Media News 2021-22

 

 JIPLogo

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;
  • 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. media.

    • 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.'

 2021-22

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.

 

May

May 16

 

tucker carlson fox horizontal

washington post logoWashington Post, Racist ‘great replacement’ theory a popular refrain among Carlson, Ingraham and Coulter, Paul Farhi, May 16, 2022. The suspect in Saturday’s killing of 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket allegedly wrote a document endorsing “great replacement theory,” a once-fringe racist idea that became a popular refrain among media figures such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham of Fox News and conservative writer Ann Coulter.

Before the shooting rampage that also left three wounded, the suspect, Payton S. Gendron, 18, allegedly posted a lengthy document invoking the idea that White Americans were at risk of being “replaced” by people of color because of immigration and higher birthrates.

Gendron, who is White, allegedly indicated that he chose a neighborhood with a large number of Black residents for his alleged attack. In the document that Gendron is suspected to have written, he indicated that he was radicalized online. There’s no indication that he watched Carlson’s program.

fox news logo SmallThe theory was once confined to far-right White extremists, who cast immigration as part of a plot by “elites” to take political and economic power away from White people. It has gained broader circulation in recent years as a talking point among prominent conservative media figures.

Tucker Carlson twists Biden’s 2015 comments to push conspiracy theory

On Sept. 22, Fox News host Tucker Carlson misrepresented past immigration remarks by President Biden to suggest the existence of the “great replacement theory.” (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Carlson, whose weeknight program is typically the most popular on Fox News, has been an especially avid promoter of the thesis. He has mentioned variations on the idea in more than 400 episodes since 2016, according to a New York Times analysis of his program. In April of last year, he said on Fox News that people from the “Third World” are immigrating to the United States “to replace the current electorate” and “dilute the political power of the people who live there” — language that essentially distills the replacement thesis.

He was more explicit in a video posted on Fox News’s YouTube account in September. Carlson said President Biden was encouraging immigration “to change the racial mix of the country, … to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democracy is at stake in the midterms. The media must convey that, Margaret Sullivan, right, May 16, 2022 (print ed.). We margaret sullivan 2015 photoournalists have to try harder and find new ways to convey to voters how badly things could turn out.

I was mesmerized this past week by two astonishing videos, watching them both multiple times.

One showed the stunning Kentucky Derby, where the little-known chestnut colt Rich Strike came out of nowhere to blast past the favorites and win the race by less than a length. The other showed an entire North Carolina beach house tumbling into the ocean, yet another indication of Outer Banks shoreline erosion and, more generally, the world’s catastrophic climate crisis.

And I couldn’t help but see both as metaphors for the precarious state of democracy in America and the news media’s role in helping to save the day or in succumbing to disaster.

Here’s what I mean. Since Jan. 6 of last year, a growing chorus of activists, historians and political commentators have spoken of “democracy on the brink” or “democracy in peril.” What they mean is that, thanks to a paranoid, delusional and potentially violent new strain in our nation’s politics, Americans may not be able to count on future elections being conducted fairly — or the results of fair elections being accepted.

And at least some news organizations are taking heed.

The Washington Post established a “democracy team” to expand reporting on the nationwide battles over voting rules, access to polls, and efforts to create unfounded doubt about the outcome of elections.

joe kahnAt the New York Times, soon-to-be executive editor Joe Kahn, right, is talking frankly about the need to investigate efforts to undermine the institutions that uphold democracy. (If they don’t, he told the Columbia Journalism Review, “we’re not doing our job as a leading news organization.”)

A number of regional journalists are beginning to push against industry norms to speak more clearly about the threat: The Philadelphia Inquirer boldly declined to use the euphemism word “audit” to dignify state Republicans’ endless probes for nonexistent voter fraud — essentially the GOP’s attempt to cast unwarranted doubt on the results of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.

But the clearest recognition I’ve heard so far came last week from a managing editor for CNN. Alex Koppelman is not the editor overseeing the network’s political coverage; instead, he supervises business and media news. But CNN gave him a voice to lay out the harsh reality of what the nation is up against, and what we in the media need to do about it.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jeff Bezos Battles With President Biden Online Over Taxes, Ephrat Livni, May 16, 2022. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is trolling President Biden on Twitter. After Mr. Biden on Friday connected lowering inflation with corporations paying “their fair share,” Mr. Bezos quipped, “The newly created Disinformation Board should review this tweet, or maybe they need to form a new Non Sequitur Board instead.” He said that conflating lower inflation with higher corporate taxes amounted to “misdirection.”

jeff bezos w Encore awards 2010Still bristling, Mr. Bezos (shown in a file photo), who owns the Washington Post, fired again on Sunday, the DealBook newsletter reports. He lauded Joe Manchin, the centrist West Virginia senator who has often declined to vote with other Democrats on economic issues, halting additional stimulus plans.

“Manchin saved them from themselves,” Mr. Bezos wrote, plunging the company into politics at a fraught time internally, amid an employee unionization push. Externally, many executives recently have been trying to stay out of difficult debates, given the backlash some companies have faced.

amazon logo smallWrangling with the government over taxes on Twitter means calling public attention to a touchy topic for Amazon. The company reported nearly $36 billion in U.S. pretax income in 2021 yet said it owed only about $2 billion in federal taxes. That’s a 6 percent tax rate — less than a third of the rates both corporations and workers must pay. When Mr. Biden unveiled plans to raise rates and close tax loopholes last year, he singled out Amazon, saying, “I don’t want to punish them, but that’s just wrong.” Amazon did not respond to DealBook’s request for comment.

Disney last month lost its special tax status in Florida after opposing a law limiting gender identity discussions in schools. Now, Republican lawmakers at the state and federal levels are drafting similarly retributive legislation for politically minded businesses.

But for executives, it’s a balance. Many workers, shareholders and customers are demanding that corporations speak up, and pressure could increase now that abortion rights have become a major midterm election issue. So Amazon’s current chief executive, Andy Jassy, is probably not looking for this fight right now.

Mr. Bezos, for his part, quietly butters up the government, just like Elon Musk. While both have been publicly critical of the Biden administration, Mr. Bezos’ Blue Origin and Mr. Musk’s SpaceX spend significant resources lobbying officials to pick up their space exploration tabs and to win NASA contracts. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has accused the two billionaires of using NASA like an A.T.M. He tweeted at Bezos on Saturday about Amazon’s labor issues and soaring profits.

 

 

New White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre arrives to speak to reporters in the James S Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2022.

New White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre arrives to speak to reporters in the James S Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 16, 2022.

CNN, Karine Jean-Pierre holds first briefing as White House press secretary, Kate Sullivan, May 16, 2022. Karine Jean-Pierre held her first briefing as White House press secretary on Monday after making history as the first Black and out LGBTQ person to step into one of the most visible roles in the administration.

"I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman. The first of all three of those to hold this position," Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday.
She said, "If it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me I would not be here. But I benefit from their sacrifices, I have learned from their excellence and I am forever grateful to them."

cnn logo"Representation does matter -- you hear us say this often in this administration, and no one understands this better than President (Joe) Biden," Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre has briefed reporters in her previous role of principal deputy White House press secretary many times, both from the podium in the White House briefing room but more often off-camera on Air Force One. Last May she became the second Black woman in history to hold the daily press briefing.

She has served on the White House's senior communications team since Biden took office, and prior to that was an adviser to his campaign and chief of staff to now-Vice President Kamala Harris. Jean-Pierre has traveled with the President on several occasions, including when she replaced Psaki at the last minute for Biden's four-day trip to Europe amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine after Psaki tested positive for Covid-19.
Jean-Pierre's family includes her partner, CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter.

Psaki had long been public about her intention to leave the job after one year. CNN has reported Psaki will be joining MSNBC.

After Psaki's departure and Jean-Pierre's promotion was announced by the President, Psaki invited Jean-Pierre up to the podium and gave an emotional tribute to her colleague and friend. The two women embraced as Psaki went through Jean-Pierre's qualifications and the significance of her taking the job.

