rahm, a two-time major winner with 52 weeks at No. 1 in the world on his resume.

ny times logoNew York Times, Charles Barkley Calls Trump Supporters ‘Nutty’ on CNN, Michael Gold, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). The former N.B.A. great, who now hosts a show on the network, was critical of former President Donald J. Trump for comments he made this week about being a dictator.

Charles Barkley, the former basketball star turned sports commentator and CNN host, called supporters of former President Donald J. Trump “a small little group of nutty people” Wednesday night.

Speaking on “King Charles,” the weekly show he hosts with the “CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King, Mr. Barkley said that he was concerned by Mr. Trump’s refusal to say in a Fox News interview that he would not be a dictator “except for Day 1” of his presidency.

Mr. Barkley, whose CNN show debuted last week to low ratings, said he worried that Mr. Trump would be more focused on retribution against the media and his political opponents than on the economic concerns of the American public.

washington post logoWashington Post, A CBS reporter refusing to reveal her sources could be held in contempt, Jeremy Barr, Dec. 8, 2023. First Amendment advocates are alarmed by the case of Catherine Herridge, who is facing an imminent court deadline and steep fines.

In a rapidly escalating case that is worrying First Amendment advocates, journalist Catherine Herridge could soon be held in contempt of court if she does not reveal her source for the investigative stories she wrote in 2017.

Herridge, now a reporter for CBS News who worked for Fox News at the time, has a Thursday deadline to explain to a federal judge why she should not face the civil sanction — and the hefty, accumulating fines that could come with it.

U.S. District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper ruled Aug. 1 that Herridge must reveal how she learned about a federal probe into a Chinese American scientist who operated a graduate program in Virginia — the subject of several stories Herridge reported for Fox.

Yanping Chen was never charged as a result of the investigation, which sought to determine whether she had lied about her military service and whether her school’s student database could be accessed from China, as the Fox News reports revealed. But after those stories brought the probe to light, Chen sued the federal government alleging that Herridge had been given leaked materials that violated her privacy, including photographs and images of internal government documents.

After Chen’s lawyers conducted 18 depositions of government and other officials without learning the source of the leak, according to her legal filing, Chen has argued that only the journalist could provide the information she needed to pursue her grievance against the government.

The judge came to the same conclusion. While acknowledging “the vital importance of a free press and the critical role that confidential sources play in the work of investigative journalists,” Cooper ruled in August that Chen’s need for the evidence “overcomes Herridge’s qualified First Amendment privilege.”

But First Amendment advocates disagreed, arguing that journalists can perform their public service function only if they are able to protect the identities of their confidential sources.

And they raise special concerns about Chen’s request to the judge earlier this month that Herridge should personally pay the daily fees, which could range from $500 to $5,000, rather than allowing CBS or Fox to do so.

Chen’s request came after Herridge sat for a deposition in late September but refused to reveal how she obtained the information, citing her First Amendment rights and telling Chen’s lawyer, “I must now disobey the order.”

Politico, Washington Post staffers launch 24-hour walkout, Eric Bazail-Eimil, Dec. 8, 2023. Reporters, producers, editors and business-side staffers are walking off the job as contract negotiations stall and layoffs loom.

More than 700 staffers at The Washington Post launched a 24-hour walkout Thursday after contract negotiations with the newspaper’s leadership have stalled after 18 months.

Reporters, producers, editors and business-side staffers walked off the job and began picketing outside the Post’s enigmatic downtown headquarters in the first protest action at the paper since the mid-1970s.

The Washington Post Guild, a member of the broader Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild, is accusing management of negotiating in “bad faith” as they seek to obtain a contract that they say must address pay disparities and offer employees raises and job protections as layoffs loom at the struggling storied paper.

“We still lack a contract that keeps pace with record-level inflation and guarantees workers a living wage,” the union posted in a statement online, blaming previous leadership at the Post for the company’s current financial woes.

A spokesperson for the Post said in a statement to POLITICO that “we respect the rights of our Guild-covered colleagues to engage in this planned one-day strike” and “will make sure our readers and customers are as unaffected as possible.”

ny times logoNew York Times, From Unicorns to Zombies: Tech Start-Ups Run Out of Time and Money, Erin Griffith, Dec. 8, 2023 (print ed.). After staving off collapse by cutting costs, many young tech companies are out of options, fueling a cash bonfire.

WeWork raised more than $11 billion in funding as a private company. Olive AI, a health care start-up, gathered $852 million. Convoy, a freight start-up, raised $900 million. And Veev, a home construction start-up, amassed $647 million.

In the last six weeks, they all filed for bankruptcy or shut down. They are the most recent failures in a tech start-up collapse that investors say is only beginning.

After staving off mass failure by cutting costs over the past two years, many once-promising tech companies are now on the verge of running out of time and money. They face a harsh reality: Investors are no longer interested in promises. Rather, venture capital firms are deciding which young companies are worth saving and urging others to shut down or sell.

It has fueled an astonishing cash bonfire. In August, Hopin, a start-up that raised more than $1.6 billion and was once valued at $7.6 billion, sold its main business for just $15 million. Last month, Zeus Living, a real estate start-up that raised $150 million, said it was shutting down. Plastiq, a financial technology start-up that raised $226 million, went bankrupt in May. In September, Bird, a scooter company that raised $776 million, was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange because of its low stock price. Its $7 million market capitalization is less than the value of the $22 million Miami mansion that its founder, Travis VanderZanden, bought in 2021.

Dec. 7

Norman Lear (shown in a New York Times file photo by J. Emilio Flores).

washington post logoWashington Post, Norman Lear, who brought social commentary to the sitcom, dies at 101, Louis Bayard, Dec. 7, 2023 (print ed.). Archie Bunker, Maude Findlay and George Jefferson were among the characters he brought to America’s living rooms.

Norman Lear, above, the TV writer and producer who transformed the bland porridge of situation comedy into a zesty stew of sociopolitical strife and brutally funny speech and who gave the world such embattled comic archetypes as Archie Bunker, Fred Sanford, Maude Findlay and George Jefferson, died Dec. 5 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 101.

A family spokeswoman, Lara Bergthold, announced the death but did not provide an immediate cause.

Mr. Lear’s entertainment career spanned the late 1940s to the 21st century, and he also found prominence in later life as a liberal political activist. But his legend was sealed in the 1970s, when he created a handful of shows that transformed the television medium into a fractious national town meeting and showcased the American family in all its hopes and dysfunctions.

Racial prejudice, divorce, rape, Black inner-city struggle, upward social mobility — themes almost nonexistent on commercial television — were suddenly brought to compelling life through Mr. Lear’s juggernaut of hits, including “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” and “One Day at a Time.”

Far from sermonizing, the shows were master classes in broad comedy. Their success was undeniably due in large measure to the actors, who brought shadings of empathy to troubled, worried and often deeply flawed characters.

“Norman Lear took television away from the pimps, hookers, hustlers, private eyes, junkies, cowboys and rustlers that constituted television chaos, and, in their place, he put the American people,” screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky once observed. “He took the audience and put them on the [TV] set.”

By the 1990s, the adult sensibility that Mr. Lear Norman Lear (shown in a New York Times file photo by J. Emilio Flores) brought to television found a new home in cable drama. “You can trace the impact of his shows in ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Shield,’ ‘The Wire,’ wherever you have complex characters of questionable morality,” said Ron Simon, a curator at the Paley Center for Media in New York. “Nothing was ever neatly wrapped up in Lear’s world.”

Dec. 2

washington post logoWashington Post, Smartmatic’s lawsuit against Fox News heats up with Murdoch depositions, Jeremy Barr, Dec. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Rupert was deposed this week and his son Lachlan will sit for a grilling as well, as the 2020-related case moves along.

Rupert Murdoch formally handed over the reins of Fox News’ parent company in mid-November, but that did not end his legal obligations in the long-running fallout over how the network covered the 2020 presidential election.

This week, the 92-year-old media mogul sat for a sworn deposition in the second major defamation lawsuit from an election-technology company that accused Fox of smearing it with false claims of vote rigging.

It’s been seven months since Fox News settled a headline-making defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems for a record $787.5 million. But in recent weeks the Smartmatic case has stirred to life, putting Murdoch’s company once again in legal peril. Murdoch’s son Lachlan, who now runs the family’s media business, will also be deposed in the case, as will Fox’s former top lawyer, Viet D. Dinh, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to comment.

Fox believes that the case is winnable. The company says Smartmatic’s massive claim of $2.7 billion in financial losses is way off base, since it operates sparingly in the United States, with only one contract in one county for the 2020 election, while Dominion’s machines were used in several key states.

But the network’s First Amendment defense — that Fox hosts were just doing their jobs and reporting the news — is very similar to what it used in the Dominion case, an argument that was rejected by that judge. Despite Fox’s efforts to distinguish the cases, a Dominion lawyer said at a hearing in September that “Smartmatic’s defamation action is based on many of the same statements.”

“We will be ready to defend this case surrounding extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, likely in 2025,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement. “As a report prepared by our financial expert shows, Smartmatic’s damages claims are implausible, disconnected from reality, and on its face intended to chill First Amendment freedoms.”

Dec. 1

ny times logoNew York Times, Disinformation is among the greatest obstacles facing leaders at the summit, Tiffany Hsu and Steven Lee Myers, Dec. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Online influencers, fossil fuel companies and some of the countries attending COP28 have nourished a feedback loop of falsehoods.

As the world’s leaders gather this week at a major summit to discuss ways to address the effects of global warming, one of the greatest obstacles they face is disinformation.

Among the biggest sources of false or misleading information about the world’s weather, according to a report released this week: influential nations, including Russia and China, whose diplomats will be attending. Others include the companies that extract fossil fuels and the online provocateurs who make money by sharing claims that global warming is a hoax.

ny times logoNew York Times, Advertisers Say They Do Not Plan to Return to X After Musk’s Comments, Kate Conger and Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Elon Musk, the owner of X, criticized advertisers with expletives on Wednesday at The New York Times’s DealBook Summit. Elon Musk, the owner of X, criticized advertisers with expletives on Wednesday at The New York Times’s DealBook Summit.

elon musk sideviewAdvertisers said on Thursday that they did not plan to reopen their wallets anytime soon with X, the social media company formerly known as Twitter, after its owner, Elon Musk, insulted brands using an expletive and told them not to spend on the platform.

x logo twitterAt least half a dozen marketing agencies said the brands they represent were standing firm against advertising on X, while others said they had advised advertisers to stop posting anything on the platform. Some temporary spending pauses that advertisers have enacted in recent weeks against X are likely to turn into permanent freezes, they added, with Mr. Musk’s comments giving them no incentive to return.

Advertisers are “not coming back” to X, said Lou Paskalis, the founder and chief executive o

 

November

Nov. 30

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. stops helping Big Tech spot foreign meddling amid GOP legal threats, Naomi Nix and Cat Zakrzewski, Nov. 30, 2023. Anthony Faiola, Stefano Pitrelli and Louisa Loveluck, Nov. 30, 2023. The federal government has stopped warning Meta about foreign influence campaigns amid a legal campaign against the Biden administration’s communication with tech firms.

The U.S. federal government has stopped warning some social networks about foreign disinformation campaigns on their platforms, reversing a years-long approach to preventing Russia and other actors from interfering in American politics less than a year before the U.S. presidential elections, according to company officials.

Meta no longer receives notifications of global influence campaigns from the Biden administration, halting a prolonged partnership between the federal government and the world’s largest social media company, senior security officials said Wednesday. Federal agencies have also stopped communicating about political disinformation with Pinterest, according to the company.

The developments underscore the far-reaching impact of a conservative legal campaign against initiatives established to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election, when Russia manipulated social media in an attempt to sow chaos and swing the vote for Donald Trump.

For months, researchers in government and academia have warned that a barrage of lawsuits, congressional demands and online attacks are having a chilling effect on programs intended to combat health and election misinformation. But the shift in communications about foreign meddling signals how ongoing litigation and Republican probes in Congress are unwinding efforts once viewed as critical to protecting U.S. national security interests.

Misinformation research is buckling under GOP legal attacks

Ben Nimmo, chief of global threat intelligence for Meta, said government officials stopped communicating foreign election interference threats to the company in July.

That month, a federal judge limited the Biden administration’s communications with tech platforms in response to a lawsuit alleging such coordination ran afoul of the First Amendment by encouraging companies to remove falsehoods about covid-19 and the 2020 election. The decision included an exemption allowing the government to communicate with the companies about national security threats, specifically foreign interference in elections. The case, Missouri v. Biden, is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has paused lower court restrictions while it reviews the matter.

The shift erodes a partnership considered crucial to the integrity of elections around the world — just months before voters head to the polls in Taiwan, the European Union, India and the United States. Ahead of the 2024 U.S. presidential race, foreign actors such as China and Russia have become more aggressive at trying to exacerbate political tensions in the United States, while advanced artificial intelligence allows bad actors to easily create convincing political propaganda.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “legal warfare by far-right actors” has led to a dire situation.

“We are seeing a potential scenario where all the major improvements in identifying, threat-sharing, and public exposure of foreign malign influence activity targeting U.S. elections have been systematically undermined,” the senator from Virginia said in a statement.

Politico, ‘Go f--k yourself!’ Elon Musk tells fleeing advertisers, Claudia Chiappa, Nov. 30, 2023. ‘Is that clear? I hope it is,’ says X owner as companies pull ads from his platform.

politico CustomElon Musk has a message for advertisers who have left X en masse amid accusations of unchecked antisemitism on the social media platform: "Go fuck yourself."

“If somebody has been trying to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go fuck yourself,” Musk said during an animated interview at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday.

Musk has faced criticism over the spread of disinformation and hate content on X since he bought the company formerly known as Twitter. That culminated in an advertiser exodus in recent weeks, as posts about the Israel-Hamas war spread.

ny times logoNew York Times, Elon Musk’s Warning to Advertisers, and Other DealBook Summit Highlights, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Ravi Mattu, Bernhard Warner, Sarah Kessler, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch and Ephrat Livni, Nov. 30, 2023. Artificial intelligence, antisemitism, the 2024 presidential election, war in the Middle East and other big topics made headlines at this year’s event.

x logo twitterComing into Wednesday’s DealBook Summit, few could predict what Elon Musk — whose SpaceX, Tesla and X are among the most consequential and talked-about companies in the world — would say. And the famously voluble billionaire delivered.

Yes, there was the moment when, using profane language, Musk denounced companies that had suspended advertising on X following his endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory. (He did try to clear the air, saying he hadn’t meant to support bigots. “I’m quite sorry” if he had encouraged them, he said.)

But over a 90-minute conversation, Musk touched on much more, including what drives him, his fears about artificial intelligence and more.

“Don’t advertise.” Musk accused advertisers of trying to “blackmail” him over his remarks. (Bob Iger, Disney’s C.E.O., had said earlier that being associated with X and Musk was “not a positive” for his company.) After directing expletives at those businesses, Musk then cheekily added, “Hi, Bob, if you’re in the audience.” Linda Yaccarino, X’s C.E.O. whom Musk hired to win back advertisers (and who was at the summit), later posted a more conciliatory message.

“Do you want the best car, or do you not want the best car?” Whether people love Musk or hate him, the mogul boasted about the capabilities of Tesla vehicles and SpaceX rockets.

“A philosophy of curiosity.” Pressed on what drives him, Musk turned contemplative, speaking at length about a difficult childhood and how he has grappled with an existential crisis he first felt at age 12. His answer: Ensure humanity reaches the stars and settles other planets, hence his work at SpaceX. “If you’re a single-planet civilization,” he said, “something will happen to that planet, and you will die.”

“I’m quite concerned that there’s some dangerous element of A.I. that they’ve discovered.” Asked about the recent leadership shake-up at OpenAI, which he co-founded before leaving in 2019, Musk said that he was worried about the speed at which it had been pushing innovation. He predicted that the technology could reach the point of problem-solving like the human brain — so-called artificial general intelligence — in less than three years. (Jensen Huang, the C.E.O. of the A.I. chipmaker Nvidia, reckoned that milestone would take at least a decade.)

“I think I would not vote for [President] Biden.” Musk, who has turned politically conservative in recent years, criticized the president for snubbing Tesla in the company’s green-energy initiatives, despite its leadership in electric vehicles. The billionaire also said that liberals tended to embrace censorship now, anathema to the self-described free speech “absolutist.” But when asked if he would then vote for Donald Trump, Biden’s likely Republican opponent, Musk demurred, saying only, “this is definitely a difficult choice.”

  • New York Times, Opinion: How the Biden Administration Took the Pen Away From Meta, Google and Amazon, Nov. 30, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Back at OpenAI, Sam Altman Outlines the Company’s Priorities, Cade Metz and Tripp Mickle, Nov. 30, 2023 (print ed.). OpenAI said on Wednesday that it had completed the first phase of a new governance structure that added Microsoft as a nonvoting board member, as it works to end the divisions that fueled the ouster of Sam Altman as chief executive and sets itself up for a future as a bigger company.

In a blog post, Mr. Altman, who was rapidly reinstated last week, also outlined his priorities for OpenAI as he retakes the reins of the high-profile artificial intelligence start-up. He said the company would resume its work building safe A.I. systems and products that benefited its customers. He added that its board would focus on improving governance and overseeing an independent review of the events that led to and followed his removal as chief executive.

Microsoft expands a three-person board that OpenAI announced last week. The tech giant is one of OpenAI’s biggest investors, having committed $13 billion. Microsoft will be able to participate in OpenAI’s board meetings but not vote on business decisions.

“Part of what good governance means is that there’s more predictability, transparency and input from various stakeholders, and this seemed like a good way to get that from a very important one,” Mr. Altman said in an interview, referring to Microsoft.

Nov. 28

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk meets with Netanyahu in Israel, tours kibbutz attacked by Hamas, Nov. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The SpaceX founder also reached a ‘principle understanding’ with Israel to operate Starlink satellites in Gaza.

elon musk sideviewElon Musk, right, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in Israel, where the pair toured the Kfar Azza kibbutz, one of the Jewish communities attacked by Hamas militants during their Oct. 7 cross-border assault.
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x logo twitterAfter touring the scene of the violence, Musk was shown a video documenting some of the atrocities that took place, according to a conversation between the two men broadcast afterward on X, formerly known as Twitter. Musk said it was jarring to visit the site and troubling to see the joy on the faces of Hamas militants as they killed innocent people.

“It’s one thing obviously if civilians die accidentally, but it’s another thing to revel in the joy of killing civilians. … That’s evil,” Musk said.

Musk also rebuffed arguments that Israel has disproportionately killed civilians in Gaza, saying the actions of Hamas militants were intentional. “There is an important difference here, which is Israel tries to avoid killing civilians,” Musk said.

The trip comes as Musk faces widespread criticism for his decision to loosen content moderation on X, formerly Twitter, after he purchased the platform last year. Since the Hamas attack, antisemitic content has surged more than 900 percent on the platform, The Washington Post reported. Disinformation specialists have accused Musk of playing a uniquely potent role by easing moderation standards and amplifying antisemitic tropes.

Musk has also been condemned by the White House for indicating support for an antisemitic conspiracy theory on X, a move U.S. officials called an “abhorrent promotion of antisemitic and racist hate.” A number of major advertisers have fled the platform after their ads appeared next to pro-Nazi posts.

Musk did not directly address those allegations in his conversation with Netanyahu on Monday, but he said there is a need to “stop the propaganda that is convincing people to engage in murder.” The militants must be “neutralized,” he added.

 alex jones briana sanchez pool

washington post logoWashington Post, Sandy Hook families offer Alex Jones a deal to settle $1.5 billion debt, Timothy Bella, Nov. 28, 2023. The families of victims of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School have offered Infowars founder Alex Jones, shown above in a court appearance, a deal to settle the $1.5 billion debt for only 6 percent of what he owes them for saying the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax, according to a new court filing.

The settlement offer, which was filed in Jones’s personal bankruptcy case in Houston last week, calls for the right-wing conspiracy theorist to pay the families at least $85 million over 10 years. Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families wrote that Jones could either liquidate his estate and give the proceeds to creditors, or pay the families at least $8.5 million a year for 10 years — and 50 percent of any income over $9 million a year — to settle his debt.

While lawyers described the proposal as a viable way to help resolve the bankruptcy cases that Jones faces for himself and his company, Free Speech Systems, the attorneys for the victims slammed the Infowars founder for failing to curb his spending, change his “extravagant lifestyle,” or failing to produce financial documents in court. Jones’s personal spending between May and July of this year was $242,219, including more than $93,000 in July alone, according to previous court filings.

“Jones has failed in every way to serve as the fiduciary mandated by the Bankruptcy Code in exchange for the breathing spell he has enjoyed for almost a year,” lawyers for the Sandy Hook families wrote in the settlement offer filing, which The Post obtained. “His time is up.”

Vickie L. Driver, Jones’s personal bankruptcy attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning. In a Monday court hearing, Driver suggested that even though the settlement offer was only pennies on the dollar compared to the $1.5 billion he owes, the figure was still too high and that it was unrealistic that he would be able to pay it.

“There are no financials that will ever show that Mr. Jones ever made that … in 10 years,” Driver said, according to the Associated Press.

The offer comes more than a year after Sandy Hook families were awarded nearly $1.5 billion in liabilities for Jones’s false theories about the 2012 school shooting. Jones, 49, is appealing the rulings in Connecticut and Texas, arguing that he didn’t get fair trials. The order came after the families testified about years of threats and harassment from Jones’s followers, who accused family members of being “crisis actors” whose children never existed. Twenty children and six adults were killed in the mass shooting.

After Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, filed for bankruptcy in July 2022, Jones did the same last December, marking $969 million in bankruptcy claims that he owed to 17 people in the Sandy Hook cases as “disputed.” Jones claimed his estimated debts to be between $1 billion and $10 billion, and said last year that his debts were primarily business debts and that he owed an estimated 50 to 99 creditors. At the time, he estimated his assets to be worth between $1 million and $10 million.

Within a year of filing for bankruptcy, Jones reported that he paid more than $1.3 million in debts that he owed to people classified as “insiders,” which include any relatives or business partners. Among those listed is Erika Wulff Jones, whom he married in 2017 and with whom he has a child. Alex Jones reported paying his wife more than $680,800 as part of what’s listed as a “premarital agreement.”

Jones is still broadcasting and continues to tell his Infowars audience that he has money problems, urging them to buy his products to support his cause. Jones recently asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez for permission to sell his personal possessions, such as SUVs, boats and 49 firearms, to Infowars fans to help pay “administrative claims and reduce cost to maintain certain personal property, particularly those stored in various storage facilities.

Nov. 27

ny times logoNew York Times, At Meta, Millions of Underage Users Were an ‘Open Secret,’ States Say, Natasha Singer, Nov. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Meta has received more than 1.1 million reports of users under the age of 13 on its Instagram platform since early 2019 yet it “disabled only a fraction” of those accounts, according to a newly unsealed legal complaint against the company brought by the attorneys general of 33 states.

meta logoInstead, the social media giant “routinely continued to collect” children’s personal information, like their locations and email addresses, without parental permission, in violation of a federal children’s privacy law, according to the court filing. Meta could face hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, in civil penalties should the states prove the allegations.

“Within the company, Meta’s actual knowledge that millions of Instagram users are under the age of 13 is an open secret that is routinely documented, rigorously analyzed and confirmed,” the complaint said, “and zealously protected from disclosure to the public.”

The privacy charges are part of a larger federal lawsuit, filed last month by California, Colorado and 31 other states in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit accuses Meta of unfairly ensnaring young people on its Instagram and Facebook platforms while concealing internal studies showing user harms. And it seeks to force Meta to stop using certain features that the states say have harmed young users.

But much of the evidence cited by the states was blacked out by redactions in the initial filing.

Now the unsealed complaint, filed on Wednesday evening, provides new details from the states’ lawsuit. Using snippets from internal emails, employee chats and company presentations, the complaint contends that Instagram for years “coveted and pursued” underage users even as the company “failed” to comply with the children’s privacy law.

The unsealed filing said that Meta “continually failed” to make effective age-checking systems a priority and instead used approaches that enabled users under 13 to lie about their age to set up Instagram accounts. It also accused Meta executives of publicly stating in congressional testimony that the company’s age-checking process was effective and that the company removed underage accounts when it learned of them — even as the executives knew there were millions of underage users on Instagram.

“Tweens want access to Instagram, and they lie about their age to get it now,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in an internal company chat in November 2021, according to the court filing.

In Senate testimony the following month, Mr. Mosseri said: “If a child is under the age of 13, they are not permitted on Instagram.”

In a statement on Saturday, Meta said that it had spent a decade working to make online experiences safe and age-appropriate for teenagers and that the states’ complaint “mischaracterizes our work using selective quotes and cherry-picked documents.”

 

Alabama's State Capitol, shown above

Alabama's State Capitol, shown above

washington post logoWashington Post, In Alabama, another small-town paper hit in ‘open season’ on free press, Paul Farhi, Nov. 27, 2023. It’s an increasingly familiar drama: Local authorities go after journalists and publishers of small papers, which find themselves on the First Amendment’s front lines.

When Don Fletcher checked the mailbox outside his newspaper’s office on Main Street in late September, he found a little gold mine waiting for him.

Folded up inside was a copy of a grand-jury subpoena served on two employees of the local school system. The confidential document indicated that a criminal investigation into potential financial abuse was underway — a solid lead for a veteran reporter like Fletcher.

It took a couple of weeks to confirm, but Fletcher soon broke the news in the weekly Atmore News that officials were probing the Escambia County Board of Education’s handling of federal covid-19 relief funds. What happened next, though, lifted Fletcher’s story far beyond this town nestled amid cotton fields north of the Florida panhandle.

Days later, the local district attorney ordered the arrest of Fletcher and his boss, Sherry Digmon, the News’ publisher and co-owner. He charged both with violating a state law that prohibits the disclosure of grand-jury information — a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

The reporter, 69, and publisher, 72, were taken to the county lockup by police officers they had known for years. As a courtesy, the deputies waited until they were out of public view before placing handcuffs on them.

Don Fletcher, a reporter for the weekly Atmore (Ala.) News, was arrested earlier this fall after reporting on a grand jury subpoena involving federal covid-19 relief funds and the local county board of education. (Paul Farhi/The Washington Post)
Sherry Digmon, publisher and co-owner of the Atmore News was also arrested with reporter Don Fletcher. (Paul Farhi/The Washington Post)

The arrests shocked legal scholars and press advocates, who say it’s a violation of the First Amendment to prosecute a newspaper for reporting the news. More specifically, they argue that District Attorney Stephen M. Billy misapplied Alabama’s secrecy law, which criminalizes leaks by anyone directly involved with a grand jury — jurors, witnesses, court officials — but not news outlets that publish the information.”

Nov. 26

ny times logoNew York Times, X May Lose Up to $75 Million in Revenue as More Advertisers Pull Out, Ryan Mac and Kate Conger, Nov. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Internal documents show companies like Airbnb, Coca-Cola and Microsoft have halted ads, or may do so, after Elon Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

X, the social media company formerly known as Twitter, could lose as much as $75 million in advertising revenue by the end of the year as dozens of major brands pause their marketing campaigns after its owner, Elon Musk, endorsed an antisemitic conspiracy theory this month.

Internal documents viewed by The New York Times this week show that the company is in a more difficult position than previously known and that concerns about Mr. Musk and the platform have spread far beyond companies including IBM, Apple and Disney, which paused their advertising campaigns on X last week. The documents list more than 200 ad units of companies from the likes of Airbnb, Amazon, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, many of which have halted or are considering pausing their ads on the social network.

The documents come from X’s sales team and are meant to track the impact of all the advertising lapses this month, including those by companies that have already paused and others that may be at risk of doing so. They list how much ad revenue X employees fear the company could lose through the end of the year if advertisers do not return.

On Friday, X said in a statement that $11 million in revenue was at risk and that the exact figure fluctuated as some advertisers returned to the platform and others increased spending. The company said the numbers viewed by The Times were either outdated or represented an internal exercise to evaluate total risk.

The advertising freezes come during the final three months of the year, which is traditionally the social media company’s strongest quarter as brands run holiday promotions for events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In the last three months of 2021 — the last year the company reported fourth-quarter earnings before Mr. Musk took over — the company recorded $1.57 billion in revenue, of which nearly 90 percent came from advertising.

Nov. 22

sam altman

ny times logoNew York Times, Sam Altman Is Reinstated as OpenAI’s Chief Executive, Cade Metz, Mike Isaac, Tripp Mickle, Karen Weise and Kevin Roose, Nov. 22, 2023. The move late Tuesday reversed his ouster last week by the artificial intelligence company’s board, which will be overhauled. Sam Altman was reinstated late Tuesday as OpenAI’s chief executive, the company said, successfully reversing his ouster by OpenAI’s board last week after a campaign waged by his allies, employees and investors.

The company’s board of directors will be overhauled, jettisoning several members who had opposed Mr. Altman. Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of Quora, will be the only holdover.

OpenAI had an “agreement in principle” for Mr. Altman to return as chief executive, it said in a post to X. “We are collaborating to figure out the details. Thank you so much for your patience through this.”

The return of Mr. Altman and Greg Brockman, the company’s president who had resigned in solidarity, and the remaking of the board, capped a frenetic five days that upended OpenAI, the maker of the ChatGPT chatbot and one of the world’s highest-profile artificial intelligence companies.

“I love openai, and everything i’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together,” Mr. Altman said in a microsoft logo Custompost to X, adding that he looked forward to reinforcing OpenAI’s partnership with Microsoft, its biggest investor.

Microsoft supported the move. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said on X that he was “encouraged by the changes to OpenAI board,” calling it a “first essential step on a path to more stable, well-informed, and effective governance.”

Mr. D’Angelo was leading the negotiations, according to two people in touch with the board. The general framework for the changes was in place by late Sunday, one of those people said.

Determining the composition of the board slowed down the decision to bring Mr. Altman back, according to that person and one other. OpenAI called the new board its “initial” board, indicating it could expand.

A person close to the board’s deliberations on Tuesday said that Mr. D’Angelo, Tasha McCauley and Helen Toner pressed for certain concessions from Mr. Altman, including an independent investigation into his leadership of OpenAI.

In the end, Ms. Toner and Ms. McCauley agreed to step down from the board because it was clear that it needed a fresh start, this person close to deliberations said. If all of them stepped down, they worried that it would suggest the board erred even though they collectively felt they did the right thing, this person said.

The outgoing board focused on curbing Mr. Altman’s power. In addition to an investigation into his leadership, they blocked his and Mr. Brockman’s return to the board and objected to potential board members who they worried might not stand up to Mr. Altman, said this person close to the board negotiations.

OpenAI’s board surprised Mr. Altman and the company’s employees on Friday afternoon when it told him he was being pushed out. Mr. Brockman, who co-founded the company with Mr. Altman and others, resigned in protest.

The ouster kicked off efforts by Mr. Altman, 38, his allies in the tech industry and OpenAI’s employees to force the company’s board to bring him back. On Sunday evening, after a weekend of negotiations, the board said it was going to stick with its decision.

But in a head-spinning development just hours later, Microsoft said that Mr. Altman, Mr. Brockman and others would be joining the company to start a new advanced artificial intelligence lab.

Most of OpenAI’s more than 700 employees signed a letter telling the board they would walk out and follow Mr. Altman to Microsoft if he wasn’t reinstated, putting the future of the start-up in jeopardy.

Four board members — Ilya Sutskever, an OpenAI founder; Mr. D’Angelo; Ms. Toner, a director of strategy at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology; and Ms. McCauley, an entrepreneur and computer scientist — had initially decided to push Mr. Altman out.

But as the employee revolt grew, Mr. Sutskever had second thoughts: “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions,” he said in a message on X. He also signed the letter. Mr. Sutskever is no longer on the board but remains an OpenAI employee.

“Ilya is thrilled that Sam is back as C.E.O. and he has been working tirelessly for days to make this happen,” said Mr. Sutskever’s lawyer, Alex Weingarten. “It is what is best for the company.”

OpenAI employees had been given this week off for Thanksgiving, but many workers remained in the office or glued to their screens to follow the drama. “Thank god,” one employee said. “We’re so back,” said another.

Thrive Capital, which is leading a new funding offer that will value OpenAI at more than $80 billion, said it would continue to partner with the company “now and in the future.”

Late on Tuesday night, OpenAI employees were celebrating in the company’s office. Mr. Altman phoned a reporter at The New York Times and said: “I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Before Sam Altman was ousted and reinstated to OpenAI, he and the board had been bickering for more than a year, Cade Metz, Tripp Mickle and Mike Isaac, Nov. 22, 2023 (print ed.). Sam Altman confronted a member over a research paper that discussed the company, while directors disagreed for months about who should fill board vacancies.

Before Sam Altman was ousted from OpenAI last week, he and the company’s board of directors had been bickering for more than a year. The tension chat gpt logogot worse as OpenAI became a mainstream name thanks to its popular ChatGPT chatbot.

At one point, Mr. Altman, the chief executive, made a move to push out one of the board’s members because he thought a research paper she had co-written was critical of the company.

Another member, Ilya Sutskever, thought Mr. Altman was not always being honest when talking with the board. And some board members worried that Mr. Altman was too focused on expansion while they wanted to balance that growth with A.I. safety.

The news that he was being pushed out came in a videoconference on Friday afternoon, when Mr. Sutskever, who had worked closely with Mr. Altman at OpenAI for eight years, read him a statement. The decision stunned OpenAI’s employees and exposed board members to tough questions about their qualifications to manage such a high-profile company.

ny times logoNew York Times, Electronic Warfare Is Disrupting Air Travel Far From the Battlefield, Selam Gebrekidan, Nov. 22, 2023 (print ed.). Planes were built to trust GPS signals, but interference in the Middle East and Ukraine has diverted flights and caused inaccurate onboard alerts.

Electronic warfare in the Middle East and Ukraine is affecting air travel far from the battlefields, unnerving pilots and exposing an unintended consequence of a tactic that experts say will become more common.

Planes are losing satellite signals, flights have been diverted and pilots have received false location reports or inaccurate warnings that they were flying close to terrain, according to European Union safety regulators and an internal airline memo viewed by The New York Times. The Federal Aviation Administration has also warned pilots about GPS jamming in the Middle East.

Radio frequency interference — intended to disrupt the satellite signals used by rockets, drones and other weaponry — spiked after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 and has grown even more intense this fall in the Middle East. The interference can involve jamming satellite signals by drowning them out with noise, or spoofing them — mimicking real satellite signals to trick recipients with misleading information.

The radio interference has so far not proven to be dangerous. But aircraft systems have proved largely unable to detect GPS spoofing and correct for it, according to Opsgroup, an organization that monitors changes and risks in the aviation industry. One Embraer jet bound for Dubai nearly veered into Iranian airspace in September before the pilots figured out the plane was chasing a false signal.

Nov. 20

media matters logo

Politico, Musk threatens 'thermonuclear lawsuit' as X ad boycott gathers pace, Jacopo Barigazzi, Nov. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Elon Musk said on Saturday that he will file a "thermonuclear lawsuit" against non-profit watchdog Media Matters and others, as companies including Disney, Apple and IBM reportedly have paused advertising on X amid an antisemitism storm around the social media platform.

politico CustomThe split second court opens on Monday," Musk said in a post on X on Saturday. "X Corp will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and ALL those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company," he said.

elon musk 2015Musk ,right, also posted a statement with the headline "Stand with X to protect free speech" where he said that Media Matters "completely misrepresented the real user experience on X." He also said that "for speech to be truly free, we must also have the freedom to see or hear things that some people may consider objectionable" and added that "we will not allow agenda driven activists, or even our profits, to deter our vision."

x logo twitterMusk, owner of Tesla and Space X, who bought Twitter last year and renamed it X, was already under fire for tolerating and even encouraging antisemitism on the social media platform. The latest episode was this week when Musk endorsed an antisemitic post on X as “the actual truth” of what Jewish people were doing.

The antisemitic post said that "Jewish communties (sic) have been pushing the exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them.” The post also referenced “hordes of minorities” flooding Western countries, a popular antisemitic conspiracy theory.

The White House condemned the post, recalling that the post Musk was responding to referred to a conspiracy theory that motivated the man who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018.

The companies suspending advertising on X include Disney, IBM, Apple, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Comcast, Lionsgate and Warner Bros. Discovery, according to media reports.

In Brussels, the European Commission’s communications department has asked all EU executive services to stop running ads on X over “widespread concerns relating to the spread of disinformation,” according to an internal note seen by POLITICO's Playbook.

Media Matters, a U.S. group that describes itself as "a progressive research and information center" that monitors "media outlets for conservative misinformation," published earlier this week research showing that X has posted ads appearing next to pro-Nazi posts.

X CEO Linda Yaccarino previously said that brands are now “protected from the risk of being next to” potentially toxic content on the platform.

sam altman

ny times logoNew York Times, OpenAI Staff Threaten Exodus Unless Ousted Chief Is Reinstalled, Cade Metz, Tripp Mickle and Mike Isaac, Nov. 20, 2023. The future of OpenAI is in jeopardy after more than 700 of its 770 employees signed a letter on Monday saying they may leave the company for Microsoft if the ousted chief executive, Sam Altman, is not reinstalled at the high-profile artificial intelligence start-up.

OpenAI’s four-person board t shocked the tech industry early Friday afternoon when it removed Mr. Altman, saying they could no longer trust him. One of the board members who pushed out Mr. Altman then reversed course on Monday and signed the letter demanding that he be reinstated.

The decision by the board set off a frantic weekend of unexpected corporate jockeying that ended with Mr. Altman joining Microsoft to start a new A.I. project. By early Monday morning, the 700 employees had signed the letter, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The upheaval leaves the future of one of the fastest-growing companies in Silicon Valley history in doubt. At a time when the industry was reeling in the wake of mass layoffs, OpenAI’s technology fueled the creation of hundreds of start-ups. Now, many of those businesses are concerned about their prospects.

The A.I. start-up was in crisis after more than 700 of its nearly 800 staff members said they might head to Microsoft unless Sam Altman was reinstated.

“This is the debacle of the decade,” said Gaurav Oberoi, the founder of Lexion, a start-up that relies on OpenAI to help companies streamline legal, sales and vendor contracts. “It’s a lesson in how to destroy a huge amount of value overnight and their own reputation.”

OpenAI declined to comment. Emmett Shear, whom the board named as interim chief executive late on Sunday, declined to immediately comment because he was busy on another call.

The letter said that Microsoft had assured OpenAI employees that there were positions for them all if they chose to join its new A.I. subsidiary. Microsoft declined to comment.

In addition to Mr. Altman, several key OpenAI employees have already joined Microsoft’s new A.I. subsidiary. This includes Greg Brockman, the OpenAI president who quit the start-up in solidarity after Mr. Altman was ousted. Early Monday morning in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr. Brockman said that he and Mr. Altman would also be joined at Microsoft by three OpenAI researchers: Jakub Pachocki, Szymon Sidor and Aleksander Madry.

Now, the more than 700 OpenAI employees who signed the letter may also join this core team at Microsoft. In a remarkable reversal, this includes the OpenAI chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, who was part of the board that ousted Mr. Altman. “I never intended to harm OpenAI,” he said on X. “I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.” (Mr. Altman reposted the message and added three red hearts.)

Internally, OpenAI staff members were in upheaval in the hours after the board posted its memo and late into the evening, two OpenAI employees told The New York Times. Workers were privately sharing morbid jokes and memes about the power struggles from the HBO show “Succession,” the employees said. Many used private group messaging chats and video calls to plan their next steps — and to commiserate with one another.

microsoft logo CustomOpenAI stills retain its own partnership with Microsoft. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in an early Monday post to X that his company remained committed to the partnership. He indicated that Microsoft would continue to work with the start-up to sell a wide range of products and services based on GPT-4 and other OpenAI technologies.

But if most OpenAI employees leave for Microsoft, the start-up will have difficulty building the next generation of A.I. technologies — systems that will be more powerful than ChatGPT. Others companies, including Google and Meta, are working on such technologies.

Mr. Oberoi of Lexion said that his company had been using OpenAI’s large language models, or L.L.M.s, to develop new features because its A.I. technologies are more advanced than any others in the market. But in the wake of this weekend’s turmoil, he said that Lexion will be developing parallel features with Anthropic, an OpenAI rival, so that the company “can switch quickly if need be.”

“This underscores a big discussion happening: Are you going to build your technology and platforms and key features on third party L.L.M.s?” Mr. Oberoi said. “As a builder on top of their products, I worry if there will be any other sudden decisions that could impact our models. Also, it’s really expensive.”

sam altman

washington post logoWashington Post, Sam Altman will lead new Microsoft AI team. OpenAI board names interim CEO, Pranshu Verma, Nitasha Tiku and Gerrit De Vynck, Nov. 20, 2023. Talks on Altman’s potential return to OpenAI broke down despite pressure by employees and investors to reinstate him.

Sam Altman, above, the face of the artificial intelligence revolution, will not return as OpenAI chief executive despite talks to negotiate his reinstatement Sunday, two people familiar with the matter said, the latest twist in one of Silicon Valley’s most dramatic boardroom showdowns.
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microsoft logo CustomMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted early Monday that Altman and Greg Brockman, the former president of OpenAI who quit in solidarity with Altman, will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team.

“We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success,” Nadella said in the post. Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI.

Emmett Shear, the co-founder of Twitch, a popular video game streaming platform Amazon acquired in 2014, will become OpenAI’s interim CEO, replacing Mira Murati, who was named to that role Friday in a management reshuffle, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

The latest development came after a chaotic weekend, during which OpenAI investors and employees, blindsided by the board’s move to fire Altman on Friday, mounted a campaign to get him reinstated. In its vague statement explaining the rationale for his ouster, OpenAI said only that Altman wasn’t always “candid” in his communications with the board. The news reverberated through Silicon Valley and the halls of government, where Altman had become a major influencer of policy and regulation on AI.

  • New York Times, These are the winners and losers of OpenAI’s wild weekend, according to our columnist, Nov. 20, 2023.
  • New York Times, What just happened in the world of artificial intelligence? Nov. 20, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, If Your Child Is Addicted to TikTok, This May Be the Cure, Ginia Bellafante, Nov. 19, 2023 (print ed.). Children are suffering under the weight of social media. New York lawmakers believe they have a strategy to halt the damage.

washington post logoWashington Post, Shakira strikes last-minute deal in Spanish tax fraud case, Anne Branigin, Nov. 20, 2023. Shakira, who was charged with failing to pay more than 14.5 million euros in income taxes, will receive a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of more than 7 million euros

On the day her tax evasion trial was set to begin in Barcelona, Shakira announced that she struck a deal with Spanish prosecutors, settling a years-long legal dispute.

Spanish authorities had accused Shakira of failing to pay more than 14.5 million euros — roughly $15.8 million — in income taxes between 2012 and 2014. On Monday, the Colombian singer told the presiding magistrate that she had reached an agreement with prosecutors. According to the Associated Press, Shakira will receive a suspended three-year sentence as part of the deal, as well as pay a fine of 7.3 million euros.

Prosecutors had initially sought an eight-year prison sentence and a fine of 24 million euros.

Shakira, whose legal name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, rejected a deal offered to her by prosecutors in July 2022. The singer continues to maintain her innocence in the matter but said she ultimately chose to settle with Spanish authorities to avoid putting additional stress on her family.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: This Is Why Google Paid Billions for Apple to Change a Single Setting, Zeynep Tufekci, Nov. 20, 2023. A report in The Guardian in August that lawyers who had had business before the Supreme Court gave money to an aide to Justice Clarence Thomas for a Christmas party was surprising. Just as surprising was the way the publication learned about it: from the aide’s public Venmo records. Brian X. Chen, the consumer technology writer for The Times, wrote that even he was surprised that such records of money transfers could be public.

google logo customA few years ago it became known that Alexa, Amazon’s voice device, recorded and sent private conversations to third parties, that Amazon staff members listened to recordings and kept an extensive archive of recordings by default.

Both companies responded to these startling violations of privacy by suggesting that the burden to keep this information from going public was on users, who could, they said, opt out of devices’ default settings to ensure privacy. This is often the standard industry response.

Even if you’re aware of these problems, how easy is it to protect your privacy? Chen helpfully shared instructions for opting out of Venmo’s public disclosures.

“Inside the app, click on the Me tab, tap the settings icon and select Privacy. Under default privacy settings, select Private,” he explained. “Then, under the ‘More’ section in Privacy, click ‘Past Transactions’ and make sure to set that to ‘Change All to Private.’”