"She will be the first Black woman, the first out LGBTQ+ person to serve in this role, which is amazing because representation matters and she is going to, she will give a voice to so many and allow and show so many what is truly possible when you work hard, and dream big and that matters, and ... we should celebrate that," Psaki said.

Mediaite, WHCA Threatens Reporter Who Interrupted Psaki Briefing With Possible Expulsion in Scathing Email, Jackson Richman, May 16, 2022. Reporter Simon Ateba Asks Jen Psaki if Biden Blames Her or Her Comms Team for Low Approval Ratings.

A reporter who interrupted Friday’s White House press briefing has been threatened with suspension or expulsion from the White House Correspondents Association were he to do the same again.

jen psakiDuring Jen Psaki’s last press briefing as White House press secretary, Simon Ateba of Today News Africa twice interrupted and called on Psaki, left, to call on the reporters in the back rows. He interrupted the Associated Press’ Zeke Miller and ABC News’ Mary Bruce.

In an email to Ateba, obtained by Mediaite, White House Correspondents Association President and CBS News Radio White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy chided him on Monday for the interruptions.

“Your disruptive behavior at last Friday’s briefing interrupted your colleagues and reflected poorly on the press corps,” he said. “There is no right of any reporter to be called on by any official. Preventing your colleagues from asking their questions is no way to seek relief.”

Portnoy warned that Ateba would be suspended or expelled were he to repeat his behavior from Friday.

“We note that you have been granted status as an Associate Member of our organization. With that comes a responsibility to act in a collegial manner with your fellow WHCA members,” he said. “If you again demonstrate disrespect for your colleagues in the manner you did last Friday, the WHCA Board will act on behalf of the collective. I am pasting Article X of our bylaws below for your reference.”

In a statement to Mediaite, Ateba said he received the email “with a heavy heart.”

fox news logo Small“I received the email from WHCA’s President Steven Portnoy with a heavy heart. I am the victim here and I am being treated so unfairly by WHCA. It is sad and it is heartbreaking,” he said. “America is the greatest country in the world and no country comes even close. Here in the United States, press freedom is respected, or so I thought, or so I was made to believe.”

Ateba, who is Black, said his rationale for interrupting was due to being discriminated against “due to his origins, being an African covering the White House and focusing on U.S.-Africa ties and interactions for Today News Africa” and since he questioned the White House about the Biden administration’s African travel bans in November. In light of this, Ateba made numerous appearances on Fox News and called out the administration for the bans.

May 14

 

 llewellyn king photo logo

White House Chronicle, Many Newspapers Are on Death Row; Will They Be Reprieved? Llewellyn King (executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle" on PBS), May 14, 2022. Newspapers are on death row. The once great provincial newspapers of this country, indeed of many countries, often look like pamphlets. Others have already been executed by the market.

The cause is simple enough: Disrupting technology in the form of the internet has lured away most of their advertising revenue. To make up the shortfall, publishers have been forced to push up the cover price to astronomical highs, driving away readers.

One city newspaper used to sell 200,000 copies, but now sells fewer than 30,000 copies. I just bought said paper’s Sunday edition for $5. Newspapering is my lifelong trade and I might be expected to shell out that much for a single copy, but I wouldn’t expect it of the public to pay that — especially for a product that is a sliver of what it once was.

New media are taking on some of the role of the newspapers, but it isn’t the same. Traditionally, newspapers have had the time and resources to do the job properly; to detach reporters to dig into the murky, or to demystify the complicated; to operate foreign bureaus; and to send writers to the ends of the earth. Also, they have had the space to publish the result.

More, newspapers have had something that radio, television and the internet outlets haven’t had: durability.

I have a stake in radio and television, yet I still marvel at how newspaper stories endure; how long-lived newspaper coverage is compared with the other forms of media.

I get inquiries about what I wrote years ago. Someone will ask, for example, “Do you remember what you wrote in 1980 about oil supply?”

Newspaper coverage lasts. Nobody has ever asked me about something I said on radio or television more than a few weeks after the broadcast.

There is authority in the written word that doesn’t extend to the broadcast word, and maybe not to the virtual word on the internet in promising, new forms of media like Axios.

If publishing were just another business — and it is a business — and it had reached the end of the line, like the telegram, I would say, “Out with the old and in with the new.” But when it comes to newspapers, it has yet to be proved that the new is doing the job once done by the old or if it can; if it can achieve durability and write the first page of history.

Since the first broadcasts, newspapers have been the feedstock of radio and television, whether in a small town or in a great metropolis. Television and radio have fed off the work of newspapers. Only occasionally is the flow reversed.

The Economist asks whether Russians would have supported President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine if they had had a free media and could have known what was going on; or whether the spread of COVID in China would have been so complete if free media had reported on it early, in the first throes of the pandemic?

The plight of the newspapers should be especially concerning at a time when we see democracy wobbling in many countries, and there are those who would shove it off-kilter even in the United States.

There are no easy ways to subsidize newspapers without taking away their independence and turning them into captive organs. Only one springs to mind, and that is the subsidy that the British press and wire services enjoyed for decades. It was a special, reduced cable rate for transmitting news, known as Commonwealth Cable Rate. It was a subsidy, but a hands-off one.

Commonwealth Cable Rate was so effective that all American publications found ways to use it and enjoy the subsidy.

That is the kind of subsidy that newspapers might need. Of course, best of all, would be for the mighty tech companies to pay for the news they purloin and distribute; for the aggregators to respect the copyrights of the creators of the material they flash around the globe. That alone might save the newspapers, our endangered guardians.

 

shireen abu akleh file

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli Police Attack Mourners Before Funeral of Al Jazeera Journalist, Patrick Kingsley and Raja Abdulrahim, May 14, 2022 (print ed.). As hundreds gathered to witness the start of Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral procession, riot police assaulted the people carrying her coffin.

In life, Shireen Abu Akleh, above, an acclaimed Palestinian American broadcaster, was one of the leading chroniclers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Her death, while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, turned her into one of the conflict’s most prominent recent victims. Palestinian witnesses and officials said Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, long a leading television reporter for Al Jazeera, was shot by Israeli soldiers, though Israeli officials said she could have been struck by either Palestinian or Israeli fire.

Then, on Friday in Jerusalem, her funeral was marred by another burst of violence.

Early that afternoon, as thousands of people massed in East Jerusalem for one of the largest Palestinian funerals in recent memory, a phalanx of Israeli riot police assaulted a group of mourners carrying the coffin containing Ms. Abu Akleh’s body, causing them to almost drop it.

Israel FlagThe Israeli police later said they had intervened because the mourners, who wanted to carry the coffin by foot to the funeral, had refused to put it in a hearse, an arrangement the police said had previously been agreed to with Ms. Abu Akleh’s family.

But the police intervention drew shock and condemnation both in Israel and beyond, with the assault on mourners regarded as egregious regardless of its motive.

It was the latest and perhaps most startling salvo of the most violent period in Israel and the occupied territories, outside of full-scale war, in several years.

The assault occurred outside a hospital in East Jerusalem, where Ms. Abu Akleh’s body had been kept since another memorial on Thursday, and where hundreds had gathered to witness the start of her funeral cortege.

Tensions arose between Palestinians and Israeli police officers after the Palestinians began waving Palestinian flags and chanting nationalist slogans. They escalated after the police refused to allow mourners to take the coffin on their shoulders to the church, according to Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, a senior foreign diplomat who witnessed the dispute.

At the White House, the press secretary Jen Psaki described video footage of the clash as “deeply disturbing” and said, “We regret the intrusion into what should have been a peaceful procession.”

East Jerusalem is mostly populated by Palestinians, and most of the world views it as occupied territory — but Israel has annexed the area, considers it part of its capital, and often prevents expressions of Palestinian nationalism there.

ny times logoNew York Times, Fact-Check Analysis: Republicans Wrongly Tie Biden Immigration Policies to Baby Formula Shortage, Linda Qiu, May 14, 2022 (print ed.). Republicans have misleadingly claimed that the Biden administration is sending formula to undocumented immigrants amid a national shortage. Here’s a fact check.

Republican lawmakers have misleadingly suggested that the Biden administration is sending baby formula to undocumented immigrants at the expense of American families amid a national shortage.

Around the country, more than 40 percent of formulas are out of stock, caused by supply chain issues and the closure of a major manufacturing plant in February. The limited availability has left parents desperate and scrambling for a solution. The Biden administration announced modest steps on Thursday to address the crisis, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that the House would take action on the issue next week.

The shortage has become fodder for political attacks from Republicans, who have fused the issue with criticisms of the administration’s immigration policies. Democrats have countered that those opposed to providing migrant infants with formula belong to a “pro starvation caucus,” as one lawmaker put it.

But it is inaccurate to suggest that President Biden is choosing to prioritize the needs of immigrant children over those of American children. Providing food — like formula — and water to migrant children detained at the border is required by a lawsuit settlement, and the Trump administration also adhered to that requirement. And it is unlikely that the amount of formula in stock at detention facilities would meaningfully ease the shortage.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Twitter’s bots likely won’t be grounds for Musk to back out, Reed Albergotti, May 14, 2022. But the Tesla CEO can try to use the issue as leverage to open renegotiations. The up-and-down saga of Elon Musk’s bid to acquire Twitter took a turn this week that many long suspected: The Tesla CEO tweeted something declaring the deal was in jeopardy.

elon musk 2015Musk said in a tweet early Friday that the deal was temporarily on hold, pending an inquiry into the number of “spam/fake,” accounts that exist on Twitter. He later clarified he was still serious about the acquisition.

Two people close to the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak publicly said the tweet reflected an effort by Musk to bring down the $44 billion price tag. That amount was settled before the stock market tanked in recent weeks, making the acquisition price comparatively more expensive.

These so-called “bot” accounts he raised concerns about represent a financial risk for Twitter. Musk has said he intends to remove these accounts when he completes his acquisition of the company. But bots generate revenue just like normal accounts, thanks to viewing the same ads. If there are more fake accounts than Twitter lets on, that would mean a drop in revenue if they are removed.

Musk’s question about bots nothing new for Twitter

twitter bird CustomMusk, whose net worth dropped roughly $50 billion in recent weeks as the markets roiled Tesla and other tech stocks, is free to back out of the deal if he’s getting cold feet. Much of Musk’s wealth comes from his 17 percent stake in Tesla. The electric car company is now worth close to $800 billion. Musk has financed the majority of his Twitter acquisition but still needs to put up $21 billion, which he aims to offset with outside investments.

But even if Musk discovers that Twitter grossly underestimates the number of bots on its service, Musk will likely still be on the hook for a $1 billion fee for killing the deal, legal experts say. And, were he to pull out of the deal, he’d likely face a lawsuit from Twitter, which could claim heavy financial damages for the turmoil Musk has caused since agreeing to acquire it.

May 13

The Guardian, US secretly issued subpoena to access Guardian reporter’s phone records, Ed Pilkington, Updated May 13, 2022. Newspaper decries ‘egregious’ move by DoJ to obtain details of Stephanie Kirchgaessner as part of investigation into media leaks.

The U.S. justice department secretly issued a subpoena to gain access to details of the phone account of a Guardian reporter as part of an Justice Department log circularaggressive leak investigation into media stories about an official inquiry into the Trump administration’s child separation policy at the southern border.

Leak investigators issued the subpoena to obtain the phone number of Stephanie Kirchgaessner, the Guardian’s investigations correspondent in Washington. The move was carried out without notifying the newspaper or its reporter, as part of an attempt to ferret out the source of media articles about a review into family separation conducted by the Department of Justice’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz.

It is highly unusual for US government officials to obtain a journalist’s phone details in this way, especially when no national security or classified information is involved. The move was all the more surprising in that it came from the DoJ’s inspector general’s office – the watchdog responsible for ethical oversight and whistleblower protections.

Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, decried the action as “an egregious example of infringement on press freedom and public interest journalism by the US Department of Justice”.

She added: “We will be asking the DoJ urgently for an explanation for why and how this could have occurred, and for an apology. We will also be seeking assurances that our reporter’s details will be erased from DoJ systems and will not be used for any further infringements of press freedom.”

The leak inquiry was conducted on behalf of the DoJ by the inspector general’s office of an outside government department, housing and urban development (Hud). Its investigation focused on allegations that an employee within the DoJ’s inspector general’s office had leaked sensitive information to three news outlets – the Guardian, the New York Times and NBC News.

The Guardian was the only one of the three outlets to have a subpoena issued relating to its reporter’s phone account.

The Guardian published two sensitive reports by Kirchgaessner within the timeframe of the DoJ review into child separation covered by the leak inquiry. On 23 July 2020 she revealed that the DoJ’s former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein had personally advised that migrant parents should be prosecuted, no matter how young the children accompanying them.

On 2 September 2020, Kirchgaessner reported that a senior justice department official nominated by Trump to be a federal judge had participated in the removal of a Texas prosecutor who had sounded the alarm over child separation.

On Thursday, the investigative reporter Jason Leopold released a redacted version of the HUD leak inquiry report obtained under freedom of information laws. It revealed that leak investigators had reviewed evidence of 127 phone calls totalling about six hours in length with “phone numbers identified as belonging to reporter Stephanie Kirchgaessner of the Guardian”, and an additional 126 phone calls about six hours and 20 minutes “with a phone number identified as belonging to the Guardian generally”.

The leak report also discloses that the DoJ issued an “administrative subpoena” to a telecommunications company for “subscriber information to confirm that a specific telephone number belonged to the Guardian”. It said that “basic subscriber information” had been obtained involving “names, addresses, and length of service only” and “not the contents of communications”.

Child separation was effected in 2018 under the Trump administration. Known officially as “zero tolerance,” the policy ordered federal prosecutors to act against undocumented immigrants entering the US unlawfully even when minors were present – a reversal of previous practice which had spared families from criminal proceedings in order to avoid children being separated from their parents.

The policy led to more than 3,000 children being separated from their parent or guardian, and to widespread chaos in which the location of many children became unknown. The much-delayed DoJ inspector general’s report into the practice was finally published after two years, in January 2021.

Earlier this week Politico reported that an employee of the DoJ inspector general’s office had “abruptly resigned” after coming under scrutiny from the leak investigation. See: Justice watchdog staffer resigned amid leak probe over Trump family separation report.

May 12

 

shireen abu akleh file

washington post logoWashington Post, American journalist killed by Israeli forces in West Bank, network says, Steve Hendrix, Sufian Taha and Shira Rubin, May 12, 2022 (print ed.). The network and Palestinian officials said journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (shown above in a file photo in Jerusalem) was killed by Israeli fire. Israel said Palestinian gunmen may have been responsible.

Israel FlagIsraeli forces killed a Palestinian American journalist for the Al Jazeera news network in the West Bank early Wednesday, according to the network and the Palestinian Health Ministry. Israel said the journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was killed in an exchange of gunfire and called for an investigation.

Abu Akleh, 51, a longtime Al Jazeera correspondent, was shot in the head while covering Israeli raids in the Jenin refugee camp, according to the network and the ministry. She was taken to a hospital before dying from her wounds.

In a statement, Al Jazeera accused Israeli forces of killing Abu Akleh “in cold blood” and said she had been “clearly wearing a press jacket that identifies her as a journalist.” Two journalists who were standing next to Abu Akleh said in interviews that the area had been relatively calm before she was shot.

May 11

Politico, Justice watchdog staffer resigned amid leak probe over Trump family separation report, Josh Gerstein, right, May 11, 2022. DOJ Inspector josh gerstein headshot CustomGeneral ordered investigation into who disclosed report about border policy.

politico CustomAn employee of the Justice Department Inspector General’s office “abruptly resigned” after coming under scrutiny in an investigation of the disclosure to the media of a closely-held draft report on the Trump administration’s family separation policy, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the watchdog office and accounts from two people familiar with the matter.

An investigative summary posted online by DOJ’s Inspector General did not name the employee who quit nor specify what report triggered the leak probe, but two people familiar with the episode told POLITICO the leak inquiry focused on disclosures about a review of the origins Trump administration’s family separation policy.