Got all that? I did, and changed my settings, too, as I had also been in the dark.

The bigger problem is not the sometimes ridiculous difficulty of opting out, it’s that consumers often aren’t even aware of what their settings allow, or what it all means. If they were truly informed and actively choosing among the available options, the default setting would matter little, and be of little to no value.

But companies expect users to accept what they’re given, not know their options or not have the constant vigilance required to keep track of the available options, however limited they may be. Since the power in the industry is concentrated among few gatekeepers, and the technology is opaque and its consequences hard to foresee, default settings are some of the most important ways for companies to keep collecting and using data as they want.

So, how much are default settings worth?

In April 2021, Apple changed the default settings on iPhones and other devices so that users could not be tracked automatically via a unique identifier assigned to their Apple device. For many companies, and even for entire industries whose business models are based on tracking people online, it was a cataclysmic event. No longer would people have to opt out of such tracking by going into their settings and changing the permissions. Now the apps had to ask for and receive explicit permission before they could have access to that identifier.

In 2021, Snap, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were estimated to have lost about $10 billion in total because of the change. In early 2022, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it alone stood to lose $10 billion. Industries like mobile gaming, in which revenue largely depends on tracking users, also suffered.

Another valuation of default settings became clear in the current Google antitrust trial. During the trial, Google revealed that it paid $26.3 billion in 2021 to be the default search engine on various platforms, with a substantial portion of the money going to Apple. That $26.3 billion was more than a third of the entire 2021 profit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. That was more than the 2021 revenue of United Airlines and even of many tech companies, including Uber. An expert witness for Google testified that as part of that deal, the company was paying Apple 36 percent of its search advertising revenue to be its products’ default search engine.

Even when you might think you know what your default settings are, you can be surprised. On more than one occasion I discovered that my privacy settings had changed from what I thought they were. Help forums are full of similarly befuddled users. Sometimes it’s a bug. Other times, when I dug into it, I realized that another change I had made had surreptitiously switched me back into tracking. Sometimes I learned that there was yet another setting somewhere else that also needed to be changed.

I’m not a tech novice: I started programming in middle school, worked as a developer and study these systems academically. If professionals can be tripped up, I’d argue that an industry rife with information asymmetries and powerful, complicated technologies needs to be reined in.

Regulators can require companies to have defaults that favor privacy and autonomy, and make it easy to remain in control of them. There are already good efforts underway. California allows people to make a single opt-out or delete request to get all data brokers to delete all their information, rather than having to appeal to them one by one. Colorado also recently passed similar universal one-stop opt-out mechanisms. Other states have made similar privacy protection moves.

I would go further: Data brokers should not be allowed to amass information about people unless they first get explicit permission. But that’s not sufficient, since it is difficult for individuals to evaluate all the implications of their data — professionals, experts and the companies themselves keep getting surprised.

El Heraldo de Juárez via Knight Center LAtAm Journalism Review, Journalist Killed In Mexico, Staff Report, Nov. 20, 2023 (Read original article in Spanish). "The Attorney General of the State [of Chihuahua, Mexico], César Jáuregui, said that no motive can be ruled out in the [Nov. 16] murder of El Heraldo de Juárez photojournalist Ismael Villagómez.

'We've already resolved the case in the first instance. We are not going to rule out any line of investigation. What is clear and has been determined is who the perpetrator of the homicide is,' he said [...].

[...] One of the individuals [allegedly involved in the crime] is not only charged, but was given one year of preventive detention […].

Jáuregui was clear in pointing out that it is very important [to determine] if the motive was related to Villagómez's activity as a journalist, and not only as a car driver in the evenings [...]."

Politico, Commentary: The Implosion of Nikki Haley’s Social Media Crusade, Jack Shafer, Nov. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Her call to ban anonymous posting is foolish, impractical and downright unpatriotic.

politico CustomPresidential candidate Nikki Haley did free speech a great service this week by making a nutty call for social media to be bleached clean of anonymity.

nikki haley o“Every person on social media should be verified, by their name. That’s, first of all, it’s a national security threat,” Haley, right, said Tuesday on Fox News, because it can spread misinformation. Banning anonymous accounts would get “rid of the Russian bots, the Iranian bots and the Chinese bots,” she continued. On the Ruthless podcast that day, Haley reiterated her pitch: “They need to verify every single person on their outlet, and I want it by name.”

Haley earned immediate broadsides from two of her Republican opponents. Vivek Ramaswamy waved the free speech flag as he denounced her proposal as censorship. Ron DeSantis reminded her that the Federalist Papers were written anonymously. Journalists and activists unloaded with more of the same, including Glenn Greenwald, Charlie Kirk and Dana Loesch.

By Wednesday, Haley had softened her harsh proposal, saying, “I don’t mind anonymous American people having free speech; what I don’t like is anonymous Russians and Chinese and Iranians having free speech.”

Haley’s proposal crumpled under the most gentle scrutiny. In order to prove that you’re an American worthy of anonymous speech under her regime, wouldn’t you have to … identify yourself, thereby losing your anonymity? And that’s for starters. Would such a government-mandated scheme be legal? Probably not. Is the plague of anonymous misinformation somehow unique to the internet, requiring special rules for it? No. How practical would it be to identify every social media account by name? Not very. And if we said to hell with practicality and deployed the Haley plan, what would we lose?

Haley’s education must have forgone not only law but history. The right to anonymous speech goes back to the founding of our country when anonymous pamphleteers made their case for independence. Although not an absolute right, anonymity is bound tightly to the freedom of the press and has proven invaluable to the citizenry, especially the disenfranchised. Haley’s scheme would easily violate certain legal rights to privacy established by the courts (although it should be said that nothing bars private social media outlets, acting on their own, from instituting policies that require users to accurately identify themselves).

Setting aside all that, how would it work? Haley’s demand that social media companies verify usernames poses several questions. Would this be on the honor system? If so, then it would be useless as it would be easy to give a fake name or, as bars can already tell you, a fake ID. Would it be linked to driver’s licenses or passports? If so, you’d have to verify 1) that the driver’s license or passport is valid but also 2) that it was submitted by its owner. That would prove costly and time-consuming for both users and social media outlets and maybe even bankrupt them. If the site survived, would they turn their backs on international users, who might be too expensive to verify? Does Haley expect social media sites to use facial ID or other biometric data, like fingerprints, which pose monumental privacy problems?

Nov. 19

 

elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, More Advertisers Halt Spending on X in Growing Backlash Against Musk, Kate Conger and Tiffany Hsu, Nov. 19, 2023 (print ed.).  Warner Bros. and Sony have joined other companies in pausing spending on X, formerly Twitter, over Elon Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic post.

More major advertisers have paused their spending on X, the social media service formerly known as Twitter, as the backlash continued over Elon Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory on X.

x logo twitterThe entertainment company Warner Bros. and Sony have joined other prominent brands in halting their spending on X. IBM cut off its advertising on X on Thursday, while Apple, Lionsgate, the entertainment and film distribution company, and Paramount Global, the media giant that owns CBS, all paused their ads on Friday.

The spending freeze comes as X has fought to win back advertisers who were wary of spending on the platform after Mr. Musk took it over a year ago and said he would loosen content moderation rules. Major brands tend to be cautious about placing their ads next to posts with offensive or hateful speech.

twitter bird CustomMr. Musk, who bought Twitter in October 2022 and renamed it X, drew scrutiny this week after replying to a post on X that accused Jewish people who are facing antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war of pushing the “exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them” and supporting the immigration of “hordes of minorities.”

“You have said the actual truth,” Mr. Musk replied. Jewish groups said that Mr. Musk’s message boosted a conspiracy theory known as replacement theory, which claims that Jews have organized nonwhite immigrants to replace the white race. The concept was embraced by Robert Bowers, who killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

Mr. Musk’s statement drew condemnation from the White House on Friday. Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in a statement that it was “unacceptable to repeat the hideous lie behind the most fatal act of antisemitism in American history at any time, let alone one month after the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Mr. Musk lashed out at advertisers who had pulled their dollars from X on Friday, and threatened legal action against Media Matters, a left-wing advocacy organization that said it found antisemitic content on X and highlighted advertisements for Apple, IBM and other brands that appeared alongside posts touting Hitler and the Nazi Party.

In a post on Friday night, Mr. Musk said, “The split second court opens on Monday, X Corp will be filing a thermonuclear lawsuit against Media Matters and ALL those who colluded in this fraudulent attack on our company.”

X said that the research strategy used by Media Matters to discover the advertisements that ran along antisemitic content was not representative of how regular people use its platform. The organization followed accounts that posted the content, then refreshed the X timeline until ads appeared, X said in a blog post. Only one of the nine posts highlighted by Media Matters violated its content moderation rules, X added.

In a statement, Joe Benarroch, the head of business operations at X, said, “50 impressions served against the content in the article, out of 5.5 billion served the whole day, points to the fact of how efficiently our model avoids content for advertisers.” He added, “Data wins over allegations.”

Media Matters said that it would defend itself from litigation by X. “Far from the free speech advocate he claims to be, Musk is a bully threatening a meritless lawsuit in an attempt to silence reporting that he even confirmed is accurate,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters. “Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. This is like getting mad at a mirror because you don’t like the reflection. If he does sue us, we will win.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Antisemitism was rising online. Then Elon Musk’s X supercharged it, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Taylor Lorenz, Naomi Nix and Joseph Menn, Nov. 19, 2023. After neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, white supremacists were confined mostly to fringe websites. Musk’s purchase of Twitter changed that. In the weeks following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Twitter user @breakingbaht criticized leftists, academics and “minorities” for defending the militant group. But it wasn’t until the user spoke up on behalf of antisemites that he struck a viral chord with X owner Elon Musk.

The user blamed Jewish communities for bringing antisemitism upon themselves by supporting immigration to the United States, welcoming “hordes of minorities” who don’t like Jews and promoting “hatred against whites.”

“You have said the actual truth,” Musk responded. Soon, @breakingbaht had gained several thousand new followers — and the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews are causing the replacement of White people was ricocheting across the internet once again.

Antisemitism has long festered online, but the Israel-Gaza war and the loosening of content moderation on X have propelled it to unprecedented levels, coinciding with a dramatic rise in real-world attacks on Jews, according to several monitoring organizations.

Since Oct. 7, antisemitic content has surged more than 900 percent on X and there have been more than 1,000 incidents of real-world antisemitic attacks, vandalism and harassment in America, according to the Anti-Defamation League — the highest number since the human rights group started counting. (That includes about 200 rallies the group deemed to be at least implicitly supporting Hamas.)

Factors that predate the Gaza war laid the groundwork for the heightened antisemitic atmosphere, say experts and advocates: the feeling of empowerment some neo-Nazis felt during the Trump presidency, the decline of enforcement on tech platforms in the face of layoffs and Republican criticism, even the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2021, which gave rise to harsh criticism of Israel’s actions and sustained antisemitism online.

But Musk plays a uniquely potent role in the drama, disinformation specialists say. His comments amplifying antisemitic tropes to his 163.5 million followers, his dramatic loosening of standards for what can be posted, and his boosting of voices that previously had been banned from the platform formerly known as Twitter all have made antisemitism more acceptable on what is still one of the world’s most influential social media platforms.

Musk’s endorsement of comments alluding to the great replacement theory — a conspiracy theory espoused by neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville in 2017 and the gunmen who killed people inside synagogues in Pittsburgh in 2018 and Poway, Calif., in 2019 — brought condemnation from the White House and advertising cancellations from IBM, Apple, Comcast, and Disney, among others.

Late Friday, Musk was unrepentant: “Many of the largest advertisers are the greatest oppressors of your right to free speech,” he tweeted after word of the cancellations spread. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Joan Donovan, a former research director at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center who now teaches at Boston University, included Musk in what she described as “a strata of influencers … who feel very comfortable condemning Jewish people as a political critique.”

“In moments where there is a lot of concern, these right-wing influencers do go mask-off and say what they really feel,” she said.

The Israel-Gaza war also has given new life to prominent Holocaust deniers who have proclaimed on X, Telegram and other platforms that the Hamas attacks that left hundreds of Israelis dead were “false flags.” The #Hitlerwasright hashtag, which surged during the 2021 war, has returned, with Memetica, a digital investigations firm, tallying 46,000 uses of the phrase on X since Oct. 7. Previously, the hashtag appeared fewer than 5,000 times per month.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit focused on online extremism and disinformation, identified 200 posts that promoted antisemitism and other forms of hate speech amid the conflict. X allowed 196 of them to remain on the platform, the group said in a report.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Fear and Tension That Led to Sam Altman’s Ouster at OpenAI, Cade Metz, Nov. 19, 2023 (print ed.). The departure of the high-profile boss of the San Francisco company drew attention to a philosophical rift among the people building new A.I. systems.

Over the last year, Sam Altman led OpenAI to the adult table of the technology industry. Thanks to its hugely popular ChatGPT chatbot, the San Francisco start-up was at the center of an artificial intelligence boom, and Mr. Altman, OpenAI’s chief executive, had become one of the most recognizable people in tech.

But that success raised tensions inside the company. Ilya Sutskever, a respected A.I. researcher who co-founded OpenAI with Mr. Altman and nine other people, was increasingly worried that OpenAI’s technology could be dangerous and that Mr. Altman was not paying enough attention to that risk, according to three people familiar with his thinking. Mr. Sutskever, a member of the company’s board of directors, also objected to what he saw as his diminished role inside the company, according to two of the people.

That conflict between fast growth and A.I. safety came into focus on Friday afternoon, when Mr. Altman was pushed out of his job by four of OpenAI’s six board members, led by Mr. Sutskever. The move shocked OpenAI employees and the rest of the tech industry, including Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in the company. Some industry insiders were saying the split was as significant as when Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985.

But on Saturday, in a head-spinning turn, Mr. Altman was said to be in discussions with OpenAI’s board about returning to the company.

Politico, Washington Post backed down from earlier story on Hamas hostage deal, Kelly Garrity, Nov. 19, 2023. Without issuing a correction, the publication stepped back from its claim Saturday evening that Israel and Hamas had reached a tentative deal.

politico CustomThe Washington Post backed away from its claim Saturday evening that Israel and Hamas had reached a tentative deal that would free at least 50 hostages in exchange for a five day pause in fighting on both sides, after a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson tempered the claim online.

In an alert around 8:30 p.m. Saturday evening, the Post reported that Israel and Hamas had reached a “tentative U.S.-brokered deal” that would pause the deadly conflict in Gaza and allow some women and child hostages to be free. At 9:27 p.m., National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson reposted the story on X, formerly Twitter, with her own clarification:

“We have not reached a deal yet, but we continue to work hard to get to a deal,” Watson wrote.

Nov. 18

 

univision logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Latino backlash grows over Donald Trump’s friendly Univision interview, Michael Scherer, Nov. 18, 2023 (print ed.). Members of Congress plan to ask for a meeting with a company executive as one of Univision’s founders, as well as actor and comedian John Leguizamo and Latino rights advocacy groups speak out.

The nation’s largest Spanish-language media company, Univision, faced growing backlash Friday for its handling of a recent interview with former president Donald Trump, as major Latino advocacy groups delivered a letter of protest to the network’s executives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus prepared to request a meeting with the network.

Actor and comedian John Leguizamo, who recently took a turn as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” also posted a video on Instagram on Thursday night calling for a boycott of the network until it stopped its rejection of Biden ads, some of which were canceled just before the Trump interview aired.

“I am asking all my brothers and sisters who are actors, artists, politicians, activists to not go on Univision,” he said in a message in English and Spanish.

The pushback comes after a Nov. 7 interview with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida that was arranged with the help of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and attended by a trio of senior executives at Univision’s parent company. The interview was notable for its gracious tone, lack of follow-up questions and Trump’s assertion in the first minutes about owners of the network.

“They like me,” Trump said.

It’s a sharp contrast to the long history of tension between Trump and Univision — a fact that alarmed both Democrats and journalists inside Univision.

The network, which has said it has also requested an interview with President Biden, announced a new policy of preventing opposition advertising during single-candidate interviews shortly before the Trump interview aired. The network also canceled a booking with a Biden spokeswoman to respond to the interview on a subsequent news broadcast.

A top anchor at Univision in Miami, León Krauze, who helmed the late-night newscast, announced he had abruptly separated from the network Wednesday, less than a week after the interview aired. Neither Krauze nor the network offered a reason for the separation in their statements about the split.

Joaquin Blaya, a former president of Univision who created its signature news show in the late 1980s, told The Washington Post in an interview this week that he worried the network had moved away from its founding mission.

“I am not surprised that someone who is a serious journalist like León Krauze would not be the kind of journalist that they want there,” Blaya said. “They are different times. It is not good what is happening there.”

Blaya — who hired the network’s most famous anchor, Jorge Ramos — later ran Telemundo, the other major Spanish-language network in the United States. He said the Trump interview this month was a step back for Univision towards a journalistic approach he associated with some major broadcasters in Mexico. The Mexican media company Grupo Televisa, which has long had a close relationship with political power brokers in that country, recently merged with the owners of Univision to take joint control of the company.

“This was Mexican-style news coverage, a repudiation of the concept of separation of business and news,” Blaya said of the Trump interview. “What I saw there was batting practice, someone dropping balls for him to hit out of the park. I think it was an embarrassment.”

Wade Davis, one of the TelevisaUnivision executives who attended the Mar-a-Lago meeting, sent a note to U.S. staff this week addressing the controversy caused by the Trump interview.

“Our goal is to cover candidates from all political parties — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — and to assure Hispanics of the most comprehensive access to information that will help them make educated decisions at the ballot box,” Davis wrote. “Our mission is to make Latinos a vital part of our electoral process by encouraging them to register and exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

More than 70 groups — including major Latino rights organizations UnidosUS Action, America’s Voice and MALDEF — sent a letter Friday night to Davis and two other TelevisaUnivision executives who attended the meeting with Trump that described the interview as “a betrayal of trust.”

“We demand Univision conduct a thorough internal review, take corrective measures, and reaffirm its commitment to unbiased reporting and to keeping the Latino community informed and up-to-date with facts and truth,” the letter reads. “Unfiltered, unaddressed and unrestricted disinformation does a disservice to all communities in the U.S. and will destroy Univision’s reputation as a credible network that informs an important electorate.”

The Hispanic Federation, a network of Latino groups, has also separately requested a meeting with Univision executives to discuss their concerns about the Trump interview, according to a spokesperson for the group.

The all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also drafted a letter, which is likely to be sent to Univision in the coming days, asking Davis to meet with members of Congress about the journalistic standards of the network, according to a congressional staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the effort. The draft letter, which was shared with The Post, describes a congressional interest in addressing misinformation and disinformation in the Latino community.

Isaac Lee — the chief news officer at Univision during the 2016 campaign when the network clashed with Trump — said he had confidence that the journalists at Univision in Miami would cover the coming presidential race properly. The Trump interview had been conducted by a Mexico City-based anchor for Televisa, Enrique Acevedo, who previously worked in the United States for Univision.

“I don’t think that one interview with Enrique can determine how the campaign is going to be covered and how Latinos are going to get their information,” Lee said. “And from the people I know at Univision News, and I know all of them, I trust that their heart and their mind is in the right place.”

Nov. 17

ny times logoNew York Times, Europe: Top German Journalist Received €600,000 From Putin Ally, Leak Reveals, Graham Bowley, Nov. 17, 2023 (print ed.). The revelation that the broadcaster Hubert Seipel accepted payments from an oligarch is stirring worries in Germany that Russia is using an old playbook to promote its interests.

german flagAfter Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Germany went through a period of uncomfortable soul-searching about the close ties that some of its political and business leaders had to Moscow.

That self-examination spilled into the country’s journalistic establishment this week after published reports revealed that an award-winning television broadcaster and author who has extensively covered Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, had received hundreds of thousands of euros in undisclosed payments from businesses linked to a billionaire ally of Mr. Putin.

The reports, by a consortium of publishing outlets including Germany’s Der Spiegel and The Guardian of Britain, were based on what the consortium said was a leaked cache of offshore financial records. They said that the broadcaster, Hubert Seipel, had been paid about 600,000 euros (about $651,000) in installments from accounts connected to Alexei A. Mordashov, a prominent Russian businessman, who was placed under sanctions by the United States last year as a way to punish Mr. Putin for his war in Ukraine. The payments were to support Mr. Seipel’s books about Mr. Putin, the reports said.

The news that a prominent journalist in Germany has been linked to large payments from someone in Russia who is seen as a proxy of that country’s government has stirred worries in Germany that Russia has continued to use an old playbook of building relationships with high-profile pundits and thought leaders to subtly and covertly promote its interests — this time deep inside the journalistic establishment.

Nov. 9

ny times logoNew York Times, Striking Actors and Hollywood Studios Agree to Deal, Brooks Barnes, John Koblin and Nicole Sperling, Nov. 9, 2023 (print ed.). . The agreement all but ends one of the longest labor crises in the history of the entertainment industry. Union members still have to approve the deal

One of the longest labor crises in Hollywood history is finally coming to an end.

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing tens of thousands of actors, reached a tentative deal for a new contract with entertainment companies on Wednesday, clearing the way for the $134 billion American movie and television business to swing back into motion.

Hollywood’s assembly lines have been at a near-standstill since May because of a pair of strikes by writers and actors, resulting in financial pain for studios and for many of the two million Americans — makeup artists, set builders, location scouts, chauffeurs, casting directors — who work in jobs directly or indirectly related to making TV shows and films.

Upset about streaming-service pay and fearful of fast-developing artificial intelligence technology, actors joined screenwriters on picket lines in July. The writers had walked out in May over similar concerns. It was the first time since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the head of the actors’ union and Marilyn Monroe was still starring in films, that actors and writers were both on strike.

The Writers Guild of America, which represents 11,500 screenwriters, reached a tentative agreement with studios on Sept. 24 and ended its 148-day strike on Sept. 27. In the coming days, SAG-AFTRA members will vote on whether to accept their union’s deal, which includes hefty gains, like increases in compensation for streaming shows and films, better health care funding, concessions from studios on self-taped auditions, and guarantees that studios will not use artificial intelligence to create digital replicas of their likenesses without payment or approval.

ny times logoNew York Times, The New York Times Passes 10 Million Subscribers, Katie Robertson, Nov. 9, 2023 (print ed.). The company reported an adjusted operating profit of $89.8 million in its latest quarter, up from $69 million a year earlier.

The New York Times now has more than 10 million subscribers, the company said on Wednesday, edging closer to its goal of 15 million by the end of 2027.

In its third-quarter report, The New York Times Company said it had added 210,000 net digital-only subscribers in the three months through September, giving it 9.41 million along with 670,000 print subscribers.

The Times Company has focused on getting subscribers to sign up for more than one of its offerings, which include the core news report, Cooking, Games, the Wirecutter review site and the sports news site The Athletic. Nearly 3.8 million of the 9.41 million digital-only subscribers are subscribed to at least two products, the company said.

Meredith Kopit Levien, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that the third-quarter results showed that The Times’s “multiproduct bundle” was performing well and would “further us down the path to building a larger, more profitable company.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Nov. 8 

 

 

alsu kurmasheva

Alsu Kurmasheva Radio Free Europe editor Alsu Kurmasheva has been detained since June in Russia (Pangea Graphics photo).

National Press Club, Press Club leaders urge Biden administration to act immediately on Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention, Staff Report, Nov.  8, 2023. national  press club logoFollowing is a statement from Eileen O’Reilly, president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, on Russia’s detention of Russian American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva.

“We urge the U.S. government to immediately designate Alsu Kurmasheva’s imprisonment as an unlawful and wrongful detention. The Biden administration is taking too long to make this important designation.

“Alsu is the latest journalist to be jailed in Russia simply for doing her job. Journalism is not a crime. Secretary Antony Blinken and officials at the State Department should act swiftly to ensure Alsu is freed from her unjust detention.

Russian Flag“Alsu has been locked away for multiple weeks and the Biden administration shouldn’t wait another minute to make this critical designation, which will open up resources to support her release. It’s time for Alsu to come home to her husband and two children.

“Time is of the essence. Last week, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan upheld Alsu’s pre-trial detention until December 5th and another court is set to decide later this month whether to extend her time behind bars.

“Alsu is a Radio Free Europe editor who works in the Czech Republic and is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Russia. She visited Russia on a family emergency in May and was detained upon exit in June. She has been charged in Russia for failing to register as a 'foreign agent,' a charge that could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.

“Alsu is the second U.S. citizen to be held by Russia since the cold war – joining Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal who was taken more than six months ago and is being held in a jail in Moscow.”

ap logoAssociated Press, Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sued by book publisher for breach of contract, Hillel Italie, Nov. 8, 2023. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is being sued by his publisher for contradicting his book’s claim about the the 2020 election.

mark meadows book chief chiefAll Seasons Press alleges that sworn testimony by Meadows undermined The Chief’s Chief, shown at right, in which he wrote that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

In a breach of contract lawsuit filed Friday in Florida, All Seasons cited media reports from last month alleging that Meadows knew Trump had lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

“Meadows’ reported statements to the Special Prosecutor and/or his staff and his reported grand jury testimony squarely contradict the statements” in “The Chief’s Chief,” according to the lawsuit, filed in Sarasota, Florida. A central theme of Meadows’ book is that “President Trump was the true winner of the 2020 Presidential Election and that election was ‘stolen’ and ‘rigged’ with the help from ‘allies in the liberal media,’” the court papers read in part.

All Seasons is alleging that Meadows damaged sales and the publisher’s reputation. All Seasons, a conservative press founded in 2021, is seeking the return of Meadows’ $350,000 advance and damages of more than $1 million.

“The Chief’s Chief” has sold around 23,000 copies, according to Circana, which tracks around 85% of the print market. Most of those sales came in 2021, when the book came out. All Seasons says it sold approximately 60,000 copies out of a printing of 200,000.

Special counsel Jack Smith has been investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, siege of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters trying to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory. Last month, ABC News reported that Meadows had been granted immunity by Smith and had testified that voter fraud allegations were baseless and that he knew Trump hadn’t won.

“If such media reports are accurate, Meadows testified under oath that his book contains known falsehoods,” All Seasons alleged in its breach of contract suit.

The All Seasons case is unusual both because it’s based on media reports, not direct knowledge of Meadows’ testimony, and because it’s based on alleged factual errors. Publishers rarely fact check manuscripts, relying instead on the authors to verify what they’ve written, and are far more likely to object to a book because of plagiarism or the author’s personal conduct.

Meadows has pleaded not guilty to charges in Georgia for trying to overturn the state’s election results in 2020. In September, a judge denied his request to have the case moved to federal court.

messenger logo squareThe Messenger, Disney Will Cut $2 Billion From Costs in 2024, Focus on Growing Disney+ and Hulu, William Gavin, Nov. 8, 2023. Disney will begin testing a combined Disney+ and Hulu service next month.

messenger logo squareThe Messenger, A Newscaster Killed Herself After Her Fiancé Called Off Their Wedding. He Married Months Later. Now He’s Getting Divorced, Elizabeth Urban, Updated Nov. 8, 2023. Neena Pacholke, a co-anchor of Wake Up Wisconsin, shot herself in the head after Kyle Haase cancelled their destination wedding and told her to move out.

Wisconsin newscaster fatally shot herself last year after her wedding was called off, and since then her fiancé has gotten engaged and married, and is now filing for divorce from his 23-year-old wife.

Neena Pacholke, a 27-year-old news anchor at WAOW, committed suicide in August 2022 after her then-fiancé Kyle Haase, 39, called off their wedding just seven weeks before it was set to take place. Friends and Haase himself had called 911 to perform a welfare check on Pacholke, but by the time police arrived, she had taken her own life.

Just months later, Haase reportedly met Ashley Groshek, who was 22 at the time, at a local bar and began dating. But a friend of Pacholke told the Daily Mail that Groshek was actually a former lover that Pacholke had suspected her fiancé had been cheating on her with.

Haase and Groshek ended up getting engaged in June of this year and had their wedding in September. But less than six weeks later, the couple reportedly jointly filed for divorce Oct. 18.

Nov. 6

washington post office post photo

washington post logoWashington Post, Post’s new CEO William Lewis has faced big stories and corporate drama, Elahe Izadi and Karla Adam, Nov. 6, 2023. He rose up through British newspapers and Rupert Murdoch’s empire. Now Jeff Bezos has turned to Lewis, 54, to put The Washington Post back on firm financial footing.

 (shown in a Washington Post photo by Elliott O'Donovan

Within a handful of days, William Lewis (shown above in a Washington Post photo) was both knighted by British royalty and hired by one of the richest men in the world as CEO and publisher of The Washington Post.

One role, ceremonial with few responsibilities or expectations. The other, quite the opposite.

In an interview Sunday, the London-born veteran media executive acknowledged the challenges of the job ahead — a softening ad market, a shrinking and distracted audience, a staff coping with anticipated cuts — while professing optimism about the institution he’s joining.

“We’re going to expand. We’re going to get our swagger back,” Lewis said, echoing a word that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has used about the news organization he bought a decade ago. “I know that right now is not our greatest time, but we’re going to grow again. And we’re going to get that confidence back and that swagger back. I can tell you that with absolute confidence.”

A former reporter, Lewis, 54, has had firsthand involvement in some of the biggest stories for the British press over the past quarter century: As a young business writer for the Financial Times — and “a journalist’s journalist,” in the words of one colleague — he broke the news of Exxon’s merger with Mobil in 1999. A decade later, he steered the Telegraph’s investigative reporting into lawmakers’ misuse of public funds for personal expenses.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Are you sitting down?’ The windfall that transformed NPR 20 years ago, Paul Farhi, Nov. 6, 2023. Was Joan B. Kroc a public radio fan? It’s unclear. But the heiress of the McDonald’s fortune knew how she wanted to spend her millions.

On a fall day 20 years ago, Kevin Klose got a phone call from a man named Dick Starmann. Klose, then president of NPR, knew Starmann as a top adviser to the widow of Ray Kroc, the man who built McDonald’s into a global fast-food juggernaut. But he had no idea what was afoot.

“Are you sitting down?” Starmann asked Klose.

joan kroc ap bill cramer 1987Joan B. Kroc (shown at right in a 1987 AP photo by Bill Cramer), who inherited her husband’s fortune after his death in 1984, had died three weeks earlier, and Starmann was wrapping up her affairs as co-executor of her will. Klose had met her several times and had told colleagues that she might make a contribution to NPR — perhaps even as much as $50,000.

“You got a pencil and paper in front of you?’” Starmann continued. “Start writing down these numbers.”

He started counting out loud by the millions, beginning around $200 million. When Starmann dramatically landed on the total amount, Klose was “flabbergasted,” he recalled last month. Kroc had left NPR $222 million.

In a stroke, the late philanthropist transformed the fortunes of NPR, a nonprofit that had struggled since its founding to keep its transmitters humming. The contribution — which ultimately hit more than $230 million once the final amount was transferred several months later — was by far the largest in public broadcasting history and, at the time, the largest monetary gift to any American cultural institution. It was more than twice NPR’s annual operating budget that year.

All at once, an organization that had nearly gone bankrupt in the early 1980s had something it had never known: breathing room.

washington post logoWashington Post, Philippine radio host fatally shot while live-streaming show, police say, Praveena Somasundaram, Nov. 6, 2023. Juan Jumalon had just finished speaking into a silver microphone as he live-streamed his Sunday morning broadcast for a Philippine radio station. As a song began to play, Jumalon — known as DJ Johnny Walker — was fatally shot while viewers watched the program live on Facebook, Philippine officials said.

Jumalon, a 57-year-old anchor for 94.7 Calamba Gold FM, was shot twice while on air from his home studio in the southern province of Misamis Occidental, police said.

The gunman stole a gold necklace from Jumalon before fleeing, a government office focused on media security said in a statement to The Washington Post. Video of the attack shows Jumalon sinking back in his chair after two gunshots are fired while music plays. The apparent attacker, whose face is not visible in the video, is also seen taking Jumalon’s necklace.

The shooting happened about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Misamis Occidental police said in a Facebook post. Authorities asked for the public’s help in the investigation as the search for the attacker continues.

On Monday morning, police released a sketch of a suspect, a man they say is over the age of 40 and was wearing a red cap with a green shirt and black short pants. The attacker fled on a motorcycle driven by someone waiting outside the home, the Associated Press reported, citing local police.

Nov. 4

 

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Washington Chronicle, Commentary: How AI Challenges Journalism as Never Before, Llewellyn King, above, Nov. 4, 2023. This article is based on remarks the author made to the Association of European Journalists annual congress in Vlore, Albania, last week.

I am a journalist. That means, as it was once explained to me by Dan Raviv of CBS News, I try to find out what is going on and tell people. I know no better description than that of the work.

To my mind, there are two kinds of news stories: day-to-day stories and those that stay with us for a long time.

My long-term story has been energy. I started covering it in 1970, and, all these years later, it is still the big story.

Now, that story for me has been joined by another story of huge consequence to all of us, as energy has been since the 1970s. That story is artificial intelligence.

Leon Trotsky is believed to have said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” I say, “You may not be interested in AI, but AI is interested in you.”

Just as the Arab oil embargo of October 1973 upended everything, AI is set to upend everything going forward.

The first impact on journalism will be to truth. With pervasive disinformation, largely emanating from Russia, establishing the veracity of what we read — documents we review, emails we receive — will be harder. The provenance of information will become more difficult to establish.

Then, it is likely that there will be structural changes to our craft. Much of the more routine work will be done by AI — things like recording sports results and sifting through legal documents. And, if we aren’t careful, AI will be writing stories.

One of the many professors I have interviewed while reporting the AI story is Stuart Russell at the University of California, Berkeley, who said the first impact will be on “language in and language out.” That means journalism and writing in general, law and lawyering, and education. The written word is vulnerable to being annexed by AI.

The biggest impact on society is going to be on service jobs. The only safe place for employment may be artisan jobs — carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.

Already, fast-food chains are looking to eliminate order-takers and cashiers. People not needed, alas.

The AI industry — there is one, and it is growing exponentially —likes to look to automation and say, “But automation added jobs.” Well, all the evidence is that AI will subtract jobs almost across the board. Think of all the people around the world who work in customer service. Most of that will be done in the future by AI.

On the upside, research — especially medical research — will be boosted as never before. One researcher told me a baby born today can expect to live to 120 — another big story.

As journalists, we are going to have to continue to find out what is going on and tell people. But we will also have to find new ways of watermarking the truth. Leica, for instance, has come out with a camera that it says can authenticate the place and time a photo was taken.

We are going to have to find new outlets for our work where people will know that it was written and reported by a human being, one of us, not an algorithm.

Journalists are criticized constantly for our failings, for allegedly being left or right politically, for ignoring or overstating, but when war breaks out, we become heroes.

I salute those brave colleagues reporting from Gaza and Ukraine. They are doing the vital work of finding out what is going on and telling us. Seventeen have been killed in Ukraine and 34 in Gaza. They are the noble of our trade.

  • New York Times, A judge ruled that jurors in a defamation trial against Donald Trump would be kept anonymous for their own protection, Nov. 4, 2023.

 washington post office post photo

Politico, William Lewis is named Washington Post CEO and publisher, Staff Report, Nov. 4, 2023. Lewis, 54, served as publisher of the Wall Street Journal and CEO of Dow Jones after a career in British media.

politico CustomVeteran media executive and former business journalist William Lewis is the new CEO and publisher of the Washington Post (shown above in a Washington Post photo), according to a story published on the Post’s website Saturday.

Lewis, 54, served as publisher of the Wall Street Journal and CEO of Dow Jones after a career in British media, including as editor-in-chief of London’s Daily Telegraph. He worked at Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp. in the aftermath of the company’s phone-hacking and police bribery scandal.

He also co-founded The News Movement, a start-up aimed at young news consumers.

Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos praised Lewis as a “strong fit” for the role. “As I’ve gotten to know Will, I’ve been drawn to his love of journalism and passion for driving financial success,” Bezos wrote in an email to staff, according to the Post. “Will embodies the tenacity, energy and vision needed for this role. He believes that together we will build the right future for The Post. I agree.”

“The Washington Post is a premiere global media publisher of record, known for its 145-year-old history of unflinching journalism, and I am thrilled and humbled to be at its helm as both a media executive and former reporter,” Lewis said in a statement the newspaper provided to the New York Times.

Lewis, who starts Jan. 2, replaces Fred Ryan, who stepped down as publisher earlier this year. Ryan was also founding CEO of Politico.

washington post logoWashington Post, A newspaper giant tried to diversify its staff. White workers sued, Taylor Telford, Nov. 4, 2023. The proposed class-action lawsuit against Gannett is among a wave of recent cases claiming some corporate diversity policies disadvantage White employees.

After more than 20 years of working for his hometown newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., Steve Bradley was laid off amid pandemic-induced cost-cutting in May 2020. He was crushed, but he eventually took a communications job for a local school district.

Then, two years later, he received a startling message.

gannett logo CustomSitting in the bleachers at the school softball field in July 2022, Bradley took a phone call from an unknown number. He listened as J. Nelson Thomas, an employment lawyer he’d never met, presented a jarring claim: Bradley was laid off because he is White.

Now, Bradley is one of five named plaintiffs in a proposed class-action lawsuit that claims the country’s largest newspaper publisher “discriminated against non-minorities” to achieve diversity goals. Filed in August in Virginia federal court, the suit alleges that Gannett fired White employees, denied them opportunities for advancement and replaced them with less-qualified minority candidates as the company sought to diversify its workforce.

The case is among the first to test the legality of corporate diversity practices in the wake of a June Supreme Court ruling that struck down affirmative action in college admissions. That decision has sparked a wave of litigation aimed at racial considerations in the workplace, including claims that corporate efforts to increase diversity have disadvantaged White employees.

For Bradley, 56, the decision to pursue legal action wasn’t easy. He’d always thought it was good that Gannett was working to boost diversity. But he also “wanted to be judged” based on his work and the work of his team, he said, not his race.

“Somebody needed to stand up to them,” Bradley said in an interview. To know “that the decision was made because of how I look? I’m not okay with that.”

In a statement, Gannett declined to discuss the lawsuit but said it “always seeks to recruit and retain the most qualified individuals for all roles within the company.”

“We will vigorously defend our practice of ensuring equal opportunities for all our valued employees against this meritless lawsuit,” Polly Grunfeld Sack, Gannett’s chief legal counsel, said in an email.

Private employers have been barred for decades from making employment decisions based on race. Long-standing legal precedent has allowed companies to take targeted, temporary steps to mitigate historic racial inequalities in their workforces. But the recent ruling on college admissions suggests that it’s “no longer appropriate to be looking at someone’s race for the benefit of diversity,” said Devon Westhill, president and general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: When It Comes to Israel, Who Decides What You Can and Can’t Say? Michelle Goldberg, right, Nov. 4, 2023. Last week, michelle goldberg thumbthe Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law sent a letter to nearly 200 college presidents urging them to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for potential violations of federal and state laws against providing material support to terrorism.

As evidence for these very serious accusations, the ADL and the Brandeis center offered only the student group’s own strident rhetoric, including a sentence in its online tool kit, which praised Hamas’s attacks on Israel and said: “We must act as part of this movement. All of our efforts continue the work and resistance of the Palestinians on the ground.”

Under the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida has also ordered state universities to shut chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. Citing the same tool kit, DeSantis said, “That is material support to terrorism, and that is not going to be tolerated in the state of Florida, and it should not be tolerated in these United States of America.” Virginia’s Republican attorney general has opened an investigation into American Muslims for Palestine, a national group that, according to the ADL, helps coordinate the activities of Students for Justice in Palestine, “for potentially violating Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws, including benefiting or providing support to terrorist organizations.” Several Republicans, including Donald Trump, have called for revoking the visas of pro-Palestinian student activists.

Ever since Hamas’s slaughter and mass kidnapping of Israelis on Oct. 7, there has been mounting fear and fury over the mistreatment of Jews at American colleges and universities. The Homeland Security, Justice and Education Departments are all taking steps to combat campus antisemitism. Congressional resolutions have condemned it. But while plenty of pro-Palestinian students have behaved in appalling ways, many also feel besieged, and for good reason.

For Palestinian and Muslim students, the invocation of terrorism law is especially frightening. Attempts to curtail anti-Zionist activism are not new; about 35 states have laws targeting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. But now advocates for Palestinian rights describe a new level of repression. “The ADL is calling for the mass violation of students’ rights in a manner that’s reminiscent of the post 9/11 environment, but with a more intensely Palestinian twist,” said Radhika Sainath, a senior staff attorney at the civil rights organization Palestine Legal. She predicts that if federal and state governments follow through on the ADL’s demands, Palestinian activists will be subjected to an increase in surveillance, infiltration and investigation, even though their groups “pose zero threat and have done nothing but engage in speech 100 percent protected by the First Amendment.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Times Writer Resigns After Signing Letter Protesting the Israel-Gaza War, Katie Robertson, Nov. 4, 2023. Jazmine Hughes, an award-winning New York Times Magazine staff writer, resigned from the publication on Friday after she violated the newsroom’s policies by signing a letter that voiced support for Palestinians and protested Israel’s siege in Gaza.

Jake Silverstein, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, announced Ms. Hughes’s resignation in an email to staff members on Friday evening.

“While I respect that she has strong convictions, this was a clear violation of The Times’s policy on public protest,” Mr. Silverstein wrote. “This policy, which I fully support, is an important part of our commitment to independence.”

Mr. Silverstein said Ms. Hughes had previously violated the policy by signing another public letter this year. That letter, which was also signed by other contributors to The Times, protested the newspaper’s reporting on transgender issues.

“She and I discussed that her desire to stake out this kind of public position and join in public protests isn’t compatible with being a journalist at The Times, and we both came to the conclusion that she should resign,” Mr. Silverstein wrote in his note on Friday.

Ms. Hughes declined to comment. A Times spokeswoman had no further comment.

Ms. Hughes joined The Times in 2015 and worked as an editor and writer for the magazine. In 2020, she won an American Society of Magazine Editors Next award for journalists under 30. This year, she won a National Magazine Award for profile writing, for articles on Viola Davis and Whoopi Goldberg.

The petition Ms. Hughes signed about the Israel-Hamas war was published online last week by a group called Writers Against the War on Gaza. The group, which describes itself as “an ad hoc coalition committed to solidarity and the horizon of liberation for the Palestinian people,” denounced what it described as Israel’s “eliminationist assault” on Palestinians as well as the deaths of journalists reporting on the war. It was signed by hundreds of people, including other well-known journalists and authors.

“We stand firmly by Gaza’s people,” the letter said.

On Friday, a contributing writer at the magazine who had also signed the letter, Jamie Lauren Keiles, said in a post on X that he would no longer contribute to the publication. He said it was “a personal decision about what kind of work I want to be able to do.”

Nov. 3

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Asks Federal Appeals Court to Lift Gag Order in Election Case, Alan Feuer, Nov. 3, 2023. The former president argued that the order restricting what he can say about the case should not be in effect while he seeks to have it thrown out on appeal.

Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump filed an emergency request to a federal appeals court on Thursday seeking to lift the gag order imposed on him in the criminal case in which he stands accused of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Justice Department log circularThe lawyers asked the appeals court to keep the pause of the order in place until it reaches a final decision on whether the order should have been issued in the first place.

“No court in American history has imposed a gag order on a criminal defendant who is actively campaigning for public office — let alone the leading candidate for president of the United States,” the lawyers wrote in their 11th-hour petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“That centuries-long practice was broken,” the lawyers added, when a federal judge in Washington put the gag order in place last month, “muzzling President Trump’s core political speech during an historic presidential campaign.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers asked the appeals court to render a decision on their request for a stay by Nov. 10. They suggested that they would seek relief from the Supreme Court if the appellate judges denied their motion.

tanya chutkan newerThe gag order, imposed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, right, of Federal District Court in Washington, was issued against Mr. Trump on Oct. 16 to keep him from targeting members of the court staff, prosecutors working on the case and any people who might appear as witnesses in the proceeding.

It followed a relentless barrage of social media posts by Mr. Trump that threatened not only Judge Chutkan, but also the special counsel, Jack Smith, who is overseeing the two federal prosecutions of the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, Britney Spears’s Memoir Sells 1.1 Million Copies in U.S. in First Week, Julia Jacobs, Nov. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Britney Spears’s much-anticipated memoir, The Woman in Me, sold 1.1 million copies in all formats in the United States in its first week on sale, the book’s publisher, Gallery Books, announced on Wednesday.

britney spears woman coverThe early sales number puts Spears’s book in the ballpark of some of the best-selling celebrity memoirs in recent years. In the same time frame, Prince Harry’s memoir sold 1.6 million copies in the United States, while that of Mary Trump, former president Donald J. Trump’s niece, sold 1.4 million when it debuted in 2020.

Spears and her team took an atypical approach toward promoting the book, in which Spears recalls her rise to fame as a teenage pop sensation, followed by her years spent in a strictly controlled conservatorship. Unlike Prince Harry, who participated in a series of high-profile interviews to promote his book’s release — including appearances on “60 Minutes” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” — Spears did not do any face-to-face interviews. She instead provided People magazine with sneak-peek excerpts and emailed quotes and promoted the book online to her millions of social media followers.

ny times logoNew York Times, Can Humanities Survive the Budget Cuts at Universities? Anemona Hartocollis, Nov. 3, 2023. After years of hand-wringing about their future, liberal arts departments now face the chopping block. At risk: French, American studies and women’s studies.

The state auditor of Mississippi recently released an eight-page report suggesting that the state should invest more in college degree programs that could “improve the value they provide to both taxpayers and graduates.”

That means state appropriations should focus more on engineering and business programs, said Shad White, the auditor, and less on liberal arts majors like anthropology, women’s studies and German language and literature.

Those graduates not only learn less, Mr. White said, but they are also less likely to stay in Mississippi. More than 60 percent of anthropology graduates leave to find work, he said.

“If I were advising my kids, I would say first and foremost, you have to find a degree program that combines your passion with some sort of practical skill that the world actually needs,” Mr. White said in an interview. (He has three small children, far from college age.)

For years, economists and more than a few worried parents have argued over whether a liberal arts degree is worth the price. The debate now seems to be over, and the answer is “no.”

Not only are public officials, like Mr. White, questioning state support for the humanities, a growing number of universities, often aided by outside consultants, are now putting many cherished departments — art history, American studies — on the chopping block. They say they are facing headwinds, including students who are fleeing to majors more closely aligned to employment.

Nov. 2

Wall Street Journal, ‘JFK: One Day in America’ Review: Assassination Interpretation, John Anderson, Nov. 2, 2023. A National Geographic documentary series, which will also stream on Hulu and Disney+, brings a fresh approach to the familiar history of that tragic November day.

wsj logoDelving into the almost 60-year-old Kennedy assassination, even for the very modest purposes of a television review, is a bit like bringing your ukulele to an audition for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. People have devoted their lives to the subject at hand; the literature has been memorized; the interpretations have been fine-tuned. Besides, as one Gen Xer of my acquaintance remarked about “JFK: One Day in America,” how many times can you revisit the same subject?

  • JFK: One Day in America: Sunday, 8 p.m., National Geographic Channel, Monday, Disney+ and Hulu

How many times can you play Mozart’s Requiem? Yes, the murder of President John F. Kennedy is familiar territory, the event so enormous that its minutiae have been burned into the brains of people whose parents couldn’t have been around to remember it as children. But times change, approaches evolve—and each interpretation can build upon the last, which is the element essential to the success of this three-part National Geographic special.

“JFK: One Day in America” takes great pains to avoid the familiar, opting for the kind of private, personal and nondefining footage a director might never use—not if he or she were making the first Kennedy assassination documentary. The material for that movie is in the heads of us viewers, even the youngest viewers, from the Zapruder film to the still photo of Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder. “One Day in America,” by using relatively unknown shots and unfamiliar angles—of Jack Ruby, for instance, skulking around the press-police scrum in a Dallas police station on the night before he killed Oswald; or of Jackie Kennedy in a crowd, waiting to join her husband’s casket on the plane back to Washington—generates a sense of intimacy, and a consequent mournfulness. It is the kind of thing that might only be achieved through offhand, innocent-bystander-type material that might mean nothing out of context. Except that there is no out-of-context with the Kennedy assassination.

It may not have been the intent of director Ella Wright to play such psychological mischief with our collective memory, but it works. And there is fresh material, too: Two members of Jackie Kennedy’s Secret Service detail, Paul Landis and Clint Hill (who, famously, jumped on the back of the Lincoln as the assassin was firing at the car), reflect on the day with a great deal of sadness and regret. Associated Press reporter Peggy Simpson recalls the astonishment among the media that Ruby, a “friend” of the Dallas police, was able to penetrate a scene that was supposedly so secure. Washington correspondent Sid Davis provides the kind of details that wouldn’t have made it into his news stories, but are fascinating regardless.

And not everyone among the “last witnesses”—as so advertised in “JFK: One Day in America”—was in Dallas that morning in an official capacity. Buell Frazier, who still seems rattled by what unfolded, worked at the Texas School Book Depository with Oswald and drove there with him on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963; he was later questioned as a suspect. And Dallas couple Gayle and Bill Newman remember how they took their two kids to see the president, and what they saw, and Ms. Wright cuts immediately to a photo of the couple, covering their children with their own bodies as they all lie on what looks like part of the infamous Grassy Knoll. A remarkable moment then, and now, and one that makes tangible the kind of terror that must have been in the November air and is among the few details of that day that may have slipped our minds.

Nov. 1

washington post logoWashington Post, Jake Sherman and the bottomless appetite for news and drama on the Hill, Jesús Rodríguez, Nov. 1, 2023 (print ed.). He’s feeding Official Washington’s bottomless appetite for fresh intel, hot drama and chewy news nuggets from Congress. What does it all amount to?

washington post logoWashington Post, The Creator Economy: Young people are turning to creators over traditional media for news, Taylor Lorenz, Nov. 1, 2023 (print ed.). A recent report found that while the audience for traditional news outlets is shrinking, the online audience for independent news sources is growing.

News consumption hit a tipping point around the globe during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, with more people turning to social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram than to websites maintained by traditional news outlets, according to the latest Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. One in 5 adults under 24 use TikTok as a source for news, the report said, up five percentage points from last year. According to Britain’s Office of Communications, young adults in the United Kingdom now spend more time watching TikTok than broadcast television.

October

Oct. 29

 

 

   Former President Donald Trump is shown in a police booking mug shot released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, on Thursday (Photo via Fulton County Sheriff's Office).

World Crisis Radio, Strategic Commentary and Pro-Democracy Action Agenda: In outrageous affront to American ally, Netanyahu scorns Blinken’s call webster tarpley 2007for humanitarian bombing pause! Webster G. Tarpley, right, historian and commentator, Nov. 4-5, 2023 (146: 34 mins.). With 9,000 dead Palestinians, US can no longer tolerate IDF atrocities;

israel flagSettler fanatics Ben Gvir and Smotrich rule in Jerusalem, but Israel is bound by UN Charter, UN Declaration of Human Rights and Geneva Conventions; US political ground shifting rapidly in favor of Gaza ceasefire as Durbin, Murphy, and Sanders demand bombing halt;

Biden reportedly sees at most a few months of political survival for defendant Bibi, resented by voters for his dictatorial plans and abject intel and military debacles; US eyes Gantz, Lapid, and Bennett to form next government;

After Oct. 7, Biden’s goals had to be avoiding mass deportations of Palestinians into the Sinai and Transjordan deserts or the use of nuclear weapons, while maintaining alliances intact; Priority now to increase humanitarian deliveries, save hostages and free foreign citizens from Gaza captivity;

Fourteenth Amendment embodies Lincoln’s New Birth of Freedom and the Second American Revolution; It must be applied to remove Trump from all state ballots across the nation for blatant MAGA insurrection;

Tlaib and other fratricidal ultralefts foolishly want to punish Biden for Gaza tragedy: their tactics help only Bibi’s friend Trump, whose hostility to Palestinians is sinister and limitless; No calamity coming out of the Middle East can exceed the threat to humanity posed by a Trump-MAGA dictatorship in US, so vote accordingly;

MAGA Mike’s theocratic attack on the Gelasian foundation of western civilization in the distinction between political-military and spiritual and political-military powers i.e. between church and state; Security alert: with such a figure two heartbeats away from the Presidency, pay special attention to reports that MAGA campaign slogan is now ”Come retribution,” the Confederate code word for the plot to assassinate Lincoln!

 

October

Oct. 29

Proof, Investigative Commentary: From Start to Finish, Major Media Got the Tragic al-Ahli Hospital Blast Exactly Right. Seth Abramson, left, Oct 29, 2023. seth abramson graphicIt Now Looks Like the Munition That Hit the Hospital in Gaza— Causing a Massacre—Indeed Came From Israel.

Media critics and mea culpas from some outlets aside, a journalistic analysis of how media reported the tragedy at the al-Ahli reveals lessons—not errors—as well as the likely truth of what happened.

seth abramson proof logoIsrael has quietly tried to build international support in recent weeks for the transfer of several hundred thousand civilians from Gaza to Egypt for the duration of its war in the territory, according to six senior foreign diplomats.

Israeli leaders and diplomats have privately proposed the idea to several foreign governments, framing it as a humanitarian initiative that would allow civilians to temporarily escape the perils of Gaza for refugee camps in the Sinai Desert, just across the border in neighboring Egypt.

The suggestion was dismissed by most of Israel’s interlocutors — who include the United States and the United Kingdom — because of the risk that such a mass displacement could become permanent. These countries fear that such a development might destabilize Egypt and lock significant numbers of Palestinians out of their homeland, according to the diplomats, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss a sensitive matter more freely.

The idea has also been firmly rejected by Palestinians, who fear that Israel is using the war — which began on Oct. 7 after terrorists from Gaza raided Israel and killed roughly 1,400 people — to permanently displace the more than two million people living in Gaza.

More than 700,000 Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes in what is now Israel during the war surrounding the creation of the state in 1948. Many of their descendants are now warning that the current war will end with a similar “nakba,” or catastrophe, as the 1948 migration is known in Arabic.

An intensive, comprehensive, ten-day curation and macroanalysis of reliable major-media reports from the around the world—including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Spain, Israel, and Qatar—reveals, with high confidence, that the munition that struck the al-Ahli Hospital in northern Gaza on October 17, 2023 was fired from Israeli territory by Israeli forces.

Data regarding casualty counts (both killed and wounded) following the explosion was substantially reliable when and as it was released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health (PMH), an entity that has for years been relied upon by the international community—including governments, NGOs, major-media outlets, and subject-matter experts. In contrast, following the tragedy at al-Ahli the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in what appears in retrospect to have been a systematic campaign of deceit that included false casualty counts, doctored evidence, mistranslations, the omission and even obfuscation of inculpatory evidence, gross misinterpretation of multimedia, and disingenuous or even offensive rhetoric.

While the precise origin-point of the killer munition in this case remains unknown, all extant data points at either a Tamir interceptor missile with an 11kg warhead fired from a confirmed Iron Dome installation less than two miles east of Nahal Oz, Israel, or a 155mm artillery shell from a self-propelled howitzer fired from Nahal Oz itself. Nahal Oz is a kibbutz that is under a mile from the border between Gaza and Israel.

All of the foregoing is substantiated by videos (corporate-media and citizen-journalist), audio (corporate-media and citizen-journalist), time-stamp analyses, geolocations, Doppler readouts, forensic analyses of trace evidence, testimonial evidence, and repeated patterns of conduct by the principals involved in the event.

Media critics in the West are factually wrong in opining that U.S. major media “took the word of a terrorist group” in its coverage of the al-Ahli tragedy. In fact, U.S. media coverage of the event was careful, measured and correct—honoring the best traditions of professional journalism despite an environment in which news consumers wanted hard questions answered with ease. Major media was hampered by misinformation and in some cases disinformation fed to it by the IDF, as well as other actions taken by the IDF to ensure that its false narrative about the October 17 explosion at al-Ahli Hospital would triumph in the court of public opinion.
Introduction

For years I taught journalism at an R1 flagship public research university, University of New Hampshire, so compiling an after-action report on a major breaking news story isn’t new to me. But it’s not something I’ve done here at Proof before, and it’s certainly not something easily or lightly done when the story in question involves the deaths of scores or even hundreds of civilians, many of them women and children.

The importance of reviewing major-media reporting on the explosion at the al-Ahli Hospital in northern Gaza a week ago goes well beyond the harrowing nature of the event itself. The way in which media, and Western media in particular, succeeded or failed to adequately cover one of the single bloodiest events of the seventy-five-year history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents for working journalists like me (and for that matter, current or former journalism professors like me) a dilemma that isn’t going to go away and so must be addressed now—not merely as an after-action report, but as a guide for the future.

This said, none can doubt that the al-Ahli blast, even taken in isolation, warrants all the ink that has now been spilled reporting it—as well as all the reporting about the reporting about it.

ny times logoNew York Times, The response to Hamas’s assault, and to Israel’s retaliation, has revealed a schism in Hollywood that many did not realize was there, Nicole Sperling and Brooks Barnes, Oct. 29, 2023. With the exception of the rare conservative, Hollywood has long seemed to exist in an ideological bubble — a bastion of progressive politics, where Jewish people have thrived, Democratic politicians have been celebrated and stars have espoused liberal ideas from the Oscar stage and rushed to support movements like Black Lives Matter.

For the most part, people in the entertainment world could trust that they were on the same political page.

That changed abruptly with the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Reactions to the assault, and to Israel’s retaliation, have revealed a schism that many in Hollywood did not realize was there, and it has left many Jews feeling like outsiders in an industry they founded and where they have long felt safe and supported.

“There are divides that never really get talked about,” said the veteran screenwriter Barry Schkolnick, whose credits include TV shows like “Law & Order” and “The Good Wife.” “This has brought them to the surface, and it’s hurtful and disorienting.”

Many say they are disillusioned — and angered — by the trickle of public condemnation from Hollywood regarding the Oct. 7 attack. There was no flood of support on social media from celebrities. Most studios initially tried to duck, staying silent. One leading union, the Writers Guild of America, refused to put out a statement, and stuck with its decision in the face of enormous backlash from hundreds of its members.

“The silence has been deafening,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Wrap, an entertainment trade news site, on Oct. 12.

A few statements and open letters condemning the Hamas attacks started to arrive. But the damage had been done.

To the producer Jeremy Steckler, “the lack of support feels like they’re punching me in my heart and in my identity.”

“I’ve never been somebody who’s been highly attended to identity or specific religion,” he said. “I’ve always just thought I was in this little bubble and everyone’s supportive and it’s L.A. and no big deal. It’s really in the last week, have I woken up and felt othered.”

While the effect is pronounced in Hollywood, where there is a large Jewish presence, the entirety of liberal America has been similarly convulsed. On Capitol Hill, across college campuses and among progressive activist groups and philanthropies, a raw divide has emerged. On one side, there is ardent support for Israel. On the other is an energized faction who view the Palestinian cause as an extension of the racial and social justice movements that swept through the United States in the summer of 2020. And there are others, including Jewish people, calling for a cease-fire.

In Hollywood, the most prominent example of the fraught nature of the moment is the controversy involving the writers’ guild, which represents more than 11,000 screenwriters.

Jewish writers reacted with horror to the guild’s refusal to condemn the attacks on Israel. Some threatened to leave the union, while others, including the writer and producer Marc Guggenheim (“Arrow,” “Carnival Row”), said they were withholding dues. But an anonymous pro-Palestinian group calling itself WGA for Peace applauded the union’s decision, saying its members were scared to identify themselves because they would be labeled antisemitic.

“After Oct. 7, it wouldn’t have been hard for people to put out statements that said under no circumstances is rape or murder or kidnapping of civilians acceptable — and we need to work toward a just future for Jews and Palestinians in Israel and Palestine,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of Ikar, a congregation in Los Angeles where many screenwriters, directors and Hollywood executives are members.

“But that’s not what happened,” she said. “And so as a result, a lot of people are shocked, afraid.”

Oct. 27

 

kanye west addidas

ny times logoNew York Times, Kanye and Adidas: Money, Misconduct and the Price of Appeasement, Megan Twohey, Oct. 27, 2023. Before Adidas broke with Kanye West last fall over antisemitic public remarks, it had tolerated years of his abusive conduct behind the scenes.

The Adidas team was huddled with Kanye West, pitching ideas for the first shoe they would create together. It was 2013, and the rapper and the sportswear brand had just agreed to become partners. The Adidas employees, thrilled to get started, had arrayed sneakers and fabric swatches on a long table near a mood board pinned with images.

But nothing they showed that day at the company’s German headquarters captured the vision Mr. West had shared. To convey how offensive he considered the designs, he grabbed a sketch of a shoe and took a marker to the toe, according to two participants. Then he drew a swastika.

It was shocking, especially to the Germans in the group. Most displays of the symbol are banned in their country. The image was acutely sensitive for a company whose founder belonged to the Nazi Party. And they were meeting just miles from Nuremberg, where leaders of the Third Reich were tried for crimes against humanity.

That encounter was a sign of what was to come during a collaboration that would break the boundaries of celebrity endorsement deals. Sales of the shoes, Yeezys, would surpass $1 billion a year, lifting Adidas’s bottom line and recapturing its cool. Mr. West, who now goes by Ye, would become a billionaire.

When the company ended the relationship last October, it appeared to be the culmination of weeks of Mr. West’s inflammatory public remarks — targeting Jews and disparaging Black Lives Matter — and outside pressure on the brand to cut ties. But it was also the culmination of a decade of Adidas’s tolerance behind the scenes.

Inside their partnership, the artist made antisemitic and sexually offensive comments, displayed erratic behavior, and issued ever escalating demands, a New York Times examination found. Adidas’s leaders, eager for the profits, time and again abided his misconduct.

 

 elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, The Consequences of Elon Musk’s Ownership of X, Steven Lee Myers, Stuart A. Thompson and Tiffany Hsu, Oct. 27, 2023. Dozens of studies of the platform formerly known as Twitter have shown a similar trend: an increase in harmful content during Mr. Musk’s tenure.

twitter bird CustomNow rebranded as X, the site has experienced a surge in racist, antisemitic and other hateful speech. Under Mr. Musk’s watch, millions of people have been exposed to misinformation about climate change. Foreign governments and operatives — from Russia to China to Hamas — have spread divisive propaganda with little or no interference.

x logo twitterMr. Musk (shown above in a file photo) and his team have repeatedly asserted that such concerns are overblown, sometimes pushing back aggressively against people who voice them. Yet dozens of studies from multiple organizations have shown otherwise, demonstrating on issue after issue a similar trend: an increase in harmful content on X during Mr. Musk’s tenure.

The war between Israel and Hamas — the sort of major news event that once made Twitter an essential source of information and debate — has drowned all social media platforms in false and misleading information, but for Mr. Musk’s platform in particular the war has been seen as a watershed. The conflict has captured in full how much the platform has descended into the kind of site that Mr. Musk had promised advertisers he wanted to avoid on the day he officially took over.

“With disinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict flourishing so dramatically on X, it feels that it crossed a line for a lot of people where they can see — beyond just the branding change — that the old Twitter is truly gone,” Tim Chambers of Dewey Square Group, a public affairs company that tracks social media, said in an interview. “And the new X is a shadow of that former self.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Five Years After Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack, Recovery Mixes With Fresh Grief, Ruth Graham, Oct. 27, 2023. Tree of Life community was “universally embraced” after an antisemitic shooting. But with Israel engaged in war, some now feel alone.

It has been five years since a gunman stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshipers and wounding six others in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.

A lot can happen in a half a decade. One of the three congregations that met at Tree of Life hired its first rabbi. New nonprofit organizations sprung up to serve survivors and others affected by antisemitism and violence. Plans to reconfigure and expand the building took shape, with a celebrity architect at the helm. And in August, the gunman was convicted on an array of federal charges and sentenced to death.

For some in the Tree of Life community, however, this year’s anniversary is not arriving with the sense of healing they hoped for. Weeks after more than 1,400 people were killed in a Hamas terror attack in southern Israel, many American Jews have felt their sense of safety shattered.

Now, Israeli airstrikes are pummeling Gaza, and the humanitarian crisis in the territory is worsening, with food and water in short supply and civilian deaths mounting.

But as many Jews in the United States are grieving the civilian deaths in Israel, and worried for families and friends there, some also feel abandoned by former political allies — including many of the same people and organizations that embraced Tree of Life five years ago.

Muslim organizations raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims in the weeks after the attack; Catholic parishes organized special collections. Thousands of people attended vigils, and statements of support poured in from across the world.

“Following the shooting and the trial, we were universally held by our community,” said Michael Bernstein, the chairman of the Tree of Life center, a new nonprofit that will be housed at the site of the attack. “There was this true sense, especially as American Jews, that we belong.”

Oct. 26

washington post logoWashington Post, This Fox News host gives climate skeptics airtime but went solar at home, Maxine Joselow, Oct. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Bret Baier has come under fire for amplifying the voices of climate change doubters and renewable energy critics. But parts of his D.C. mansion are covered in solar arrays.

bret baierWhen Fox News host Bret Baier, right, listed his D.C. mansion for an eye-popping $31.9 million last week, some eagle-eyed observers noticed a surprising feature: Dozens of solar panels covered parts of the roof.

fox news logo Small“A Fox News guy has solar panels? What does Murdoch think?!” one person wrote on an online forum for D.C. parents, referring to Rupert Murdoch, who launched the Fox media empire and has previously described himself as a “climate change skeptic.”

The listing agent, Daniel Heider of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, confirmed to The Washington Post that 86 solar panels were installed last year on a portion of the 16,250-square-foot French chateau-style home. This comes as Baier — who hosts the highest-rated cable news program in its time slot — has used his platform to amplify criticism of action on climate change, including the adoption of solar and other clean energy sources.

Some prominent conservatives — including Rep. Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine — have also privately embraced solar while pushing back against climate initiatives aimed at speeding the transition away from fossil fuels.

Despite their climate stances, all three men appear to have accepted a market reality: Solar panels increasingly make economic sense, especially for those who can afford the upfront costs. Although the average solar system costs between $4,600 and $16,000, the technology can help households save money on their energy bills in the long term. For the average homeowner in the nation’s capital, the panels pay for themselves in less than five years, according to the renewable energy marketplace EnergySage.

“Solar panels are a good investment in much of the U.S., regardless of politics,” said Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst at the energy research firm BloombergNEF. She said the clean-energy tax credits in President Biden’s signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, make solar even more attractive across the country.

It’s unclear whether Baier claimed the subsidies, unlike in the case of Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), who used the credits to buy 30 solar panels after voting against the climate law. A Fox News spokeswoman did not respond to attempts to seek comment from Baier.

Baier, whose home sale would be the most expensive in D.C. history if it fetches the listing price, hosts a news show on Fox, and therefore approaches political stories with more balance than the network’s well-known opinion programming. Yet Baier’s show, “Special Report,” has consistently misled the public about climate change, according to a 2021 analysis by Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group. From 2009 to 2021, nearly 88 percent of the show’s climate segments either spread misinformation or perpetuated false or misleading narratives about global warming, the report found.

For instance, Baier has featured the views of Marc Morano, a prominent climate change skeptic, at least 10 times. Morano said on “Special Report” in 2019 that a major U.N. report on nearly 1 million species facing extinction was about “politics, not science.”

ny times logoNew York Times, What the U.S. Has Argued in the Google Antitrust Trial, David McCabe, Cecilia Kang and Steve Lohr, Oct. 26, 2023 (print ed.). As the government wraps up its case, it has built a picture of how Google became dominant in online search — and the harms that it says resulted.

Justice Department log circularSince Sept. 12., the Department of Justice and a group of state attorneys general have questioned more than 30 witnesses as they try to prove that Google broke antitrust laws, in a landmark monopoly trial that may affect the power of the technology industry.

The government is now wrapping up its side in the case — U.S. et al. v. Google — setting the stage for the internet giant to mount its defense starting this week.

Two prime threads have emerged from the government’s case: what it said Google did to illegally maintain its search and search ads monopolies and how those practices harmed consumers and advertisers. We lay out the main arguments.

How Google kept its online search dominance going

Google paid Apple billions of dollars to crush competition

On the first day of the trial, the Justice Department said Google had paid Apple and other tech platforms more than $10 billion a year to make itself the default search engine on the iPhone and other devices.

  • Washington Post, Mysterious bylines appeared on a USA Today site. Did these writers exist? Will Sommer, Oct. 26, 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jonathan Majors’s accuser is arrested after actor loses bid to avoid trial, Anne Branigin, Herb Scribner, Wesley Parnell and Samantha Chery, Oct. 26, 2023. Police arrested Grace Jabbari on charges of assaulting “Creed III” star Jonathan Majors — even as prosecutors prepare to try the actor for allegedly assaulting her.

Jonathan Majors, the “Creed III” actor slated to anchor upcoming Marvel projects, lost his bid to stave off a long-delayed domestic assault trial in which he is accused of attacking his then-girlfriend, Grace Jabbari, in the back of a chauffeured car in New York.

Hours after that short hearing, police arrested Jabbari on charges stemming from the same March incident — despite the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office assertion that it won’t prosecute her.

Wearing a light-colored shirt and a tie, Majors appeared via live stream in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday morning, where Judge Michael Gaffey rejected a motion asking the case be dismissed because of evidence discrepancies and what his lawyers called the “lack of a speedy trial.”

Instead, Majors’s team and prosecutors went into the judge’s chambers for about 10 minutes and emerged with plans to start the trial Nov. 29. His lawyers did not respond to questions outside the courtroom after the hearing.

The trial was originally set for Aug. 3 but was pushed back three times after the parties asked for more time. If convicted, Majors could face up to a year in jail.

His legal team has maintained that the actor is not only innocent but was also assaulted by Jabbari during the back-seat dispute. Prosecutors have discounted that notion and have said they have no plans to prosecute Jabbari. She was nevertheless arrested on assault and criminal mischief charges Wednesday evening, according to the New York Police Department. It remained unclear why police arrested Jabbari months after the incident, and with no obvious route to bring her to trial.

“The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has officially declined to prosecute the case against Grace Jabbari because it lacks prosecutorial merit. The matter is now closed and sealed," Doug Cohen, the office’s press secretary, said in a statement Thursday morning.

Oct. 25

MSNBC, Nicolle Wallace: ‘Trump has less control than a hunting dog,’ Oct. 25, 2023. Lisa Rubin, MSNBC Legal Analyst Andrew Weissman former top official at the Department of Justice, Neal Katyal former Acting U.S. Solicitor General, and Russ Beuttner New York Times Investigations Reporter join Nicolle Wallace on Deadline White House with reaction to Donald Trump’s latest courtroom appearance which saw him fined $10,000 for violating a gag order.

Oct. 24

ny times logoNew York Times, If Trump Trial Isn’t Broadcast Live, a Plea to Record It for Posterity, Adam Liptak, Oct. 24, 2023 (print ed.). A request to broadcast one of Donald Trump’s federal trials made an intriguing argument, one rooted not in the news but in ensuring a historical record.

In a pair of filings this month, news organizations asked a federal judge in Washington to allow live television coverage of the trial of President Donald J. Trump on charges that he conspired to undermine the 2020 election. They face a distinctly uphill fight.

A federal rule of criminal procedure stands in their way, and the Supreme Court has long been wary of cameras in courtrooms, notably its own.

But one of the applications, from the corporate parent of NBC News, made an intriguing backup argument, one grounded in the text of a key roadblock to live television coverage: Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

If nothing else, the application said, Rule 53 allows the court to record the proceedings for posterity.

The rule prohibits “the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.” NBC’s application bears down on the last three words, making the case that audio and video of the trial may be distributed in ways other than by broadcast “from the courtroom.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Government moves to protect students when colleges are at risk of closing, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Oct. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Education Department on Tuesday finalized a package of regulations to safeguard vulnerable college students. It will heighten oversight of colleges on the brink of closure and the administration of federal financial aid programs.

education department seal Custom 2“These final rules will raise the bar for accountability and protect students and taxpayers. They’ll make the department a better cop on the beat,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

The rules, which take effect in July, make it easier for regulators to police colleges at risk of closure. Federal officials will be able to require more schools to set aside money to protect the department from absorbing student-aid liabilities. Those circumstances include a college entering bankruptcy or facing large financial liabilities from a lawsuit by state or federal authorities.

Colleges will have 21 days to report such perils and whether they have resolved them. The Education Department will also be able to impose conditions, such as an enrollment cap, on schools exhibiting signs of distress.

A spate of school closures, primarily in the for-profit college sector, has cost the government millions of dollars as it is required to discharge the debt of students affected by such shutdowns. Between 2013 and 2022, the Education Department could collect only $344 million of the $1.6 billion colleges owed in federal student aid because the institutions had gone bankrupt or shut down.

“That leaves taxpayers on the hook, and it fails to deter future wrongdoing. No more,” Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal told reporters Tuesday. “These rules give the department greater tools to protect taxpayers from losses created by school misconduct and closures.”

The regulations also address how colleges handle the billions of dollars they receive in federal grants and loans. They require colleges to clearly disclose information in their financial aid awards, such as the net price that students pay after aid is applied and the total cost of attendance. Colleges also have to provide adequate financial aid counseling and career advice to students.

The rules prevent colleges from withholding a student’s transcript if courses were paid with federal financial aid. Colleges frequently bar students with outstanding bills from accessing their transcripts, preventing them from proving they completed courses at the institution — and often making it harder for them to seek employment.

ap logoAssociated Press via Washington Post, Scholastic reverses course on segregating ‘diverse’ book fair titles, Praveena Somasundaram, Hannah Natanson and Kim Bellware, Oct. 25, 2023. Scholastic Inc. will end a widely criticized policy that made it easier for school book fairs not to sell works with racial, disability and LGBTQ+ themes.

The children’s publisher angered many authors and educators this fall when it created a separate package of dozens of books, labeled “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice,” and gave schools the option on whether to include them in fairs. Poet Amanda Gorman, whose “Change Sings” was among the titles in “Share Every Story,” had said in an Instagram video that Scholastic’s decision “felt like a betrayal.”
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Scholastic had said the policy, which will remain in place for the rest of the year, was a response to the proliferation of restrictions passed by states around the country. The publisher has not settled on a strategy for 2024.

Oct. 24

ny times logoNew York Times, SAT Data Shows the Deep Inequality at the Heart of American Education, Claire Cain Miller, Graphics by Francesca Paris, Oct. 24, 2023 (print ed.). New data shows, for the first time at this level of detail, how much students’ standardized test scores rise with their parents' incomes — and how disparities start years before students sit for tests.

One-third of the children of the very richest families scored a 1300 or higher, while less than 5 percent of middle-class students did, according to the data, from economists at Opportunity Insights, based at Harvard. Relatively few children in the poorest families scored that high; just one in five took the test at all.

The researchers matched all students’ SAT and ACT scores for 2011, 2013 and 2015 with their parents’ federal income tax records for the prior six years. Their analysis, which also included admissions and attendance records, found that children from very rich families are overrepresented at elite colleges for many reasons, including that admissions offices give them preference. But the test score data highlights a more fundamental reason: When it comes to the types of achievement colleges assess, the children of the rich are simply better prepared.

The disparity highlights the inequality at the heart of American education: Starting very early, children from rich and poor families receive vastly different educations, in and out of school, driven by differences in the amount of money and time their parents are able to invest. And in the last five decades, as the country has become more unequal by income, the gap in children’s academic achievement, as measured by test scores throughout schooling, has widened.

“Kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods end up behind the starting line even when they get to kindergarten,” said Sean Reardon, the professor of poverty and inequality in education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

“On average,” he added, “our schools aren’t very good at undoing that damage.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision ending race-based affirmative action, there has been revived political momentum to address the ways in which many colleges favor the children of rich and white families, such as legacy admissions, preferences for private school students, athletic recruitment in certain sports and standardized tests.

Yet these things reflect the difference in children’s opportunities long before they apply for college, Professor Reardon said. To address the deeper inequality in education, he said, “it’s 18 years too late.”

The children of the top 0.1 percent, whose parents earned an average of $11.3 million a year in today’s dollars, got far better scores than even the children of the families just below them, the new data shows. For the 12,000 students in this group, opportunities that drive achievement were amplified — exclusive private schools, summers traveling the world and college prep services that cost more than college itself — said John N. Friedman, an economist at Brown, who analyzed the new data with Raj Chetty and David J. Deming of Harvard.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Worst Scandal in American Higher Education Isn’t in the Ivy League, David French, right (former National Review columnist  and self-described evangelical  Christian), Oct. 22, 2023. Those of us who write about david french croppedhigher education can pay too much attention to America’s elite universities. Schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford are seen as virtual cultural superpowers, and the battle over these schools is sometimes seen as a proxy for battles over the future of the country itself. It’s not that this argument is wrong, exactly. That’s why I’ve written about these schools myself. But it’s incomplete.

In rightly ascribing importance to the Harvards of the world, we can forget that other schools in other contexts also exercise immense influence, and their virtues and flaws can sometimes be more consequential than anything that happens in the Ivy League.

liberty university sealIn fact, I’d argue that the moral collapse at Liberty University in Virginia may well be the most consequential education scandal in the United States, not simply because the details themselves are shocking and appalling, but because Liberty’s misconduct both symbolizes and contributes to the crisis engulfing Christian America. It embodies a cultural and political approach that turns Christian theology on its head.

Last week, Fox News reported that Liberty is facing the possibility of an “unprecedented” $37.5 million fine from the U.S. Department of Education. The department has been investigating violations of the Clery Act, a federal statute that requires federally funded colleges and universities to education department seal Custom 2publicly report data about campus crime. To put that number into perspective, consider that Michigan State University paid $4.5 million for its own “systemic failure” to respond to the infamous Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, in which Nassar was convicted of sexually abusing dozens of women in his care. While Liberty’s fine is not yet set, the contents of a leaked Education Department report — first reported by Susan Svrluga in The Washington Post — leave little doubt as to why it may be this large. 

The report, as Svrluga writes, “paints a picture of a university that discouraged people from reporting crimes, underreported the claims it received and, meanwhile, marketed its Virginia campus as one of the safest in the country.” The details are grim. According to the report, “Liberty failed to warn the campus community about gas leaks, bomb threats and people credibly accused of repeated acts of sexual violence — including a senior administrator and an athlete.”

A campus safety consultant told Svrluga, “This is the single most blistering Clery report I have ever read. Ever.”

jerry falwell jr resized wife assistantIf this was the only scandal at Liberty, it would and should be a national story. But it’s not the only scandal. Far from it. I’ve been following (and covering) Liberty’s moral collapse for years, and the list of scandals and lawsuits plaguing the school is extraordinarily long. The best known of these is the saga of Jerry Falwell Jr., shown above  and  below left.  Falwell, a former president of the school and a son of its founder, resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving himself, his wife and a pool boy turned business associate named Giancarlo Granda.

jerry falwell jr wFalwell is nationally prominent in part because he was one of Donald Trump’s earliest and most enthusiastic evangelical supporters. Falwell sued the school, the school sued Falwell, and in September Falwell filed a scorching amended complaint, claiming that other high-ranking Liberty officers and board members had committed acts of sexual and financial misconduct yet were permitted to retain their positions.

But that’s not all. In 2021, ProPublica published a comprehensive, gut-wrenching report describing how Liberty mishandled claims of sex abuse and sex harassment on campus and used its strict code of conduct, the Liberty Way, against victims of sex abuse. If, for example, victims had been drinking or engaged in any other conduct prohibited by Liberty policies, those details in their sex abuse complaints could be used against them in school disciplinary proceedings.

Liberty has faced a series of lawsuits related to those claims, and last year it settled one of those cases. Throughout these controversies, Liberty has responded by denying many of the worst allegations against it. Liberty claims, for example, that the Education Department’s preliminary report is marred by “significant errors, misstatements and unsupported conclusions.” It has also acknowledged “historic gaps in compliance” with the Clery Act and says it is making material changes on campus, including spending millions to upgrade campus security and reviewing and enhancing its Title IX procedures.

I know that there are people who will read the accounts above and be angry. They can’t believe a Christian institution could fail its students, the church and the nation so profoundly. Others will read and grow angry for a different reason. The scandals above are only a partial description of the problems at Liberty. They’ll actually think I let the campus off easy.

But there’s another group that will be angry as well — at yet another attack on an evangelical institution in a powerful secular newspaper. That anger, though, is a key part of the problem with the American church, and it’s a problem that no less a Christian figure than the apostle Paul identified almost 2,000 years ago.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church (or, as Trump might say, One Corinthians), he issued a ferocious denunciation of sexual immorality inside the church. In chapter five, he says that he’s heard of misconduct “of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” He’s condemning an act of incest within the church, but if you read the accounts of incidents at Liberty, you’ll read stories of gross misconduct that Christians and non-Christians alike should and do find utterly abhorrent.

The chapter continues in an interesting way. Paul demonstrates ferocious anger at the church’s internal sin, but says this about those outside the congregation: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

Not every Christian institution is rocked by scandal, and there are many Christian colleges that are healthy and vibrant, led by men and women of integrity. Yet as we witness systemic misconduct unfold at institution after institution after institution, often without any real accountability, we can understand that many members of the church have gotten Paul’s equation exactly backward. They are remarkably tolerant of even the most wayward, dishonest and cruel individuals and institutions in American Christianity. At the same time, they approach those outside with a degree of anger and ferocity that’s profoundly contributing to American polarization. It’s also perpetuating the corruption of the church.

Under this moral construct, internal critique is perceived as a threat, a way of weakening American evangelicalism. It’s seen as contributing to external hostility and possibly even the rapid secularization of American life that’s now underway. But Paul would scoff at such a notion. One of the church’s greatest apostles didn’t hold back from critiquing a church that faced far greater cultural or political headwinds — including brutal and deadly persecution at the hands of the Roman state — than the average evangelical can possibly imagine.

Why? Because he realized the health of the church wasn’t up to the state, nor was it dependent on the church’s nonbelieving neighbors. Liberty University is consequential not just because it’s an academic superpower in Christian America, but also because it’s a symbol of a key reality of evangelical life — we have met the enemy of American Christianity, and it is us.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: With War in Israel, the Cancel Culture Debate Comes Full Circle, Michelle Goldberg, right, Oct. 24, 2023 (print ed.). Nathan Thrall’s searing new michelle goldberg thumbbook, A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, struck me as important even before the obscene massacres and mass kidnappings committed by Hamas this month lit the Middle East on fire. Today, with people still struggling to understand the contours of this deeply complicated conflict, the book seems essential.

An expanded version of Thrall’s widely praised 2021 New York Review of Books article of the same name, the book follows a Palestinian man named Abed Salama as he searches for his 5-year-old son after a deadly school bus crash in the West Bank, a search hindered by Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian movement. Thrall, the former director of the Arab-Israeli project at the International Crisis Group, uses his reported account of the Salama family’s tragedy to offer a panoramic look at life under Israel’s occupation. He is deeply concerned with Palestinian grief, but also writes rich portraits of Israelis, including Beber Vanunu, founder of a settlement in the West Bank, and Dany Tirza, architect of the separation wall that cuts through the territory.

Because I admire A Day in the Life of Abed Salama so much, I agreed to moderate a talk with Thrall this Thursday in Brooklyn. But I’ve been shocked to learn that several of his other events, both in the United States and in Britain, have been canceled, either because of security fears or because it’s considered insensitive, right after the killings and abductions in Israel, to dwell on the plight of Palestinians.

“How does one promote a program on this subject to a largely Jewish audience when people on all sides are being bombed, killed and buried?” Andrea Grossman, whose Los Angeles nonprofit called off an event with Thrall, said in The Guardian. American Public Media, which distributes content for public radio stations nationwide, even pulled ads for the book.

Thrall is not alone; in recent weeks several literary and cultural events by pro-Palestinian speakers or groups have been either scrapped or relocated. But if someone as evenhanded as Thrall now finds his talks being dropped, we’re in an especially repressive period. And in a time of war, particularly a war shrouded in fiercely competing narratives, free speech is more important than ever.

ny times logoNew York Times, The New York Times has published an editors’ note about its early coverage of an explosion at a hospital in Gaza City, Staff Report, Oct. 24, 2023 (print ed.). On Oct. 17, The New York Times published news of an explosion at a hospital in Gaza City, leading its coverage with claims by Hamas government officials that an Israeli airstrike was the cause and that hundreds of people were dead or injured. The report included a large headline at the top of The Times’s website.

Israel subsequently denied being at fault and blamed an errant rocket launch by the Palestinian faction group Islamic Jihad, which has in turn denied responsibility. American and other international officials have said their evidence indicates that the rocket came from Palestinian fighter positions.

The Times’s initial accounts attributed the claim of Israeli responsibility to Palestinian officials, and noted that the Israeli military said it was investigating the blast. However, the early versions of the coverage — and the prominence it received in a headline, news alert and social media channels — relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified. The report left readers with an incorrect impression about what was known and how credible the account was.

The Times continued to update its coverage as more information became available, reporting the disputed claims of responsibility and noting that the death toll might be lower than initially reported. Within two hours, the headline and other text at the top of the website reflected the scope of the explosion and the dispute over responsibility.

Given the sensitive nature of the news during a widening conflict, and the prominent promotion it received, Times editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified. Newsroom leaders continue to examine procedures around the biggest breaking news events — including for the use of the largest headlines in the digital report — to determine what additional safeguards may be warranted.

Oct. 23

Detroit Metro Times, Detroit News fires Charlie LeDuff over c-word insult, Steve Neavling, Oct. 23, 2023. In an interview with Metro Times, LeDuff was defiant charlie leduff foxand said he has “nothing to apologize for.”

Charlie LeDuff, right, the polarizing Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has increasingly peddled right-wing outrage on his podcast, was fired from the Detroit News after using a vulgar, coded phrase aimed at Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

LeDuff came under fire over the weekend for telling Nessel in a social media post, “See you next Tuesday,” a backronym for the word “cunt.” It’s often written, “C U Next Tuesday.””

In an email to reporters on Saturday, Detroit News editor and publisher Gary Miles said LeDuff had been fired. “While we stand by the journalism that we have published under his byline, I could not envision moving forward with his weekly column in light of recent events,” Miles wrote. Miles tells Metro Times that he and Charlie mutually agreed to terminate the weekly column.

In an interview with Metro Times on Monday morning, LeDuff was defiant and said he thought the insult was “clever” because his weekly column was published on Tuesdays. “I’m not apologizing. I have nothing to apologize for. … I stand by it,” LeDuff says. “I said something clever on my own space because I am fucking pissed.”

dana nessel oLeDuff alleged in a Detroit News column last week that Nessel, right, “subtly pressured her staff to close” an investigation into a friend, Traci Kornack, a personal injury lawyer and treasurer of the Michigan Democratic Party. Kornack was accused of bilking an insurance company out of nearly $50,000 by using the account of an elderly, brain-damaged client.

In a news release a day after the column was published, Nessel denied wrongdoing, and her acting chief legal counsel, Linus Banghart-Linn, accused LeDuff of sloppy, sensational journalism in a letter to the Detroit News.

“The opinion piece published yesterday not only fails to achieve any public good or ‘sunshine’ on the work of government, but irresponsibly twists half-understood and fully fabricated notions of the Department to the detriment of public trust in their State government,” Banghart-Linn’s letter read.

LeDuff’s insult swiftly drew condemnation from journalists.

“This is disgusting and reprehensible,” Detroit News politics editor Chad Livengood tweeted Saturday. “@charlieleduff should do us all a favor and resign.”

Jon King, a local freelance reporter, said it was important for journalists to speak out because LeDuff’s insult tarnished the profession.

michigan map“While I can’t speak for anyone but myself, my sense is that his openly hateful, misogynistic response only served to further blur the line between holding truth to power and partisan advocacy,” King tweeted. “It’s no coincidence that the initial reaction came from our female colleagues. They know all too well how their gender is weaponized against them. So when they see a male journalist indulge in that weaponization, I imagine it is not just infuriating, it is also deflating.”

Alan Stamm, a former reporter at Deadline Detroit, where LeDuff was previously a columnist, suggested the Detroit News would be better off without LeDuff.

“Charlie LeDuff is a loose cannon who backfires embarrassingly and will do so repeatedly if not tossed overboard,” Stamm tweeted.

State lawmakers also spoke out and called for LeDuff's termination. Addressing several Detroit News reporters and editors, Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, tweeted, “you good with your boy calling Michigan’s Attorney General a c***? Do tell us more about your ‘editorial standards.’ Asking for an army of women who have endured lifetimes of misogyny. Fire @charlieleduff.”

As expected, conservatives came to LeDuff’s defense, and some even repeated the phrase.