Reports by NBC News and the New York Times in October 2020, about a month before the presidential election, said former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top Justice Department officials were “a driving force” behind a series of moves in 2018 that led to thousands of children being separated from their parents or other relatives after crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. The reports cited a draft report michael horwitz headshotby Inspector General Michael Horowitz, left, that followed a two-year review of the so-called “zero tolerance” policy.

The policy, eventually abandoned by the Trump administration, resulted in adults accused of crossing the border illegally being prosecuted criminally even if accompanied by young children. During the chaos prompted by the policy, U.S. officials essentially lost track of the ties between some immigrant children and their parents, leading to extreme difficulty in reuniting them. Litigation and claims for financial damages over the policy remain pending.

The disclosures in the media in the fall of 2020 prompted concern inside the department, where officials believed the leaks were intended to influence the outcome of the election, two people familiar with the matter said. The final report was formally released by Horowitz’s office in January 2021.

According to the summary posted Wednesday, Horowitz’s office referred the potential leak to a council which oversees inspectors general across the government, which in turn assigned the investigation to an inspector general’s office outside the Justice Department.

That probe eventually centered on an unnamed employee in Horowitz’s office, which has approximately 500 investigators and other staff.

“The independent investigation reviewed the DOJ OIG employee’s phone records and found that they reflected numerous and lengthy phone conversations between the then DOJ OIG employee and reporters at the media outlets during the time period in which articles were published about the then ongoing DOJ OIG review, as well as electronic evidence that demonstrated that the then DOJ OIG employee was privy to documents referenced in the various articles,” the two-page statement said.

The summary described a broad-ranging investigation into the leak, which included asking staffers involved in the work to answer written questions about whether they’d had any interactions with the media. This request seemed to have prompted one employee to quit, the statement suggested.

“The independent investigation noted that the then DOJ OIG employee abruptly resigned from DOJ OIG shortly before the date by which the employee and other DOJ OIG employees connected to the then ongoing DOJ OIG review were asked to submit sworn answers to a questionnaire regarding the unauthorized disclosures to the media,” the summary said. “The independent investigation further noted that the then DOJ OIG employee was the only DOJ OIG employee who did not answer the questions about the unauthorized disclosures.”

While the probe found that the unnamed employee violated “federal ethics regulations and DOJ OIG policy,” the summary makes no reference to the leak being unlawful or to the matter being referred for potential prosecution. A written denial from the alleged leaker could have exposed him or her to a criminal false statement charge.

Horowitz’s office said the staffer who resigned later declined to talk with investigators. The DOJ IG and the other agency IG which conducted the leak probe lack the power to compel former employees to testify in investigations, the summary noted.

In a related development, Horowitz’s office said later Wednesday that it made “non-material revisions” to its final report on the family separation policy following a review by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general.

“The changes were made to the passages of the report to more closely align with the supporting evidence in our underlying work papers,” Horowitz’s office said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Why do journalists in Mexico keep getting killed? Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul and Kevin Sieff, May 11, 2020 (print ed.). With the shooting deaths this week of a cameraperson and a director in Veracruz state, the number of journalists killed in Mexico this year is now up to 11. That’s more than in Ukraine, where the world’s press corps is covering a war.

Mexico has long been one of the world’s most dangerous countries to be a journalist. But 2022’s killing rampage is on pace to more than triple last year’s total. The increase has left many here wondering what has changed — how to explain the epidemic of violence against reporters, editors and photographers.

Sheila Johana García Olivera and Yesenia Mollinedo Falconi of the online news outlet El Veraz were shot Monday night while sitting in a car outside a convenience store. Neither survived. Mollinedo Falconi had received threats for her journalistic work, her brother said.

A closer look at this year’s killings suggests no single reason explains the uptick. No one criminal organization or arm of the government is responsible. Instead, the deaths point to the wide range of threats that journalists here face daily — and the impunity that allows their killers to act without fear of consequence.

 

greg palast logo

dinesh dsouza 2000 mules

BuzzFlash and GregPalast.com, '2,000 Mules': Belly Laughs, Belly Aches from Film’s “Proof” that Trump Won, Greg Palast, May 11, 2022. Don’t laugh. Yet.

A Black man walks from his car to the ballot drop box (as shown above). Dark music plays. The Black man puts ballots in the drop box then gets back in his car.

“This is a smoking gun! This is OJ Simpson being seen leaving the scene of the crime!”

A crime?

larry elder screenshotNo less an expert than radical right radio kook Larry Elder, right, is convinced he has seen a crime.

It looks to me like a Black man putting ballots in a drop box. (In Georgia, as just about everywhere, you can drop off ballots for family members.)

In this film 2000 Mules, heavily promoted by Donald Trump (who hosted the release at Mar-al-Lago), front man Dinesh D’Souza sets out to prove the Black man is a “mule,” part of a giant criminal conspiracy to stuff ballot boxes with fraudulent votes. The proof? Well, you can see it with your own eyes! The evidence is in your face: There’s a BLACK man and he is dropping off BALLOTS in a ballot drop box. Case closed! Guilty!

OK, you can laugh now. But crying time is coming. I predict that 2000 Mules will create the platform for Trump’s loss of the election in 2024 — and Trump’s inauguration in 2025.

But for now, back to the film.

D’Souza’s “expert” tells us they tracked the Black mule. “So, in one night this person, this mule went across six counties to 27 different drops.”

Wow!

Does D’Souza have the film to prove it? Yes, of course he does, you liberal jerk! D’Souza worked with a courageous group, True the Vote, that obtained ALL the security footage of every ballot drop box in Atlanta — 4 million minutes of film and they looked at all of it!

They have the damning film — they just won’t show it

They have the film, but they … just don’t, uh, show it. Why not show us at least a couple of film clips of the 27 times this Black felon repeated his crime? Well, that’s the problem with you liberal jerks: You see a Black man with a ballot and you, Mr. Liberal, assume he’s voting, when he’s obviously committing a crime. And he does it dozens of times! Why do we have to show you the evidence? We just need Elder, the Chubby Checker of right wing nuttery, to blubber his amazement at seeing the footage on D’Souza’s computer. Case closed! Guilty!

I was so angry at this criminal voter, I wanted to bust him! Expose him. Arrest him. They have his photo, his car, his license plate number. In fact, their “expert” says these ballot mules have, “bad backgrounds, bad reputations, …violent guys.”

Whoa! So, If D’Souza identifies their “backgrounds,” they must have their names. So why don’t they show us the files? Name the names? Show us their faces? Confront them. Call the cops, the feds!

dinesh dsouzaBut D’Souza, left, and True the Vote didn’t bust anyone. Didn’t name a single mule — though they supposedly can identify them. They even fuzzed over the mules’ faces so we can’t see who it is. Nice of D’Souza to protect the guilty. Unless, of course, the Black men weren’t guilty. Or just guilty of Voting While Black. They don’t show us the files of their “bad reputations" because these files don't exist.

Why did the Black man with the ballots commit a crime on camera that will get him five years in prison? For the money, of course! Did D’Souza know for certain the Black man took money? Of course! D’Souza shows a film of money being handed to someone. OK, it’s a reenactment — the actor gets a credit at the end of the film. But hey, it could have happened. Case closed! Guilty!

D’Souza knows the Black man was paid by a “non-profit” group. They showed a photo of Black candidate Stacey Abrams. But he doesn’t actually say that she or her group, Fair Fight Georgia, made the payments. In fact, he doesn’t say who made the payments. Why?

And what about those “non-profits” that paid the mules — 2,000 mules casting nearly a million illegal votes — 817,765 illegal ballots (we toted up their claims) in just five cities — i.e. Black cities. D’Souza tracked the mules to the offices of these “non-profits,” even had an Arizona bbc news logo2whistleblower say she herself gathered the ballots and paid the mules out of one office.

But the whistleblower is in shadow, unnamed…and D’Souza, oddly, conceals the name of this criminal “non-profit.” He won’t reveal the group because … well, that’s odd. When I reported investigations for BBC Television, not once did I say, “We have the proof — witnesses, film, documents — of felony crimes committed by … well, that’s our secret!”