“Ladies can’t have it both ways,” Meshawn Maddock, former Michigan Republican Party co-chair, tweeted Sunday. “Be all offended [by] the men who use bad words, but demand to be treated like men when it suits them.”

LeDuff is no stranger to controversy. In 1995, he conceded that he plagiarized a story while working for The New York Times. He also has been accused of manufacturing quotes and featuring inaccurate descriptions.

After 12 years at The New York Times, LeDuff took a reporting job at the Detroit News, where details in some of LeDuff’s stories were called into question. In one story that made national news, LeDuff accused Detroit police of failing to respond to his call about a dead body discovered lodged in ice in an abandoned warehouse. Metro Times and the Detroit Free Press both published stories contradicting LeDuff’s accounts of what happened.

In October 2010 LeDeuff left the Detroit News to join Fox 2, where he was known for using bizarre antics to report on serious issues. In 2011, a Detroit police officer sued LeDuff over two of his Detroit News stories that claimed she moonlighted as a stripper and danced at the long-rumored, never-proven Kwame Kilpatrick party at the Manoogian Mansion. In the lawsuit, which was eventually dismissed, Officer Paytra Williams alleged LeDuff got facts wrong in the story and disputed that she moonlighted as a stripper. In 2013, LeDuff was accused of urinating in public, biting a security guard at a St. Patrick’s Day party, and calling three policewomen “whores.” He left Fox 2 in November 2016.

LeDuff wrote two critically acclaimed books, Detroit: An American Autopsy (2008) and Shitshow!: The Country’s Collapsing and the Ratings Are Great (2018).

In October 2018, LeDuff launched his ongoing podcast, The No BS News Hour, where he lurched to the right and built a conservative following by attacking Democrats and taking a hardline position against immigration. He frequently appears on Fox News and conservative podcasts.

LeDuff insists he didn’t need the Detroit News job, which he says paid “peanuts,” because of the success of his podcast. If he has any regrets, he says, it’s the harm done to Detroit News editor Gary Miles and editorial page editor Nolan Finley. “I regret the stress and the decision they had to make,” LeDuff says. “I admire them. I think of them as mentors and colleagues. I regret any ignominy or shade or stress on them. That’s who I apologize to and nobody else.”

ny times logoNew York Times, LinkedIn issued a warning to a site shaming pro-Palestinian sentiment, Ryan Mac, Oct. 23, 2023 (print ed.). The site listed thousands of people and grouped them by their workplaces after they posted on the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

Online posts asking to “#PrayForPalestine.” Entreaties for peace. Pleas to “Free Gaza.”

Over the last 10 days, a website called anti-israel-employees.com published more than 17,000 posts, which one of the people behind the site said had been taken mainly from LinkedIn. The site, which claimed to be a “global live feed of potentially supportive sentiments for terrorism among company employees,” listed thousands of people and grouped them by their workplaces, in an apparent attempt to shame them for their sentiments on the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

The website, which was taken offline for a day before being migrated to a new web address, named employees of major international corporations, including Amazon, Mastercard and Ernst & Young, and shared their profile photos, LinkedIn pages and posts.

Itai Liptz, a hedge fund manager who said he was one of the people behind the original site, said that its goal was to “expose people who supported Hamas publicly.”

“We wanted to have it documented and a record,” he said. “If I work in this company, but I see my friends on LinkedIn celebrating and praising Hamas, then I’m not feeling safe.”

But the site also highlighted posts from people who did not explicitly show support for Hamas, according to posts seen by The New York Times. Some people used hash tags like “#GazaUnderAttack” or sought to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. The site asked users to submit posts that they believed should be exposed, and included a numeric “hate score” for companies.

The site, which was created 10 days ago, comes amid a wider debate over online expression during a fraught international conflict. Similar lists have also been created to track college students who have spoken out in support of Palestinians, while Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, said it took down nearly 800,000 pieces of Hebrew and Arabic language content for violating its rules in the three days after the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7.

Some people who were highlighted on the site have already deleted their LinkedIn posts or their LinkedIn profiles. Mr. Liptz, who said he did not expect the site to become as popular as it did after spreading via WhatsApp groups, called the far-ranging capture of all pro-Palestinian sentiment a mistake.

“If somebody says ‘Free Palestine’ that is totally OK, and we shouldn’t put it on our website,” he said on Saturday. “We just want to make sure the filters are there because they have the right to say that.”

The site, however, was back online on Sunday at a new web address and still displayed the posts and names of people that Mr. Liptz had said would be removed. Now located at an Israel-specific domain, the site is being overseen by Guy Ophir, a lawyer in Israel, who said the team moved it to a new address after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from LinkedIn.

A spokesman for LinkedIn said the company determined that the site had used automated programs to extract content from the platform, a practice known as scraping, which is a violation of its rules. Mr. Liptz denied that his site extracted the LinkedIn information through scraping, while Mr. Ophir said he believed that LinkedIn was trying to infringe on his right to free speech.

“We are not going to remove the website,” he said. “We are willing to fight them here.”

The site has been a subject of discussion at Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and LinkedIn, where employees have expressed concern about the chilling effect it could have on online speech.

“People are scraping pro-Palestine LinkedIn posts and adding them to a database of ‘terror supporters,’” one employee wrote last Wednesday in a note on an internal Meta message board that was seen by The Times.

Other Meta employees were in disbelief that expressing support for Palestine was equated with supporting terrorism.

“The lack of understanding,” a Meta employee wrote, “is beyond insensitive and cruel.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Ukrainian spies with deep ties to CIA wage shadow war against Russia, Greg Miller and Isabelle Khurshudyan, Oct. 24, 2023 (print ed.). The cluttered car carrying a mother and her 12-year-old daughter seemed barely worth the attention of Russian security officials as it approached a border checkpoint.

CIA LogoBut the least conspicuous piece of luggage — a crate for a cat — was part of an elaborate, lethal plot. Ukrainian operatives had installed a hidden compartment in the pet carrier, according to security officials with knowledge of the operation, and used it to conceal components of a bomb.

Four weeks later, the device detonated just outside Moscow in an SUV being driven by the daughter of a Russian nationalist who had urged his country to “kill, kill, kill” Ukrainians, an explosion signaling that the heart of Russia would not be spared the carnage of war.

The operation was orchestrated by Ukraine’s domestic security service, the SBU, according to officials who provided details, including the use of the pet crate, that have not been previously disclosed. The August 2022 attack is part of a raging shadow war in which Ukraine’s spy services have also twice bombed the bridge connecting Russia to occupied Crimea, piloted drones into the roof of the Kremlin and blown holes in the hulls of Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

These operations have been cast as extreme measures Ukraine was forced to adopt in response to Russia’s invasion last year. In reality, they represent capabilities that Ukraine’s spy agencies have developed over nearly a decade — since Russia first seized Ukrainian territory in 2014 — a period during which the services also forged deep new bonds with the CIA.

The missions have involved elite teams of Ukrainian operatives drawn from directorates that were formed, trained and equipped in close partnership with the CIA, according to current and former Ukrainian and U.S. officials. Since 2015, the CIA has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Ukraine’s Soviet-formed services into potent allies against Moscow, officials said. The agency has provided Ukraine with advanced surveillance systems, trained recruits at sites in Ukraine as well as the United States, built new headquarters for departments in Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, and shared intelligence on a scale that would have been unimaginable before Russia illegally annexed Crimea and fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine. The CIA maintains a significant presence in Kyiv, officials said.

The extent of the CIA’s involvement with Ukraine’s security services has not previously been disclosed. U.S. intelligence officials stressed that the agency has had no involvement in targeted killing operations by Ukrainian agencies, and that its work has focused on bolstering those services’ abilities to gather intelligence on a dangerous adversary. A senior intelligence official said that “any potential operational concerns have been conveyed clearly to the Ukrainian services.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Republicans target visas of student protesters. That violates free speech, experts say, Dylan Wells, Oct. 20, 2023. The proposals reflect the determination by much of the GOP field to stake out increasingly hard-line stances against many Muslim immigrants and in support of Israel.

As tensions have erupted at college campuses throughout the country after Hamas’s attack on Israel, former president Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates have called to revoke student visas and deport foreign nationals who express support for Palestinians or criticize Israel’s military response — moves that would amount to violations of their First Amendment rights, according to some legal experts.

Student protests have ranged from urging a cease-fire or denouncing the treatment and killing of Palestinian civilians to blaming Israel for Hamas’s attack, a position that has been criticized across the political spectrum. Some Republican candidates have not differentiated the protests in their comments, generalizing protest participants as supporting Hamas.

Trump, the dominant polling leader in the GOP race, said this week that if he is returned to the White House, his administration would revoke student visas of “radical, anti-American and antisemitic foreigners.”

Oct. 20

washington post logoWashington Post, Lawmakers demand answers from Bezos about election misinformation on Alexa, Cat Zakrzewski and Caroline O'Donovan, Oct. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-NY), citing a Post report that found Alexa spread false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, pressed the Amazon founder on his 2024 election plans.

Lawmakers on Wednesday pressed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on the company’s plans to prevent the spread of misinformation ahead of the 2024 election, citing a Washington Post report that the company’s voice assistant Alexa spread false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee chair, and Rep. Joseph Morelle, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, asked Bezos in a letter to explain what steps have been taken to improve the accuracy of Alexa’s responses. The Minnesota and New York Democrats also pressed Bezos on how the company is vetting responses that cite Alexa users as source material — especially when the inquiries are related to elections.

“This spreading of election-related misinformation and disinformation is particularly troubling given the emerging use of artificial intelligence to mislead voters,” the lawmakers wrote.

Amazon’s Alexa has been claiming the 2020 election was stolen

Bezos, the company’s former CEO, owns The Washington Post. The Post’s interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.

washington post logoWashington Post, How Natalee Holloway’s case put a spotlight on media coverage of missing White women, Jonathan Edwards, Oct. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Natalee Holloway had disappeared but was everywhere.

In the summer of 2005, major news networks were running a seemingly endless barrage of stories about the 18-year-old, who had gone missing while on a graduation trip in Aruba.

On Aug. 11 of that year, after months of coverage, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper was fed up. There had been no substantive updates in the case, and yet networks had kept running stories. He showed a montage of clips from those stories, including one of then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly referring to the case as “a soap opera” and “a reality show.”

“It’s getting downright ridiculous,” Cooper said, before telling viewers he was done talking about the Holloway case until there was actual news to relay.

More than 18 years later, the Holloway case is back in the headlines. On Wednesday, 36-year-old Joran van der Sloot, a longtime suspect, confessed to killing her on an Aruban beach because she had rejected his sexual advances.

Van der Sloot’s admission brought some finality to a story that dominated the airwaves nearly two decades ago and has lingered in the American consciousness ever since. The coverage of her disappearance played into a well-worn, centuries-old trope that University of Maryland journalism professor Mark Feldstein calls the “maiden-in-peril narrative,” an idea that in recent years has gained traction as the “missing White woman syndrome.”

fcc logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Democrats renew push to restore net neutrality, years after its repeal, Cristiano Lima and David DiMolfetta, Oct. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Democrats at the Federal Communications Commission are kicking off on Thursday a long-anticipated effort to restore the Obama-era net neutrality protections, a high-profile campaign that would grant the agency greater power to rein in internet service providers.

The FCC is slated to vote on whether to launch a rulemaking process to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under what’s known as Title II of the Communications Act, giving the agency the leeway to carry out more aggressive utility-style regulation of the sector.

The agency, which last month clinched a 3-2 Democratic majority for the first time under President Biden, is likely to greenlight the move, which is backed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

In an interview previewing the meeting, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the action is “designed to meet the moment we're in” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which she said made it abundantly clear that “broadband is an essential service.”

“Nobody can come out of this pandemic and think that this service is a luxury. It's a necessity. We need it for everyone, everywhere,” Rosenworcel, a Democrat, told me on Wednesday. “It is foundational for so much in modern, civic and commercial life.”

But the plan, which arrives more than 1,000 days into Joe Biden’s presidency and nearly six years after the rules were repealed, is poised to face significant obstacles, from political and industry blowback to likely legal challenges and a dwindling shot clock.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia detained an American journalist and charged her with failing to register as a foreign agent, Ivan Nechepurenko, Oct. 20, 2023 (print ed.). Alsu Kurmasheva, who holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship and works in Prague, was charged with failing to register as a foreign agent after going to Russia for family reasons.

Russian FlagThe Russian authorities have detained an editor working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an American broadcaster funded by the United States government, on charges of failing to register as a “foreign agent,” the media company said on Thursday.

The editor, Alsu Kurmasheva, who holds both Russian and United States citizenship, is the second American journalist to be detained in Russia this year. In March, Russian special services detained Evan Gershkovich, a Russian correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, on espionage charges, which he and The Journal have denied. He remains in a high-security prison in Moscow awaiting trial.

Ms. Kurmasheva’s detention, in Kazan, a major city about 500 miles east of Moscow, is likely to further raise suspicions that the Kremlin now views American citizens on its soil as high-profile assets that can be traded for high-value Russians held in United States custody.

Oct. 18

washington post logoWashington Post, How Hannity, Bannon and others on the right helped fuel GOP speaker chaos, Sarah Ellison and Will Sommer, Oct. 18, 2023 (print ed.). Fox News host Sean Hannity vented to his millions of viewers Monday night about the state of the Republican effort to name a new House speaker — taking special aim at the “few sensitive little snowflakes in Congress” who were not supporting his preferred GOP candidate, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.

But the widely watched conservative pundit wasn’t only using his televised bully pulpit to pressure the holdouts. Hannity also spent the weekend personally calling several and having one of his producers reach out to others to lobby them on their vote. He also took to social media to encourage his followers to call wavering members and demand they fall into line.

Hannity’s effort to personally whip up votes for Jordan highlights the central role that right-wing media has played in the weeks-long drama engulfing Capitol Hill over who will wield the speaker’s gavel.

washington post logoWashington Post, War inflames U.S. college campuses, raises fears of antisemitism, Nick Anderson, Oct. 18, 2023. Jewish students say they have felt increasingly isolated since Hamas militants attacked Israel.

Someone scrawled “Free Palestine” on the exterior of a Jewish fraternity house at Georgia Tech over the weekend, next to a large image of a menorah. A Stanford University instructor reportedly asked Jewish and Israeli students to stand in the corner of a classroom. A Cornell University professor declared at a rally Sunday that, while he abhors violence, he felt “exhilarated” after Hamas militants from Gaza attacked Israel.

These and other incidents have rattled Jewish communities on campuses across America as they mourn victims of the Oct. 7 massacres and kidnappings. For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has stoked passions and divisions over the rights of Palestinians and the security of the Jewish state. But the outbreak of war has elevated those tensions even further in recent days and raised new alarms about intimidation and antisemitism on campus.

“Jewish students are fearful and isolated,” said Melanie Schwartz, 20, a junior at Cornell.

washington post logoWashington Post, Republicans want schools to block social media or lose internet funds, Cristiano Lima, Oct. 18, 2023. A bill would require schools to ban social media and limit screen time to receive federal internet subsidies.

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday are proposing legislation to block children from using social media in school, preventing access to the platforms on poorer schools’ networks that receive federal broadband subsidies, the latest in a growing crop of bills to bar younger users from sites such as TikTok and Instagram.

The measure illustrates how policymakers are turning to a broadening and increasingly aggressive arsenal of tools to try to restrict children’s online activity amid concerns about their safety.

Led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the bill would require that schools prohibit youths from using social media on their networks to be eligible to for the E-Rate program, which provides lower prices for internet access.

Discounts for support depend on the level of poverty and whether the school or library is located in an urban or rural areas.

The E-Rate program allows schools and libraries facing poverty conditions in rural and urban areas to receive significant federally funded discounts on their internet service — an effort to address gaps in broadband connectivity referred to as the “homework gap.”

While the program is broadly supported by Democrats on Capitol Hill and at the Federal Communications Commission and some prominent Republicans, top GOP congressional leaders including Cruz and conservative activists have lashed out against it as a form of wasteful government spending.

Oct. 17

ny times logoNew York Times, President Biden’s campaign said it had joined Truth Social “mostly because we thought it would be very funny,” Reid J. Epstein, Oct. 17, 2023 (print ed.). Officials with President Biden’s re-election campaign have long pledged to meet voters where they are. On Monday the campaign began a project to meet former President Donald J. Trump’s voters where they are — on his social media platform.

“Let’s see how this goes,” the campaign’s account wrote on Monday in its first post on Truth Social. “Converts welcome!”

The Biden campaign painted its debut on Mr. Trump’s outlet as a cheeky opportunity to troll the president’s likely general election opponent. Mr. Trump launched Truth Social in April 2022 in response to being blocked from mainstream social media platforms a day after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Their actions came after he published inaccurate and inflammatory messages during that day of violence.

“There’s very little ‘truth’ happening on Truth Social, but at least now it’ll be a little fun,” Kevin Munoz, a Biden campaign spokesman, said.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, the Biden campaign said it had joined the platform “mostly because we thought it would be very funny.” The decision marks a shift from the campaign’s previously stated position that it would not join the Trump platform, as reported by Axios in May.

Mr. Biden, who won the 2020 presidential election by narrow margins in just a handful of battleground states, is in search of any edge he can get with voters who could be persuaded to vote for him.

Oct. 16

taylor swift stage

 washington post logoWashington Post, Movie Review: Love Taylor Swift or not, her concert film is astonishing, Ann Hornaday, Oct. 16, 2023 (print ed.). It’s Swift’s movie. We’re just living in it.

“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is a simultaneously intimate and spectacular documentary of her record-breaking, earth-quaking, career-spanning victory lap.

Pro tip: If you’re going to see “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” make sure you see it with a packed house of grade-school-aged girls primed to shriek, rush the screen, take selfies and make heart hands through this delirious, dizzying celebration of Swift-mania.

Sure, that’s probably redundant. (Is there any other way to see “The Eras Tour” than with a crowd of screaming girls?) And yes, oldsters will need a couple of Ibuprofen when it’s all over. But to fully appreciate “The Eras Tour,” a simultaneously intimate and spectacular documentary of Swift’s record-breaking, earth-quaking, career-spanning victory lap of the past year, it’s best simply to surrender to the whole thing: the sparkly cowboy hats, the boots, the friendship bracelets and the screaming (there will be a lot of screaming).

Taylor-made: A Swiftie’s guide to the best 'Eras' movie experienceSwift has been a compelling screen presence from as far back as 2009, when she quietly stole the show from Miley Cyrus in the feature film spinoff of “Hannah Montana.” Today, with a net worth just shy of $800 million, a seemingly limitless creative output and just enough chips on her shoulder to keep things interesting, it’s Swift’s movie and we’re just living in it.

madonna art freedom

ny times logoNew York Times, Madonna Celebrates Four Decades of Hits With Career-Spanning Spectacle, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Ben Sisario, Oct. 16, 2023 (print ed.). After a health-related delay, the pop superstar (shown above in  a file  photo) launched her Celebration Tour in London with a performance devoted to her full catalog of hits.

They wore pearls with crucifixes, lace gloves, tulle skirts and body-sculpting corsets. Some even crimped their hair and drew on fake beauty moles, while others wore simple white T-shirts with only the letter M on the back. Spanning generations, the concertgoers arriving at the O2 Arena in London used Saturday night as an opportunity to dress in their favorite Madonna era, even if that was decades before they were born.

Madonna, 65, is on the road for the first time since 2020 with her global Celebration Tour, a stage spectacle touching on more than 40 of her hits across four decades. The show opened at the O2, a 20,000-capacity arena, three months after its planned first date, following a health scare for the pop icon. In June, Madonna was hospitalized shortly before the tour’s scheduled debut in Canada. At the time, her manager said she had a “serious bacterial infection” that resulted in the singer staying in an intensive care unit for several days.

Madonna swore that the tour — her first devoted to her full catalog of hits, rather than to a specific album release — would go on. In recent weeks, she has filled her Instagram account with tantalizing, and very on-brand, images from rehearsals, showing her dressed in a lacy black bustier, practicing onstage steps and resting her fishnet-clad knees.
Fans waited out a 30-minute delay before Madonna arrived onstage in London, opening with a medley of hits before acknowledging the challenges that had led to the moment. “How did I make it this far? Because of you,” she said, adding, “But I will take a bit of credit, too.”

It was clear from the beginning that this concert would be as much a journey through Madonna’s career as it would a bona fide dance party. Set on an elaborate stage that jutted out into the audience, several hanging retractable screens showed images of the singer. At other times, they displayed powerful portraits, as when she launched into “Live To Tell” and the screens displayed images of Freddie Mercury, Arthur Ashe and more people who died from AIDS.

For more than two hours, with the help of her dancers and some of her six children, Madonna blazed through her catalog of songs, singing several hits like “Holiday,” “Like a Prayer,” “Hung Up,” “Ray of Light” and “Bad Girl.” Her costumes were sexy, religious and futuristic.

 

 elon musk sideview

Going Deep With Russ Baker, Investigative Commentary: Time to Deal with Elon Musk as Chaos Agent #1, Russ Baker, right, founder of WhoWhatWhy, author and  media critic, Oct. 15-16, 2023. Musk (shown above in a  file photo) may pay a russ baker cropped david welkerbig fine for willfully spreading lies — but the human whowhatwhy logocost in lives cannot be calculated.

The media has played into the image of Elon Musk as a loveable, wacky, brilliant guy.

This past week, it seems that the media, which has waffled for years, suddenly settled on just how bad and dangerous golden boy Elon Reeve Musk actually is.

x logo twitterAs with Donald John Trump, the media screwed up big time, helping hype the brand, which in turn enabled Musk’s amassing of a far greater fortune and power. The merits of the companies he bought or started, while significant, have been far exceeded by the amount of hagiography heaped upon him.

Now, like Dr. Frankenstein, they regret their creation. And no wonder. Not only is Musk basically a destructive narcissist — he’s also a disinformation kingpin, a danger to domestic tranquility, to national security, and much, much more.

The evidence is voluminous, and may be familiar to you. Yet the details are well worth reviewing because, cumulatively, they show the evil purpose at hand.

“I Still Don’t Know What They’re Talking About!”

european union logo rectangleOn October 10, in rapid response to disinformation Musk was putting out about the Hamas-Israel conflict that had just exploded, Thierry Breton, a commissioner with the European Union and author of the Digital Services Act (passed in 2022 to regulate social media content for the protection of the public), fired off a letter to Musk. He warned him that failing to moderate fake news on X could result in a fine of 6 percent of X’s revenues — or even an EU blackout of the social media platform altogether.

twitter bird CustomThe fake news includes disinformation about the Hamas attack, including the posting of misrepresented and repurposed old images, and “military” footage that actually came from a video game. 

As he routinely does, a la Trump, when confronted about the bogus information pervading every inch of his site, Musk asks, in effect, “Huh?”

In response to the EU’, Musk feigned ignorance: “Please list the violations you allude to on X, so that the public can see them.”

Oct. 12

Politico Magazine, Analysis: Republican Chaos Has Conservative Media Fuming. It’s Their Fault It Happened, Brian Rosenwald, Oct. 12, 2023. Brian Rosenwald is director of the Red and Blue Exchange at the University of Pennsylvania, senior editor of Made by History, and author of "Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States."

politico CustomTalk radio and Fox News hosts created the political incentives that fueled Kevin McCarthy’s ouster and today’s speakership drama.

Rep. Matt Gaetz is a “POS demagogue” for orchestrating the ouster of Kevin McCarthy from the speakership, a man who “repeatedly” lied to conservatives and, perhaps worst of all, is the “favorite Republican of the Democrat Party and their media.” Harsh words from conservative talk radio and cable news host Mark Levin.

djt maga hatFox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade recently laid into another one of the GOP mutineers, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), to start off a stunningly confrontational interview: “You were one of the eight. Speaker McCarthy had 96 percent approval rating. But that wasn’t good enough for you. Do you feel good enough about your vote?”

And then there was Jeanine Pirro announcing twice that she was “furious” on Fox’s The Five, adding, “You’ve got the Republicans going out there and showing how dysfunctional they are as Matt Gaetz is engaging in fundraising.”

But the truth is that angry conservative media hosts have only themselves to blame for McCarthy’s downfall and the disarray currently facing House Republicans.

The leaders of conservative talk radio and cable news have spent years assailing GOP congressional leaders — including McCarthy — and they are largely responsible for turning far-right rebels like Gaetz into stars. Going back to the 1990s, conservative media created the political ecosystem in which torching and targeting Republican leaders is good politics on the right. And they’ve ensured that the next speaker, whether it’s Steve Scalise or someone else, will face the same poisonous incentive structure that took down McCarthy. 

Oct. 11

ny times logoNew York Times, The Washington Post to Cut 240 Jobs, Katie Robertson, Oct. 11, 2023 (print ed.). The Washington Post is cutting about 240 jobs across the organization as it tries to offset challenges with digital subscriptions and advertising, according to a companywide email on Tuesday.

Patty Stonesifer, the interim chief executive officer, said in the email to Post employees that the company hoped to achieve the cuts through voluntary buyouts. The buyouts will be offered to staff members this week.

washington post logoThe company has about 2,600 employees in total, with more than 1,000 in its newsroom. The company declined to comment on how many jobs in the newsroom would be eliminated.

“Our prior projections for traffic, subscriptions and advertising growth for the past two years — and into 2024 — have been overly optimistic,” Ms. Stonesifer wrote in the email. She added: “The urgent need to invest in our top growth priorities brought us to the difficult conclusion that we need to adjust our cost structure now.”

The move is the latest indication of The Post’s business struggles. The company, which is owned by the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is on track to lose roughly $100 million this year.

The number of subscriptions at The Post has declined in recent years — it now has roughly 2.5 million subscribers, down from a high of three million subscribers at the end of 2020. The Post has also struggled in the face of an industrywide decline in digital advertising.

Mr. Bezos, who paid $250 million for the newspaper in 2013, has previously said he wants the publication to be profitable.

fred ryan wSome of The Post’s troubles have been placed at the feet of Fred Ryan, right, the longtime chief executive and publisher, who announced his resignation in June. Mr. Ryan, a former Reagan aide and Politico executive who joined The Post in 2014, oversaw abundant growth in the company during the first five years of his tenure. The newsroom roughly doubled in size and subscriptions soared.

But The Post, like other news organizations, saw a drop-off in subscribers after former President Donald J. Trump left office. Mr. Ryan was criticized for what some in the company saw as a stultified business culture and frequently clashed with newsroom leaders. He also presided over an exodus of talent in the past two years, including top-tier executives and high-profile journalists.

Ms. Stonesifer, a longtime friend of Mr. Bezos, agreed to step in as an interim leader after Mr. Ryan departed this year. She said in her email that she had worked with the senior leadership team over the past two months to review the company’s business and financial results, leading to the decision to offer buyouts “in the hopes of averting more difficult decisions such as layoffs.”

The number of subscriptions at The Post has declined in recent years — it now has roughly 2.5 million subscribers, down from a high of three million subscribers at the end of 2020. The Post has also struggled in the face of an industrywide decline in digital advertising.

amazon logo smallMr. Bezos, who paid $250 million for the newspaper in 2013, has previously said he wants the publication to be profitable.

Some of The Post’s troubles have been placed at the feet of Fred Ryan, the longtime chief executive and publisher, who announced his resignation in June. Mr. Ryan, a former Reagan aide and Politico executive who joined The Post in 2014, oversaw abundant growth in the company during the first five years of his tenure. The newsroom roughly doubled in size and subscriptions soared.

But The Post, like other news organizations, saw a drop-off in subscribers after former President Donald J. Trump left office. Mr. Ryan was criticized for what some in the company saw as a stultified business culture and frequently clashed with newsroom leaders. He also presided over an exodus of talent in the past two years, including top-tier executives and high-profile journalists.

Ms. Stonesifer, a longtime friend of Mr. Bezos, agreed to step in as an interim leader after Mr. Ryan departed this year. She said in her email that she had worked with the senior leadership team over the past two months to review the company’s business and financial results, leading to the decision to offer buyouts “in the hopes of averting more difficult decisions such as layoffs.”

She said employees would be notified this week if they were eligible for a package and were free to decline the offer.

The Post has been searching for a permanent chief executive and publisher. The search is down to a final five candidates, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified discussing private conversations.

Leaders of The Washington Post Guild blasted the company in a statement on Tuesday.

In January, The Post laid off 20 journalists and froze hiring on 30 open jobs. It shut down its online gaming vertical, Launcher, as well as KidsPost, its section for children. A number of other media companies have laid off at least 7 percent of their staff this year, including The Los Angeles Times, Vox Media and NPR.

Inside the Media Industry

  • The Wall Street Journal: Emma Tucker, the new editor in chief, is moving away from some of the organization’s traditions in a bid to keep up with a fast-evolving media industry.
  • TV Networks’ Last Best Hope: It’s no secret that network TV ratings have plummeted in recent years as viewers have fled to streaming platforms outlets. There’s one notable exception: people over 60.
  • Netflix: The company is ending its DVD subscription service, bringing to a close an origin story that ultimately upended the entertainment industry.
  • Rolling Stone: Jann Wenner, the magazine’s co-founder, was removed from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame board a day after The New York Times published an interview in which he made comments that were denounced as sexist and racist.

Oct. 9

 

elon musk sideviewwashington post logoWashington Post, As false war information spreads on X, Musk promotes unvetted accounts, Joseph Menn, Oct. 9, 2023. Information researchers said that the new outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas is an early test of how the revamped X conveys accurate data during a major crisis.

As false information about the rapidly changing war between Gaza Strip militants and Israel proliferated on the social media platform X over the weekend, owner Elon Musk, shown aboce,  personally recommended that users follow accounts notorious for promoting lies.

“For following the war in real-time, @WarMonitors & @sentdefender are good,” Musk posted on the platform formerly called Twitter on Sunday morning to 150 million follower accounts. That post was viewed 11 million times in three hours, drawing thanks from those two accounts, before Musk deleted it.

x logo twitterBoth were among the most important early spreaders of a false claim in May that there had been an explosion near the White House. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index briefly dropped 85 points before that story was debunked.

Emerson T. Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council Digital Forensics Research Lab, posted that @sentdefender is an “absolutely poisonous account. regularly posting wrong and unverifiable things … inserting random editorialization and trying to juice its paid subscriber count.”

The War Monitor account has argued with others over Israel and religion, posting a year ago that “the overwhelming majority of people in the media and banks are zionists” and telling a correspondent in June to “go worship a jew lil bro.”

Information researchers said that the new conflict was an early test of how the revamped X conveys accurate data during a major crisis, and that the immediate impression was poor.

“Anecdotal evidence that X is failing this stress test is plentiful,” said Mike Caulfield, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. “Go on the platform, do a search on Israel or Gaza — you don’t have to scroll very far to find dubious or debunked information.”

Oct. 8

Politico, RFK Jr.’s Ultimate Vanity Project, David Freedlander

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Politico, RFK Jr.’s Ultimate Vanity Project, David Freedlander, Oct. 7, 2023. How a deep sense of persecution and a taste for conspiracy have coalesced into a campaign about censorship that matters to almost no Democratic voters.

politico CustomThe Bowery Hotel on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is the place where Hollywood stars and rock royalty stay when in New York. Courtney Love, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner have all been spotted at one time or another traipsing past its heavily lacquered and dimly lit lobby.

Sitting on the highest floor one Wednesday in May, out on the terrace off his penthouse hotel room and using the arms of his eyeglasses to stir a ginger-lime-pear-and-celery green juice that was brought up by room service is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late New York senator, environmental lawyer, vaccine skeptic and then surprisingly strong challenger to Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination.

Kennedy is building his campaign around the argument that the American people in 2023 are being systematically gagged by their government and their handmaidens on social media and in the mainstream press.

The air was heavy; Kennedy and I had spoken a few weeks before, and it ended badly. The man has an almost inhuman ability — or compulsion — to talk, and he called me one Sunday afternoon as he was hiking in the canyons behind his Brentwood, California, home. More than two hours later, he was asking if I agreed with him on the threat government censorship had on American life. As I wracked my brain to think of concrete examples of the federal government actually prohibiting or punishing people for speaking, he took my silence for acquiescence.

“I can tell you are not troubled,” he said. “To me, that is just really shocking. I thought you were supposed to be a journalist.”

In order to change the subject from my failures as a reporter and as a human being, I asked him if he remembered where he was during the afternoon of Jan. 6.

“What do you think is more dangerous,” he responded. “The censorship by the government of Americans who disagree with its policies or Jan. 6?”

I tried to point out that there really is no government censorship as commonly defined — that the government neither really coerces nor threatens private citizens or businesses. As for his complaint that the government sometimes flags information on social media platforms as incorrect, after which those platforms remove certain posts, I suggested that presumably the government has as much right to flag suspect content as any other entity, that no one was being killed or imprisoned for their statements or their views and that in fact there were more avenues to reach more people now than ever before. I said that not only did people die on Jan. 6 but a mob tried to murder a sitting vice president and members of Congress in a bid to disrupt the lawful transfer of power, but Kennedy cut me off.

“Jan. 6 was an attack on a building,” he said. “And we have lots of layers of government behind that building.”

Kennedy has built his campaign around this argument: that the American people in 2023 — perhaps the most lavishly platformed population in any society in human history — are being systematically gagged by their government and its handmaidens on social media and in the mainstream press. For Kennedy, censorship isn’t just about punishing speech, or even pressuring opponents into silence. It also means decisions by private actors — including those who control social media and the press and other gateways to public debate — who limit what can be said on their own platforms.

Like many people from both the right and the left who rail against censorship, Kennedy’s views on the matter tend to align with his political incentives and don’t particularly cohere. He talks a lot about the need to express himself on social media, but little, for example, about limits some school districts are placing on books in their library or what college professors can teach. Still, it is this question of censorship, even more than his widely discredited anti-vaccine work, or arguments against Covid-era public health measures, or his long and estimable career as an environmental lawyer, or his equally long crusade against a government which he says is willfully deceiving the people it claims to serve, that is the true cornerstone of his run for president. This is so because it is the thing Kennedy talks about that he has enfolded everything else within. What is the debate around vaccines, after all, if not a debate about who gets to say what where, and what kind of information has the imprimatur of truth and science associated with it?

The problem for him is that no one much seems to care. When we spoke in April, Kennedy was a novelty act, someone who, after half a century as an activist and author and repeated entreaties to run for office, had finally jumped into politics. For a moment, it looked as if Kennedy would make a dent. He was polling as high as 20 percent in some polls — higher, he liked to point out, than Ron DeSantis — and was generating media buzz and a lot of attention, especially from the type of Silicon Valley edgelords who were recently part of a cohort thought to be the progressive vanguard in American politics, and who, it should be said, have more influence on what is permissible on social media than probably anybody else.

rfk jr twitterNow, some five months later, Kennedy, left, is still a novelty. Polls show that Biden could have been vulnerable to the right kind of primary challenge, but Kennedy has never attempted that kind of primary challenge. He has managed to squander a healthy chunk of that early polling bump, settling just under 15 percent. And he appears set to bolt the party that has been synonymous with the Kennedy family and launch an independent bid, arguing once again that the powers that be — in this case the Democratic National Committee — are effectively silencing him again by not scheduling any debates with the incumbent president, and rigging the game against him by backing Biden instead of acting as neutral arbiters in the process.

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, anti-vax activists Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Charlene Bollinger, and longtime Trump ally and advisor Roger Stone, left to right, backstage at a July 2021 Reawaken America event. The photo was posted but later removed by Bollinger, who has appeared with Kennedy at multiple events. She and her husband sponsored an anti-vaccine, pro-Trump rally near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Bollinger celebrated the attack and her husband tried to enter the Capitol. Kennedy later appeared in a video for their Super PAC. Kennedy has repeatedly invoked Nazis and the Holocaust when talking about measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, such as mask requirements and vaccine mandates. Kennedy, who has announced a presidential campaign for 2024, has at times invoked his family’s legacy in his anti-vaccine work, including sometimes using images of President Kennedy.

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, anti-vax activists Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Charlene Bollinger, and longtime Trump ally and advisor Roger Stone, left to right, backstage at a July 2021 Reawaken America event. The photo was posted but later removed by Bollinger, who has appeared with Kennedy at multiple events. She and her husband sponsored an anti-vaccine, pro-Trump rally near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Bollinger celebrated the attack and her husband tried to enter the Capitol. Kennedy later appeared in a video for their Super PAC. Kennedy has repeatedly invoked Nazis and the Holocaust when talking about measures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, such as mask requirements and vaccine mandates. Kennedy, who has announced a presidential campaign for 2024, has at times invoked his family’s legacy in his anti-vaccine work, including sometimes using images of President Kennedy.

And so Kennedy has become every conservative pundit’s favorite Democrat (in part, although Kennedy seems not to acknowledge this, because he is taking on an incumbent Democrat) — hosted by the likes of Tucker Carlson (“He is the only guy talking about the First Amendment,” Kennedy says of him) and Bari Weiss, invited by Republicans to testify to Congress in a hearing this summer about the federal government censoring Americans on social media (“We appreciate your willingness to fight for the First Amendment,” said Republican chair and Donald Trump attack dog Jim Jordan) and boosted by Steve Bannon and others in Trump’s orbit (“I would go on his podcast if my wife would let me,” Kennedy told me).

But even as Kennedy attempts to broaden his reach as an independent, there is little indication that this is an issue that ranks at all among the concerns of most voters. (In fact, most Americans agree the government and social media companies should restrict false or violent information online.) Crime and the economy are still the top two issues for most voters, a fact that Kennedy mostly just shrugs at.

“It is part of my job to remind Americans about what is important in this country,” he told me. And if, after they are reminded of his crusade, they just sort of shrug? Well, “they ought to care,” he said. “That is one of the missions of my campaign, to make censorship important to people.”

He unleashes a torrent of stats and information about the pandemic far too fast to permit any kind of fact-check, threads together vast covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2conspiracies of government figures doing the bidding of their corporate pay-masters, says that Vitamin D supplements are superior to the Covid shot, insists he has been proven right by everything (“Tell me one thing I got wrong,” he says) and can’t believe how you have been fed lies about the cover-up involving the conspiracy to kill both his father and his uncle.

“Everything you are saying is wrong. The evidence is so voluminous, you just don’t know about it, and you really need to ask yourself why that is,” he said to me when we first spoke in April. “All you are doing is repeating the narrative that is, of course, supported by the New York Times. You are walking around in a sleep state right now.”

This feeling, that he wasn’t being properly heard and considered, and that so-called experts were dismissing him, is not a new one for Kennedy. In 2014, Kennedy wrote a book titled Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak, which picked up on an argument Kennedy made in a 2005 article co-published in both Salon and Rolling Stone which alleged that childhood vaccines caused autism. The article was so error-ridden — including by vastly overstating the amount of mercury in vaccines, conflating ethylmercury with methylmercury, misattributing quotes and getting basic factual details wrong — that it received five major corrections within days of publication, and in 2011 was retracted entirely by Salon, which could no longer stand by the piece.

The reviews didn’t slow down his reach; Kennedy published six books in the eight years after Thimerosal was released, including a defense of his cousin, Michael Skakel, who was convicted for the 1975 murder of his Greenwich, Connecticut, neighbor. (Kennedy fingers two teens of color from the Bronx as the real killers, saying they were “obsessed” with the neighbor’s “beautiful blonde hair,” and daring the men to sue him if they were wrong; they say they do not have the money to mount a suit. Skakel was released in 2013 when a judge ruled that his lawyer had not provided an adequate defense. In 2016, the state Supreme Court reinstated his conviction, then reversed itself again in 2018.) Much more recently, and more sensationally, he published The Real Anthony Fauci, which even a sympathetic reviewer in the conservative Claremont Review of Books found so wrong on its facts and contradictory in its claims as to be entirely without merit, a book that “will be of very little use to future historians, except as an example of the strain of extreme paranoia that is an ineradicable, but not admirable, part of human nature in response to crisis.”

Even Kennedy’s booting from Instagram was at best an only partial cancellation. He was still publishing books, after all, still selling them on Amazon and still giving speeches. He was even still on Twitter and Facebook. No matter. He was now a member of the Rebel Alliance, linking arms with all those cast out from polite society, to say nothing of Democratic Party politics, the True King of Canceled Mountain preparing to exact revenge on those stuffed shirts who kicked him into the wilderness in the first place.

It was this experience, as much as anything that had happened to him previously, that has powered Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Over the last several years, there has been an explosion in an alternative ecosystem of content that caters to those with the very specific views on public health, the pandemic and censorship that Kennedy has. He told me that much as John F. Kennedy used the then-new medium of television to boost his presidential campaign, he intends to do the same with this still-nascent form of social media. In this sense, he says, getting kicked off Instagram was a blessing.

When reviewers panned his earlier books, and magazines retracted his articles, Kennedy said those who did it were misinformed, and in some cases, were in league with powerful forces determined to suppress the truth, but what he didn’t say was that he was being “censored.” It took Covid for that.

Prior to Covid, tech companies had been reluctant to restrict who could say what on their platforms. Threats made by users with smaller followings were dealt with more harshly than when threats were issued by, say, the president of the United States, under the guise that statements by the latter at least had news value. It is hard to remember now, but before 2016, tech companies were seen as havens of progressive politics, their users skewed left, and the platforms themselves were seen as vehicles of democratization, pluralization and openness.

An attempt by Russia, a foreign adversary, to use those platforms to elect Trump made its leaders skittish about their commitment to open debate. It isn’t cutting tech billionaires and the platforms they operate an unfair amount of slack to imagine that in the midst of a global pandemic, the goal of balancing the desire for free speech and a vigorous exchange of ideas ran up against a need to not have people with large platforms recite information so wrong that it could not only kill people but could leave society grappling with a pandemic longer than it needed to.

This is not slack that Kennedy is willing to cut them, however, and it is not slack that they are willing to cut themselves. Some of Kennedy’s most prominent supporters are the people who made billions on building those platforms and who now echo Kennedy in his complaint of them, among them Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, current X owner Elon Musk, Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who in 2017 said the social media site was ripping society apart, and David Sacks, an early investor in PayPal, Facebook and Twitter who now says that the tech companies hold too much power in American life.

Kennedy’s take is similarly schizophrenic. On the one hand, censorship is the greatest threat facing the republic; on the other, YouTube, x logo twitterApple podcasts, X, Instagram and the like are private companies, and he says, are free to kick him off anytime they want. When I asked him if platforms had the right to remove Alex Jones, which they did in 2018 for glorifying violence, inciting hatred, bullying and hate speech after Jones had spent years calling for the harassment of Sandy Hook families as crisis actors, Kennedy said he didn’t know anything about it. “For what? What did he say?”

As for Tucker Carlson, who was repeatedly accused of encouraging acts of violence against specific people, Kennedy said, “I am not familiar with that. I don’t agree with everything Tucker says by any means, but by the way he had the biggest audience on TV, and he was the only guy talking about the First Amendment.”

What about Russia using social media platforms to hack the 2016 election?

“I don’t know. What is your take on it? Wasn’t a lot of this sort of debunked in the Durham Report? I can’t speak with any authority about it. I haven’t delved into it.”

And what would a President Kennedy do if a foreign adversary attempted a similar attack on our election again?

“I tell you what you don’t do, what you don’t do is censor,” he said. “The solution to bad information is more information. Everybody knows that they are being censored and that the government is trying to hide information from them, so they stop trusting in anything,” he said. “You can point to information and you say, ‘This is a sworn enemy of ours and they are trying to rig the election.’ You say, ‘Mr. Trump, will you please disavow that?’”

And if he doesn’t?

“Well then, that’s fine,” he said. “That’s his problem if he refuses to acknowledge it.”

Oct. 5

ny times logoNew York Times, Jon Fosse Is Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature, Alex Marshall, Oct. 5, 2023. The Norwegian writer was honored “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.”

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded on Thursday to the Norwegian novelist and playwright Jon Fosse “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.”

Fosse’s work has long been lauded throughout continental Europe, but he has recently found a growing audience in the English-speaking world. By receiving what is widely seen as the most prestigious prize in literature, the author (whose name is pronounced Yune FOSS-eh, according to his translator) joins a list of laureates including Toni Morrison, Kazuo Ishiguro and Annie Ernaux.

ny times logoNew York Times, How a Chain-Snatching and a Vegas Beatdown Led to Tupac Shakur’s Murder, Joe Coscarelli, Julia Jacobs, Jonathan Abrams and Jill Cowan, Oct. 5, 2023. Grand jury witness testimony describes how gang clashes spilled into a fatal dispute that would alter the course of hip-hop.

In the adrenalized aftermath of a Mike Tyson prizefight in 1996, a black BMW carrying the rapper Tupac Shakur pulled up to a red light just off the Las Vegas Strip, thrilling the women in the car next to him.

As Mr. Shakur hung out of his passenger-side window, his friends in the Lexus behind him assumed that he was inviting the women to his record label’s new nightspot, Club 662 — its numeric name a barely disguised telephone code for “MOB.”

The women pulled away and a white Cadillac took their place. A large, muscular arm emerged from its rear window and fired a barrage of shots from a .40-caliber Glock pistol into the BMW. Mr. Shakur was hit four times.

The driver of the BMW, the Death Row Records impresario Marion Knight, better known as Suge, was grazed by the gunfire. But he managed to take off, making a U-turn over a traffic median and driving the wounded Mr. Shakur in the opposite direction before pulling over.

Malcolm Greenidge, a rapper and close friend of Mr. Shakur’s who had been following them in the Lexus, rushed out of the car to check on Mr. Shakur, he testified this summer to a Las Vegas grand jury. Mr. Shakur seemed less concerned with his wounds than with Greenidge’s safety as armed police officers approached the chaotic scene, he recalled.

“Get on the ground, they’re going to shoot you,” Mr. Shakur told him, Mr. Greenidge testified. Mr. Shakur would die less than a week later, at 25.

In the 27 years since, accounts of what happened on Sept. 7, 1996, have existed in an unwieldy tangle of news reports, true crime specials, street gossip, internet innuendo and dubious self-mythologizing. The case went cold.

But with last week’s indictment of Duane Keith Davis, a former Compton gang leader known as Keffe D, who has been saying publicly for years that he was in the white Cadillac when the fatal shots were fired, prosecutors have begun to map out the most detailed narrative yet of the chain of events they say led to Mr. Shakur’s death, one that will be tested in court.

While the broad outlines of Mr. Shakur’s killing and its possible motive have long been known, hundreds of pages of grand jury witness testimony reviewed by The New York Times — given under oath and with surprisingly vivid descriptions for a decades-old case — offer new details of how hyperlocal disputes between warring gang factions had spilled into an ultimately fatal rap beef that would alter the course of hip-hop history.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jeffrey Epstein’s Role in a Pricey Art Deal Is Investigated, Matthew Goldstein, Oct. 5, 2023.  Mr. Epstein helped the billionaire Leon Black defer capital gains taxes from the swap. A Senate committee is scrutinizing some of Mr. Black’s art deals.

In late 2016, when the private equity mogul Leon Black was trying to sell one expensive piece of art to buy another without incurring a hefty tax bill, he turned to the one man he knew who could help pull it off: his friend Jeffrey Epstein.

On Nov. 23 that year, Mr. Black sold an Alberto Giacometti sculpture from his massive private art collection for $25 million to a trust controlled by Mr. Epstein, by then a registered sex offender, according to documents viewed by The New York Times. That same day, a company linked to Mr. Black used the proceeds from that sale to buy a watercolor painting by Paul Cezanne for $30 million.

Mr. Black, a co-founder of Apollo Global Management, took advantage of an incentive that allows an investor to defer paying capital gains taxes on the sale of an asset if the proceeds are quickly rolled over into the purchase of a “like kind” asset of equal or greater value. Although the incentive was intended mainly to encourage new construction by real estate developers, private art collectors often used it until the 2017 tax law closed the loophole.

The documents, the contents of which have not been previously reported, offer a rare look at some of the high-priced tax and estate advisory work that Mr. Epstein provided Mr. Black in the years before Mr. Epstein was arrested on federal sex-trafficking charges in July 2019. Mr. Black, who had known Mr. Epstein for years, paid $158 million to Mr. Epstein for services such as the art transaction from 2013 to 2017.

Oct. 4

washington post logoWashington Post, Coordinated ‘swatting’ effort may be behind hundreds of school shooting hoaxes, Joanna Slater, Oct. 4, 2023. Over the past year, more than 500 schools in the United States have been subjected to a coordinated campaign of fear that exploits the all-too-real American danger of school shootings, according to a review of media reports and dozens of public records requests. The Washington Post examined police reports, emergency call recordings, body-camera footage or call logs in connection with incidents in 24 states.

The calls are being investigated by the FBI and have generated an aggressive response by local law enforcement — particularly after officers in Uvalde, Tex., came under criticism for waiting more than an hour to confront the gunman during the May 2022 elementary school massacre.

In state after state, heavily armed officers have entered schools prepared for the worst. Students have hidden in toilets, closets, nurse’s offices. They’ve barricaded doors with desks and refrigerators. Medical helicopters have been placed on standby while trauma centers have paused surgeries, anticipating possible victims. Terrified parents have converged on schools, not knowing if their children are safe.

 

September

Sept. 30

ny times logoNew York Times, Supreme Court to Hear Challenges to State Laws on Social Media, Adam Liptak, Sept. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The tech industry argues that laws in Florida and Texas, prompted by conservative complaints about censorship, violate the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether Florida and Texas may prohibit large social media companies from removing posts based on the views they express, setting the stage for a major ruling on how the First Amendment applies to powerful tech platforms.

The laws’ supporters argue that the measures are needed to combat what they called Silicon Valley censorship, saying large platforms had removed posts expressing conservative views on issues like the coronavirus pandemic and claims of election fraud. In particular, they objected to the decisions of some platforms to bar President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Two trade groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, had challenged the laws, saying the First Amendment prevents the government from telling private companies whether and how to disseminate speech.

The court’s decision to hear the cases was unsurprising. In each case, both sides had urged the justices to do so, citing a clear conflict between two federal appeals courts. One ruled against the Florida law, the other in favor of the one in Texas.

 

 

james gordon meek abc logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Former ABC News journalist gets 6-year sentence in child pornography case, Salvador Rizzo, Sept. 30, 2023 (print ed.). A former national security journalist who worked for ABC News until his apartment was searched last year in a child pornography investigation was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.

James Gordon Meek pleaded guilty in July to possessing explicit images and videos of minors, and sharing them with two other users on a smartphone messaging app called Kik in 2020. The FBI seized several devices during a search of Meek’s apartment in Arlington County, Va., last year, and Meek admitted they contained “dozens of images and at least eight videos depicting children engaged in sexually explicit conduct,” according to court filings.

At his sentencing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Meek asked his victims and his family for forgiveness and said he should have used his reporting skills to help victims of online sexual abuse instead of contributing to their exploitation.

“I was a journalist. I wrote countless stories about the misconduct of others,” he told Judge Claude M. Hilton. “I broke federal law, I violated God’s law, and I undermined my own personal ethos of always helping others. … I need you to hold me accountable.”

The investigation into Meek, an Emmy-winning producer who covered wars, terrorism and major crimes, began with a tip from the file storage company Dropbox about digital materials on an account he had registered, according to court records.

Authorities alleged that Meek also communicated online with minors, persuading at least one girl to send photographs showing nudity, although his guilty plea was based strictly on possessing and sharing child sexual abuse materials. Defense attorney Eugene Gorokhov noted throughout the case that Meek was not accused of physically meeting or abusing minors.

Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia requested a prison sentence of 12½ to nearly 16 years, arguing that Meek shared “images and videos of prepubescent children, including infants, being forcibly raped and exploited for the sexual pleasure of adults on the internet.”

One of Meek’s victims described what it felt like to be repeatedly victimized: “The first time was being abused and the second time is the ongoing anxiety due to the images of my abuse forever accessible,” according to a statement quoted by prosecutors.

“Not only were they traumatized by the initial sexual abuse that was captured on film, but they are also further victimized through the ongoing distribution and consumption of depictions of their abuse,” federal prosecutors Zoe Bedell and Whitney Kramer wrote in a court filing.

Gorokhov, who asked the judge to impose a prison sentence of five years, said Meek began to struggle with his mental health as he covered the horrors of war and terrorism, ultimately developing “this disease, this illness, this curse” as a coping mechanism.

“There’s going to be a breaking point,” Gorokhov said, noting that Meek also had files on his electronic devices showing “torture, executions, beheadings, human-rights atrocities” because of the kind of reporting he practiced.

Before joining ABC, Meek worked for the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, “where he advised top congressional leaders and held a top-secret clearance,” according to his attorney.

Sept. 29

elon musk sideview

Politico, Musk ousts X team curbing election disinformation, Clothilde Goujard, Sept. 29, 2023. The announcement comes after EU digital chief Vera Jourová criticized the social media company over rampant falsehoods on its platform.

politico CustomElon Musk, above, the owner of X (formerly Twitter) said overnight that a global team working on curbing disinformation during elections had been dismissed — a mere two days after being singled out by the EU's digital chief as the online platform with the most falsehoods.

twitter bird CustomResponding to reports about cuts, the tech mogul said on X, "Oh you mean the 'Election Integrity' Team that was undermining election integrity? Yeah, they’re gone."

Several Ireland-based staff working on a threat-disruption team — including senior manager Aaron Rodericks — were x logo twitterallegedly fired this week, according to tech media outlet The Information. Rodericks has, however, secured a court order halting disciplinary action over allegedly liking tweets critical of the company, according to Irish media.

european union logo rectangleVice President Vera Jourová this week warned that EU-supported research showed that X had become the platform with the largest ratio of posts containing misinformation or disinformation. The company under Musk left the European Commission's anti-disinformation charter in late May after failing its first test.

Jourová also urged tech companies to prepare for numerous national and European elections in the coming months, especially given the “particularly serious" risk that Russia will seek to meddle in them. Slovakia will hold its parliamentary election on Saturday. Poland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands will also head to the polls in the coming weeks.

X must comply with the EU's content rules, the Digital Services Act (DSA), which requires large tech platforms with over 45 million EU users to mitigate the risks of disinformation campaigns. Failure to follow the rulebook could lead to sweeping fines of up to 6 percent of companies' global annual revenue.

Sept. 28

 fcc logo

washington post logoWashington Post, FCC’s net neutrality battle is back after years of deadlock, Eva Dou, Sept. 28, 2023. The push comes amid widespread grievance with internet service providers — a reflection, some regulators say, of monopoly power wielded by a short list of providers.

When the Federal Communications Commission in 2014 asked the public to comment on how to regulate internet providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, it received more than a million responses. Aggrieved customers crashed the commission’s website. More than 7,800 of the comments contained f-bombs.

“It is absolutely maddening that the FCC would give free rein to this monopoly to screw customers over,” one commenter wrote. “There is no free market competition and it is unamerican.”

The FCC effort became the landmark 2015 decision — known as “net neutrality” — to regulate internet service as a public utility, akin to water or electricity. That classification granted the FCC broad oversight over internet service providers, including ensuring they did not discriminate or charge unreasonable rates.

The agency repealed the rule in 2017 under the Trump administration, arguing that the private sector would make better decisions than the government.

Now the FCC is preparing to reinstate net neutrality as the law of the land. The agency argues that restoring the rule will improve consumers’ experience with internet providers — including by enabling it to better track broadband service outages and network reliability.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a speech Tuesday that due to high costs of entry into the market, there is only one high-speed broadband provider in some parts of the country.

“That provider might be the only game in town,” she said. “You need a referee on the field looking out for the public interest.”

The move came after Anna Gomez was sworn in as the FCC’s fifth commissioner on Monday, breaking a long-standing deadlock at the agency and giving Democrats a 3-2 majority.

Industry groups have stepped forward to declare that internet providers have not discriminated and will not discriminate, and that FCC regulation is overkill.

“America’s broadband providers are fiercely committed to an open internet. That has not and will not change,” said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom, an industry group representing broadband providers including AT&T and Verizon, in a statement.

The FCC is placing the issue at the top of its agenda and is expected to release the text of the proposed rule Thursday. But the process will take months, and the clock is ticking: If Biden loses the presidential election next year, a Republican administration might repeal the rule again.

If the FCC gives the green light at its Oct. 19 monthly meeting, the agency will embark on a new rulemaking process with public comment.

Rosenworcel said in the speech that she knows it will be a fierce fight. “I have, in fact, been to this rodeo before,” she said.

Unchanged since the last clash: Internet service providers earn some of the lowest customer-satisfaction ratings in corporate America — a reflection, regulators argue, of monopoly power wielded by a short list of providers.

The 2023 American Customer Satisfaction Index — calculated from surveys with tens of thousands of consumers — gave internet service providers a score of 68 out of 100, the second-lowest rating among 43 industries. Only gas stations provided consumers with less satisfaction (with a score of 65).

But the technology has evolved since the early debate over net neutrality, when the internet’s pipes were slower and smaller. At the time, economists warned that internet providers had an incentive to throttle certain types of websites — such as bandwidth-heavy video-streaming services like Netflix. Internet providers theoretically could determine which websites lived and died, based on personal preferences, or who could pay the most.

These days, the threat of an internet service provider squeezing Netflix seems less likely. The internet’s pipes have gotten so wide that there is generally enough to go around. After the removal of the net neutrality rule in 2017, there haven’t been reports of an internet provider choking a website to death.

 Sept. 26

 

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Kahn

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Kahn

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. Accuses Amazon of Illegally Protecting Monopoly in Online Retail, David McCabe, Sept. 26, 2023. The Federal Trade Commission and 17 states sued Amazon, saying its conduct in its online store and services to merchants illegally stifled competition.

ftc logoThe Federal Trade Commission and 17 states sued Amazon on Tuesday, setting up a long-awaited antitrust fight with the e-commerce giant that could alter the way Americans shop for everything from toilet paper to electronics online.

amazon logo smallThe 172-page suit, the federal government’s most significant challenge to the power of the online store, accused Amazon of protecting a monopoly over swaths of online retail by squeezing merchants and favoring its own services.

For consumers, that meant “artificially higher prices” as merchants were blocked from selling their products for less on other sites, and a worse shopping experience as Amazon boosted its own products and peppered its search results with ads, the lawsuit said. The retailer’s tactics made it impossible for its rivals to compete, the agency and states said.

“A single company, Amazon, has seized control over much of the online retail economy,” said the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. “It exploits its monopolies in ways that enrich Amazon but harm its customers: both the tens of millions of American households who regularly shop on Amazon’s online superstore and the hundreds of thousands of businesses who rely on Amazon to reach them.”

The lawsuit put the influence and reach of Amazon, a $1.3 trillion behemoth, squarely in the spotlight after years of mounting scrutiny. Founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994, the onetime upstart online bookseller has grown into a sprawling conglomerate with tentacles in retail, Hollywood and the foundational infrastructure of the internet.

Much of the Seattle-based company’s power has emanated from its online marketplace, sometimes known as an “everything store” for the range of products it sells and the speed with which it delivers them. Amazon’s sway over online commerce has shaped the lives of merchants around the world, set the working conditions for more than one million warehouse workers and pushed the U.S. Postal Service to deliver on Sundays.

Big, A Newsletter on the Politics of Monopoly Power, Commentary: How to Hide a $2 Trillion Antitrust Trial, Matt Stoller, right, Sept. 26, 2023. Secret matt stollertrials subvert the very rule of law. Yet Judge Amit Mehta has blocked the public from getting access to the Google antitrust trial, which is being held mostly behind closed doors.

Today, I want to do a bit of a summary of the Google antitrust trial, since we’re investing so much into covering it. The key question is as follows. Google is a very powerful corporation worth around $2 trillion, it controls access to the internet, and it will roll out generative artificial intelligence for billions of people. And yet, the public hasn’t heard that much about a major Justice Department log circulartrial where the firm and its executives are being asked how they secured that immense power. Why?

google logo customThere are several possibilities, but in my view, the most obvious reason is that the judge in the case, Amit Mehta, is effectively holding the contest in secret. Last week, according to our calculations, over half of the trial, including testimony from key witnesses, happened in closed session, unavailable to the public. Why? Here’s Mehta in a pre-trial hearing in August, explaining his thinking to Google’s attorneys.

“Look, I’m a trial judge. I am not anyone that understands the industry and the markets in the way that you do. And so I take seriously when companies are telling me that if this gets disclosed, it’s going to cause competitive harm. And I think it behooves me to be somewhat conservative in thinking about that issue, because, you know, I can’t see around every corner.”

In other words, Mehta is deferring to Google on the need for secrecy.

 

djt mug fulton county

ny times logoNew York Times, Former President Trump’s lawyers said a gag order in an election case would strip him of his First Amendment rights, Alan Feuer, Sept. 26, 2023. Lawyers representing former President Donald J. Trump against federal charges accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 election offered an outraged response on Monday to the government’s request for a gag order, saying the attempt to “muzzle” him during his presidential campaign violated his free speech rights.

Justice Department log circularIn a 25-page filing, the lawyers sought to turn the tables on the government, accusing the prosecutors in the case of using “inflammatory rhetoric” themselves in a way that “violated longstanding rules of prosecutorial ethics.”

“Following these efforts to poison President Trump’s defense, the prosecution now asks the court to take the extraordinary step of stripping President Trump of his First Amendment freedoms during the most important months of his campaign against President Biden,” one of the lawyers, Gregory M. Singer, wrote. “The court should reject this transparent gamesmanship.”

The papers, filed in Federal District Court in Washington, came 10 days after prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, asked Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the election interference case, to impose a narrow gag order on Mr. Trump. The order, they said, was meant to curb Mr. Trump’s “near-daily” barrage of threatening social media posts and to limit the effect his statements might have on witnesses in the case and on the potential jury pool for the trial. It is scheduled to take place in Washington starting in March.

The lawyers’ attempt to fight the request has now set up a showdown that will ultimately have to be resolved by Judge Chutkan, an Obama appointee who has herself experienced the impact of Mr. Trump’s menacing words.

One day after the former president wrote an online post in August saying, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU,” Judge Chutkan received a voice mail message in her chambers from a woman who threatened to kill her. (The woman, Abigail Jo Shry, has since been arrested.)

Gag orders limiting what trial participants can say outside of court are not uncommon, especially to constrain pretrial publicity in high-profile cases. But the request to gag Mr. Trump as he solidifies his position as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has injected a current of political tension into what was already a fraught legal battle.

That tension has only been heightened by the fact that Mr. Trump has placed the election interference case — and the three other criminal indictments he is facing — at the heart of his campaign.

His core political argument — that he is being persecuted, not prosecuted — may be protected in some ways by the First Amendment but has also put him on what could be a collision course with Judge Chutkan. Early in the case, she warned Mr. Trump that she would take measures to ensure the integrity of the proceedings and to keep him from intimidating witnesses or tainting potential jurors.

ny times logoNew York Times, On Day 146, Screenwriters Reach Deal With Studios to End Their Strike, Brooks Barnes and John Koblin, Sept. 26, 2023 (print ed.). The Writers Guild of America got most of what it wanted. With actors still on picket lines, however, much of Hollywood will remain shut down.

Hollywood’s bitter, monthslong labor dispute has taken a big first step toward a resolution.

The Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,000 screenwriters, reached a tentative deal on a new contract with entertainment companies on Sunday night, all but ending a 146-day strike that has contributed to a shutdown of television and film production.

In the coming days, guild members will vote on whether to accept the deal, which has much of what they had demanded, including increases in compensation for streaming content, concessions from studios on minimum staffing for television shows, and guarantees that artificial intelligence technology will not encroach on writers’ credits and compensation.

“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee said in an email to members.

Conspicuously not doing a victory lap was the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios. “The W.G.A. and A.M.P.T.P. have reached a tentative agreement” was its only comment.

ny times logoNew York Times, The deal reflects the strength of unions’ hands in the current moment, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Ravi Mattu, Bernhard Warner, Sarah Kessler and Michael J. de la Merced, Sept. 26, 2023 (print ed.). The work stoppage isn’t officially over yet, and actors remain on strike. But hints about what the W.G.A. attained suggest that as organized labor enjoys a surge in popularity across a variety of industries, its muscle-flexing is achieving results.

“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional,” the W.G.A. told its members on Sunday, though it hasn’t yet disclosed details. News reports suggest the deal includes provisions for residual payments from streaming, minimum staffing of shows and limits on the use of artificial intelligence.

Expect more particulars once the W.G.A. informs its membership ahead of a vote that’s expected on Tuesday. Until then, writers are still on strike, though they’re not actively picketing. Late-night talk shows, which don’t rely on striking actors, are likely to resume production first.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Pandemic-era boom changes the face of American home schooling, Laura Meckler, Peter Jamison, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement, Sept. 26, 2023. Fear of school shootings, bullying and indoctrination helped fuel a pandemic-era boom in home schooling, according to an exclusive Washington Post-Schar School survey.

A pandemic-era boom has fundamentally changed the face of American home schooling, transforming a group that has for decades been dominated by conservative Christians into one that is more racially and ideologically diverse, a Washington Post-Schar School poll finds.

Rather than religion, home-schoolers today are likely to be motivated by fear of school shootings, anxiety over bullying and anger with the perceived encroachment of politics into public schools, the poll finds. Yet even among those who voice such concerns, many do not share the deep-seated opposition to public education that defined home-schoolers of past decades, and the new crop is more likely to mix and match home schooling with public school, depending on their children’s needs.

The survey, the first of its kind since the pandemic spurred hundreds of thousands of families to try home schooling, offers the clearest reasons to date for its explosive growth, documenting shifts with broad implications for the future of U.S. education.

The poll’s findings suggest that American home schooling is evolving from a movement into a practice — no longer driven by shared ideology and political goals but by circumstances specific to individual families.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP wants to cut this education program by nearly 80% as shutdown looms, Theodoric Meyer, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Tobi Raji, Sept. 26, 2023. Because House Republicans are focusing on year-long spending bills, we thought it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s in those bills.

The 12 bills would cut nondefense discretionary spending — which doesn’t include Pentagon funding or mandatory programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — by $58 billion more than the amount to which President Biden and McCarthy agreed in May when they struck a deal to raise the debt limit, according to an analysis by Bobby Kogan and Jean Ross of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. (The analysis also excludes Department of Veterans Affairs medical care spending.)

But the cuts would hit some government programs much harder than others — and several bills that House Republicans have made the most progress passing would raise spending rather than slash it.

The only spending bill House Republicans have passed to date — the military construction and veterans affairs bill — would raise spending by 4.8 percent compared with the previous fiscal year, according to the analysis by Kogan and Ross.

The four spending bills the House will take up today include the homeland security bill (which would raise spending by 3.9 percent, according to the CAP analysis), the defense bill (which would raise spending by 2.2 percent, per the analysis), the agriculture bill (which would cut spending by 2 percent, according to the analysis) and the State Department and foreign operations bill (which would cut spending by 15 percent, according to the analysis).
Deep cuts

One quarter of all the savings House Republicans’ bills would achieve comes from cutting a single program that provides funding for low-income schools, known as Title I education grants.

House Republicans want to cut Title I by nearly 80 percent, saving $14.7 billion.

The cuts are even steeper than education funding reductions proposed by the Center for Renewing America, a think tank led by Russ Vought, former president Donald Trump’s White House budget director.

The think tank put out a budget proposal in December that called for cutting $8.2 billion from the Department of Education’s elementary and secondary education programs, which include Title I grants. (House Republicans would cut $14.7 billion from Title I in the 2024 fiscal year compared with the previous year, while the Center for Renewing America proposed cutting $8.2 billion from almost 30 elementary and secondary education programs in the 2023 fiscal year compared with the 2021 fiscal year.)

The Title I cuts are included in one of two appropriations bills that haven’t made it out of committee yet. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to meet today to discuss how to move forward, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Democrats have warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts could cost up to 224,000 teachers their jobs, and teachers unions have mobilized to lobby against them.

 

 

Independent podcaster Tucker Carlson is shown above in a screen shot from him work as the top-rated host at Fox News before his termination.

Independent podcaster Tucker Carlson is shown above in a screen shot from him when he worked as the top-rated host at Fox News before his termination.

washington post logoWashington Post, Tucker Carlson finds a new booster: Russian TV, Mary Ilyushina, Sept. 26, 2023 (print ed.). The blustering American TV personality Tucker Carlson has lambasted the United States for sending too much aid to Ukraine, called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “sweaty and rat-like” and given credence to Russia’s baseless justifications for its invasion.

The former Fox News host’s rhetoric on the war — he has called it a U.S.-led “regime-change war” against Russia — and his attacks on Zelensky’s government — “a pure client state of the United States State Department” — aligns so well with the major propaganda points of Russian state television that one channel has decided to broadcast Carlson’s new show on X, formerly Twitter, to millions of Russians, though apparently without Carlson’s permission.

The channel, Rossiya 24, had recently been teasing a new show “Tucker,” and the first episode aired over the weekend. But rather than a voiced-over ensemble of Carlson’s greatest hits against Ukraine — effectively throwing raw meat to the pro-war hawks in its audience — the show turned out to be a puzzling, roughly 20-minute excerpt of his recent interview of embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, an official virtually unknown to Russian viewers.

Rossiya 24 is Russia’s leading news channel, and the hosts of its political talk shows spend hours drumming into their audiences that Kyiv, not Moscow, is to blame for the brutal war, and that U.S. military aid will accomplish nothing other than helping “neo-Nazi Zelensky” fight “until the last Ukrainian.”

In that sense, Carlson would be a natural fit in the lineup. His descriptions of Zelensky, who is Jewish, as a rat, for instance, have been denounced by Jewish groups as resorting to an old antisemitic trope used by the Nazis, among others. He made those comments in the debut of his internet show in June, in which he also declared that aliens were visiting Earth and questioned the official accounts of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

But Russian pundits have long used Carlson’s rants on Fox News to support their viewpoints, seizing on the prominent American TV star to boost the credibility of their claims and showcase how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conspiracy theories about Washington resonate well beyond Russian borders.

Long before the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russian television executives excitedly replayed Carlson segments to illustrate political turmoil in the United States and to debunk allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. (Even though the late Wagner boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin boasted of meddling in the race using his internet troll farms.)

Sept. 25

Meidas Touch Network, Analysis: Trump Directs House GOP to Shut Down Government and Blame Biden, Ben Meiselas, Sept. 24-25, 2023. This is Trump’s second directive to compliant House Republicans via his social media posts

President Donald Trump officialDonald Trump has issued his latest order to House Republicans: shut down and refuse to fund the United States government and then blame President Biden for the catastrophic fallout.

On September 20, Trump issued his first directive to compliant House MAGA Republicans, telling them that a “very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month” and “this is the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me.”

djt maga hatIn his latest post, Trump orders the House GOP: “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN.

Trump goes on to say that Republicans shouldn’t worry about the damage that will be caused to the country, as he claims President Biden will get blamed for it. Trump also tells House Republicans not to listen to Republican Senate republican elephant logoMinority Leader Mitch McConnell if he wants to make a deal with Democrats, because Trump says McConnell is “weak” and “dumb.”

MAGA Republicans in the House continue to take their orders directly from Donald Trump and do whatever he says. They have followed his directives, bringing the country to the brink of a catastrophic shutdown.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Trump Prosecutions Move Forward, Threats and Concerns Increase, Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman, Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, Sept. 25, 2023 (print ed.). As criminal cases proceed against the former president, heated rhetoric and anger among his supporters have authorities worried about the risk of political dissent becoming deadly.

Justice Department log circularAt the federal courthouse in Washington, a woman called the chambers of the judge assigned to the election interference case against former President Donald J. Trump and said that if Mr. Trump were not re-elected next year, “we are coming to kill you.”

FBI logoAt the Federal Bureau of Investigation, agents have reported concerns about harassment and threats being directed at their families amid intensifying anger among Trump supporters about what they consider to be the weaponization of the Justice Department. “Their children didn’t sign up for this,” a senior F.B.I. supervisor recently testified to Congress.

And the top prosecutors on the four criminal cases against Mr. Trump — two brought by the Justice Department and one each in Georgia and New York — now require round-the-clock protection.

As the prosecutions of Mr. Trump have accelerated, so too have threats against law enforcement authorities, judges, elected officials and others. The threats, in turn, are prompting protective measures, a legal effort to curb his angry and sometimes incendiary public statements, and renewed concern about the potential for an election campaign in which Mr. Trump has promised “retribution” to produce violence.

Given the attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, scholars, security experts, law enforcement officials and others are increasingly warning about the potential for lone-wolf attacks or riots by angry or troubled Americans who have taken in the heated rhetoric.

In April, before federal prosecutors indicted Mr. Trump, one survey showed that 4.5 percent of American adults agreed with the idea that the use of force was “justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.” Just two months later, after the first federal indictment of Mr. Trump, that figure surged to 7 percent.

Sept. 24

donald trump apprentice color nbc

Meidas Touch Network, Analysis: Trump Vows to Ban All News Media That Doesn’t Praise Him, Brett Meiselas, Sept. 24-25, 2023. Donald Trump continues to tell us his fascist intentions should he be reelected. Will the mainstream media finally listen?

Donald Trump launched into his most overtly fascist assault on the First Amendment in a Sunday night tirade, promising that he will remove from the airwaves any news media that is not friendly towards him should he be reelected as president of the United States.

NBC News logoTrump specifically took aim at NBC News to make his point t (ironically, NBC is the network that employed and elevated Donald Trump during The Apprentice days, shown above in a publicity photo from the show), writing that the network “should be investigated for its ‘Country Threatening Treason.’”

Trump then made his intentions crystal clear:

“I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media djt maga hatwill be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events. Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!”

Sept. 23

 

President Ronald Reagan is shown in a 1980s White House meeting with key right wing media and political influencers Rupert Murdoch, Roy Cohn and Charles Wick (Photo via Reagan Presidential Library).

President Ronald Reagan is shown in a 1980s White House meeting with key right wing media and political influencers Rupert Murdoch, Roy Cohn (standing) and Charles Wick (Photo via Reagan Presidential Library).

ny times logoNew York Times, The Fox Titan Turned Passion and Grievance Into Money and Power, James Poniewozik, Sept. 23, 2023 (print ed.). Rupert Murdoch built a noise-and-propaganda machine by giving his people what they wanted — and sometimes by teaching them what to want, our critic writes.

The polite way to describe the legacy of a man like Rupert Murdoch is to leave aside whether his accomplishments were good or bad and simply focus on how big they were. It is to eulogize him like Kendall Roy memorializing his father, Logan, in “Succession,” the HBO corporate drama none too slightly based on the Murdochs, among other dynasties. Maybe he had “a terrible force,” as Kendall put it, but fox news logo Small“he built, and he acted. … He made life happen.”

But the polite way is exactly the wrong way to assess Mr. Murdoch, who on Thursday announced his retirement from the boards of Fox and News Corporation. Mr. Murdoch (whose biographers included Michael Wolff in a book whose rupert murdoch michael wolff covercover is shown at left) achieved nothing the polite way. His style and his work were direct and blunt. Let us take his measure his way.

Rupert Murdoch’s empire used passion and grievance as fuel and turned it into money and power.

His tabloids ran on the idea of publishing for readers as they were, not according to some platonic ideal of how one wished them to be. That meant pinups and prize giveaways and blaring scandal headlines.

Over years and decades, Mr. Murdoch’s properties shifted their definition of “elite” away from people with more money than you and toward people with more perceived cultural capital than you, something that would be essential to nationalist politics in the 21st century and Fox’s dominance. (He did all this while living the life of a jet-setting billionaire.)

 washington post logoWashington Post, Lachlan Murdoch will be fully in charge of Fox. Will viewers notice? Jeremy Barr, Sept. 22, 2023. When Rupert Murdoch hands over the reins of the family media empire to his son Lachlan, it’s unlikely that viewers of Fox News will notice much difference.

lachlan murdoch 2013When Rupert Murdoch formally hands over the reins of his media empire to his 52-year-old son Lachlan in November, die-hard Fox News viewers will hardly notice any difference.

Conservative-leaning Lachlan, shown in a 2013 photo, has controlled the cable-news giant’s parent company since 2019, when he was picked to serve as chief executive and his more liberal brother James left the family business, seemingly ending speculation that a new sensibility would arrive with the next generation of Murdochs.

“I’ve had a sense that Lachlan is at least as conservative as his father,” said Preston Padden, a former Fox executive who has since became a critic of the network (but described Lachlan as “a very nice guy” in their interactions back in the 1990s).

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Even $500 million isn’t enough to save local journalism, Editorial Board, Sept. 22, 2023. Books, op-eds, think pieces and conferences — many, many conferences: The plight of local journalism in the United States has received its share of attention. At a 2022 summit on this topic, an industry veteran said that there’s “probably more people trying to help the newspaper business than in the newspaper business.”

A large pile of cash is now sidling up to all the chatter. In an initiative announced this month, 22 donor organizations, including the Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, are teaming up to provide more than $500 million to boost local news over five years — an undertaking called Press Forward.

Journalists and publishers on the local scene in markets across the country have worked nonstop to bring their neighbors important stories and experiment with ways of paying for the service. The injection of more than a half-billion dollars is sure to help the quest for a durable and replicable business model.

The even bigger imperative, however, is to elevate local news on the philanthropic food chain so that national and hometown funders prioritize this pivotal American institution. Failure on this front places more pressure on public policy solutions, and government activism mixes poorly with independent journalism.

There’s no shortage of need. According to 2022 research by Penny Abernathy, a visiting professor at Medill and a former executive at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, newspapers are closing at an average rate of more than two per week; since 2005, more than one-quarter of U.S. newspapers have vanished. Digital-only start-ups haven’t plugged the gap, leaving too many communities without pressing information about themselves. The contraction has led to the proliferation of “news deserts”; there are 200 counties, home to 70 million people, with no newspaper.

No surprise: It turns out that areas with thin and declining news coverage also have lower voter turnout, less robust political competition and declining civic engagement. Into the void have seeped misinformation and disinformation.

What’s more, local news stands as the industry’s front line against the erosion of public trust. News consumers, after all, needn’t venture far to judge the veracity of a report on a three-alarm blaze up on Main Street; nothing dispels “fake news” quite like a freshly charred facade.

Who’s to blame? The internet, mostly. Whereas deep-pocketed advertisers formerly relied on newspapers to reach their customers, they took to the audience-targeting capabilities of Facebook or Google. Web-based marketplaces also siphoned newspapers’ once-robust revenue from classified ads. Local news entrepreneurs these days attempt to get by with a mix of advertising (or “sponsorship,” in the case of nonprofit news organizations), subscriber revenue and grants from philanthropic institutions. “If you’re going to do a big mission, you’ve got to have multiple sources of revenue,” says Eric Barnes, CEO of the Daily Memphian.

washington post logoWashington Post, Misinformation research is buckling under GOP legal attacks, Naomi Nix, Cat Zakrzewski and Joseph Menn, Sept. 23, 2023. The escalating campaign — led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans — has cast a pall over programs that study not just political disinformation but also the quality of medical information online.

Academics, universities and government agencies are overhauling or ending research programs designed to counter the spread of online misinformation amid a legal campaign from conservative politicians and activists who accuse them of colluding with tech companies to censor right-wing views.

The escalating campaign — led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans in Congress and state government — has cast a pall over programs that study not just political falsehoods but also the quality of medical information online.

Facing litigation, Stanford University officials are discussing how they can continue tracking election-related misinformation through the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a prominent consortium that flagged social media conspiracies about voting in 2020 and 2022, several participants told The Washington Post. The coalition of disinformation researchers may shrink and also may stop communicating with X and Facebook about their findings.

The National Institutes of Health froze a $150 million program intended to advance the communication of medical information, citing regulatory and legal threats. Physicians told The Post that they had planned to use the grants to fund projects on noncontroversial topics such as nutritional guidelines and not just politically charged issues such as vaccinations that have been the focus of the conservative allegations.

NIH officials sent a memo in July to some employees, warning them not to flag misleading social media posts to tech companies and to limit their communication with the public to answering medical questions.

Sept. 22

ny times logoNew York Times, Rupert Murdoch to Retire From Fox and News Corporation Boards, Jim Rutenberg, Sept. 22, 2023 (print ed.). The move leaves his son Lachlan as the sole executive in charge of the global media empire.

rupert murdoch 2011 shankbone Rupert Murdoch, left, is retiring from the Fox and News Corporation boards, the company announced Thursday morning, making his son Lachlan the sole executive in charge of the global media empire he built from a small local newspaper concern in Australia starting 70 years ago.

fox news logo SmallThe elder Mr. Murdoch will become chairman emeritus of the two companies, the company said in a release.

Mr. Murdoch, 92, had shown no intention to step down or even slow down — even after he named Lachlan as the heir to his business empire in 2019, when he sold his vast entertainment holdings to the Walt Disney Company.

Even now, in his emeritus status, he will continue to offer counsel, Lachlan Murdoch said in a statement.

“We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted,” Lachlan Murdoch, 52, said in a release the company put out Thursday morning.

Sept. 21

 

james okeefeMediaite, Project Veritas Suspends All Operations Amid Devastating Layoffs and Fundraising Struggles, Diana Falzone and Aidan McLaughlin, Sept. 20, 2023. Project Veritas, the conservative organization founded by James O’Keefe (shown above in a screenshot), suspended all operations on Wednesday after another round of layoffs, Mediaite has learned.

mediaite square logoAccording to a letter titled “Reduction in Force” that was sent to Project Veritas staffers by HR director Jennifer Kiyak on Wednesday, the organization is putting all operations on pause amidst severe financial woes.

“In the interest of preserving the possible future existence of Project Veritas we need to put operations on pause and, as communicated since the Spring, another Reduction in Force (“RIF”) is necessary,” Kiyak wrote.

Six staffers were laid off from the embattled organization this week, sources said, including all remaining journalists and one development associate. One former Project Veritas staffer said just 11 people remain on the non-profit’s payroll, including CEO Hannah Giles.

Kiyak wrote in the letter that the group cannot “carry the present staff count any longer” and reminded those being laid off of their nondisclosure agreements.

O’Keefe, a right-wing activist who gained fame and notoriety for his sting operations against liberal groups, launched Project Veritas in 2010. He left the organization earlier this year amid allegations of improper spending of funds on personal luxuries. He was replaced by Giles as CEO, who has overseen the rapid decline of the once well-funded group that has in recent months struggled with layoffs, the resignations of board members, and fundraising struggles.

Earlier this month, Mediaite reported on an internal meeting during which Giles said the organization was “bankrupt.”

One of the journalists let go in the bloodletting on Wednesday is Bobby Harr, a former lead investigative reporter with Project Veritas. Harr told Mediaite he was “confused” when he was officially laid off on a phone call with Giles and Kiyak Wednesday afternoon – because he had already been let go from the organization last month.

“I was confused by this as my job was actually cut during the first round of layoffs while I was on medical leave,” he said. “I was locked out of my work phone and laptop as of that day and my paychecks stopped.”

Christian Hartsock, the former chief investigative journalist at Project Veritas who was laid off in August, said he was shocked to learn the organization was still running.

“I have no idea what ‘operations’ there are to suspend,” Hartsock told Mediaite.

Giles, he said, “canned the entire production staff of a production company, and the entire journalist leadership staff of a journalism company over a month ago. So what exact ‘operations’ has she been continuing with remaining donor money — given for the sole purpose of journalism production — for the past month?”

Harr said the collapse of Project Veritas has not come as a surprise given the events of recent weeks.

“Suspending operations is one of those things that we all knew was coming after the mass layoffs occurred, but still cut like a knife when it officially happened,” Harr said. “Lack of funding and poor management amplified the damage that James O’Keefe already did to the organization prior to the days of Hannah Giles, who then delivered the final blow.”

O’Keefe’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman told Mediaite in a statement: “It appears that in the few months since Project Veritas ousted James, it continued to spend money at the same rate, blowing through the many millions of dollars James had previously raised for it — despite PV having no new sources of fundraising. This is highly suspect and we would welcome a full audit of PV’s finances to learn where that money was actually spent.”

Harr expressed disappointment with the mismanagement of the organization he spent more than three years working for.

“I was provided no severance pay,” he said. “The organization used to thrive and prosper. It’s truly sad to see what can happen to great opportunities with a surplus of resources when the wrong people are in power.”

Sept. 20

mike freedman kalb report

Former National Press Club President Michael Freedman's leadership in 2020 helped the Club survive the pandemic.

National Press Club, In Memorium: Freedman led Club through Covid, created 'The Kalb Report,' Gil Klein, Sept. 19-20, 2023. Michael Freedman, who led the National Press Club during the tumultuous opening months of the Covid pandemic and who for 28 years was the driving force and executive producer of the Club’s "The Kalb Report," died national  press club logoSept. 18. He was 71.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, which he had been battling for more than a year.

Even after being diagnosed with cancer, Freedman maintained his work with the Club. During the reception to mark the end of the 28-year-run of "The Kalb Report" with 103 programs on April 22, which Freedman had organized, Club President Eileen O’Reilly presented him with the John Cosgrove Award, given to past presidents who keep serving the Club.

While O'Reilly lauded Freedman for all he had done while president and since, she said that even more important, “you served as an essential mentor, advisor and friend to the three Club presidents who succeeded you – Lisa Matthews, Jen Judson and myself – as well as to (Club Executive Director) Bill McCarren and the Club staff.”

As one of the last things he accomplished for the Club, he worked with Beth Francesco, executive director of the Club’s Journalism Institute, to secure a $25,000 grant from the Inasmuch Foundation to produce a series of programs on journalism ethics called “Why Murrow Matters” that will begin this fall.

At the time of his passing, Freedman was Journalist in Residence and senior vice president of the University of Maryland Global Campus. At the same time, he had been teaching journalism history at the George Washington University, bringing his students weekly to the Club.

Freedman was born on April 29, 1952, in Detroit. His father died when he was six years old. As a gift, he got a small transistor radio, which he said he kept under his pillow listening to the Detroit Tigers games. As a result, he said he developed a lifelong passion for baseball and for radio. One of the highlights of his term, he said, was getting the Washington Nationals to lend the Club its 2019 World Series trophy.

His work with GW, both as a professor and an administrator, brought him to the National Press Club in 1994 with Marvin Kalb, a former CBS News correspondent. They proposed to do a series of programs in partnership with the Club to examine the junction of journalism and democracy that became known as “The Kalb Report.”

When the series ended after the first year, Freedman pushed to keep it alive, finding financial backers and putting together a network of public broadcasting stations as well as radio outlets that made the series the marquee of the Club’s professional forums.

“Mike Freedman represented the highest standards of American journalism,” Kalb said. “He was a model for young journalists. Whenever I needed help on an issue regarding American journalism, I turned to Mike. He was one of the most honorable, decent human beings I have ever met.”

As a devotee of radio news history, he became a close friend of Edward R. Murrow’s son, Casey. He enticed Casey to donate artifacts of the legendary Murrow to the Club and to lend the microphone that Murrow used to broadcast from London during World War II. Freedman called it “the Holy Grail” of broadcast journalism. When Casey wanted to sell it, Mike purchased it and lent it to the Club.

Just three months into his term of office, Covid forced the Club to close for in-person activities. Freedman used all of his skills as a broadcast journalist, educator and high-level administrator to work with McCarren to create online events that maintained the Club’s public image.

At the same time, he and McCarren had to deal with the daunting work of reducing Club staff, applying for federal relief programs and doing everything they could to support staff members and their families through the emergency.

Coupled with the challenges of the pandemic were protests in Lafayette Square that threatened the Press Building, the presidential campaign, the failed Trump insurrection, the presidential inaugural and the launch of vaccinations. The Club not only proved journalists with work space when their newsrooms were closed, but kept up with its mission of speaking out on behalf of global press freedom.

“Mike Freedman was essential to the survival of the Club during the opening months of the pandemic,” McCarren said. “His commitment to the Club was unshakable, and his management and communications skills allowed us to pivot quickly to keep Club programs alive on Zoom. He was often the only member in the Club.”

washington post logoWashington Post, The teens fighting to keep Youngkin’s trans policies out of their schools, Karina Elwood, Sept. 20, 2023. Virginia Beach high schoolers have spoken at every school board meeting for a year, begging members to protect their LGBTQ peers.

It started in the cafeteria. LaBar and friends Jacob Cruz and Alex Elstrodt, all now 18, sat around the lunch table at First Colonial and discussed the state’s plan for trans students in September 2022.

They had watched the year before as Youngkin ran for governor on a platform of “parental rights.” They heard his vow to end mask mandates and critical race theory, a framework for discussing racism that was not taught in Virginia’s schools. They saw the governor take office and ban “inherently divisive” contents from the classroom.

And then in September came the model policies, prioritizing a parent’s involvement in deciding what names, pronouns and facilities that transgender students should use in school. Youngkin supporters saw it as fulfilling a campaign promise: Parents should control their children’s education.