He knows who paid hundreds of millions to the mules — but he won’t tell us.

D'Souza says, “We know that the mules got their stashes of ballots from these activist organizations.” He “knows,” but won’t say how he knows, what evidence he has. Hell, he doesn’t name even one evil organization (and he claims there are many) because… well, maybe they didn’t do it.

Why didn’t he confront this unnamed group or groups with the evidence? I do that in every report I’ve ever filmed (in fact, it’s required by British law for UK reporters). Maybe because D’Souza has no evidence. He certainly didn’t show us any evidence, zero, of a single payment to a single mule.

When the Palast team finds a crime or malfeasance or vote manipulation, we name the perps — Chevron, Katherine Harris, whomever, and I confront them.

Take a look at our last major report from Georgia. We discovered that GOP operatives challenged the right to vote of tens of thousands of Black and young Georgians on false evidence. We named the key operatives — Pam Reardon is the Republican challenger-in chief. Here’s a photo of me confronting Reardon with the evidence. We didn’t fuzz out her face. And we named and confronted the group who gave her the phony, racially poisonous purge list: True the Vote. Yep, the same characters who provided the bogus info for 2000 Mules.

Yes, there is vote theft — votes stolen from people of color and the young. We’ve got the proof and, unlike D’Souza, we will show you the evidence and name the perps.

And when we say True the Vote receives Dark Money for these voter roll hits, we name the perp: The Bradley Foundation, the uber-right-wing billionaires from Milwaukee.

Why does the Palast team, whether for the BBC or Rolling Stone or Democracy Now! always names the perps? Well, that’s kind of point of investigative reporting. We do it because we can: we have the evidence, so we show it.

D’Souza and True the Vote don’t name the perps nor the evil groups nor their funders because… they don’t have the evidence. Period.
Stuffing the drop box from 93 feet away

But Mules is slick. Real slick. With an air of science and hard statistics. They use the new tool of “geo-tracking”. They bought (as anyone can) “pings” from cell phones in five cities, trillions of pings. D’Souza shows a satellite in space, shows all kinds of flashing lights on a computer screen and the damning evidence — photos of Black men casting ballots.

They say (but don’t show us) that these Black men, inexplicably, went to drop boxes "on average 23 times”. That’s pretty damning, if true.
But it’s not true. The commercial geo-tracking services that True the Vote used can only identify a phone moving within 30 meters (93 feet) of a location. That is, if someone is jogging by a couple of drop boxes, although they are on the other side of a highway, they are “mules.” D’Souza shows dramatic fluorescent lines on a computer showing the path of two “mules” — who go by several drop boxes. Case closed! Guilty!

Now, who would go by the same boxes day after day? Maybe they aren’t “mules.” In fact, a more accurate name for the film would be “2000 Mailmen”.

The commercial geo-tracking services that True the Vote used can only identify a phone moving within 30 meters (93 feet) of a location. Now, who would go by the same boxes day after day? Maybe they aren’t “mules.” In fact, a more accurate name for the film would be “2000 Mailmen”.

With thousands of “mules,” somehow they didn’t name a single one. As a former professor of statistics and investigator for several Attorneys General, I can tell you it would be damn easy to locate a bunch of them. True the Vote has license plates, film of faces, and the list of voters whose ballots were dropped off. They could match the photos to the date stamp on the ballots.

They even had a detective hired by the Republican Party who said he saw and filmed men stuffing the ballot boxes late at night. But he didn’t show the film nor call the cops nor tag the suspects (nor did the GOP). Why not? Because it didn’t happen.

And where did these 817,765 ballots come from? A ballot cannot simply be printed and stuffed into a box: every mail-in ballot is assigned and coded to an individual voter (your vote choice is secret but not the ballot envelope nor the fact you voted). So, it would have been easy to call the voters whose ballots were supposedly stolen and used to vote without their consent to prove these were fraudulent votes. (Yes, it’s time consuming: Our Georgia investigation required 1,200 phone calls.)

Since proving ballots are stolen is easy (though time-consuming) why didn’t D’Souza prove his case? Provide a list of the names on the fraudulent ballots? Because he can’t.

D’Souza and True the Vote insist that tens of thousands of ballots in Georgia alone were stolen — yet there were no reports of ballot thefts. Voters would have found that someone cast their ballot when they tried to vote. They can’t prove a million ballots were stolen or illegally bought (“trafficked” in True the Vote’s terminology) because it didn’t happen.

D’Souza’s charge is mind-blowing. He claims that there are as many 54,000 mules that were organized and paid in at least five big cities. In Fulton County (Atlanta), he tells us 92,670 ballots were stuffed illegally into drop boxes.

That’s astonishing — because there were only 79,000 ballots cast in drop boxes in Fulton County!

And in Detroit, it was worse. “Mules” stuffed 226,590 ballots into Detroit area drop boxes — way more than the total number of all mail-in ballots — about three times the number of ballots in drop boxes.

True the Vote’s “expert” tells us he identified mules in Detroit, “That went to more than a hundred drop boxes.” That’s also amazing because there were only 30 drop boxes in all of Detroit.

And with over three-quarters of a million ballots stolen or “trafficked,” not one voter claimed that someone stole their ballot. Because, maybe, it didn’t happen. We can conclude: Walking 50 feet from a ballot box does not mean you were paid to stuff that box, Mr. Elder.

Don’t laugh. The guy next to me sure wasn’t laughing. As the credits rolled, he shouted, “I’M A VETERAN! YOU HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE TO WATCH THIS FILM!”

When I asked the shouter — his name is Steve — why D’Souza didn’t name the “non-profits” spending millions on ballot trafficking, Steve said, “Yeah, I was kind of wondering ‘bout that.” But then Steve added his own explanation: “These people [Clintons, Obama and the mule-driving “non-profits”] have an arrangement with the Devil.” I guess D’Souza did not want to upset Satan.

So, who put up the hundreds of millions of dollars of Dark Money to hire the mules and organize this national operation? D’Souza features a right wing “expert” who tells us Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros and Warren Buffet have the money to do it. But did they? Well, two out of three are Jewish. What other proof do you need, Liberal?

Am I saying there are no election crimes? Of course not. Example: Dinesh D’Souza was convicted of the felony crime of concealing election campaign contributions in 2014, served a 5 month sentence in a halfway house, was fined and given five years' probation — and was later pardoned by Trump for his service to the cause.

Why hire "mules" at all?

And two more things. First, every single drop-box ballot (and mail-in ballot) must be signed by the voter and the signature verified against the registration signature. D’Souza doesn’t tell us how over a quarter million ballot signatures were forged—yet not one forgery was caught.

Really?

And second, and most devastating: Why hire mules at all? Why in the world would these unnamed "non-profits" pay tens of millions to Black men to drive all over the county to stuff them into drop boxes, committing a felony crime on camera — when anyone can simply dump them into a mail box, no cameras, no time stamps, no evidence.

This “evidence” will allow Republican Legislatures to claim the electoral votes of those states are in question and, on January 6, 2025, those Electoral College votes will not be certified by a Republican Congress.

2,000 Mules will elect Trump in 2024

Still laughing? Prepare for the unhappy ending. This film will be the excuse for massive new vote suppression trickery all in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” In Georgia, under SB202, devised by Gov. Brian Kemp, Stacey Abrams’ likely opponent, Fulton County’s 38 drop boxes will be reduced to just eight and will be locked inside state buildings. True the Vote’s hit list of Georgia voters has expanded, without a word in the national press, to block over 300,000 ballots cast by voters of color.

Thirty-five states are purging several million voters from the rolls using a method pushed by True the Vote’s funders, the Bradleys, all to prevent chimerical fraudulent voters.

Now, jump into my time machine to 2024. Let’s say a Biden-Trump race produces the same electoral count as in 2020. But in 2024, the GOP will have the “evidence,” bogus though it may be, of “mules” stuffing ballot boxes in Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona and Michigan. This “evidence” will allow Republican Legislatures to claim the electoral votes of those states are in question and, on January 6, 2025, those Electoral College votes will not be certified by a Republican Congress.