But the students around the lunch table at First Colonial saw it as a threat to their nonbinary and transgender friends. They worried that those kids wouldn’t feel accepted or safe at school with the new policies in place. They needed to do something.

Then they thought about their school board, and they decided to attend the next meeting. One by one, they stepped up to the microphone.

Sept. 19

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: I Was Attacked by Trump and Musk. It Was a Strategy to Change What You See Online, Yoel Roth, Sept. 19, 2023 (print ed.). Yoel Roth argues that his experiences being attacked by Trump and Musk (above) were part of a greater strategy — one that is changing what all of us see online.

twitter bird CustomWhen I worked at Twitter, I led the team that placed a fact-checking label on one of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time. Following the violence of Jan. 6, I helped make the call to ban his account from Twitter altogether. Nothing prepared me for what would happen next.

Backed by fans on social media, Mr. Trump publicly attacked me. Two years later, following his acquisition of Twitter and after I resigned my role as the company’s head of trust and safety, Elon Musk added fuel to the fire. I’ve lived with armed guards outside my home and have had to upend my family, go into hiding for months and repeatedly move.

This isn’t a story I relish revisiting. But I’ve learned that what happened to me wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just personal vindictiveness or “cancel culture.” It was a strategy — one that affects not just targeted individuals like me, but all of us, as it is rapidly changing what we see online.

Private individuals — from academic researchers to employees of tech companies — are increasingly the targets of lawsuits, congressional hearings and vicious online attacks. These efforts, staged largely by the right, are having their desired effect: Universities are cutting back on efforts to quantify abusive and misleading information spreading online. Social media companies are shying away from making the kind of difficult decisions my team did when we intervened against Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Platforms had finally begun taking these risks seriously only after the 2016 election. Now, faced with the prospect of disproportionate attacks on their employees, companies seem increasingly reluctant to make controversial decisions, letting misinformation and abuse fester in order to avoid provoking public retaliation.

x logo twitterThese attacks on internet safety and security come at a moment when the stakes for democracy could not be higher. More than 40 major elections are scheduled to take place in 2024, including in the United States, the European Union, India, Ghana and Mexico. These democracies will most likely face the same risks of government-backed disinformation campaigns and online incitement of violence that have plagued social media for years. We should be worried about what happens next.

The broader challenge here — and perhaps, the inescapable one — is the essential humanness of online trust and safety efforts. It isn’t machine learning models and faceless algorithms behind key content moderation decisions: it’s people. And people can be pressured, intimidated, threatened and extorted. Standing up to injustice, authoritarianism and online harms requires employees who are willing to do that work.

Few people could be expected to take a job doing so if the cost is their life or liberty. We all need to recognize this new reality, and to plan accordingly.

Yoel Roth is a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the former head of trust and safety at Twitter.

Sept. 18

The New Republic, Opinion: The Freed Press: We Have Two Medias in This Country, and They’re Going to Elect Donald Trump, Michael Tomasky (New Republic Editor), Sept. 18, 2023. If the press doesn’t get involved in the civic health of the nation, there may not be a nation in which a free press might reside.

It’s often asked in my circles: Why isn’t Joe Biden getting more credit for his accomplishments? As with anything, there’s no single reason. Inflation is a factor. His age is as well. Ditto the fact that people aren’t quite yet seeing the infrastructure improvements or the lower prescription drug costs.

joe biden twitterThere is no one reason. But there is one overwhelming factor in play: the media. Or rather, the two medias. It’s very important that people understand this: We reside in a media environment that promotes—whether it intends to or not—right-wing authoritarian spectacle.

At the same time, as a culture, it’s consistently obsessed with who “won the day,” while placing far less value on the fact that the civic and democratic health of the country is nurtured through practices such as deliberation, compromise, and sober governance. The result is bad for Joe Biden. But it’s potentially tragic for democracy.

Let me begin by discussing these two medias. The first, of course, is what we call the mainstream media: The New York Times, The Washington Post, the major (non-Fox) news networks, a handful of other newspapers and magazines. This has also been known as the “agenda-setting media,” because historically, that’s what they did: Whatever was the lead story in The New York Times that day filtered down, through the wire services and other delivery systems, to every newspaper and television and radio station in the United States.

Then there’s an avowedly right-wing propaganda network. This got cranked up in the 1970s, when conservatives, irate over what they (not incorrectly) saw as a strong liberal bias in the mainstream media, decided to build their own. Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post. In the 1980s, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon started The Washington Times. In the 1990s, right-wing talk radio exploded (enabled, in part, by a 2–1 decision by a judicial panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals making the Fairness Doctrine discretionary; those judges were Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork). Then the Fox News Channel was launched.

Remember that we are not just in the “news” business. We’re in the information business. We’re in the preservation of the civic fabric business. And we’re in the business of people: Wherever people need the intervention of journalists, we don’t check to see how they voted first. It’s our responsibility to try to build an informed public. This means for example reminding voters of the lies Trump told as president and the norm-crushing actions he took. That’s not “news” per se, but it’s information the electorate tends to forget and will need in order to make an informed decision.

The right-wing media will be out there promoting Trump’s lies and telling their own lies about Biden. The mainstream media shouldn’t cover for Biden—if the law ends up having Hunter Biden dead to rights, it should of course be covered truthfully.

But in addition to telling the literal, factual truth on any given issue, the mainstream media must remember that it can’t shirk the larger truth, that American democracy is under grave threat.

If that’s taking sides, well, it’s the side Abraham Lincoln took against a racist, authoritarian regime, and the side Franklin Roosevelt took against fascism. That strikes me as the side a free press, if it hopes to stay free, should want to join.

 

elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: I Was Attacked by Trump and Musk. It Was a Strategy to Change What You See Online, Yoel Roth, Sept. 18, 2023. Yoel Roth argues that his experiences being attacked by Trump and Musk (above) were part of a greater strategy — one that is changing what all of us see online.

twitter bird CustomWhen I worked at Twitter, I led the team that placed a fact-checking label on one of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time. Following the violence of Jan. 6, I helped make the call to ban his account from Twitter altogether. Nothing prepared me for what would happen next.

Backed by fans on social media, Mr. Trump publicly attacked me. Two years later, following his acquisition of Twitter and after I resigned my role as the company’s head of trust and safety, Elon Musk added fuel to the fire. I’ve lived with armed guards outside my home and have had to upend my family, go into hiding for months and repeatedly move.

This isn’t a story I relish revisiting. But I’ve learned that what happened to me wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just personal vindictiveness or “cancel culture.” It was a strategy — one that affects not just targeted individuals like me, but all of us, as it is rapidly changing what we see online.

Private individuals — from academic researchers to employees of tech companies — are increasingly the targets of lawsuits, congressional hearings and vicious online attacks. These efforts, staged largely by the right, are having their desired effect: Universities are cutting back on efforts to quantify abusive and misleading information spreading online. Social media companies are shying away from making the kind of difficult decisions my team did when we intervened against Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. Platforms had finally begun taking these risks seriously only after the 2016 election. Now, faced with the prospect of disproportionate attacks on their employees, companies seem increasingly reluctant to make controversial decisions, letting misinformation and abuse fester in order to avoid provoking public retaliation.

x logo twitterThese attacks on internet safety and security come at a moment when the stakes for democracy could not be higher. More than 40 major elections are scheduled to take place in 2024, including in the United States, the European Union, India, Ghana and Mexico. These democracies will most likely face the same risks of government-backed disinformation campaigns and online incitement of violence that have plagued social media for years. We should be worried about what happens next.

The broader challenge here — and perhaps, the inescapable one — is the essential humanness of online trust and safety efforts. It isn’t machine learning models and faceless algorithms behind key content moderation decisions: it’s people. And people can be pressured, intimidated, threatened and extorted. Standing up to injustice, authoritarianism and online harms requires employees who are willing to do that work.

Few people could be expected to take a job doing so if the cost is their life or liberty. We all need to recognize this new reality, and to plan accordingly.

Yoel Roth is a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the former head of trust and safety at Twitter.

Sept. 17

 

kristen welker chuck todd meet the press january nbc william plowmanKristen Welker, above right, assumed host duties on NBC's

Kristen Welker, above right, assumed host duties on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning show on Sept. 17, 2023, succeeding Chuck Todd, shown above with her in a file photo.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Evil Donald Trump has insane meltdown attacking “liberal Jews” as it all falls apart for him, Bill Palmer, right, bill palmerSept. 17, 2023. This morning Kristen Welker decided to begin her tenure hosting NBC Meet The Press by putting Donald Trump on the air.

bill palmer report logo headerShe did very little to push back against Trump, but it set off a firestorm of pushback against her. Even as Welker and other mainstream media figures attempted to justify the decision to give airtime to such a psychotic criminal, Trump has now quickly demonstrated why no one should ever be putting him on the air.

NBC News logoTonight Donald Trump used his Truth Social platform to launch a completely insane attack on “liberal Jews,” accusing them of trying to “destroy America.” This is over the top evil even for Trump. The fact that he’s only attacking “liberal” Jews doesn’t make his post any less antisemitic. For that matter, given that about 70% of Jewish people in America tend to vote Democrat, Trump is seemingly attacking the vast majority of Jews.

rolling stone logoAs Donald Trump continues to get further bogged down by his indictments and criminal trials, and it becomes more clear to him (and everyone else) that he’s going to prison, Trump is becoming more psychotically unhinged than ever. We’d love to see Kristen Welker and NBC News come out and defend their decision to put Trump on the air now, in light of Trump’s anti-Jew meltdown tonight.

Sept. 14

National Press Club, Club press freedom honoree Emilio Gutiérrez Soto wins asylum after 15-year wait, Bill McCarren, Sept. 14, 2023. A national  press club logoNational Press Club press freedom honoree who has been battling attempts to deport him to a country where he was threatened with death finally has won asylum in the United States.

Fifteen years after coming to the U.S. legally and seeking refuge, Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto this week received word that the Board of Immigration Appeals has ruled him eligible for asylum.

In a five-page opinion sent to Gutiérrez’s lawyer, Eduardo Beckett, the BIA ruled that an El Paso immigration judge’s two decisions against Gutiérrez were “clearly erroneous.”

emilio gutiérrez sotoThe three-judge panel ruled that Gutiérrez, left, whose home was ransacked by members of the Mexican military before he fled Mexico, “has a well-founded fear of persecution in Mexico.” The judges cited Gutiérrez’s “journalistic work that was critical of the military” and the “numerous letters and extensive declarations in support” of Gutiérrez’s asylum bid.

“It has been a long journey, and these past 15 years have been difficult. But today, justice has won,” Gutiérrez, 60, said from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he now resides. He was 45 when he fled Ascensión, Chihuahua, Mexico, after a confidential source told him that his reporting on the military’s efforts to shake down locals had made him a marked man. In Mexico, journalists are routinely targeted by drug cartels and corrupt government officials. Since 1992, more than 150 journalists have been killed in Mexico, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making it the most dangerous place to work for reporters outside a war zone.

The ruling is a victory for the National Press Club and numerous press freedom organizations. The Press Club became involved in the Gutiérrez case six years ago, after inviting him to accept the John Aubuchon Press Freedom award on behalf of journalists in Mexico.

On December 07, 2017, two months after Gutiérrez’s speech in Washington, D.C., criticizing U.S. immigration policies, Department of Homeland Security officials abruptly handcuffed him during a routine check-in at the El Paso office and drove him toward the nearby border for deportation. When the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered DHS not to deport him, the officials put him in detention instead. Despite the appeals of the Press Club, the bishop of El Paso and numerous other advocates, Gutiérrez remained behind bars for nine months. He was released only after a class of students at Rutgers University Law School International Human Rights Clinic, headed by Professor Penny Venetis, brought a habeas corpus case at the behest of the National Press Club.

“As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ We saw this with Emilio,” said National Press Club President Eileen O’Reilly. “On behalf of the many past presidents, press freedom team and members of the Press Club who continued the fight during Emilio’s long ordeal, I praise the Board of Immigration Appeals for its decision and urge immigration officials to expedite asylum requests for the many journalists who are forced to leave their homes to continue their very important work.”

Gil Klein, president of the Club’s nonprofit affiliate National Press Club Journalism Institute, added: “As frustrating as this long ordeal has been, we can also find inspiration from the remarkable team of lawyers, human rights advocates and press freedom organizations that it brought together. It sends a powerful message that the work of journalists is critically important, and efforts to dismiss their safety or deny their work will rally - not quiet - the people behind them.”

Gutiérrez thanked the Press Club and the more than 20 other journalism organizations who joined his legal fight, including the Knight-Wallace Fellowships, a prestigious journalism fellowship program that accepted him while he was still in detention.

“I extend eternal gratitude and solidarity to the National Press Club, to the Knight-Wallace Fellowships and the University of Michigan and to the many journalism and press freedom organizations that have been steadfast in their support of me,” Gutiérrez said. “I hope that my case will shine a light on the need to protect those journalists in Mexico and around the world who are working and risking their lives to tell the truth.”

The National Press Club plans to host a roundtable on the Gutiérrez case in the near future to discuss lessons learned and how we can do a better job for journalists at risk going forward. The National Press Club Institute, represented by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, continues to press its Freedom of Information Act case seeking release of Department of Homeland Security documents and communications related to Gutiérrez.

Sept. 12

ny times logoNew York Times, Microsoft, Google and Antitrust: Similar Legal Theories in a Different Era, Steve Lohr, Sept. 12, 2023 (print ed.). The U.S. case against Google, in court this week, borrows heavily from the lawsuit against Microsoft 25 years ago. But it lacks the same cultural impact.

Google is a dominant tech company that has abused its market power to bully industry partners, protect its monopoly and thwart competition.

microsoft logo CustomThat has a familiar ring. As U.S. et al. v. Google goes to trial this week, the echoes of the landmark federal suit against Microsoft, a quarter-century ago, are unmistakable. In the Google case, as with Microsoft then, a tech giant is accused of using its overwhelming market power to unfairly cut competitors off from potential customers.

google logo customBut on the eve of the Google trial, it seems unimaginable that the case could command the widespread attention that the Microsoft proceedings did. Microsoft in the late 1990s was a singular tech titan and its leader, Bill Gates, was a national icon.

The Microsoft trial, which began in October 1998, spanned 76 days of testimony over more than eight months. Every major news organization covered it. The New York Times eported on the proceedings daily.

It was a trial that often dealt with cerebral concepts like “network effects” and “switching costs.” Yet The Times gave it the kind of day-to-day coverage ordinarily reserved for very few courtroom dramas over the years, like the O.J. Simpson trial and the Lindbergh kidnapping trial.

Many days, there were spin sessions on the courthouse steps. Microsoft representatives would say the government had presented isolated snippets of text, taken out of context, certainly not proof of anti-competitive conduct. Lawyers for the Justice Department and states who joined the lawsuit would mostly say the damning testimony spoke for itself.

Microsoft was found by a federal judge to have repeatedly violated the nation’s antitrust laws. An appeals court upheld most of that decision but was skeptical of the government’s preferred remedy — breaking up the company.

In its lawsuit against Google, the Justice Department points to the Microsoft case and that company’s tactics in the 1990s. “Google deploys the same playbook,” the government declares, by illegally wielding its might in online search much as Microsoft did with its personal computer operating system, Windows.

But Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, said there were big differences between the Microsoft of the dot-com boom and today’s Google. Back then, Mr. Walker was deputy general counsel of Netscape, the commercial pioneer of internet browsing software, which was the main target of Microsoft’s campaign to hobble competition.

Inside the World of Big Tech

  • Google: The Justice Department’s antitrust case against the tech giant is the greatest legal threat the company has ever faced. Google hopes the stolid approach of its top lawyer will once again prevail.
  • X: The social media service formerly known as Twitter “throttled” access to rival sites such as Substack and Facebook, according to a New York Times analysis, but began reversing the slow access to news outlets.
  • The Power of Algorithms: New studies on how social media algorithms influence people’s beliefs generated results that complicate common narratives on how to control the spread of harmful content online.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Smartphone Industry Sputters, the iPhone Expands Its Dominance, Tripp Mickle, Sept. 12, 2023 (print ed.). Apple, which is set to release a new iPhone on Tuesday, has increased its share of the market by converting Android customers and adding teenagers.

There’s a general rule about consumer electronics: The older a device becomes, the more competitors appear and prices fall. This was true for televisions, personal computers and portable music players.

It was supposed to happen with smartphones. But the iPhone has defied gravity.

apple logo rainbowOn Tuesday, Apple will unveil the 17th iteration of its flagship product. Remarkably, at an age in which most consumer devices have lost some of their appeal to users, Apple has increased its share of smartphone sales over less expensive rivals.

Over the past five years, the iPhone has increased its percentage of total smartphones sold around the world while expanding its share of sales in four of the world’s largest regions: China, Japan, Europe and India.

In the United States, the iPhone’s largest market, the device now accounts for more than 50 percent of smartphones sold, up from 41 percent in 2018, according to Counterpoint Research, a technology firm. The gains have helped it claim about a fifth of the world’s smartphone sales, up from a low of 13 percent in 2019.

Apple has expanded its smartphone empire as the broader industry has faltered. Over the past two years, sales of Android smartphones have plummeted, but the iPhone has suffered only modest declines because it’s been winning new customers. It has done so despite being the industry’s priciest device.

Apple has overcome price sensitivity by creating a business that is reminiscent of U.S. car sales. Like a car, iPhones last for years and can be resold to offset the purchase of a new one. Wireless providers, much like auto dealers, offer discounts and monthly payment plans that make it more affordable to buy the latest model. And customers, like brand-loyal car buyers, are more likely to buy another iPhone than switch to Google’s Android operating system.

Apple has also been lucky. Two of its biggest challengers, Samsung and Huawei, have stumbled in recent years. Samsung faltered in 2016 when the batteries in its flagship smartphone spontaneously combusted. Huawei, which was popular in China, floundered in 2020 after the Trump administration blocked it from buying U.S. technology.

The iPhone has avoided wobbles with a reliable blueprint: Apple annually updates the iPhone’s spare but sleek design and reliable software, and brings it to the masses with an operations machine that assembles 200 million flawless iPhones a year with military precision.

In the United States, the iPhone’s popularity is expected to widen in the years ahead. Nearly 90 percent of teenagers own an iPhone, according to Piper Sandler, an investment bank.

 

owen shroyer

Politico, Owen Shroyer, InfoWars host and colleague of Alex Jones, gets 60 days for Jan. 6 misdemeanor, Kyle Cheney, Sept. 12, 2023. A judge on Tuesday sentenced InfoWars broadcaster Owen Shroyer — who shadowed his boss and ally Alex Jones onto Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021 — to 60 days in prison for breaching the restricted area.

politico CustomU.S. District Judge Tim Kelly, right, handed down the sentence after contending that Shroyer, who never entered the Capitol building, played a role in “amping up” the mob at a timothy kellysensitive moment during the riot. Shroyer’s foray onto Capitol grounds came even though Shroyer had been ordered to stay away from the area under a court-sanctioned agreement for disrupting a House impeachment hearing in 2019.

The sentence — half of the Justice Department’s call for 120 days in prison — closes a chapter in what all sides agreed was a “unique” prosecution stemming from the mob attack on the Capitol. Shroyer was facing only misdemeanor charges for his conduct that day and pleaded guilty to breaching restricted Capitol grounds earlier this year.

Prosecutors say Shroyer shadowed Jones from the Ellipse, where former President Donald Trump addressed supporters before urging them to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, to the Capitol. When they arrived, they witnessed the chaos that had begun unfolding at the building. Jones, who was trailed by a large throng of supporters, a security detail and other leaders of “Stop the Steal” groups, circled the Capitol and asked police for permission to exhort the crowd to deescalate the violence.

Jones has not been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, but prosecutors said Shroyer, using a megaphone, delivered chants that further fueled the riot after breaching the protected perimeter of Capitol grounds. They also noted in court filings that Jones and his large cohort continued to traverse the perimeter of the Capitol despite police signaling they wanted people to leave the area.

Shroyer is seeking to frame his criminal case as a national flashpoint for First Amendment speech. He addressed InfoWars viewers and reporters for an hour after his sentence, saying he intends to appeal his case — to the Supreme Court if necessary — and that he has become a “martyr for free speech.”

Shroyer pointed out that prosecutors, in seeking his 120-day jail term, focused heavily on his comments in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and his chants of “1776” on the day of the riot. He contended that he was in Washington in his capacity as an opinion journalist for InfoWars. In remarks to Kelly, Shroyer also argued that when he exhorted the crowd that day, he was trying to capture their attention so he could assist Jones in trying to redirect the mob away from the Capitol.

Kelly rejected that contention, saying his review of the video of Shroyer’s actions did not appear to show Shroyer making an attempt to play a deescalating role. After leaving the courthouse, Shroyer said their disagreement over that episode stemmed from Kelly’s lack of familiarity with managing large crowds.

Kelly also said he paid minimal attention to prosecutors’ arguments about Shroyer’s speech in the lead-up to Jan. 6. “There’s nothing wrong with the phrase ‘1776,’” Kelly said, adding that his main concern was Shroyer “amping up the crowd with a bullhorn.”

Kelly also said Shroyer’s role as a journalist — which he noted the Justice Department challenged — played no role in his ultimate sentence, saying the conduct Shroyer was charged with had nothing to do with his media role.

The case against Shroyer has been pending for more than two years and raised questions about whether Jones was under scrutiny as well. Shroyer and his attorney Norm Pattis — who also represents Jones — noted that Shroyer agreed to turn over his phone to prosecutors and sit for a proffer session after he was charged. They also noted that he agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and be cooperative with the government after being assured it would result in a lenient recommendation from prosecutors.

Sept. 10

ny times logoNew York Times, The Technology Facebook and Google Didn’t Dare Release, Kashmir Hill, Sept. 10, 2023. Engineers at the tech giants built tools years ago that could put a name to any face. For once, Silicon Valley did not want to move fast and break things.

The person-identifying hat-phone would be a godsend for someone with vision problems or face blindness, but it google logo customwas risky. Facebook’s previous deployment of facial recognition technology, to help people tag friends in photos, had caused an outcry from privacy advocates and led to a class-action lawsuit in Illinois in 2015 that ultimately cost the company $650 million.

facebook logoWith technology like that on Mr. Leyvand’s head, Facebook could prevent users from ever forgetting a colleague’s name, give a reminder at a cocktail party that an acquaintance had kids to ask about or help find someone at a crowded conference. However, six years later, the company now known as Meta has not released a version of that product and Mr. Leyvand has departed for Apple to work on its Vision Pro augmented reality glasses.

In recent years, the start-ups Clearview AI and PimEyes have pushed the boundaries of what the public thought was possible by releasing face search engines paired with millions of photos from the public web (PimEyes) or even billions (Clearview). With these tools, available to the police in the case of Clearview AI and the public at large in the case of PimEyes, a snapshot of someone can be used to find other online photos where that face appears, potentially revealing a name, social media profiles or information a person would never want to be linked to publicly, such as risqué photos.

What these start-ups had done wasn’t a technological breakthrough; it was an ethical one. Tech giants had developed the ability to recognize unknown people’s faces years earlier, but had chosen to hold the technology back, deciding that the most extreme version — putting a name to a stranger’s face — was too dangerous to make widely available.

Sept. 6

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Targets Google in Its First Monopoly Trial of the Modern Internet Era, David McCabe and Cecilia Kang, Sept. 6, 2023. The trial, set to begin Tuesday, amps up efforts to rein in Big Tech by zeroing in on the search business that turned Google into a $1.7 trillion behemoth.

The Justice Department has spent three years over two presidential administrations building the case that Google illegally abused its power over online search to throttle competition. To defend itself, Google has enlisted hundreds of employees and three powerful law firms and spent millions of dollars on legal fees and lobbyists.

google logo customOn Tuesday, a judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will begin considering their arguments at a trial that cuts to the heart of a long-simmering question: Did today’s tech giants become dominant by breaking the law?

The case — U.S. et al v. Google — is the federal government’s first monopoly trial of the modern internet era, as a generation of tech companies has come to wield immense influence over commerce, information, public discourse, entertainment and labor. The trial moves the antitrust battle against those companies to a new phase, shifting from challenging their mergers and acquisitions to more deeply examining the businesses that thrust them into power.

Such a consequential case over tech power has not unfolded since the Justice Department took Microsoft to court in 1998 for antitrust violations. But since then, companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, have woven themselves into people’s lives to an even greater degree. Any ruling from the trial could have broad ripple effects, slowing down or potentially dismantling the largest internet companies after decades of unbridled growth.

The stakes are particularly high for Google, the Silicon Valley company founded in 1998, which grew into a $1.7 trillion giant by becoming the first place people turned to online to search the web. The government has said in its complaint that it wants Google to change its monopolistic business practices, potentially pay damages and restructure itself.

“This is a pivotal case and a moment to create precedents for these new platforms that lend themselves to real and durable market power,” said Laura Phillips-Sawyer, who teaches antitrust law at the University of Georgia School of Law.
ImageA corner of the Justice Department building.

The case centers on whether Google illegally cemented its dominance and squashed competition by paying Apple and other companies to make its internet search engine the default on the iPhone as well as on other devices and platforms.

In legal filings, the Justice Department has argued that Google maintained a monopoly through such agreements, making it harder for consumers to use other search engines. Google has said that its deals with Apple and others were not exclusive and that

Google has amassed 90 percent of the search engine market in the United States and 91 percent globally, according to Similarweb, a data analysis firm.

Fireworks are expected at the trial, which is scheduled to last 10 weeks. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, as well as executives from Apple and other tech companies will probably be called as witnesses.

Judge Amit P. Mehta, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, is presiding over the trial, which will not have a jury, and he will issue the final ruling. Kenneth Dintzer, a 30-year veteran litigator for the Justice Department, will lead the government’s arguments in the courtroom, while John E. Schmidtlein, a partner at the law firm Williams & Connolly, will do the same for Google.

ny times logoNew York Times, Florida Expected to Approve ‘Classical Curriculum’ Exam as SAT Competitor, Dana Goldstein, Sept. 6, 2023. The Classic Learning Test emphasizes the Western canon and Christian thought. It’s the latest move by Gov. Ron DeSantis to shake up education in the state.

The Classic Learning Test is the college admissions exam that most students have never heard of. An alternative to the SAT and ACT for only a small number of mostly religious colleges, the test is known for its emphasis on the Western canon, with a big dose of Christian thought.

But on Friday, Florida’s public university system, which includes the University of Florida and Florida State University, is expected to become the first state system to approve the Classic Learning Test, or CLT, for use in admissions.

“We are always seeking ways to improve,” said Ray Rodrigues, the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, noting that the system, which serves a quarter million undergraduates, was the largest in the country to still require an entrance exam.

It’s the latest move by Gov. Ron DeSantis to shake up the education establishment, especially the College Board, the nonprofit behemoth that runs the SAT program.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tech Dependence Caused ‘Staggering’ Education Inequality, U.N. Agency Says, Natasha Singer, Sept. 6, 2023.  Heavy reliance on online learning during the pandemic drew attention away from more equitable ways of teaching children at home, a UNESCO report says.

In early 2020, as the coronavirus spread, schools around the world abruptly halted in-person education. To many governments and parents, moving classes online seemed the obvious stopgap solution.

In the United States, school districts scrambled to secure digital devices for students. Almost overnight, videoconferencing software like Zoom became the main platform teachers used to deliver real-time instruction to students at home.

Now a report from UNESCO, the United Nations’ educational and cultural organization, says that overreliance on remote learning technology during the pandemic led to “staggering” education inequality around the world. It was, according to a 655-page report that UNESCO released on Wednesday, a worldwide “ed-tech tragedy.”

The report, from UNESCO’s Future of Education division, is likely to add fuel to the debate over how governments and local school districts handled pandemic restrictions, and whether it would have been better for some countries to reopen schools for in-person instruction sooner.

Sept. 5

ny times logoNew York Times Magazine, Americans Are Losing Faith in the Value of Higher Education. Why? Paul Tough, Sept. 5, 2023. For most people, the new economics of a university education make attending a risky bet.

A decade or so ago, Americans were feeling pretty positive about higher education. Public-opinion polls in the early 2010s all told the same story. In one survey, 86 percent of college graduates said that college had been a good investment; in another, 74 percent of young adults said a college education was “very important”; in a third, 60 percent of Americans said that colleges and universities were having a positive impact on the country. Ninety-six percent of parents who identified as Democrats said they expected their kids to attend college — only to be outdone by Republican parents, 99 percent of whom said they expected their kids to go to college.
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In the fall of 2009, 70 percent of that year’s crop of high school graduates did in fact go straight to college. That was the highest percentage ever, and the collegegoing rate stayed near that elevated level for the next few years. The motivation of these students was largely financial. The 2008 recession devastated many of the industries that for decades provided good jobs for less-educated workers, and a college degree had become a particularly valuable commodity in the American labor market. The typical American with a bachelor’s degree (and no further credential) was earning about two-thirds more than the typical high school grad, a financial advantage about twice as large as the one a college degree produced a generation earlier. College seemed like a reliable runway to a life of comfort and affluence.

A decade later, Americans’ feelings about higher education have turned sharply negative. The percentage of young adults who said that a college degree is very important fell to 41 percent from 74 percent. Only about a third of Americans now say they have a lot of confidence in higher education. Among young Americans in Generation Z, 45 percent say that a high school diploma is all you need today to “ensure financial security.” And in contrast to the college-focused parents of a decade ago, now almost half of American parents say they’d prefer that their children not enroll in a four-year college.

  • New York Times, The New Reality for College Dining Halls: Dozens of Dietary Restrictions, Sept. 5, 2023. A surge of students with allergies and special diets is challenging meal services and changing the shape of the campus cafeteria.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf and the Political Upside Down, Michelle Goldberg, right, Sept. 5, 2023 (print ed.). I’ve been raving about Naomi michelle goldberg thumbKlein’s Doppelganger since I read an advance copy this summer, and when I tell people about it, some of them are baffled: You mean Klein wrote a whole book about being confused with the writer Naomi Wolf?

The central conceit of Doppelganger sounds more like the premise for a surreal Charlie Kaufman film than a work by an earnest lefty who usually writes about overweening corporate power. Klein herself is apologetic about it. “In my defense, it was never my intent to write this book,” she says in its first line.

We should all be glad she did, because I can’t think of another text that better captures the berserk period we’re living through. Only in a superficial sense is Doppelganger really about Wolf, the liberal feminist icon turned anti-vax Steve Bannon sidekick. Instead, it’s about the instability of identity in the virtual world and the forces pulling people away from constructive politics into a shadow realm where clout chasing and conspiracy theorizing intertwine.

naomi klein portrait Custom 2Klein, left, and Wolf, below left, both brown-haired middle-aged Jewish women writers, are often mistaken for each other. That became a growing problem for Klein as her reputation was tainted by Wolf’s escalating lunacy. Trapped at home by the pandemic, Klein became increasingly obsessed by Wolf’s transformation into a heroine of Covid truthers.

naomi wolf wikipedia 2That obsession, in turn, guides Klein into an examination of what she calls “the Mirror World,” the vertigo-inducing inversion of reality common to contemporary far-right movements. Think, for example, of Vladimir Putin claiming that he’s liberating Ukraine from fascism or Donald Trump howling that his multiple prosecutions are a racist plot to subvert a presidential election. When I spoke to Klein recently, she described how jarring it was to watch protests against Covid measures appropriating left-wing language — common slogans were “I can’t breathe” and “My body, my choice” — making them “this weird doppelganger of the movements that I had been a part of and supported.”

This idea of the doppelganger gave me a new way to think about the mix of malicious parody and projection that now dominates our public life. Sometime soon, for example, the House is likely to impeach President Biden on the pretext that he was involved in corruption in Ukraine — the same conspiracy theory Trump was trying to breathe life into when he got himself impeached for corruption in Ukraine. This coming doppelganger impeachment is hard to even discuss without getting pulled down innumerable rabbit holes, which is surely part of the point.

“How comforting it would be if Wolf were a fake we could unmask — and not a symptom of a mass unraveling of meaning afflicting, well, everything,” writes Klein. This unraveling, of course, was well underway before Covid, but the pandemic accelerated it by forcing people to live online, communicating on platforms seemingly algorithmically designed to reward rage and paranoia.

Wolf’s story is instructive. The Beauty Myth, her 1990 blockbuster about the toll taken on women by the upward ratchet of unreasonable beauty standards, made her famous. In retrospect, the seeds of her intellectual decline were already present in that book, which contained both major statistical errors and a conspiratorial subtext that painted the influence of patriarchy as a deliberate plot. In the ensuing years, her work grew increasingly sloppy and absurd, until her reputation collapsed altogether in 2019 with the publication of Outrages.

Wolf faced the singular mortification of being confronted, live on the radio, with evidence that her book’s central contention — that several dozen men in Victorian England were executed for having same-sex relationships — was based on a misreading of historical records. That October, her U.S. publisher canceled the release of Outrages.

truth social logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Truth Social investment partner extends deadline, avoiding liquidation, Drew Harwell, Sept. 5, 2023. The extension will give Digital World Acquisition another year to merge with Donald Trump’s start-up.

Shareholders in Digital World Acquisition, the investment partner of former president Donald Trump’s media start-up, approved an extension of the company’s merger deadline, giving it more time to complete the deal, Digital World said Tuesday.

The extension will give the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, another year to finalize its long-stalled merger with the parent company of the pro-Trump social network Truth Social.

The approval follows an intense get-out-the-vote campaign and comes just three days before Truth Social’s Sept. 8 liquidation deadline. A failure of the vote would have required the SPAC to dissolve and return $300 million to shareholders, depriving Trump Media & Technology Group of funds from the deal.

Trump’s Truth Social facing a key funding deadline

The company must still meet closing conditions before the merger can be officially recognized. The Securities and Exchange Commission said in July that Digital World had misled investors in official documents filed for the merger process. The SPAC will need to correct those inaccuracies and resubmit the filings before the merger process can resume. The SPAC also has not filed required quarterly financial statements with the SEC covering its operations during the first half of 2023.

Sept. 4

A Labor Day parade on Main Street in Buffalo in 1900. President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a national holiday in June 1894, as he faced a crisis of railway workers striking in Chicago (Library of Congress photo).

A Labor Day parade on Main Street in Buffalo in 1900. President Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a national holiday in June 1894, as he faced a crisis of railway workers striking in Chicago (Library of Congress photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, What Is Labor Day? Here’s a History, Karen Zraick, Sept. 4, 2023. President Grover Cleveland made it a national holiday in 1894, during a crisis over federal efforts to end a strike by railroad workers.

labor department logoIn the late 1800s, many Americans toiled 12 hours a day, seven days a week, often in physically demanding, low-paying jobs. Children worked too, on farms and in factories and mines. Conditions were often harsh and unsafe.

It was in this context that American workers held the first Labor Day parade, marching from New York’s City Hall to a giant picnic at an uptown park on Sept. 5, 1882.

“Working Men on Parade,” read The New York Times’s headline. The article, which appeared on the last page, reported that 10,000 people marched “in an orderly and pleasant manner,” far fewer than the organizers had predicted would attend. The workers included cigarmakers, dressmakers, printers, shoemakers, bricklayers and other tradespeople.

ny times logoNew York Times, Anderson Cooper Is Still Learning to Live With Loss, David Marchese Photograph by Mamadi Doumbouya, Sept. 4, 2023. “The fact that I’m 56 and still realizing I never grieved when I was 11? That’s ridiculous,” says the CNN anchor.

anderson cooper tulane wFor decades, Anderson Cooper, 56, right, has been a steady, humane and comparatively calm presence on TV news.

cnn logoBut the longtime host of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” has recently entered an interesting and, in its way, fruitful period of emotional and professional flux.

It started last year with “All There Is With Anderson Cooper,” his podcast about grief. (When Cooper was 10, his father, Wyatt, died from a heart attack; his older brother, Carter, died from suicide when they were both in their early 20s; his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, died at 95 in 2019.)

In doing so, he realized how little he had allowed himself to feel the losses and how much more feeling he still had to do. (Accordingly, a second season will air this fall.)

He also spent time writing Astor, an upcoming nonfiction book about the storied, dynastic American family, which is a thematic follow-up to his best-selling 2021 book about his mother’s storied, dynastic American family, Vanderbilt. (The two books were written with Katherine Howe.)

On top of all that, he and his colleagues at CNN underwent the brief and tumultuous tenure of its chairman and chief executive Chris Licht, who was fired in June after only 13 months on the job. “It all makes sense in my head,” Cooper says, about the twists and turns of his career. “Though it may not make much sense on paper.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Affirmative Action Is Over. Should  [College] Applicants Still Mention Their Race? Jessica Cheung, Sept. 4, 2023. The first high school seniors to apply to college since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision are trying to sort through a morass of conflicting guidance.

Colleges and universities across the country are scrambling to find legal means of maintaining the levels of diversity they would like to see. Though barred from actively using race as a factor, they will still “see” race in signifiers such as name, ZIP code and, perhaps most notable, what students say about themselves in their essays.

But this also means that this year’s class of high school seniors — the first to apply under the affirmative-action ban — must read the signals sent by colleges about how to articulate their case for admission correctly and effectively. They are living in a swirl of uncertainty, confusion and misinformation about an admissions process that has suddenly been made more opaque and bewildering. Rather than clarifying the role of race in the application process, the court has instead created a new burden for students: They must now decide whether, and how, to make race a part of their pitch for admission.

Sept. 2

Politico, Russia declares Nobel Prize-winning journalist ‘foreign agent,’ Gabriel Gavin, Sept. 2, 2023. Putin’s own spokesman had previously admitted Dmitry Muratov ‘works according to his own values.’

politico CustomDmitry Muratov, one of Russia’s best-known journalists, has been added to the country’s list of foreign agents, less than two years after the Kremlin praised the principled reporting that saw him awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

dmitry muratovMuratov, right, the former editor of now-shuttered liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was included in an update Friday evening to the Russian Ministry of Justice’s register of journalists, politicians and activists that Moscow claims are acting on behalf of hostile states.

The designation of foreign agent, which has been repeatedly used on critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and opponents of his war in Ukraine, means that Muratov will have to adhere to strict rules on political activity. It also bars him from engaging in public life. Any mention of him in Russian media or social networks must reference his status.

According to Human Rights Watch, “in Russia, the term foreign agent is tantamount [to] spy or traitor,” and has been used “to smear and punish independent voices.”

 

elon musk sideview

washington post logoWashington Post, Musk’s new Twitter policies helped spread Russian propaganda, E.U. says, Joseph Menn, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). X’s failure to slow the spread of disinformation on the Internet would have violated E.U. social media law, had it been in effect

Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) has played a major role in allowing Russian propaganda about Ukraine to reach more people than before the war european union logo rectanglebegan, according to a study released this week by the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union.

The research found that, despite voluntary commitments to take action against Russian propaganda by the largest social media companies, including Meta, Russian disinformation against Ukraine, thrived. Allowing the disinformation and hate speech to spread without limits would have violated the Digital Services Act, the E.U.’s social media law, had it been in force last year, the year-long commission study concluded.

x logo twitter“Over the course of 2022, the audience and reach of Kremlin-aligned social media accounts increased substantially all over Europe,” the study found. “Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards.” The social media platform was recently renamed X.

The E.U. has taken a far more aggressive regulatory approach to government-backed disinformation than the United States has. The twitter bird CustomDigital Services Act, which went into effect for the biggest social media companies Aug. 25, requires them to assess the risk of false information, stop the worst from being boosted by algorithms and subject their performance to auditing. Separately, European sanctions on Russian state media have prompted YouTube and other platforms to ban the likes of RT, the Russian news outlet formerly known as Russia Today that was once one of the most-followed channels.

The study is the starkest indication yet that the legal and voluntary measures are not getting the job done, following June warnings from E.U. Commissioner Thierry Breton that X had work to do to avoid potentially massive fines under the DSA. The research was conducted by nonprofit analysis group Reset, which advocates for greater oversight of digital platforms.

Without full access to data held by the companies — data that must be made more available under the new law — Reset relied on public information, such as the number of interactions that problematic content drew from people who had not been following the account that posted it.

 

truth social logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s Truth Social facing a key funding deadline, Drew Harwell, Sept. 2, 2023. The ‘blank check’ ally of former president Donald Trump’s media start-up was once a stock-market star. It’s now days away from potential liquidation.

When former president Donald Trump’s media start-up announced in October 2021 that it planned to merge with a Miami-based company called Digital World Acquisition, the deal was an instant stock-market hit.

With the $300 million Digital World had already raised from investors, Trump Media & Technology Group, creator of the pro-Trump social network Truth Social, pledged then that the merger would create a tech titan worth $875 million at the start and, depending on the stock’s performance, up to $1.7 billion later.

All they needed was for the merger to close — a process that Digital World, in a July 2021 preliminary prospectus, estimated would happen within 12 to 18 months.

“Everyone asks me why doesn’t someone stand up to Big Tech? Well, we will be soon!” Trump said in a Trump Media statement that month.

Now, almost two years later, the deal faces what could be a catastrophic threat. With the merger stalled for months, Digital World is fast approaching a Sept. 8 deadline for the merger to close and has scheduled a shareholder vote for Tuesday to extend the deadline another year.

If the vote fails, Digital World will be required by law to liquidate and return $300 million to its shareholders, leaving Trump’s company with nothing from the transaction.

For Digital World, it would signal the ultimate financial fall from grace for a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that turned its proximity to the former president into what was once one of the stock market’s hottest trades. Its share price, which peaked in its first hours at $175, has since fallen to about $14.

Digital World’s efforts to merge with Trump Media have been troubled almost from the start, beset by allegations that it began its conversations with the former president’s company before they were permitted under SPAC rules.

 

jimmy buffett

washington post logoWashington Post, Jimmy Buffett, musical ‘mayor of Margaritaville,’ dies at 76, Glenn Rifkin, Sept. 2, 2023. The singer-songwriter sold 20 million records from his greatest hit, “Margaritaville,” created a lifestyle brand of tropical breezes, frozen cocktails and laid-back escapism.

Mr. Buffett, a frustrated Nashville country artist, found his muse when he moved to Key West, Fla., in spring 1972, leaving behind a failed marriage and stalled career. Surrounded by blue water, he donned Hawaiian shirts, cutoff shorts and flip-flops, grabbed an old blender, and embraced the quirky beach community with his musical soul.

“It was a scene,” he told Playboy magazine. “Everyone went out and applauded the sunset every night. Bales of marijuana washed up on the shore. There were great cheap Cuban restaurants … Key West seemed like the End: East Coast Division — a common reason people wind up there, especially writers, artists, musicians and other interesting derelicts, drawn by the idea that Key West is the final stroke of a great comma in the map of North America, suggesting more to come but maybe not.”

Steady, Commentary: Margaritaville -- A Reason To Smile, Dan Rather,dan rather 2017 right, former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor, and Elliott Kirschner, Sept. 2, 2023. There was something quintessentially dan rather steady logoAmerican about the singer/songwriter/entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, who passed away yesterday at the age of 76.

He was a showman, selling a laid-back vision of life: beaches, cocktails, sunbaked days, and parties after dark. The allure of letting loose and having fun has been a part of our national identity.

But so have hard work and seizing opportunities to monetize an idea, which Buffett did with such skill that Forbes estimated his net worth this year at $1 billion.Buffett’s life followed an arc that exemplified the American Dream.

Originally a reporter working for Billboard, he struggled as a young musician to find his voice and make his mark. That changed when he moved to Key West, Florida. He would later say that there “I found a lifestyle, and I knew that whatever I did would have to work around my lifestyle.”

And it was this lifestyle — a blend of love for the open sea and the camaraderie of a seaside bar, all infused with music — that drew legions of loyal fans over decades of success.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2018 Profile: Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Feb. 8, 2018. Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, “Escape to Margaritaville,” was coming along nicely, but something was off.

It wasn’t the music — they’d been careful to include a finely titrated playlist of crowd pleasers. It wasn’t the book — the TV writers Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Mike O’Malley (“Shameless”) managed to strike a balance of goofy, accessible romantic comedy and some deep cuts for the Parrotheads, as his fans are called. It wasn’t the casting, either; Paul Alexander Nolan is a compelling early-Buffett avatar as Tully Mars, a dreamy bar singer at a rundown Caribbean hotel called Margaritaville. And he was happy with the direction of Christopher Ashley, off a best direction Tony for “Come From Away.”