At that moment, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution will kick in and, in place of the Electoral College, each state will have one vote for President. Do the math: As the majority of state delegations are Republican, a 12th Amendment procedure will insure that, on January 20, 2025, Trump will be inaugurated again.

While the band strikes up, Hail to the Thief. 

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: ‘2000 Mules’ offers the least convincing election-fraud theory yet, Philip Bump, right, May 12, 2022. There’s one scene in philip bumpparticular that I think summarizes the irredeemable flaws of Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie “2000 Mules,” in which he purports to demonstrate rampant illegality surrounding the 2020 presidential election. The film has become a central part of Donald Trump’s assertions about the election, with the former president hosting a screening last week at his Mar-a-Lago resort. But, interestingly, the most revealing scene doesn’t have anything to do with the election at all.

dinesh dsouzaIn it, D’Souza, left, is hearing from a man named Gregg Phillips about how cellphone geotracking works. In short, your phone has various tools that allow it to know roughly where it is at any given moment, data that is often collected through apps and shared with companies that aggregate data for marketers. Phillips uses that data, which also includes time stamps, to show that only a few phones were in the vicinity of a fatal shooting in Atlanta — an incident that Phillips’s colleague Catherine Engelbrecht describes as “ebbing on cold-case status.”

“You could see, visually, that there were only a handful of unique devices that could possibly have pulled the trigger,” Phillips says. He shows a circle overlaid on a map, within which five dots of different colors are visible — dots indicating “the only potential legitimate shooters,” he says. He explains that, having done this analysis, his team turned information about those devices over to the FBI.

“Now, I read, they've arrested two suspects,” D'Souza says.

“They have,” Phillips says, somberly.

There’s a reason for this scene. Phillips and Engelbrecht’s analysis of geotracking data is the crux of D’Souza’s claims about there being an army of people who were dispatched to collect ballots before the presidential election. If data can be used to identify and arrest criminals in one case, the movie would have us believe, it can be similarly used in the case of all this alleged election fraud.

But looking at the case more closely, you see how the impression you’re meant to have is wildly misleading. The shooting led to the death of Secoriea Turner on July 4, 2020. It was far from a “cold case” — police arrested a suspect about two weeks later after he turned himself in. A second suspect was arrested in early August 2021 — not by federal law enforcement but by state officials. There is no indication that geolocation data played a role in either arrest, much less data provided by Phillips’s team.

In other words, D’Souza is elevating shaky, misrepresented, incomplete claims to bolster his rhetoric — as I said, an apt summary of the movie overall.

D’Souza declined to comment for this article.

“2000 Mules” can be broken out into three basic components. There’s the geolocation-based material that’s the heart of D’Souza’s assertions about the election. The second half of the movie is a broader effort to undergird the geolocation claims, an attempt to build a foundation of how and why a rampant ballot collection scheme might have been undertaken. And then there’s the third part, a sort of cable-news-style panel conversation with D’Souza and several other conservative and right-wing pundits. (All of those pundits, incidentally, have shows with Salem Media Group, which served as executive producer of the film.) By the end, the pundits have been convinced that rampant fraud occurred, with former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka outlining all of the evidence that had been presented “empirically” in support of the claim.

There is no such empirical evidence, by a long shot. That geolocation data from Phillips and Engelbrecht’s group, True the Vote, which also has executive-producer credits on the film, is used as a purportedly data-driven latticework on which everything else hangs. But beyond lots of harrumphing about how revealing this data is, we see very little of it.

The theory that Phillips and Engelbrecht present is that nonprofit organizations employed people to collect ballots and then drop them into drop boxes in various cities. They call this “ballot trafficking,” a term meant to connote illegality akin to the transport of narcotics. The people carrying the ballots, then, become “mules” and the nonprofit groups “stash houses.” To test this theory, they obtained a large amount of anonymized cellphone geolocation data and tried to figure out how often individual phones appeared near drop box sites or near those nonprofit groups.

By itself, this is a dubious approach. As the Associated Press pointed out in a fact check of the film, there’s no way by just using cellphone data to know whether someone visited a ballot drop box, particularly since those boxes were installed in high-traffic areas. Last month, I spoke with an expert on geolocation who made clear that the imprecision of phone geolocation would make specifying that a phone was actually near a drop box (and not, say, 10 feet from it) nearly impossible. The film makes repeated comparisons to federal law enforcement’s ability to identify people who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, but even if the phone’s location is off by 20 feet, it’s still obvious when you’re inside a large building. (In one shot, the film shows geolocated data inside the Capitol — with positions surrounded by large circles of uncertainty that make this point clearly.)

In essence, we're just asked to trust that True the Vote found what it says it found. That by itself is probably not wise.

Phillips first rose to national attention in 2016 when he claimed, without any evidence, that millions of people had voted illegally in that year’s presidential election. Trump jumped on the claim, but Phillips never presented any evidence it had occurred. There was no reason to assume it had.

So we get sweeping claims about how many “mules” True the Vote identified in each city and the average number of drop boxes each visited. We’re shown one map of the travels of one “mule” throughout one city on one day, but even that is simply offered by Phillips as representing “a smoothed-out pattern of life” that we’re asked to assume is accurate. Everything else is just offered in the aggregate.

To bolster the claim, though, the movie spends a lot of time showing video from ballot drop boxes, obtained with public records requests. Phillips and Engelbrecht narrate what we're seeing, framing all of it as evidence in support of their theory.

In one bit of footage, we see a woman come and use a drop box. She puts in “a small stack” of ballots, Phillips says, “maybe three, maybe four,” and then removes latex gloves that she had been wearing and throws them away. This happened at 1 a.m., the True the Vote team says, making it more suspicious.

Except:

It’s not at all clear that the woman is putting more than one ballot in the box. There’s just one thin white rectangle that gets slipped into the box.
This was on Jan. 5, 2021, during Georgia’s runoff election, so it had nothing to do with the presidential race.

The woman is wearing gloves and a mask — suggesting that she is taking precautions against the coronavirus.

Is it hard to believe someone might wear latex gloves to access a publicly used drop box if one is worried about infection?

We are later told that the True the Vote team noticed the “mules” wearing gloves only after a late-December election-fraud indictment in Arizona — an indictment that stemmed, we are told, from fingerprints being used to catch culprits. That indictment involved the collection and submission of four ballots, and it’s not clear that fingerprints were an important part of tracking down the alleged culprits. But this additional — and hard to verify in the moment — piece of information makes the woman’s actions seem much more nefarious.

The True the Vote people claim that they identified the same woman “in a number of locations” and that she went to “dozens and dozens over the course of these two elections.” But we don’t see the map of her geolocated activity. We don’t even see a map of her cellphone going to that drop box on that night in January 2021. We don’t see video footage of her at another drop box. We’re just asked to believe that all of this occurred, without evidence.

Then there's the guy with a bike. He arrives at a drop box, removes a ballot from his backpack and puts it in the drop box.

“You also see him get sort of frustrated as he starts to leave,” Phillips claims, though there’s no obvious evidence of frustration. “Because, guess what? At this point, they had started requiring the mules, apparently, to take pictures of the stuffing of the ballots. It appears that that’s how they get paid.”

You then see the guy park his bike by the drop box and take a picture of both.

“If you’re just casting your own ballot,” Engelbrecht says, “what reason in the world would you have to come back and take a picture of the box?”

The answer is obvious. The particular drop box in this case can be easily tracked to the Ponce de Leon Library in Atlanta. If you look on Instagram, there are a number of people posting photos of themselves voting at this drop box. (For example.) There are any number of other photos people posted on social media showing themselves, say, riding a bike to drop off a ballot. Elections officials encouraged sharing voting experiences on social media in a bid to drive up turnout.