So what could it be? It hit him like a thunderbolt. It was Mr. Nolan. Mr. Nolan had just the right vibe. He could do the laid-back thing well; his singing is strong and contemporary. But there is a fatal flaw about him: He wasn’t tan.

Mr. Buffett hasn’t stopped touring in his nearly half-century as a performer, but it had been a long time since he did a last-minute set at a bar. He had to get on a stage with a pickup band like in the old days and really get back into the original iteration of Jimmy Buffett. That night, he went to the original Margaritaville bar in Key West, which he opened in the mid-1980s, unannounced, and played a three-and-a-half-hour set. He told stories between songs. He kept the audience active. It felt good to be back there, remembering who he once was.

Because that, in a coconut shell, was the problem. Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. He hasn’t been for a while. Jimmy Buffett — the nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, getting drunk and screwing, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere Jimmy Buffett — has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. And therein lies the Margaritaville® Mesquite BBQ Rub: The more successful you become at selling the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, the less you are seen as believably living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle.

IN 1979, Mr. Buffett showed up literally years late to a Rolling Stone interview, barefoot, in St. Barts, where he was living off a boat. On the first day we met, back in October, in New Orleans, the morning after opening night of the musical, he showed up on time at 9 a.m. Now he is surrounded by publicists and producers and a bodyguard. Now he has a boat but also another boat and some airplanes. Now he wears shoes just about whenever you’re supposed to.

 

August

Aug.31

 

 

mark thompson headshot

washington post logoWashington Post, CNN hires Mark Thompson as new chief executive, replacing Chris Licht, Aug. 30, 2023. Mark Thompson, above, the former chief executive of the New York Times, has been selected as the next leader of CNN, parent company Warner Bros. Discovery announced Wednesday.

CNNHe will replace Chris Licht, below left, who was ousted in June after a short and tumultuous run as the network’s leader.

chris licht w“I couldn’t be more excited about the chance to join CNN after years of watching it and competing against it with a mixture of admiration and envy,” Thompson said in a statement. “I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get down to work with my new colleagues to build a successful future for CNN.”

Thompson, who begins in the role on Oct. 9, comes to CNN after a lengthy career in media. He spent eight years as chief executive of the New York Times Company, where he oversaw significant growth in digital subscription revenue, helping to offset losses in print circulation and advertising. He stepped down from that role in 2020, after he said that he “achieved everything I set out to do.”

Thompson had come to the Times after spending nearly his entire career at the BBC, where he served as director general.

In addition to overseeing CNN’s strategy, operations and business units, he will serve as the network’s editor in chief, the company announced on Wednesday.

“There isn’t a more experienced, respected or capable executive in the news business today than Mark, and we are thrilled to have him join our team and lead CNN Worldwide into the future,” Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav said.

Zaslav called Thompson “a true innovator who has transformed for the digital age two of the world’s most respected news organizations” and said that “his strategic vision, track record in transformational leadership and sheer passion for news make him a formidable force for CNN and journalism at this pivotal time.”

Aug. 30

washington post logoWashington Post, More schools that forced American Indian children to assimilate revealed, Dana Hedgpeth and Emmanuel Martinez, Aug. 30, 2023. A nonprofit Native American group has found details about 115 more Indian boarding schools in the United States.

A nonprofit group has identified 115 more Indian boarding schools than has been previously reported, offering new insight into the role of religious institutions in the long-standing federal policy to eradicate Native Americans’ culture through their children.

For more than a century, generations of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children were forced or coerced from their homes and communities and sent to live at schools where they were beaten, starved and made to abandon their Native languages and culture. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced last year that the federal government ran or supported 408 such schools in 37 states, including 21 schools in Alaska and seven in Hawaii, from 1819 to 1969.

The new list released Wednesday by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition uses a different criteria, bringing the number of known Indian boarding schools in the country to 523 in 38 states. In addition to the federally supported schools tallied by the Interior Department, the coalition identified 115 more institutions that operated beginning in 1801, most of them run by religious groups and churches.

Aug. 29

Readers of new Winsted Citizen newspaper in Connecticut (Associated Press photo by Jessica Hill).

Readers of new Winsted Citizen newspaper in Connecticut (Associated Press photo by Jessica Hill).

Next Avenue:Extra! Extra! Man Starts Newspaper, Alix Boyle, Aug. 29, 2023. Meeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media: A retired editor, with the help of a famous neighbor, aims to fill the void of local news in his hometown.

andy thibault new mug SmallLike many people turning 70, veteran journalist Andy Thibault, right, was still working, but on his own terms, teaching college journalism classes at the University of New Haven and freelancing. Then came a call from a colleague who knew someone interested in the newspaper business.

Consumer activist and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader was looking for someone to start a local newspaper in his hometown, Winsted, Connecticut. Did Andy know of anyone who might be interested?

"I liked that it was a ludicrous if not impossible challenge."

Thibault said he did know of one guy who would be interested in starting a newspaper when so many publications were writing their own obituaries. That guy was Thibault himself. "I liked that it was a ludicrous if not impossible challenge," he recalls.

Why would someone entering his eighth decade choose to roll the dice on a shrinking business with an uncertain future, at best?

"I like the work and I can't sing or dance," he said with a shrug.

So, the Winsted Citizen debuted in February 2023 and is growing and expanding. After six months as a print-only publication, it recently went online and the September issue will be published soon.

The Ralph Nader Angle

Ralph Nader Huffington PostThe paper was created as a nonprofit enterprise with Nader, left, aged 89, giving $15,000 as the founding donor. He later contributed another $16,000 in grants for a total stake of $31,000, He also provided free logistical support in establishing the newspaper's nonprofit status.

In a radio interview, Nader that he wanted to found a print publication because he is convinced that his neighbors in Winsted, where he lives part time, miss feeling newsprint in their hands and are sick of electronics.

The Citizen covers news in Winsted, 25 miles northwest of the state capital, Hartford, and surrounding towns. It has spiced up its pages by also publishing items like a quirky poem titled "I Wish I Was My Wife So I Could Be Married to Me" and a story about taking psychedelic mushrooms for depression (it had a front-page teaser reading "Don't Shroom and Drive").

The paper strives to live up to its reader-focused motto: "If it's important to you, it's important to us."

Thibault is something of a legend in Connecticut journalism. Highlights of his long career include working as a research consultant to the HBO series "Allen V. Farrow" and covering the Boston Marathon bombing trial for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

He is also a licensed private investigator and the author of books such as "You Thought It Was More," about Louis "the Coin" Colavecchio, a notorious Rhode Island counterfeiter.

A Life of Reporting on Crime

But Thibault is proudest of writing stories that led the authorities to release Bonnie Foreshaw, a woman sentenced to 45 years in prison for committing a murder that many legal experts argued was the lesser crime of manslaughter.

He unearthed a 24-year-old document from a public defender, Jon C. Blue. In the memo, Blue, who later became a judge, criticized the lawyers who represented Foreshaw for "shocking malpractice." Based on Thibault's reporting, Foreshaw was granted a clemency hearing and released. She is shown below at an event with Thibault and one of his books following her release.

andy thibault gateway

"Andy played a pivotal role in that case," said newspaper columnist Susan Campbell, who writes for Hearst Newspapers and CTNewsjunkie.com and also works with Thibault at the University of New Haven. "Unlike the rest of us, he kept on that story like a dog with a bone, like a yard dog on a short chain. Without him, I don't think there would have been the same outcome."

At the Winsted Citizen, Thibault sells ads, commissions stories, edits, works with the art director and even picks up copies from the printer to deliver them around town. Thibault tapped his Rolodex to put together a team that's as eclectic as the newspaper.

"I'm very excited about the people I work with," Thibault said. "We have a 16-year-old whiz kid reporter and an office manager who's a retired executive from Adobe who is training me to be an organized person."

Paying those contributors is a struggle.

"Pay has been erratic because we were grossly undercapitalized," Thibault said. "We are steadily building up revenue and have been operating since the July edition under an austerity budget."

Disclosure: Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig, a longtime reporter in Connecticut for the Hartford Courant, is a founding member of the Winsted Citizen's board of advisors.

Aug. 27

climate change photo

 washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: As fires and floods rage, Facebook and Twitter are missing in action, Will Oremus, Aug. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have decided they don’t need the news industry. That’s causing problems when natural disasters strike.

As wildfires ravage western Canada, Canadians can’t read the news about them on Facebook or Instagram. This month, Facebook parent company Meta blocked links to news organizations on its major social networks in Canada to protest a law that would require it to pay publishers for distributing their content.

As a freak tropical storm flooded swaths of Southern California over the weekend, residents and government agencies who turned to X, formerly known as Twitter, for real-time updates struggled to discern fact from fiction. That has gotten far more difficult, officials say, since Elon Musk jumbled the site’s verification policies, removing the blue check marks from verified journalists and media outlets — instead granting them to anyone who pays a monthly fee.

Facebook and Twitter spent years making themselves essential conduits for news. Now that government agencies, the media and hundreds of millions of people have come to rely on them for critical information in times of crisis, the social media giants have decided they’re not so invested in the news mark zuckerberg G8 summit deauville wafter all.

elon musk safe image time thumbTech titans Mark Zuckerberg, left, and Musk, right, may not agree on much. But both have pulled back, in different ways, from what their companies once saw as a responsibility, to both their users and society, to connect people with reliable sources of information. A drumbeat of natural disasters, probably intensified by climate change, is highlighting the consequences of that retrenchment.

“Just a few years ago, Twitter was a really valuable way for us to communicate with the public,” said Brian Ferguson, deputy director of crisis communications for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “It’s much more challenging now because of some of the changes that have happened.”

x logo twitterOn Monday, after Tropical Storm Hilary soaked Los Angeles and inundated Palm Springs, Calif., Ferguson said his agency “spent a good portion of the day as part of our emergency response combating mis- and disinformation.” Widely shared posts on X showed doctored images of Los Angeles landmarks underwater and claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was out of money and unable to respond — none of which were true, he said.

Such hoaxes have been common on social media for years. But pre-Musk Twitter had been stepping up efforts to moderate misinformation, including hiding posts that featured misleading claims and employing a team of journalists to fact-check viral trends. The site also highlighted breaking news stories from accounts and media outlets it deemed reliable. The moves were in keeping with the pride Twitter had long taken in its role as a global hub for real-time information during emergencies, dating back to the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2011 Fukushima disaster.

washington post logoWashington Post, A small-town feud in Kansas that sent a shock through American journalism, Jonathan O'Connell, Paul Farhi and Sofia Andrade, Aug. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The inside story of the events leading to the police raid on the Marion County Record, according to Editor Eric Meyer, Chief Gideon Cody and others.

The phone conversation between the journalist and the town’s newly hired police chief quickly turned contentious.

Tipsters had been telling Deb Gruver that Gideon Cody left the police department in Kansas City, Mo., under a cloud, supposedly threatened with kansas mapdemotion. So now she was asking him difficult questions on behalf of the weekly Marion County Record about the career change that had brought him to this prairie community of 1,900 people.

The chief bristled.

“If you’re going to be writing bad things about me,” they both recall him telling the reporter, “I might just not take the job.”

He also advised Gruver that he had hired a lawyer.

Cody later said he had been on guard during the conversation, having been warned by longtime residents that the Record could be overly aggressive in its reporting.

“If you live in Marion, you understand,” he told The Washington Post. “If you don’t live in Marion, you don’t understand.”

Gruver wouldn’t publish any of her reporting on Cody for months to come. But their confrontation in April marked an escalation in long-running tensions between a group of local journalists and the officials and community members they cover that would boil over through the summer.

The small-town intrigue might have stayed in a small town, though, had Cody not initiated a dramatic step earlier this month. Responding to a local businesswoman’s allegation that the paper had illegally accessed her driving record, Cody obtained search warrants from a magistrate judge and led half a dozen officers on an Aug. 11 raid of the Record’s offices and the home of its editor and publisher — seizing computers, servers, cellphones and other files.

The raid was so unusual, and so alarming in its implications for the news media, that it quickly exploded into an international story. Press-advocacy organizations universally condemned the raid as a breach of state and federal laws that protect the media from government intrusion. Within days, a caravan of TV news trucks was rumbling through Marion’s business district, a modest collection of low-slung brick buildings.

The emotional response to the raid was heightened by the sudden death of the editor’s 98-year-old mother, who had railed furiously at the officers sorting through her belongings at their home and collapsed a day later. The Record blamed her death on her agitation over the raid.

Aug. 25

elon musk sideview

washington post logoWashington Post, Following Elon Musk’s lead, Big Tech is surrendering to disinformation, Naomi Nix and Sarah Ellison, Aug. 25, 2023. Social media companies are receding from their role as watchdogs against conspiracy theories ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Social media companies are receding from their role as watchdogs against political misinformation, abandoning their most aggressive efforts to police online falsehoods in a trend expected to profoundly affect the 2024 presidential election.

meta logoAn array of circumstances is fueling the retreat: Mass layoffs at Meta and other major tech companies have gutted teams dedicated to promoting accurate information online. An aggressive legal battle over claims that the Biden administration pressured social media platforms to silence certain speech has blocked a key path to detecting election interference.

x logo twitterAnd X CEO Elon Musk, shown above, has reset industry standards, rolling back strict rules against misinformation on the site formerly known as Twitter. In a sign of Musk’s influence, Meta briefly considered a plan last year to ban all political advertising on Facebook. The company shelved it after Musk announced plans to transform rival Twitter into a haven for free speech, according to two people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters.

The retrenchment comes just months ahead of the 2024 primaries, as GOP front-runner Donald Trump continues to rally supporters with false claims that election fraud drove his 2020 loss to Joe Biden. Multiple investigations into the election have revealed no evidence of fraud, and Trump now faces federal criminal charges connected to his efforts to overturn the election. Still, YouTube, X and Meta have stopped labeling or removing posts that repeat Trump’s claims, even as voters increasingly get their news on social media.

Trump capitalized on those relaxed standards in his recent interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, hosted by X. The former president punctuated the conversation, which streamed Wednesday night during the first Republican primary debate of the 2024 campaign, with false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” and that the Democrats had “cheated” to elect Biden.

On Thursday night, Trump posted on X for the first time since he was kicked off the site, then known as Twitter, following the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol. Musk reinstated his account in November. The former president posted his mug shot from Fulton County, Ga., where he was booked Thursday on charges connected to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. “NEVER SURRENDER!” read the caption.

Aug. 24

Politico, Judge denies RFK Jr.’s request for restraining order against Google in censorship suit, Andrew Zhang, Aug. 24, 2023. The Democratic presidential candidate argued that his First Amendment rights were being violated.

A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to temporarily restrain Google from removing two videos of the presidential candidate as he seeks to sue the company for censorship.

google logo customU.S. District Judge Trina Thompson, an appointee of President Joe Biden, wrote that Kennedy’s claim that the company violated his First Amendment rights is unlikely to succeed because Google is a private entity. Thompson also wrote that a restraining order was not necessary because he would not be irreparably harmed if the order was not granted.

“Plaintiff has not shown circumstances warranting the extraordinary remedy of a temporary restraining order,” Thompson said in her 11-page decision, issued following a hearing on Monday. “The Court finds that the First Amendment claim is unlikely to succeed on the merits because Google and YouTube are not state actors.”

In his suit, Kennedy claimed Google has engaged in censorship under the coercion of federal government officials. YouTube, which is owned by Google, had removed videos of Kennedy making what the company said were medical misinformation claims. The firm contends that the content violated YouTube’s policy against discussing the Covid-19 vaccines.

While it wasn’t essential to Thompson’s ruling, she also suggested that if the popular video-hosting site were somehow subject to the First Amendment, Kennedy might still have no case because inaccurate information about medical issues lacks free speech protections.
RFK Jr. testifies: I never said anything 'racist or antisemitic'

“The coronavirus still poses a health risk to certain individuals, and it would not serve the public interest to let medical misinformation proliferate on YouTube,” the judge wrote, arguing that there is a “public interest of preventing the spread of illness and medical misinformation.”

Kennedy, who is running a long-shot campaign to usurp Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee next year, has broken into media headlines by going against mainstream liberal viewpoints on Covid-19 policies and vaccines. He has been adamant that big technology companies have gone too far in their role moderating content, leaning into the conservative viewpoint that removal of content deemed misinformation equates to censorship.

He testified before Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) subcommittee examining the weaponization of the federal government in July as part of a monthslong investigation Jordan has been conducting into the alleged collusion between the White House and tech companies to censor individuals online.

For years, major social media platforms have kept open an avenue that allows government officials to submit requests for content moderation. That pathway is currently under legal dispute. A U.S. District Court judge in early July constrained several federal agencies and officials from contacting any social media companies to remove any constitutionally protected free speech, but an appeals court later blocked that order temporarily while it is under dispute.

The Kennedy campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In its original response to his lawsuit, Google called Kennedy’s censorship lawsuit against the company viewpoints “meritless,” pushing back against the claim that it maliciously removed content that featured his viewpoints on Covid-19 and other medical matters.

Aug. 22

washington post logoWashington Post, After Dominion case, GOP debate gives Fox News chance to burnish image, Jeremy Barr, Aug. 22, 2023. Anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum’s performance in Trump-free GOP debate could bolster Fox’s credibility after its defamation lawsuit, observers say.

fox news logo SmallMonths after a blockbuster defamation lawsuit raised questions about Fox News’s dedication to accuracy and fraught relationship with Donald Trump, two of its star anchors will have a chance to bolster the network’s image Wednesday night when they moderate the first Republican debate of the 2024 presidential cycle.

dominion voting systemsAnchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum spoke of the debate as business as usual for them in interviews with The Washington Post, citing their lengthy careers in Fox’s news division — rather than the conservative-leaning opinion wing, some of whose hosts were cited in the case that Fox settled with an election technology company for $787.5 million in April.

“I think that Fox has fantastic political reporters,” MacCallum said. “We have great war correspondents. We have a very strong news division, and I’m proud to be part of it, and I’m proud to be co-moderating this debate with Bret, and I’ve always felt really good about what we do.”

Last fall, Baier was forced to explain a leaked email showing that he had lobbied Fox colleagues to revoke an election-night decision to award Arizona to Joe Biden and to “put it back in [Trump’s] column.”

He told The Post last week that his email exchange was misread and mistyped — that he meant to say that Arizona, which most other media outlets had not yet called, should be put back in the up-for-grabs column — and quibbled with how reporters interpreted his words. “There is this obsession that, ‘Oh, we got ’em, the news division is conspiring as well,’” he said. “It really wasn’t the case. So I think we’re past all of that. I think our work speaks for itself. The people who watch know that, and hopefully after the debate, they’ll know it even more.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Spain Holds On for a 1-0 Win, Claiming Its First Women’s World Cup, Rory Smith, Aug. 21, 2023 (print ed.). Though England showed signs of life in the second half, including a penalty save, Spain was much more aggressive in earning the championship.

spain flag CustomSpain should not have been in contention to win the World Cup. It did not make any sense. Its finest players spent most of the last year on strike. A dozen of them were not invited to the tournament as a consequence. Those that are here are part of a squad held together by an uneasy truce, working under a coach who can count on the loyalty — at best — of a relatively small fraction of his team. These are not the circumstances in which success is forged.

And yet, and yet: Spain is champion of the world, testament to an enduring truth of soccer, of sports. Talent can conquer absolutely anything. It can even take a team, one that had prepared for this World Cup in arguably the worst possible way, to the biggest game of all, the grandest stage, and then sweep it past England, the European champion, the favorite, the game’s new heavyweight, by a single goal, 1-0.

Aug. 20

ny times logoNew York Times, A Kansas Newspaper Is the Talk of the Town, and Not Just for Getting Raided, Kevin Draper, Aug. 20, 2023 (print ed.). The rare search of a newsroom has uncorked a debate in Marion, Kan.: What is a newspaper’s role, anyway?

One person said The Marion County Record covered two recent deaths insensitively. Another said a handful of articles focused needlessly on a simple paperwork error that led to tax credits getting rejected. A third thought an opinion column harped too harshly on the poor quality of children’s letters to Santa Claus.

kansas mapThe Marion County Record, a newspaper that reports on a small town of less than 2,000 people on the western edge of the Flint Hills in Kansas, turned into a First Amendment cause célèbre in the past week, after police officers and sheriff’s deputies raided its newsroom, an incredibly rare occurrence in American journalism. The authorities seized computers and phones, in what they said was an investigation into identity theft and computer crimes.

Reporters and television cameras have descended upon the town to cover the raids, which were roundly condemned by news organizations and free press advocates. On Wednesday, the local prosecutor returned the electronic devices, saying he had determined there wasn’t a “legally sufficient nexus” to justify the searches.

Marion residents, however, are having far different conversations about the over 150-year-old paper and its owner and editor, Eric Meyer, who has been running day-to-day operations for the past two years. At the center of the discussions: What is the appropriate relationship between a community and a local news organization, and what duty, if any, does it have to be a booster for the places it covers?

Aug. 19

 

djt handwave file

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Plans to Skip G.O.P. Debate for Interview With Tucker Carlson, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan, Aug. 19, 2023 (print ed.). The former president’s apparent decision to skip the first debate is a major affront both to the Republican National Committee and to Fox News, which is hosting the event.

fox news logo SmallFormer President Donald J. Trump,  shown above in a file photo, plans to upstage the first Republican primary debate on Wednesday by sitting for an online interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, according to multiple people briefed on the matter.

In the past 24 hours, Mr. Trump has told people close to him that he has made up his mind and will skip the debate in Milwaukee, according to two of the people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Trump is notoriously mercurial, and left himself something of an out to change his mind with an ambiguous post on his website, Truth Social, on Thursday. He wrote that he’s polling well ahead of his rivals and added, “Reagan didn’t do it, and neither did others. People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate?”

For weeks, the former president has been quizzing aides, associates and rally crowds about what he should do. Until earlier this week, Mr. Trump had been giving people the impression he was considering a last-minute surprise appearance on Wednesday.

rnc logoStill, people close to him had said for months that he was unlikely to take part in the first two Republican debates, both of which are sponsored by the Republican National Committee. And Mr. Trump’s apparent decision to skip the first debate of the presidential nominating contest is a major affront to both the R.N.C. and Fox News, which is hosting the event.

The exact timing and platform of the interview with Mr. Carlson remain unclear, but if it goes ahead as currently planned, the debate-night counterprogramming would serve as an act of open hostility.

ronna mcdaniel djt CustomThe chairwoman of the R.N.C., Ronna McDaniel, shown above, has privately urged Mr. Trump to attend the debate, even traveling to his private club in Bedminster, N.J., last month to make her pitch in person.

And Fox News has been drawn into a public battle not only with Mr. Trump but with Mr. Carlson, who is still on contract and being paid by Fox despite having his show taken off the air. Fox sent Mr. Carlson a cease-and-desist letter after he aired a series of videos on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The Trump campaign’s conversations with Mr. Carlson — and the possibility of counterprogramming — have previously been reported by multiple news organizations.

Spokesmen for the Trump campaign, the R.N.C. and Fox News did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Carlson also did not respond to requests for comment.

Fox News executives and personalities have been lobbying the former president, both publicly and privately, to participate in the debate. But Mr. Trump has been openly attacking Fox and has privately vented his animosity for the chairman of Fox Corporation, Rupert Murdoch.

Even so, Mr. Trump has privately also given top executives and anchors at Fox the impression that he was open to and even seriously considering their entreaties.

 

Independent podcaster Tucker Carlson is shown above in a screen shot from him work as the top-rated host at Fox News before his termination.

Independent podcaster Tucker Carlson is shown above in a screen shot from him when he worked as the top-rated host at Fox News before his termination.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside Trump’s Decision to Skip the G.O.P. Debate, Jonathan Swan, Jeremy W. Peters and Maggie Haberman, Aug. 19, 2023. Fox News leaned on former President Trump privately and publicly to join the debate. But all the while he had his own plan for counterprogramming.

On a cool August night on the crowded patio of his private club in New Jersey, former President Donald J. Trump held up his phone to his dinner companions.

fox news logo SmallThe Republican front-runner was having dinner with a Fox News contributor and columnist, Charlie Hurt, when a call came in from another member of the Fox team. The man on the other end of the line, Mr. Trump was delighted to show his guests, was Bret Baier, one of the two moderators of the first Republican debate on Wednesday, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

It was Mr. Trump’s second Fox dinner that week. The night before, he had hosted the Fox News president, Jay Wallace, and the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, who had gone to Bedminster, N.J., hoping to persuade Mr. Trump to attend the debate. Mr. Baier was calling to get a feel for the former president’s latest thinking.

For months, Fox had been working Mr. Trump privately and publicly. He was keeping them guessing, in his patented petulant way. But even as he behaved as if he was listening to entreaties, Mr. Trump was proceeding with a plan for his own counterprogramming to the debate.

The former president has told aides that he has made up his mind not to participate in the debate and has decided to post an online interview with Tucker Carlson that night instead, according to people briefed on the matter.

Upstaging Fox’s biggest event of the year would be provocation enough. But an interview with Mr. Carlson — who was Fox’s top-rated host and is at war with the network, which is still paying out his contract — amounts to a slap in the network’s face by Mr. Trump. The decision is a potential source of aggravation for the Republican National Committee chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, who privately urged him to attend, including in her own visit to Bedminster last month.

But Mr. Trump’s primary motive in skipping the debate is not personal animosity toward Ms. McDaniel but a crass political calculation: He doesn’t want to risk his giant lead in a Republican race that some close to him believe he must win to stay out of prison.

But that’s not the only reason.

Aug. 18

 

spj logo horizontal

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), SPJ hails lawsuit to challenge gag rules in public agency, SPJ National President Claire Regan, SPJ Freedom kathryn foxhallof Information Advocate Kathryn Foxhall, right, and SPJ Communications Specialist Zoë Berg, Aug. 18, 2023. The lawsuit is believed to be the first brought by a journalist on this issue.

The Society of Professional Journalists congratulates investigative journalist Brittany Hailer for her efforts challenging the Allegheny County Jail in Pennsylvania for its policies prohibiting staff and contractors from speaking to the media or others about the jail without approval.

As part of these efforts, Hailer filed on Thursday what is believed to be the first such lawsuit brought by a journalist. Such restrictions have been found to be unconstitutional in past cases brought by employees or their unions. Journalism groups have been actively decrying such gag rules for at least a decade.

pennsylvania map major cities“These speech bans, which journalists have seen grow more pervasive and controlling, are among the most damaging threats to free speech and public welfare today,” said SPJ National President Claire Regan. “SPJ has repeatedly led in opposing these restrictions which it has called censorship and authoritarian. Hailer’s suit shows journalists themselves can fight back in court against people in power silencing subordinates in terms of talking to reporters or forcing them to report conversations to authorities.”

The Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed the suit on behalf of Hailer, director of the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, whose work is funded in part by The Pulitzer Center.

The complaint says, “The Gag Rules prevent reporting that is urgently needed to inform the public about conditions and events at the Jail and unconstitutionally impede news coverage of the Jail needed for meaningful public oversight and accountability.”

Hailer has reported extensively on problems at the Allegheny County Jail. For example, the suit claims, since April 2020, at least 20 men have died after entering the jail, with circumstances of many of the deaths being unclear and, “in several cases, the Jail has never provided medical records to family members to confirm a cause of death.”

“This case presents an important issue for reporters at a time when agencies at every level of government are barring their employees from talking with the press,” said David Schulz, director of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. “The issue at the heart of this case goes directly to the ability of the press to ferret out the news the public needs for democracy to function.”

These restrictions are sometimes referred to as “censorship by PIO,” because many agencies force employees to refer any reporter to their public information office rather than speak with them. SPJ surveys have shown the controls to be common in federal, state and local government, in science, education and police departments. Last year Glen Nowak, a former media relations head at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that from the 1980s forward each presidential administration tightened what that agency could say until every contact with a reporter had to be vetted through the political layers of government.

In 2019 Frank LoMonte, then head of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and SPJ Foundation board member, published a legal analysis and road map for this kind of action by journalists, saying, “media plaintiffs should be able to establish that their interests have been injured, whether directly or indirectly, to sustain a First Amendment challenge to government restraints on employees’ speech to the media. The only question is whether the restraint will be treated as a presumptively unconstitutional prior restraint, or whether a less rigorous level of scrutiny will apply.”

Kathryn Foxhall, who was awarded the 2021 SPJ Wells Memorial Key for her extensive work opposing gag rules, said, “Information control is one of the most abusive, deadliest things in all human history, even when leaders believe in what they are doing. Journalists take pride in the notion that, ‘Good reporters get the story anyway.’ But we don’t know what remains hidden. We need to fight these bans as if many lives depend upon it. They do.”

SPJ hopes Hailer’s lawsuit will bring about similar challenges and reduce restrictive gag orders placed on public agencies that impede journalists’ important work.

Aug. 17

ny times logoNew York Times, What Alex Jones, Woody Allen and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Share, Elizabeth A. Harris, Aug. 17, 2023. Skyhorse Publishing has built a reputation for taking on authors that other houses avoid. And its founder has helped Kennedy mount a bid for president.

Skyhorse Publishing is not a large company, but it has an outsize reputation for taking on authors that others avoid. Its list includes figures on the left, the right and those outside the mainstream altogether, like Alex Jones, the conspiracy broadcaster whose recent book examines “the global elite’s international conspiracy to enslave humanity and all life on the planet.”

What has garnered significantly less attention is the way in which the publisher’s founder, Tony Lyons, has supported the political ambitions of one of his authors: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose campaign for president has been rife with misinformation, including false theories about coronavirus vaccines. Mr. Lyons is a chairman of a super PAC supporting Mr. Kennedy. Under his direction, Skyhorse has donated $150,000 to the group.

Mr. Lyons casts his support for Mr. Kennedy as an extension of his mission as publisher: to defend against what he considers censorship. “Bobby Kennedy says this line now and then,” Mr. Lyons said. “Name a time in history where the people advocating for censorship were the good guys.”

At a moment when the country is deeply polarized, Mr. Lyons stands out among publishers for being more willing — and, because of the structure of the private company he controls, more able — to take risks. Skyhorse’s titles range from anodyne cooking and gardening books to works that court controversy or promote theories that have been debunked.

Its best-selling book ever was Mr. Kennedy’s The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health, which was released in 2021 and makes baseless claims against Dr. Fauci, accusing him of having “truly a dark agenda.” Mr. Lyons said it has sold more than 1.1 million copies across all formats.

“He is unique in the way he questions and challenges industry norms,” David Steinberger, a longtime publishing executive, said of Lyons. “Nothing Tony does surprises me.”

In recent years, publishing decisions that might not have seemed controversial in the past have incited a backlash. After Simon & Schuster signed a two-book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence in 2021, more than 200 employees, joined by thousands of writers and other publishing professionals, signed a petition demanding the deal be canceled. Simon & Schuster published the first book in the deal, a memoir, anyway.

In instances where other publishers decided to drop a book, Skyhorse has sometimes stepped in. Hachette canceled the publication of a memoir in 2020 by Woody Allen, called “Apropos of Nothing,” in the face of allegations that Allen molested his adopted daughter when she was a child. Allen has denied the allegations and was not charged after two investigations. Skyhorse picked up the memoir and published it weeks later. The book became a New York Times best seller.

Mr. Lyons takes pride in publishing across the political spectrum, and beyond.

Last year, as several publishers rushed out their own version of the Jan. 6 report, Skyhorse put out two versions: one with a foreword by Elizabeth Holtzman, a Democrat and former United States representative from New York, and another with a foreword by Darren Beattie, who was a speechwriter for former President Donald J. Trump.

This year, Skyhorse published The War on Ivermectin, by Dr. Pierre Kory, which argues the anti-parasitic drug could have ended the Covid-19 pandemic. (Clinical trials have found that ivermectin is not effective against Covid-19.)

Mr. Lyons said he believes the pharmaceutical industry has too much power over scientific research and federal regulators, and so he approaches established science with suspicion. This wariness, even in the face of widespread agreement and convincing evidence, informs his approach to publishing.

“Time after time, people have generally agreed about things that turned out to be demonstrably untrue,” Mr. Lyons said, citing as an example the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a claim that served a basis for justifying the U.S. invasion, and which turned out to be false. “That’s a much bigger danger than the danger of people being wrong.”

But there is at least one line Mr. Lyons said he would not cross. Though Skyhorse publishes Alex Jones, he said it would not publish a book by him about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which Mr. Jones has falsely argued was a government hoax.

Aug. 16

lina khan resized ftc

ny times logoNew York Times, Authors and Booksellers Urge Justice Dept. to Investigate Amazon, Alexandra Alter, Aug. 16, 2023. With mounting signs that the Federal Trade Commission is preparing to file a lawsuit against Amazon for violating antitrust laws, a group of booksellers, authors and antitrust activists are urging the government to investigate the company’s domination of the book market.

ftc logoOn Wednesday, the Open Markets Institute, an antitrust think tank, along with the Authors Guild and the American Booksellers Association, sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, calling on the government to curb Amazon’s “monopoly in its role as a seller of books to the public.”

The groups are pressing the Justice Department to investigate not only Amazon’s size as a bookseller, but also its sway over the book market — especially its ability to promote certain titles on its site and bury others, said Barry Lynn, the executive director of the Open Markets Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on strengthening antimonopoly policies.

amazon logo small“What we have is a situation in which the power of a single dominant corporation is warping, in the aggregate, the type of books that we’re reading,” Lynn said in an interview. “This kind of power concentrated in a democracy is not acceptable.”

The letter, addressed to Lina Khan (shown above), the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, and Jonathan Kanter, who leads the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, comes as the F.T.C. appears to be closing in on its decision to bring an antitrust case against Amazon. Amazon representatives are expected to meet this week with members of the commission to discuss the possible suit, a sign that legal action may be imminent.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s still unclear whether the government’s case will scrutinize Amazon’s role as a bookseller as part of its investigation of the company. While Amazon got its start nearly 30 years ago as a scrappy online bookstore, it has since mushroomed into a retail giant that has gained a foothold in other industries, with its expansion into cloud computing and its purchase of the grocery chain Whole Foods and the movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Even as books have become a smaller slice of the company, Amazon has become an overwhelming force in the book market. It accounts for at least 40 percent of physical books sold in the U.S., and more than 80 percent of e-books sold, according to an analysis released by WordsRated, a research data and analytics group. With its purchase of Audible in 2008, Amazon has also become one of the largest audiobook producers and retailers.

The effects of the site’s rise have been profound, Open Markets Institute and the other groups argued, contributing to a steep decline in the number of physical bookstores across the United States, and leaving publishers and authors beholden to the site.

Amazon also has influenced which books readers are exposed to and buy, and has made it more challenging for lesser-known authors to gain exposure on the site, while blockbuster authors and celebrities whose books are likely to sell well are prominently featured.
A side-by-side of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (left) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (right). McCarthy is wearing a blue suit with a purple tie and Schumer is wearing a blue suit with a red tie and an American flag pin.

  • New York Times, X Slows Down Access to Some Rival Sites, Aug. 16, 2023.

Aug. 11

 

kansas mapKansas Reflector, Police stage ‘chilling’ raid on Marion County newspaper, seizing computers, records and cellphones, Sherman Smith, Sam Bailey, Rachel Mipro and Tim Carpenter, Aug. 11, 2023. In an unprecedented raid Friday, local law enforcement seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials from the Marion County Record office, the newspaper’s reporters, and the publisher’s home.

Eric Meyer, owner and publisher of the newspaper, said police were motivated by a confidential source who leaked sensitive documents to the newspaper, and the message was clear: “Mind your own business or we’re going to step on you.”

kansas map in usThe city’s entire five-officer police force and two sheriff’s deputies took “everything we have,” Meyer said, and it wasn’t clear how the newspaper staff would take the weekly publication to press Tuesday night.

The raid followed news stories about a restaurant owner who kicked reporters out of a meeting last week with U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, and revelations about the restaurant owner’s lack of a driver’s license and conviction for drunken driving.

Meyer said he had never heard of police raiding a newspaper office during his 20 years at the Milwaukee Journal or 26 years teaching journalism at the University of Illinois.

“It’s going to have a chilling effect on us even tackling issues,” Meyer said, as well as “a chilling effect on people giving us information.”

The search warrant, signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, appears to violate federal law that provides protections against searching and seizing materials from journalists. The law requires law enforcement to subpoena materials instead. Viar didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story or explain why she would authorize a potentially illegal raid.

Emily Bradbury, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said the police raid is unprecedented in Kansas.

“An attack on a newspaper office through an illegal search is not just an infringement on the rights of journalists but an assault on the very foundation of democracy and the public’s right to know,” Bradbury said. “This cannot be allowed to stand.”

Meyer reported last week that Marion restaurant owner Kari Newell had kicked newspaper staff out of a public forum with LaTurner, whose staff was apologetic. Newell responded to Meyer’s reporting with hostile comments on her personal Facebook page.

A confidential source contacted the newspaper, Meyer said, and provided evidence that Newell had been convicted of drunken driving and continued to use her vehicle without a driver’s license. The criminal record could jeopardize her efforts to obtain a liquor license for her catering business.

A reporter with the Marion Record used a state website to verify the information provided by the source. But Meyer suspected the source was relaying information from Newell’s husband, who had filed for divorce. Meyer decided not to publish a story about the information, and he alerted police to the situation.

“We thought we were being set up,” Meyer said.

Police notified Newell, who then complained at a city council meeting that the newspaper had illegally obtained and disseminated sensitive documents, which isn’t true. Her public comments prompted the newspaper to set the record straight in a story published Thursday.

washington post logoWashington Post, What happened when an Ohio school district rushed to integrate classrooms, Laura Meckler, Aug. 16, 2023. Shaker Heights sorted students by ability level, and the top classes always had more White students. In the pandemic, it unraveled this “tracking.” This story is adapted from the author’s forthcoming book, “Dream Town: Shaker Heights and the Quest for Racial Equity."

Laura Meckler is national education writer for the Washington Post, where she covers education across the country as well as federal education policy and politics. She is writing a book about her hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and its long-term relationship with issues of race.

Aug. 10

 

fox upside down news

washington post logoWashington Post, An architect of Fox’s success picks a new target: Fox, Paul Farhi, Aug. 10, 2023 (print ed.). Preston Padden, who once worked for Rupert Murdoch, argues that Fox News ‘undermined democracy.’

Rupert Murdoch never had a more loyal ally in Washington than Preston Padden.

rupert murdoch 2011 shankbone When Murdoch, left, was building his Fox broadcast network in the early 1990s, Padden served as both his chief lobbyist and the organizer of Fox’s affiliated stations. As an executive, Padden helped secure the regulatory waivers that enabled Fox to grow into a full-fledged competitor to ABC, CBS and NBC. He was also instrumental in saving the network itself, by beating back an effort by Democrats to strip Murdoch of control of Fox’s largest stations.

Those victories helped build Fox and set the stage for Murdoch’s next start-up: the Fox News Channel.

Long after he left Fox in 1997, Padden, right, and Murdoch remained friends, and regularly exchanged emails.

“I’ve always admired Rupert’s vision and guts,” Padden said in an interview, describing the 92-year-old mogul as “a father figure.”

preston paddenSo Padden’s latest project comes freighted with irony: He hopes to persuade federal regulators to pull Fox Corp.’s licenses to operate its TV stations — the very ones he helped Murdoch maintain nearly 30 years ago.

Last month Padden, now 74 and retired, joined with a nonprofit group called the Media and Democracy Project (MAD) to urge the Federal Communications Commission to deny Fox’s renewal of its license to operate one of its largest stations, WTXF in Philadelphia, known as Fox29. Padden and MAD argue that Fox lacks the “character” required by the FCC to be a license holder, because of post-election misinformation spread by another company entity: Fox News.

“Fox has undermined our democracy and has radicalized a segment of our population by presenting knowingly false narratives about the legitimacy of the 2020 election,” Padden wrote in a statement supporting MAD’s petition, which accuses Fox of “intentional, knowing news distortion.”

Padden has also gone public, writing anti-Fox commentaries for the Daily Beast, a publication owned by a company founded and run by Barry Diller, the co-founder of the Fox broadcast network. “Is It Time for the FCC to Take a Close Look at Rupert Murdoch’s Licenses?” asked the headline on one of Padden’s columns in June.

Fox Corp. called MAD’s petition “frivolous” and “completely without merit,” in a statement last month. It said MAD’s petition “asks the FCC to upend the First Amendment and long-standing FCC precedent” by tying the station’s license to the behavior of a cable network. A company spokesman declined to comment further to The Washington Post about the petition and about Padden.

Padden has no particular beef with WXTF itself; it was merely the first Fox station to come up for renewal since Fox News settled a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems in April. Padden thinks the cable network’s conduct following the 2020 election was so egregious that the government should, at minimum, hold public hearings on Fox29’s renewal and consider sanctions against its parent company.

Proof, Investigative Report: DOJ and the NYT Say the First January 6 Coup Memo Was Written in November 2020. They’re Wrong, Seth Abramson, Aug. 10-11, 2023. The seth abramson graphicfirst coup memo appeared in October 2020—and this “October Memo” informed the November and December 2020 Chesebro memos and John Eastman’s December memos. How do we know? From the men themselves.

On November 18, 2020, the New York Times reports, attorney Kenneth Chesebro wrote a memo about the possible use of alternate electors by the 2020 Trump presidential campaign in Wisconsin. On December 6, 2020, Attorney Chesebro wrote a far broader memo about such electors potentially being a key to Donald Trump remaining in the Oval Office.

seth abramson proof logoThree days later—on December 9, 2020—Chesebro wrote yet another such memo. By the end of the month, Chesebro’s fellow Trump legal adviser, John Eastman, had spilled an enormous amount of words both in writing and in in-person discussions pushing precisely the same ideas that Chesebro had earlier articulated. Both Chesebro (Co-Conspirator 5 in the Trump January 6 indictment) and Eastman (Co-Conspirator 2 in that indictment) now face the prospect of significant legal jeopardy for their various “coup memos,” even as the authors of other documents deemed coup memos appear not the be on Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith’s radar at all.

The New York Times Wades In

In a series of recent reports by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and now book-published Trump biographer Maggie Haberman, the Times tells readers that the three Chesebro memos mentioned atop this Proof report were the “earliest” indications from within Trumpworld that a so-called “fake elector” plot was afoot.

That is untrue.

Moreover, this inaccuracy could be damaging to the current prosecution of Trump by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Special Counsel, as these Times reports, so lauded and repeated by other major-media outlets, have had the following key effects:

  • Cementing the false idea, among not just American voters but also apparently Jack Smith and his attorneys and investigators, that the “fake elector” plot was wholly a post-election one;
  • cementing the false idea, among not just American voters but also apparently Jack Smith and his attorneys and investigators, that the plot emerged from the fringes of Trumpworld and slowly moved toward its center; and
  • cementing the false idea, among not just American voters but also apparently Jack Smith and his attorneys and investigators, that individuals with enormous power and cultural capital within Trumpworld were in no way involved in the plot when they may well have been.

And more broadly—given that Attorney Smith and his team have so far, at least in public filings, focused almost exclusively on the “fake elector” plot and (in more recent days) Trump’s possible fundraising crimes while ignoring the extension of his conspiracy to the civilian leadership at the Pentagon and the use of Sidney Powell and her agents to advance (via false federal affidavits regarding supposed foreign election interference that Jason Funes told Congress resulted from “blackmail” and “force[d]” testimony) the pro-martial-law plot known as the Waldron Plot—the recent New York Times reporting gives federal investigators no foothold whatsoever to understand this video of one of the architects of January 6, top Trump adviser and convicted criminal Steve Bannon.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who teaches digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy in print: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

Aug. 9

Politico, Special counsel obtained search warrant for Donald Trump’s Twitter account, Kyle Cheney, Aug. 9, 2023. Twitter’s initial resistance to complying with the warrant resulted in a federal judge holding the company in contempt and levying a $350,000 fine.

Special Counsel Jack Smith obtained a search warrant for Donald Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, earlier this year, according to newly revealed court documents.

politico CustomTwitter’s initial resistance to complying with the Jan. 17 warrant resulted in a federal judge holding the company, now called X, in contempt and levying a $350,000 fine. A federal court of appeals upheld that fine last month in a sealed opinion. On Wednesday, the court unsealed a redacted version of that opinion, revealing details of the secret court battle for the first time.

twitter bird Custom“Although Twitter ultimately complied with the warrant, the company did not fully produce the requested information until three days after a court-ordered deadline,” according to the 34-page opinion by a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. “The district court thus held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction for its delay.”

x logo twitterIt’s unclear what Smith was seeking from Trump’s account. Trump used the account actively in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, promoting false claims of election fraud, calling his supporters to Washington to “stop the steal” and mounting attacks on his rivals. Obtaining data from Twitter might have revealed patterns about Trump’s use of the account, whether others had access to it and whether there were any draft statements that were unsent.

elon musk 2015The existence of the warrant shows that prosecutors acquired access to the inner workings of what was once the most powerful megaphone in American politics and perhaps on the world stage. Trump was banned from Twitter just days after Jan. 6, after the company found his tweets to be in violation of its terms. Elon Musk, right, who took over Twitter last year, restored Trump’s access, but the former president has not yet tweeted from the account since his return.

Twitter’s fight with Smith’s team was rooted in prosecutors’ decision to serve the warrant along with a “nondisclosure order” that prohibited Twitter from notifying Trump — or anyone else — about the warrant’s existence.

Aug. 8

The Atlantic, Commentary: The Local-News Crisis Is Weirdly Easy to Solve, Steven Waldman, Aug. 8, 2023. Restoring the journalism jobs lost over the past 20 years wouldn’t just be cheap—it would pay for itself.

Zak Podmore did not bring down a corrupt mayor. He did not discover secret torture sites or expose abuses by a powerful religious institution. But there was something about this one article he wrote as a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune in 2019 that changed my conception of the value of local news.

Podmore, then a staff journalist for the Tribune and a corps member of Report for America, a nonprofit I co-founded, published a story revealing that San Juan County, Utah, had paid a single law firm hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees. Among other things, Podmore found that the firm had overcharged the county, the poorest in the state, by $109,500. Spurred by his story, the firm paid the money back. Perhaps because it didn’t involve billions of dollars, but rather a more imaginable number, it struck me: In one story, Podmore had retrieved for the county a sum that was triple his annual salary.

You’ve probably read about the collapse of local news over the past two decades. On average, two newspapers close each week. Some 1,800 communities that used to have local news now don’t. Many of the papers still hanging on are forced to make do with skeleton staffs as their owners, often private-equity firms, seek to cut costs. The number of newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 57 percent from 2008 to 2020, according to a Pew Research study, leading to thousands of “ghost newspapers” that barely cover their community.

For the past 15 years, I have been part of an effort to reverse this trend. That means I’ve grown used to talking about the threat that news deserts pose to American democracy. After all, the whole concept of democratic self-government depends on the people knowing what public officials are up to. That’s impossible without a watchdog press. Researchers have linked the decline of local news to decreased voter participation and higher rates of corruption, along with increased polarization and more ideologically extreme elected officials. At this point, I can make high-minded speeches about this stuff in my sleep, with Thomas Jefferson quotes and everything. Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that I have been ignoring a less lofty but perhaps more persuasive argument: Funding local news would more than pay for itself.

Unlike other seemingly intractable problems, the demise of local news wouldn’t cost very much money to reverse. Journalists are not particularly well compensated. Assuming an average salary of $60,000 (generous by industry standards), it would cost only about $1.5 billion a year to sustain 25,000 local-reporter positions, a rough estimate of the number that have disappeared nationwide over the past two decades. That’s two-hundredths of a percent of federal spending in 2022. I personally think this would be an amount well worth sacrificing to save American democracy. But the amazing thing is that it wouldn’t really be a sacrifice at all. If more public or philanthropic money were directed toward sustaining local news, it would most likely produce financial benefits many times greater than the cost.

Ideally, investment in local news would come from the federal government, which has more freedom to think long-term than cash-strapped states and municipalities do. The Rebuild Local News coalition, of which I am president, supports legislation that would provide a refundable tax credit for news organizations that employ local reporters, and a tax break for small businesses that advertise in local news. A new version of the bill was just introduced in the House of Representatives by the Republican Claudia Tenney and the Democrat Suzan DelBene. Civic-minded philanthropists focused on high-impact donations should also put money into local news, given the likely societal returns. It’s impossible to quantify exactly how much money would be generated for government and consumers by restoring the health of local news. But it’s nearly as hard to deny that the investment would pay off handsomely. And the saving-democracy part? Well, that’s just gravy.

July

July 29

 elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, With Starlink, Elon Musk’s Satellite Dominance Is Raising Global Alarms, Adam Satariano, Scott Reinhard, Cade Metz, Sheera Frenkel and Malika Khurana, July 29, 2023. The billionaire’s influence on satellite internet technology has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders in Ukraine and beyond. The tech billionaire has become the dominant power in satellite internet technology. The ways he is wielding that influence are raising global alarms.

In March 17, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the leader of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, dialed into a call to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Over the secure line, the two military leaders conferred on air defense systems, real-time battlefield assessments and shared intelligence on Russia’s military losses.

space x logoThey also talked about Elon Musk (shown above in a file photo).

General Zaluzhnyi raised the topic of Starlink, the satellite internet technology made by Mr. Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, three people with knowledge of the conversation said. Ukraine’s battlefield decisions depended on the continued use of Starlink for communications, General Zaluzhnyi said, and his country wanted to ensure access and discuss how to cover the cost of the service.

General Zaluzhnyi also asked if the United States had an assessment of Mr. Musk, who has sprawling business interests and murky politics — to which American officials gave no answer.

Mr. Musk, who leads SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, has become the most dominant player in space as he has steadily amassed power over the strategically significant twitter bird Customfield of satellite internet. Yet faced with little regulation and oversight, his erratic and personality-driven style has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders around the world, with the tech billionaire sometimes wielding his authority in unpredictable ways.

x logo twitterSince 2019, Mr. Musk has sent SpaceX rockets into space nearly every week that deliver dozens of sofa-size satellites into orbit. The satellites communicate with terminals on Earth, so they can beam high-speed internet to nearly every corner of the planet. Today, more than 4,500 Starlink satellites are in the skies, accounting for more than 50 percent of all active satellites. They have already started changing the complexion of the night sky, even before accounting for Mr. Musk’s plans to have as many as 42,000 satellites in orbit in the coming years.

There are over 4,500 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth. What appear to be long lines here are recently launched satellites approaching their place in orbit.

The power of the technology, which has helped push the value of closely held SpaceX to nearly $140 billion, is just beginning to be felt.

Starlink is often the only way to get internet access in war zones, remote areas and places hit by natural disasters. It is used in Ukraine for coordinating drone strikes and intelligence gathering. Activists in Iran and Turkey have sought to use the service as a hedge against government controls. The U.S. Defense Department is a big Starlink customer, while other militaries, such as in Japan, are testing the technology.

But Mr. Musk’s near total control of satellite internet has raised alarms.

elon musk 2015A combustible personality, the 52-year-old’s allegiances are fuzzy. While Mr. Musk is hailed as a genius innovator, he alone can decide to shut down Starlink internet access for a customer or country, and he has the ability to leverage sensitive information that the service gathers. Such concerns have been heightened because no companies or governments have come close to matching what he has built.

In Ukraine, some fears have been realized. Mr. Musk has restricted Starlink access multiple times during the war, people familiar with the situation said.tesla logo At one point, he denied the Ukrainian military’s request to turn on Starlink near Crimea, the Russian-controlled territory, affecting battlefield strategy. Last year, he publicly floated a “peace plan” for the war that seemed aligned with Russian interests.

At times, Mr. Musk has openly flaunted Starlink’s capabilities. “Between, Tesla, Starlink & Twitter, I may have more real-time global economic data in one head than anyone ever,” he tweeted in April.

washington post logoWashington Post, Move fast and beat Musk: The inside story of how Meta built Threads, Naomi Nix and Will Oremus, July 29, 2023. A company in crisis went back to basics to deliver a viral hit. But can Adam Mosseri’s bare-bones Twitter clone reinvigorate an aging tech giant? Adam Mosseri was on a family vacation in Italy last November when he learned he’d have to go toe-to-toe with Elon Musk. The mercurial Musk had just taken over Twitter. Amid the ensuing chaos, Mosseri’s boss at rival Meta smelled opportunity.

meta logoCEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Meta executives wanted to woo creators from Twitter to their social networks. Mosseri, who runs Instagram, paused his holiday to take Zuckerberg’s call.

It was nighttime in Italy, and Mosseri spoke softly to avoid waking his sleeping wife. The group discussed Twitter-like features they could add to existing apps, including Instagram.

Zuckerberg, however, had a different idea: “What if we went bigger?”

By the time the call ended well after midnight, Mosseri had a mandate to build a stand-alone app to compete with Twitter — and a knot in his stomach.

July 28

x logo twitter

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What’s in a Name? Musk/Twitter Edition, Paul Krugman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). I have (well-managed) arthritis and take pain reducers every day. I normally buy generic acetaminophen; but many people still buy brand-name Tylenol, even though it costs much more.

There’s a long-running debate among economists about why people are willing to pay a premium for name brands. Some emphasize ignorance — one influential study found that health professionals are more likely than the public at large to buy generic painkillers, because they realize that they’re just as effective as name brands. Others suggest that there may be a rational calculation involved: The quality of name brands may be more reliable, because the owners of these brands have a reputation to preserve. It doesn’t have to be either-or; the story behind the brand premium may depend on the product.

What’s clear is that brand names that for whatever reason inspire customer loyalty have real value to the company that owns them and shouldn’t be changed casually.

So what the heck does Elon Musk, the owner of TAFKAT — the app formerly known as Twitter — think he’s doing, changing the platform’s name to X, with a new logo many people, myself included, find troubling?

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why did Elon rebrand Twitter as ‘X’? The mystery, Johanna Drucker, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The letter X is versatile. It can mean kisses or be a sign of faith. What attracts Elon Musk?

“I like the letter X,” Elon Musk posted, shortly after he renamed and rebranded Twitter. “X will become the most valuable brand on Earth.” X? Can you imagine Musk picking J for the job? Or H? There would be puzzlement, as there is now, and not much else. But X also creates a certain frisson. Why?

The letter X carries so many connotations — many more than almost any other letter — though it was not among the original alphabetic signs in the Proto-Canaanite script that stabilized around 1700 B.C. Long before then, however, human sign systems consisted of very basic marks — stick figures for humans and animals, straight lines for tallies, circles, crosses and X signs. They show up on prehistoric masonry in Crete; they show up in prehistoric Byblos in Syria; they show up on stones marked between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago in the French area of Mas d’Azil.

Johanna Drucker is Breslauer professor and distinguished professor emerita in information studies at UCLA. She is the author of “Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present.”

July 27

U.S. Higher Education Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden’s Fight With Harvard Is a Political Winner but a Policy ‘Band-Aid,’ Reid J. Epstein, July 27, 2023. A Supreme Court ruling made legacy admissions a ripe target for President Biden, but Americans see tuition costs and student debt as bigger issues.

In the final month of his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden stood before a drive-in crowd in Toledo, Ohio, and announced he had “a chip on my shoulder” about people with fancy college degrees.

He would, Mr. Biden said, be the first president in “80 or 90 years” without an Ivy League degree — an exaggerated biographical detail that spoke to the image he sought to convey as the blue-collar, workingman’s candidate.

“I went to the University of Delaware, I was proud of it,” Mr. Biden said. “Hard to get there, hard to get through in terms of money. But folks, since when can someone who went to a state university not be qualified to be president?”

harvard logoMr. Biden — the first president without an Ivy League degree since Ronald Reagan, a Eureka College alumnus who left the White House 32 years before Mr. Biden entered it — has now set his administration on a collision course with Harvard, one of the Ivy League’s flagship universities.

His administration’s fight, in the form of a civil rights investigation into Harvard’s legacy admissions process by the Education Department, gives Mr. Biden an opportunity to show himself opposed to the country’s elites as he ramps up a presidential campaign in which he will need support from working-class voters culturally far afield from the Ivy League.

The inquiry serves as an early bank shot for Mr. Biden to show voters that his administration is trying to do something to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling last month gutting affirmative action in higher education — a decision that led Mr. Biden to declare, “This is not a normal court.” The department’s Office of Civil Rights has significant enforcement authority and Mr. Biden, should he choose to use it, has the White House bully pulpit to negotiate a settlement with Harvard.

This week, the Education Department is hosting a “national summit on equal opportunity” in Washington. Mr. Biden has asked the department to produce a report by September with proposals of what the government should do in response to the court’s decision and singled out legacy admissions as an issue of concern.

But while the Biden administration’s investigation into legacy admissions will surely grab attention among a political and media class overrepresented by Ivy League alumni, it is far less likely to address enduring roadblocks to higher education like skyrocketing tuition costs and mountains of debt incurred by students.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Big Is the Legacy Boost at Elite Colleges? Claire Cain Miller and Aatish Bhatia, July 27, 2023. In the same week as an inquiry into Harvard, new data shows legacy students are slightly more qualified yet are four times as likely to get into top schools.

harvard logoIn the same week as a civil rights inquiry into Harvard, new data shows legacies are slightly more qualified yet are four times as likely to get into top schools.

The Education Department’s civil rights investigation into Harvard’s preference for admitting the children of alumni and donors is based on a complaint that it gives less-qualified applicants an edge over those who are more deserving, including students of color.

New data shows that at elite private colleges, the children of alumni, known as legacies, are in fact slightly more qualified than typical applicants, as judged by admissions offices. Even if their legacy status weren’t considered, they would still be about 33 percent more likely to be admitted than applicants with the same test scores, based on all their other qualifications, demographic characteristics and parents’ income and education, according to an analysis conducted by Opportunity Insights, a research group at Harvard.

Researchers said that was unsurprising, given that these students grow up in more educated families. Their parents may be more able to invest in their educations, pay for things like private schools or exclusive sports, and offer insight into what the college is looking for.

ny times logoNew York Times, What Happened When 15 of Twitter’s Top Celebrities Joined Threads, Yiwen Lu, July 27, 2023. What does the daily activity of Ellen DeGeneres, Wiz Khalifa, Selena Gomez and others say about the staying power of the new platform?

Threads, the new social app from Meta, had a fast start this month when it racked up 100 million downloads in less than a week. With so much momentum, the app seemed well on its way to dethroning Twitter.

But rapid downloads do not necessarily translate to long-term success. Now the question is whether Threads has staying power.

meta logoSo we embarked on an experiment. We compiled a list of 15 of some of the most-followed celebrities and high-profile figures on Twitter who joined Threads, including Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Britney Spears, Shakira and Oprah Winfrey. Then we compared their activity on Twitter with their activity on Threads every day since July 5, when Threads was released. We also looked at what they did on Instagram, which is owned by Meta and developed Threads.

The idea was to see which social platform kept the celebrities — who either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment — the most active. What we found is just an early snapshot, but it may provide some clues to where Threads is headed.

chat gpt logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Researchers See Flaws in Safety Controls of ChatGPT and Other Chatbots, Cade Metz, July 27, 2023. A new report indicates that the guardrails for widely used chatbots can be thwarted, leading to an increasingly unpredictable environment for the technology.

When artificial intelligence companies build online chatbots, like ChatGPT, Claude and Google Bard, they spend months adding guardrails that are supposed to apple logo rainbowprevent their systems from generating hate speech, disinformation and other toxic material.

Now there is a way to easily poke holes in those safety systems.

In a report released on Thursday, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Center for A.I. Safety in San Francisco showed how anyone could circumvent A.I. safety measures and use any of the leading chatbots to generate nearly unlimited amounts of harmful information.

Their research underscored increasing concern that the new chatbots could flood the internet with false and dangerous information despite attempts by their creators to ensure that would not happen. It also showed how disagreements among leading A.I. companies were creating an increasingly unpredictable environment for the technology.

The researchers found that they could use a method gleaned from open source A.I. systems — systems whose underlying computer code has been released for anyone to use — to target the more tightly controlled and more widely used systems from Google, OpenAI and Anthropic.

ny times logoNew York Times, Sinead O’Connor, the outspoken Irish singer-songwriter known for her powerful, evocative voice, died at 56, Ben Sisario and Joe Coscarelli, Updated July 27, 2023. She broke out with the single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” then caused an uproar a few years later by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on “S.N.L.”

Sinead O’Connor, the outspoken Irish singer-songwriter known for her powerful, evocative voice, as showcased on her biggest hit, a breathtaking rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and for her political provocations onstage and off, has died. She was 56.

“The death is not being treated as suspicious,” the police said in a statement.

Recognizable by her shaved head and by wide eyes that could appear pained or full of rage, Ms. O’Connor released 10 studio albums, beginning with the alternative hit “The Lion and the Cobra” in 1987. She went on to sell millions of albums worldwide, breaking out with “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” in 1990.

That album, featuring “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a No. 1 hit around the world and an MTV staple, won a Grammy Award in 1991 for best alternative music performance — although Ms. O’Connor boycotted the ceremony over what she called the show’s excessive commercialism.

Ms. O’Connor rarely shrank from controversy, but it often came with consequences for her career.

 kevin spacey house

ny times logoNew York Times, Kevin Spacey Found Not Guilty of Sexual Assault, Alex Marshall, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Kevin Spacey, the two-time Oscar-winning actor known for his movie and TV roles including “House of Cards” (shown above in a promotional photo from the show) was on Wednesday found not guilty by a jury in Britain of nine counts of sexual assault.

Almost six years after allegations of inappropriate behavior began to emerge against Mr. Spacey on both sides of the Atlantic, a jury at Southwark Crown Court in London took just over 12 hours to reach its decision.

As the verdicts were announced, Mr. Spacey, 64, stood in a transparent box in the middle of the courtroom, wearing a dark blue suit and looking unemotional as he faced the jury.

kevin spaceyBut when the final “not guilty” was read out, the actor, right, whose birthday falls on Wednesday, began to cry and sighed heavily with relief.

During the almost monthlong trial in London, the court heard from four men who said that Mr. Spacey assaulted them between 2001 and 2013. For most of that time, the actor was the artistic director of the Old Vic theater, a major London playhouse.

One complainant told the British police that Mr. Spacey touched him multiple times without his consent. The complainant described incidents included once in either 2004 or 2005 when he said the actor grabbed his genitals so hard that he almost veered off the road as they were heading to Elton John’s White Tie and Tiara Ball.

During the trial, Mr. Spacey — who appeared under his full name, Kevin Spacey Fowler — said that the pair had a consensual “naughty relationship.” The actor added that he felt “crushed” by the complainant’s characterization of their encounters. Elton John, giving evidence for Mr. Spacey’s defense, said that Mr. Spacey only attended his ball once, in 2001, several years before the complainant said he was groped.

Another complainant said that he wrote to Mr. Spacey hoping that the actor would mentor him, and eventually went for a drink at Mr. Spacey’s London home. That complainant said that he fell asleep in the apartment, and later woke up to discover Mr. Spacey on his knees, performing oral sex on him. Mr. Spacey said during the trial that the pair had consensual oral sex, then the man “hurriedly left,” as if he regretted the encounter.

On Jul. 20, Patrick Gibbs, Mr. Spacey’s legal representative, claimed that three of the complainants were lying and only made their accusations in the hope of financial gain. Mr. Spacey’s promiscuous lifestyle made him “quite an easy target” for false allegations, Mr. Gibbs added.

July 26

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

WhoWhatWhy, Going Deep Investigative Commentary: RFK Jr.’s Panel of Health Hoaxers, Hucksters & Hustlers, Russ Baker, right, July 26, 2023. The russ baker cropped david welkerquestion is, what are they really selling?

Although he subsequently sought to deny it, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really did say that wacky stuff suggesting that COVID-19 was bioengineered — targeted at specific ethnicities and races, while sparing others (those supposedly being spared were Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.)

whowhatwhy logoHe tried to squirm out of it, claiming he never said it, but those words will not go away. To wit, they have already settled into the fertile soil of a neo-Nazi website.

So where does he get such material? Who are his sources? And how well is he able to evaluate them? That, we don’t know. What we do know is that a pretty strange group of self-anointed experts harboring extreme views on COVID-19, and more broadly on public health, are part of his brain trust.

One such person is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an early promoter of the theory that COVID-19 is a bioweapon designed to spare Chinese and Jewish people — almost exactly what Kennedy later claimed publicly, although she may have only confirmed ideas he already had.

Tenpenny is quite the character. She has shared numerous antisemitic claims on social media, including Holocaust denial and praise for the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,

In early 2022, she claimed Jews were using the Ukraine conflict to distract the world from a meeting in Europe about pandemic preparedness.

Kennedy will have a hard time disassociating himself from Tenpenny and her beliefs, given that she is right next to him in the image below for Kennedy’s June 27 “Health Policy Roundtable.”

Virtual Health Policy Roundtable tweet. Photo credit: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. / Twitter

Let’s take a closer look at Tenpenny, who Kennedy says is “leading this movement against vaccines,” and a brief look at the others.

Kennedy’s Brain Trust

Tenpenny has claimed that vaccines leave people magnetized. This was her proof:

They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there’s a metal piece to that.

She explained this — as an “expert witness” — to lawmakers in the Ohio House at a hearing in favor of a bill that would prevent businesses and government from requiring proof of vaccination. A nurse tried to demonstrate the phenomenon, with embarrassing results.

Tenpenny also claimed that vaccines interface with 5G cellular towers, and that “we’re trying to figure out what it is that’s being transmitted to these unvaccinated [sic] people that is causing health problems.” She also spread the idea that vaccinated people “shed” — leading at least one private school to instruct immunized teachers to stay away from unvaccinated students, claiming they could develop menstrual irregularities and other reproductive harm, merely from interacting with them.

Tenpenny, author of the book Saying No to Vaccines, is an osteopath, a type of doctor deploying a holistic approach to disease — but with no expertise in magnetism, epidemiology, virology, immunology, or infectious disease. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said she is one of the top 12 spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation.

 

x logo twitter

washington post logoWashington Post, Why did Elon Musk change Twitter to X? Marketers are asking, too, Joseph Menn, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). In changing Twitter’s iconic blue logo, owner Elon Musk is trading a bird in the hand for the promise of a wide-ranging “everything app” analysts say may never materialize.

Twitter began removing its name from its corporate headquarters Monday, blocking two lanes of traffic as a large crane plucked letters off the sign. The crane departed by midafternoon leaving the task half-finished — only the blue bird logo and the “er” remained, next to a ghostly outline reading “@twitt.”
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Some will see that as an apt metaphor for state of business at the social media platform. In changing Twitter’s famous blue logo to a black-and-white “X,” part of a sweeping rebrand that has alienated longtime users and left marketing experts perplexed, owner Elon Musk is trading a bird in the hand for the promise of a wide-ranging “everything app,” one analysts say may never materialize.

He is leaving behind a symbol of silliness, outrage and celebrity that meant something to hundreds of millions, even earworming its way into the dictionary.

“It has become a verb. That’s the holy grail,” said Forrester research director Mike Proulx. “This is a brand that has secured a place in our cultural lexicon. Musk has wiped out over 15 years of brand equity in the Twitter name.”

Twitter begins rebrand to ‘X,’ removing bird from company logo

Twitter’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, said on the platform that the logo swap heralded larger shifts at the company as it transforms into a sweeping venture, encompassing commerce and an online payment system like the one Musk helped pioneer two decades ago at PayPal and a predecessor, X.com.

Yet marketing experts said that the move was an unnecessary gamble on a hazy future, coming from a platform with wide brand recognition. Though Twitter has weathered a year’s worth of bad news — its ad revenue is down 50 percent, alternatives are springing up, and regulators are circling — they said it would not make sense for the company to dodge by changing its handle, as some saw Facebook’s rebrand into Meta after the release of a trove of internal documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen.

“For most users and advertisers and folk in the tech world, the product itself is the problem,” said Boston College communications professor and branding expert Michael Serazio. “Putting a new name on it doesn’t change that in any material way.”

While striking, the letter X is hardly original when it comes to branding. Google has dubbed its start-up lab “X,” and Meta has trademarked a stylized version of the letter for its own social media.

The best argument, according to the marketers and many of Musk’s fans, is that what he is building will eclipse Twitter and the name change will force people to consider it as an entirely new venture, perhaps even one that deserves new investment and a shot at going public on the stock market.

Yaccarino declared that “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity,” including payments and the buying and selling of “goods, services, and opportunities” that will be “powered by AI.”

But that lofty vision is also an uphill climb.

“How many times has that worked in the past, where there is a big rebrand based on an original product failing? Where they rebranded to a larger strategy and pulled it off?” Serazio asked. “None come to mind.”

As Musk has welcomed back users banned from Twitter for breaking the platform’s rules against hate speech, the freewheeling discourse has sent some to new and unwieldy places, such as Mastodon and Meta’s Threads.

That atmosphere is an awkward fit for a company that hopes to persuade users to send money back and forth for unseen goods and services.

Then there are the security challenges that go with protecting such payments. Twitter’s security is so suspect that whistleblowers have said half the employees could make changes to the code without being detected or tweet as any user.
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the company for lapses that may have put it in violation of prior agreements to protect user data.

U.S. and global finance regulators have more people and more power than the FTC, and they will be watching Musk closely.

“What the name change does is signal a new direction‚” said Forrester’s Proulx. “But to wipe the slate clean and start over, it takes time, money and people — three things that the company does not have right now.”

The identity switch follows other radical shifts Musk has pushed through since buying the global conversation platform for $44 billion in October.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jill Biden Takes the 2024 Campaign to Paris in Another Overseas Appeal, Katie Rogers, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). As the U.S. officially rejoined UNESCO, the first lady delivered what sounded like a campaign message, saying the president had rebuilt bonds.

At first glance, Jill Biden’s work on her trips overseas appears to be rooted in the traditional duties of first ladies: She has cheered on American Olympians in Tokyo, made a secret trip to Ukraine to meet with the country’s first lady and attended the royal wedding of the crown prince of Jordan.

But in a host of speeches delivered overseas, including in Namibia and France, she has also used her platform for more political purposes, including making her case that President Biden has promoted democracy and revitalized global relationships strained by former President Donald J. Trump.

In Paris on Tuesday, the first lady’s presence was a reminder, as the 2024 presidential campaign heats up, that Americans may again be choosing between the two men. Dr. Biden was there to deliver remarks for the official return of the United States to UNESCO, several years after the Trump administration pulled the country — and its funding — from the group.

She was also there to deliver a White House message that Mr. Biden had united allies against what she called “Putin’s unjust war” in Ukraine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Booksellers Move to the Front Lines of the Fight Against Book Bans in Texas, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). With a book-rating law set to take effect in September, a group of booksellers, along with publishers and authors, filed suit to argue that it is unconstitutional.

Tuesday to stop a new law in Texas that would require stores to rate books based on sexual content, arguing the measure would violate their First Amendment rights and be all but impossible to implement.

The law, set to take effect in September, would force booksellers to evaluate and rate each title they sell to schools, as well as books they sold in the past. If they fail to comply, stores would be barred from doing business with schools.

“It will be a huge burden,” Valerie Koehler, the owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, said of the law. She estimates that schools account for some 20 percent of her store’s sales. “It’s unfathomable to think that we would need to rate every book, not only ones that we’d sell in the future to schools, but also any books we’ve sold in the past.”

The Texas law, and the legal battle to block it, reflect a new front in an ongoing culture war over book banning and what constitutes appropriate reading material for children.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Hunger Fed by ‘Barbie’ and Taylor Swift, Michelle Goldberg, right, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). This summer’s two biggest entertainment michelle goldberg thumbphenomena, the movie “Barbie” and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, have a lot in common.

Both feature conventionally gorgeous blond women who alternately revel in mainstream femininity and chafe at its limitations, enacting an ambivalence shared by many of their fans. Both, beneath their slick, exuberant pop surfaces, tell female coming-of-age stories marked by existential crises and bitter confrontations with sexism. (The third song on Swift’s set list is “The Man,” whose refrain is, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/wondering if I’d get there quicker/if I was a man.”) And both have become juggernauts.

“Barbie” has just had the biggest opening weekend of any movie this summer, surpassing already high expectations to earn $162 million. More than just a movie, it’s become a major cultural event, with fans showing up in carefully curated outfits and then making TikToks of themselves crying, emotionally overcome. The film’s blunt feminism — its villain is, literally, patriarchy — has prompted an enjoyably impotent right-wing backlash. The conservative media figure Ben Shapiro opened a 43-minute monologue about how “viscerally angry” the movie made him by setting two Barbie dolls on fire.

The “Barbie” headlines echo the news about the Taylor Swift tour (which, full disclosure, I haven’t seen, since resale tickets are going for thousands of dollars). Eras is set to become the highest-grossing musical tour in history, boosting the economy of the cities in which Swift alights. More than just a series of concerts, it’s become, like Barbie, a major cultural event, with fans also showing up in carefully curated outfits and then making TikToks of their ecstatic tears. And though Swift hasn’t triggered the right the way Barbie has, she did make Shapiro really mad with a speech she made about Pride Month during a Chicago stop.

An obvious lesson from the gargantuan success of both “Barbie” and the Eras Tour is that there is a huge, underserved market for entertainment that takes the feelings of girls and women seriously. After years of Covid isolation, reactionary politics and a mental health crisis that has hit girls and young women particularly hard, there’s a palpable longing for both communal delight and catharsis.
“What happens in the crowd is messy, wild, benevolent and beautiful,” Amanda Petrusich wrote in The New Yorker about a Swift concert. A woman attending one of the first “Barbie” showings told The Guardian she’d been waiting for it for two years: “I’ve been dying to go to a movie theater and have something that feels like a monoculture event.”

Part of what has made “Barbie” so resonant — beyond the campy pleasures of its fantastic costumes and sets — is that it treats becoming a woman as a hero’s journey. (This is also what has made its critics on the right so furious.) A pivotal moment in the movie comes when America Ferrera’s character, Gloria, gives an impromptu speech about the impossible demands made of women: “You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line,” she cries. “It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory!”

The important part of this monologue — spoilers ahead — is not only what it articulates, but what it accomplishes. Gloria’s words wake up Barbies whom the Kens have brainwashed into submission. “By giving voice to the cognitive dissonance required to be a woman under the patriarchy you robbed it of its power!” exclaims the film’s heroine, Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie. It’s consciousness-raising as magic. And, ultimately, as difficult as being an adult woman is, Robbie’s Barbie chooses it over remaining in the sexless girlhood idyll of Barbieland, as we learn in the film’s perfect last line.

Given the evident hunger out there for entertainment that channels female angst, it would make sense for Hollywood, once the writers’ and actors’ strikes are over, to do more to cultivate female writers and directors. Women are still rarely given the chance to direct high-budget films; as the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found, women helmed only 11 percent of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2022. And looking at a list of last year’s major films, I was struck by how few of them seem to have been made with a female audience in mind, part of the reason there was so much pent-up demand for “Barbie.”

Searchlight Pictures is probably feeling good about signing Swift, who cites the “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig as an influence, to direct her feature film debut. But for the most part, unfortunately, it appears as if the lesson Hollywood is going to take from the success of “Barbie” is not to make more stories for women, but to make more movies about toys.

ny times logoNew York Times, Man Sentenced to 30 Months in Death of ‘The Wire’ Actor, Maria Cramer, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). Carlos Macci, 72, was part of a crew that sold Michael K. Williams fentanyl-laced heroin that killed him in 2021.

Carlos Macci spent decades struggling with addiction, selling heroin and fentanyl not to make money but to ease his own cravings, according to court records.

He was part of a four-man crew selling drugs out of an apartment in Williamsburg, and on Sept. 5, 2021, he was with a man who sold a bag of fentanyl-laced heroin to the actor Michael K. Williams.

Mr. Williams, who became famous for playing a charismatic stickup man named Omar Little on the HBO series “The Wire,” took the drugs back to his Brooklyn apartment and was found dead the following day, still wearing the same clothes he had on the day before.

On Tuesday, Mr. Macci, now 72, walked into Federal District Court in Manhattan, his shoulders stooped, and apologized for his role in Mr. Williams’ death. The judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison.

Over the past several weeks, Judge Ronnie Abrams had received letters from friends of Mr. Williams, including from David Simon, the co-creator of “The Wire,” who asked the judge to sentence Mr. Macci to time served. Federal prosecutors sought at least a four-year sentence.

July 25

ny times logoNew York Times, A Decade Ago, Jeff Bezos Bought a Newspaper. Now He’s Paying Attention to It Again, Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, July 25, 2023 (print ed.)). The Amazon founder, who purchased The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013, has taken a more active role in the paper’s operations this year.

During his tenure as executive editor at The Washington Post, Martin Baron ran into a persistent problem.

jeffrey bezos washington postJeff Bezos, left, had purchased The Post for $250 million in 2013, less than a year after Mr. Baron had taken over. Mr. Bezos, who arrived at media ownership after founding Amazon and remaking online shopping, wanted his top editor to transform the newspaper from a regional news organization into a truly global one.

But Mr. Bezos, whose representatives kept an eye on the budget, didn’t believe the Post needed to add many new editors to accomplish that task. Reporters were classified as “direct” employees and editors as “indirect” — and his preference was to keep the “indirect” numbers down.

So, Mr. Baron came up with a workaround, according to his coming memoir.

“To avoid setting off alarms up the line, my deputies and I would strip the word ‘editor’ from proposed new positions whenever possible,” Mr. Baron writes. “‘Analyst’ or ‘strategist’ were among the limited set of workarounds.”

washington post logoThese days, Mr. Bezos knows more about the news business. And in recent months, he has become more involved with The Post’s operations, stepping in as staff morale cratered and the business struggled.

Mr. Bezos has said he wants The Post to be profitable, but it is unlikely to reach that target this year.

The Post is on a pace to lose about $100 million in 2023, according to two people with knowledge of the company’s finances; two other people briefed on the situation said the company was expecting to miss its forecasts for ad revenue this year. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal financial matters. The Post has struggled to increase the number of its paying customers since the 2020 election, when its digital subscriptions peaked at three million. It now has around 2.5 million.

Mr. Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post ended decades of ownership by the Graham family — which had steered the paper through its legendary coverage of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers — and signified a new era of expansion under one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs. In a meeting with staff shortly after his purchase, Mr. Bezos encouraged Post employees to experiment digitally, taking advantage of the “gifts of the internet,” such as global reach, that had made Amazon a stunning success. He provided ample financial support to expand the newsroom.

washington post logoWashington Post, Twitter begins rebrand to ‘X,’ removing bird from company logo, Joseph Menn and Marianna Sotomayor, July 25, 2023 (print ed.). Elon Musk said the company would replace the blue bird with an ‘X,’ which started showing up on the site overnight.

Twitter began its rebrand to “X” early Monday, replacing the widely recognized blue bird on its official account and site and replacing it with the letter in a black and white design.

The changes came after billionaire owner Elon Musk said his social media platform will retire the blue bird logo — and eventually the Twitter name — as part of his effort to overhaul the company.
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The “X,” was featured on Twitter’s own account, along with some branding on the site, though the blue bird logo and other references to the Twitter name could still be found in certain places. Musk’s account also took on an X logo. Twitter chief executive Linda Yaccarino tweeted, “X is here! Let’s do this.”

July 24

washington post logoWashington Post, Fox News hosts are pushing Trump to join the Fox News GOP debate, Jeremy Barr and Josh Dawsey, July 24, 2023 (print ed.). The former president’s refusal to commit to the first debate of the 2024 cycle could make it a ratings wash-out. Aides say he’s unlikely to change his mind.

Fox News personalities Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, John Roberts and Piers Morgan have all come out in agreement: In their opinion, Donald Trump should absolutely participate in the first Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2024 cycle, which will be held next month in Milwaukee — and broadcast on their very own Fox News.

The former president has refused to commit to the Aug. 23 debate, and he indicated as recently as Sunday that he’s leaning against it. (“When you have a big lead, you don’t do it,” he told interviewer Maria Bartiromo.) So in the meantime, various hosts on Fox have taken it upon themselves to use the network’s airwaves to try to make the case to the man himself.

“If you’re watching, Donald, come on!” Morgan, who hosts a show on the Fox Nation streaming platform, said in an appearance on Fox News last week. “Get on that stage and show us what you’re made of. If you want to be president again, you’ve got to come out and face the debate music. … You know you want to secretly.”

While Morgan and other Fox personalities have argued that Trump’s participation is an essential part of the democratic process, it also seems clear that a Republican debate without Trump is much less likely to attract a significant viewing audience, given his standing in the party and massive lead in the polls.

“He’s worth somewhere between 2 and 4 million viewers, so of course Fox wants him to participate,” said longtime GOP pollster Frank Luntz.

Fox News management has not encouraged on-air talent to lobby Trump to appear at the debate, according to a network official familiar with the situation who was not authorized to comment.

On Monday morning, the co-hosts of “Fox & Friends” pitched Trump on the event. “It would be great to see President Trump and Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie just duke it out,” Doocy said. “That’s why they call it a debate. … Show up, debate, and shine. This is his big chance.”

July 22

 

tony bennett

ny times logoNew York Times, Tony Bennett, Champion of the Great American Songbook, Is Dead at 96, Bruce Weber, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). From his initial success as a jazzy crooner through his generation-spanning duets, his career was remarkable for its longevity and its consistency.

Tony Bennett, above, a singer whose melodic clarity, jazz-influenced phrasing, audience-embracing persona and warm, deceptively simple interpretations of musical standards helped spread the American songbook around the world and won him generations of fans, died on Friday in New York City. He was 96.

His publicist, Sylvia Weiner, announced his death.

In February 2021, his wife, Susan Bennett, told AARP The Magazine that Mr. Bennett learned he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. He continued to perform and record despite his illness; his last public performance was in August of that year, when he appeared with Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall in a show titled “One Last Time.”

Mr. Bennett’s career of more than 70 years was remarkable not only for its longevity, but also for its consistency. In hundreds of concerts and club dates and more than 150 recordings, he devoted himself to preserving the classic American popular song, as written by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington, Rodgers and Hammerstein and others.

 

tony bennett portrait

washington post logoWashington Post, Drugs nearly killed Bennett in 1979. He recovered — and revived his career, Timothy Bella, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). Tony Bennett’s career was in the toilet and his life was spinning out of control.

It was 1979, and Bennett was without a recording contract or manager, not performing much outside of Las Vegas, and his marriage was falling apart. When the IRS sought to seize his Los Angeles home after he failed to pay $2 million in taxes, Bennett said he “overindulged” on cocaine and marijuana to the point that he almost overdosed. If not for Sandra Grant, his wife at the time, saving him from drowning in the bathroom when he was high on cocaine, Bennett could have died in his 50s.

Washington Post, How Bennett helped a bandmate during a family crisis, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). .

washington post logoWashington Post, Top tech firms sign White House pledge to identify AI-generated images, Cat Zakrzewski, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). Google and ChatGPT-maker OpenAI agreed to the voluntary safety commitments, part of an escalation in the Biden administration’s interest in the area as it readies an AI-focused executive order

chat gpt logoThe White House on Friday announced that seven of the most influential companies building artificial intelligence have agreed to a voluntary pledge to mitigate the risks of the emerging technology, escalating the Biden administration’s involvement in the growing debate over AI regulation.
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The companies — which include Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Meta and Chat GPT-maker OpenAI — vowed to allow independent security experts to test their systems before they are released to the public and committed to sharing data about the safety of their systems with the government and academics.

The firms also pledged to develop systems to alert the public when an image, video or text is created by artificial intelligence, a method known as “watermarking.”

ny times logoNew York Times, With Hollywood on Strike, a Bright Spot in New York’s Economy Goes Dark, Stefanos Chen, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). Tens of thousands of behind-the-scenes workers, in solidarity with striking actors and writers, are bracing for what could be a long standoff with studios.

While Los Angeles is the epicenter for film and TV in the United States, New York has long staked its claim as Hollywood East, and the standoff is already taking a toll on tens of thousands of workers in one of the city’s fastest-growing industries.

But it’s not just actors and writers who are out of work. With both the studios and unions expecting a drawn-out battle, everyone from makeup artists and costume designers to carpet dealers and foam sculptors is preparing to perhaps go for months without working, at a time when many are still recovering from the pandemic.

ny times logoNew York Times, Searching for Someone to Deliver a Hollywood Ending, Brooks Barnes, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). Thanks to a changing culture and differing business models, Lew Wasserman reigned as Hollywood’s major power broker for decades, starting in the 1960s (New York Times photo by Chester Higgins Jr.).the entertainment industry lacks power brokers with the stature to bring on labor peace. Lew Wasserman, right, reigned as Hollywood’s major power broker for decades, starting in the 1960s (New York Times photo by Chester Higgins Jr.).

At the moment, no talks between union leaders and the involved companies are happening and none have been scheduled, with each side insisting the other has to make the first move.

Two federal mediators have been studying the issues that led to the breakdown in negotiations. Agents and lawyers are engaged in a flurry of back-channel phone conversations, encouraging union leaders and studio executives to soften their unmovable positions; Bryan Lourd, the Creative Artists Agency heavyweight, asked the Biden administration and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California to get involved, according to three people briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the labor situation. A spokesman for Mr. Lourd declined to comment.

Emotions must cool before talks restart, said one entertainment lawyer who has been working in the background to bring the sides together again. When does that happen? He said it could be next week or it could be-mid August.

Starting in 1960, the last time both actors and writers were on strike, and continuing into the 1990s, the person who could break an impasse was the feared Lew Wasserman, head of MCA. He commanded the respect of both labor and management and could push beyond the colorful personalities in each camp.

Washington Post, Artifacts meant for a White House party ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Awkwardness ensued, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). Israeli officials sent some ancient oil lamps and coins to display at a 2019 Hanukkah party. A Trump spokesperson said the former president would expedite their return.

Earlier this week, a minor — but still majorly awkward — diplomatic kerfuffle surfaced when Israeli media reported that officials there were struggling to get back some ancient artifacts from Mar-a-Lago.

Details remain murky of how Israeli officials lost track of the centuries-old oil lamps and coins at former president Donald Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla. But cultural heritage experts say the episode shows what can go wrong when ancient artifacts are not handled properly.

News of the items’ journey first became public Tuesday, when Israeli news site Haaretz reported that the government had been trying for several months “unsuccessfully” to get the artifacts returned from Mar-a-Lago. It said the items were “stranded.”

The outbreak of the pandemic nixed their prompt return, Hasson told Haaretz, and he asked California businessman Saul Fox to hold on to them. Fox, the CEO of a private equity firm, is a donor to the Republican Party and to archaeological causes in Israel.

Haaretz quoted an anonymous Israeli official as saying the Antiquities Authority “woke up too late” to the challenge of getting the items back. It’s not clear whether the issue, after more than three years, suddenly became a higher priority under new leadership at the authority. By that time, there was confusion over whether the items now belonged to Trump.

A Trump spokesman Friday said the items had been presented “with the full support of the [Antiquities Authority]. The items were on loan for permanent exhibition at the behest of the organization, to honor and celebrate American-Jewish heritage and the close friendship between Israel and President Trump. As the items were displayed as originally intended, the office will be expediting their return to the organization’s representative.”

The news site quoted Yisrael Hasson, who was the head of Israel’s Antiquities Authority in 2019, saying he had approved the items going to the White House to be displayed at a Hanukkah party, and then to be returned in a few weeks.

  • Washington Post, Kemp, Ga. governor, contacted by Trump special counsel in 2020 probe, Josh Dawsey, July 22, 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Texas A&M president retires after hiring controversy of journalism director, Nicole Asbury and Susan Svrluga, July 22, 2023 (print ed.). The president of Texas A&M University is retiring after a deal to hire a director of its journalism program fell apart and drew complaints of political interference.

Earlier this week, the university’s faculty senate passed a resolution to create a committee to investigate “the failed appointment” of the hiring of Kathleen McElroy, a tenured professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a former editor at the New York Times.

texas mapAt a three-hour-long faculty meeting on Wednesday, the university president, M. Katherine Banks, took responsibility for a “flawed hiring process,” but denied knowing about changes in the job offered to McElroy, according to the Texas A&M University System. Banks submitted a resignation letter on Thursday.

“The recent challenges regarding Dr. McElroy have made it clear to me that I must retire immediately,” Banks, who had led Texas A&M since 2021, said in a statement. “The negative press is a distraction from the wonderful work being done here.”

Hart Blanton, who heads Texas A&M’s department of communications and journalism, on Friday accused Banks of misleading faculty by representing that the decision-making was botched at the department level. “To the contrary, President Banks injected herself into the process atypically and early on,” he said in a statement released by an attorney.

Faculty at the university, which has nearly 75,000 students, were stunned by news of Banks’s retirement. “We are still trying to wrap our heads