But that’s the sum total of the evidence offered against “bike guy” — that he took a picture. Again, he doesn’t appear to have multiple ballots. Again, there’s no geolocated data putting him there. It’s just this one snippet of purported sketchiness that comes down to a guy taking a picture of himself voting. Notice, too, that Phillips doesn’t purport to have any information from anywhere else that taking a photo was a requirement to get paid — he just says this is “apparently” a new requirement. (The lady with the gloves didn’t take a picture.) Phillips just layers that story on top of the video to make it seem as if the guy with the bike was part of a conspiracy and True the Vote had unpacked this complicated scheme.

At no point is there evidence presented of people getting ballots from a nonprofit group and dropping them in drop boxes. There’s one anonymized interview with a woman in Arizona who claims this happened, but there’s no geolocated or video evidence of ballot drops being made. Despite a confused scene with the pundit panel in which it’s alleged that maybe some of these ballots were submitted on behalf of dead people or people who moved, there’s no evidence of that happening. There aren’t even very many snippets of people casting more than one ballot — a practice that wasn’t itself necessarily illegal.

One segment of the movie shows a man depositing multiple ballots in a county in Georgia. But there’s a trivial — and legal — answer, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Niesse reported: He was dropping off ballots for his family, which he’s allowed by law to do.

That the film does not even try to show that man making any geolocated visits to other drop boxes should by now not need to be mentioned. What appears to have happened is not that True the Vote found “mules” and then placed them at drop boxes using governmental video surveillance. Instead, the group appears to be trying to imply overlap between two large, distinct data sets — one with dots on a map and one with unusual-looking activity at drop boxes.

If there’s no proof of “mules” running around, the film’s second-half effort to explain how the system works is unimportant. (It’s mostly a mishmash of old claims about fraud and the au courant effort to cast increasing voter turnout as devious.)

But none of this is really the point. The point, instead, is that the viewers come away from the movie believing that they were right all along about the election being stolen. And so D’Souza scratches that itch by adding up the number of “mules,” the number of drop box visits and the average number of ballots deposited to determine how this network of criminality swung the election to Joe Biden.

It's useful here to be blunt: Every part of the calculus that D'Souza uses to show that Trump really won is nonsense, as he himself inadvertently makes clear.

First, it depends on True the Vote’s “mule” estimates being accurate, which for the reasons stated above should not be assumed. Second, it weirdly relies on the average number of drop box visits per “mule” instead of just a total number of visits, which one would think True the Vote could provide. Third, it assumes that those votes are invalid or would not otherwise have been cast, which is not a defensible assumption. (In fact, speaking at a legislative hearing in Wisconsin in March, Engelbrecht noted that “we’re not suggesting that the ballots that were cast were illegal ballots.”) And fourth, it relies on True the Vote’s estimate that each drop box visit included the drop of five ballots on average.

Consider that for a moment. What on Earth could that be based on? There is one scene in which True the Vote notes that a drop box in Georgia had more ballots than would have been expected based on the number of visits observed in video footage during the 24 hours prior, but there’s no attempt to understand why that might be the case. Did they see someone roll up with a giant stack of ballots? If so, why isn’t that in the movie? Even if all of the rest of this were true, there’s simply no way to know how many ballots were dropped in a drop box by a “mule.”

After declaring that Trump would have won the election based on the math above, D’Souza does something even odder: He just assumes that there were more mules than True the Vote counted and, for no explained reason, that they were averaging three instead of five ballots per drop. Suddenly, Trump wins every contested state!

And if there was a secret effort to dress chipmunks up as people and cast in-person ballots for Trump to the tune of, oh, 40 percent of turnout in each state, removing that criminal activity gives Biden a massive electoral victory! I have video of a chipmunk in my yard that I believe is carrying a ballot, so who’s to say my theory isn’t accurate? If we make up whatever numbers we want, we can do all sorts of interesting things.

At its heart, “2000 Mules” is a triumph of capitalism. There’s huge demand for proving that Trump didn’t lose in 2020, and this film provides just enough of a veneer of authority to let people collapse comfortably into that belief. That it doesn’t survive even mild external scrutiny is as irrelevant as pointing out contradictions in a religious text is to recent converts: They want to believe what they want to believe.

“Their ability to keep their side ignorant is total,” radio host Dennis Prager said during the pundit panel portion of the film. It’s an interesting commentary on how partisan belief works, certainly.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian TV, online platforms hacked with antiwar message, Mary Ilyushina and Annabelle Timsit, May 11, 2020 (print ed.). Russians using smart TVs reported seeing something atypical: A message appeared instead of the usual listing of channels. “The blood of thousands of Ukrainians and hundreds of murdered children is on your hands,” read the message that took over their screens. “TV and the authorities are lying. No to war.”

The apparent hack, targeting ordinary Russians sitting by their televisions or looking things up on their search engines, broke through the pro-Moscow messaging Monday as Russia celebrated Victory Day, a commemoration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II.

As Russia intensified its attacks in Ukraine’s south and east, thousands of Russian troops assembled in Moscow’s Red Square for a military parade. Addressing them, President Vladimir Putin gave a speech doubling down on his invasion of Ukraine and accusing NATO and Western countries, without evidence, of provoking Russia.

On Victory Day, Putin defends war on Ukraine as fight against ‘Nazis’

The antiwar message that appeared on the screens of Russian smart TVs also appeared on the platforms of Yandex, Russia’s IT giant. Like Google, it combines many products under one umbrella, including a search engine and a service providing TV programming schedules. On that page, the daily programs for state-run Channel One and Russia-1 were also defaced early Monday.

Russia’s equivalent of YouTube, called Rutube, was also affected, it said in a statement.

“Following the sites of various Russian ministries, which have been constantly subjected to cyberattacks over the past two months, hackers have reached RUTUBE,” Rutube said on its official Telegram channel. “Our video hosting has undergone a powerful cyberattack. At the moment, it is not possible to access the platform.”

The streaming platform later said that it had “localized the incident” and was working to restore normal service, and that the apparent hackers were unable to access its content library.

“Specialists localized the incident, and work is currently underway to ensure security,” Rutube said. “We will announce the timing of the restoration of the video service in the near future.”

washington post logoWashington Post, House approves nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine, Felicia Sonmez and Andrew Jeong, May 11, 2020 (print ed.). The package of military, economic and humanitarian support is $7 billion more than the $33 billion President Biden requested. The Senate is expected to follow suit this week.

The House on Tuesday approved nearly $40 billion in additional aid for Ukraine as the country battles Russia’s brutal invasion, now in its third month.

The package of military, economic and humanitarian support, which is $7 billion more than the $33 billion President Biden requested, was approved on a bipartisan vote of 368-to-57, with the Senate expected to follow suit this week.

All House Democrats present Tuesday night voted in favor of the measure. They were joined by 149 House Republicans. Fifty-seven House Republicans voted “no.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: U.S. SIGINT shared with Ukraine not the first for the post-Soviet region, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 21 books and a former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, May wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small10-11, 2022. Russia did not complain when the U.S. passed to it top-level intelligence to enable it to target a former Soviet general.

President Biden is reportedly infuriated that U.S. national security officials have leaked to the media information that the United State shared intelligence with Ukraine that led to successful Ukrainian hits on some 12 Russian generals serving on or near the wayne madesen report logofront lines of the war in Ukraine. Biden was also upset that intelligence leaks confirmed that similar U.S. intelligence helped in the successful Ukrainian sinking of the Russian Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.

In a May 6 call to his top national security officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, CIA director William Burns, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Biden said the leaks must stop. Biden was reacting as all past administrations have nsa logo 2done when highly-classified signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations are leaked to the media. Apparently, the National Security Agency has found a rich environment of usable SIGINT in Ukraine because Russian military personnel have been relying on commercial mobile phones to discuss battlefield operations. These communications are intercepted and geo-located by NSA SIGINT satellites, aircraft, and other platforms in the region. That geo-locational data has, according to the leaked intelligence, been passed on to Ukraine to target Russian field commands, resulting in the killing of generals and other high-ranking officers.

When it comes to SIGINT, the "holy grail" of the FIVE EYES intelligence alliance of the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, every alliance leader has reacted negatively to leaks about communications intercept operations.

washington post logoWashington Post, Celebrity chef Mario Batali found not guilty of sexual assault in Boston trial, Tim Carman, May 11, 2022 (print ed.). Mario Batali was found not guilty on Tuesday of charges of indecent sexual assault and battery following a two-day trial in which the celebrity chef never took the witness stand in his own defense.

mario batali book simple mealsThe case against Batali, 61, was a #MeToo landmark: the first time a chef accused of sexual misconduct faced criminal charges in court. On Monday, the first day of the trial, Batali, shown at left on the cover of one of his cookbooks, waived his right to a jury trial, opting to leave his fate in the hands of Judge James Stanton, who on Tuesday said that evidence showed the accuser was motivated by financial gain.

Mario Batali’s accuser details alleged assault as his trial begins

The case hinged almost exclusively on the testimony of Natali Tene and the selfie photos she took with Batali on April 1, 2017, at a restaurant in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, not far from Eataly, an Italian marketplace that counted Batali among its owners.

“It’s an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question,” Stanton said in announcing his ruling. “His conduct, his appearance and his demeanor were not befitting a public person of his stature at that time.”

But Stanton said it is the court’s job to determine how much weight to give to the testimony of witnesses. “The complaining witness has significant credibility issues,” he said. “The issues were highlighted in her testimony.”

On Monday, Tene testified that, while dining at Towne Stove and Spirits, she was caught trying to take a furtive photo of the chef who, before the #MeToo era, was a multimedia star. He wrote cookbooks, appeared on daytime television, was a regular on “Iron Chef America,” had his own cookware and was known virtually everywhere he went for his iconic footwear: orange Crocs.

After Batali motioned her over to his bar stool, Tene testified, she was prepared to apologize for snapping his picture without permission and even ready to delete it. But Batali, she said, encouraged her to take selfies with him. Off and on, over the course of three minutes or so, she testified, she snapped photos and short videos with Batali, who remained seated while she stood next to him.

May 10

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian TV, online platforms hacked with antiwar message, Mary Ilyushina and Annabelle Timsit, May 10, 2020. Russians using smart TVs reported seeing something atypical: A message appeared instead of the usual listing of channels. “The blood of thousands of Ukrainians and hundreds of murdered children is on your hands,” read the message that took over their screens. “TV and the authorities are lying. No to war.”

The apparent hack, targeting ordinary Russians sitting by their televisions or looking things up on their search engines, broke through the pro-Moscow messaging Monday as Russia celebrated Victory Day, a commemoration of the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II.

As Russia intensified its attacks in Ukraine’s south and east, thousands of Russian troops assembled in Moscow’s Red Square for a military parade. Addressing them, President Vladimir Putin gave a speech doubling down on his invasion of Ukraine and accusing NATO and Western countries, without evidence, of provoking Russia.

On Victory Day, Putin defends war on Ukraine as fight against ‘Nazis’

The antiwar message that appeared on the screens of Russian smart TVs also appeared on the platforms of Yandex, Russia’s IT giant. Like Google, it combines many products under one umbrella, including a search engine and a service providing TV programming schedules. On that page, the daily programs for state-run Channel One and Russia-1 were also defaced early Monday.

Russia’s equivalent of YouTube, called Rutube, was also affected, it said in a statement.

“Following the sites of various Russian ministries, which have been constantly subjected to cyberattacks over the past two months, hackers have reached RUTUBE,” Rutube said on its official Telegram channel. “Our video hosting has undergone a powerful cyberattack. At the moment, it is not possible to access the platform.”

The streaming platform later said that it had “localized the incident” and was working to restore normal service, and that the apparent hackers were unable to access its content library.

“Specialists localized the incident, and work is currently underway to ensure security,” Rutube said. “We will announce the timing of the restoration of the video service in the near future.”

May 9

washington post logoWashington Post, 48 million households to qualify for $30 Internet plan under new Biden program, Jacob Bogage, May 9, 2022. AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and 17 other providers will offer discounts under the plan, which the White House estimates will extend to 48 million households.

Households can qualify for the subsidies, called the Affordable Connectivity Program, if their income is at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, a member of the household participates in certain federal anti-poverty initiatives — including Medicaid, Supplemental att logoNutrition Assistance Program, federal housing assistance, Pell Grant tuition assistance, or free or reduced-price school meals — or if the household already qualifies for an Internet provider’s low-income service program.

Consumers can check whether they qualify for discounted service at getinternet.gov.

President Biden, both during his 2020 campaign and in negotiations for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, has made Internet access a high priority, especially for rural America and low-income consumers. A 2021 study by the Pew Research Center found that though broadband, the most reliable form of Internet connectivity, access has increased among rural residents in the past decade, rural communities still lag well behind others in terms of service.

Roughly 7 in 10 adults in rural areas reported having home broadband access in 2021, Pew found; the same proportion had a desktop or laptop computer. Eight in 10 had a smartphone.

“If we didn’t know it before, we know now,” Biden said last month at a White House ceremony honoring the national teacher of the year. “High-speed Internet is essential.”

Biden’s infrastructure package reserved $65 billion to improve the nation’s broadband network. Most of that funding will go to states for projects directed by local policymakers, but a $14 billion pool was set aside for Internet subsidies.

The discount program faces early hurdles because the households it is meant to serve are not online and therefore more difficult to reach. The White House said it would partner with other federal agencies, state and city governments and charitable groups to spread the word.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Pamela Anderson, Amber Heard and the Limits of the Feminist Redemption Plot, Jessica Bennett, May 9, 2022. To look the part of Pamela Anderson in “Pam & Tommy,” the Hulu series, the actress Lily James sat through four hours of makeup each day and reportedly went through 50 pairs of 34DD prosthetic breasts, which had to be switched out repeatedly during filming and were at times so sweaty, they almost fell off.

The series recounts the whirlwind marriage of Ms. Anderson and her ex, the Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, and centers on the honeymoon sex tape that was stolen from their home and distributed to the masses. But this retelling of their story, created without their involvement, purports to be the empowering version of events — an attempt to depict Ms. Anderson’s struggle in the aftermath and “provoke a conversation about how we treat women,” as Ms. James has put it.

So if the camera seems a little too interested in lingering on those prosthetic breasts? Don’t worry — this is feminist art.

And it’s the kind of art that seems to be everywhere in Hollywood these days, part of a slate of projects that aim to “reclaim,” “redeem,” “reframe” and “reconsider” famous, beautiful, usually white and always misunderstood women from our semirecent pasts, who were at one point vilified, usually over something sexual in nature. As the logic (and marketing language) tends to go, by retelling (and consuming!) these women’s hardships through the more enlightened lens of today, we are helping women reclaim their power.

“Pam & Tommy” is not the most recent example of this genre, though it is perhaps the most controversial — in part because Ms. Anderson wanted nothing to do with it. But by the time it was announced, in 2018, there was a whole host of other successful projects like it: a biopic and documentary about Anita Hill, recounting her treatment in her sexual harassment claim against Clarence Thomas; “I, Tonya,” about the figure skater Tonya Harding, now treated as more complex than just a low-class villain; and “Lorena,” about Lorena Bobbitt, who today goes by Lorena Gallo and who we now see was not merely the woman who chopped off her husband’s penis but also a victim of domestic abuse.

We owe some of this redemption framework to Monica Lewinsky, of course, whose affair with the president was the backdrop to my teen years and whose return to the public eye I arguably helped facilitate once I was old enough to recognize its complexity. I wrote about Ms. Lewinsky in 2015, shortly before she delivered a TED Talk on public humiliation, and then again last year, when she became the subject of the FX series “Impeachment.”

So I am not immune to the appeal of this redemption arc. And yet …

At what point does the fictional depiction of that spectacle, and our viewing of it, become just as bad as watching it in the first place?

There are enough tales of wronged women in history that we could keep telling these stories forever. But are we really any better off today for having heard so many of them?

May 7

 

djt handwave file

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge dismisses Trump’s lawsuit against Twitter, Cat Zakrzewski, May 7, 2022 (print ed.). The former president accused the social network of violating the First Amendment by suspending his account after Jan. 6.

A California judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit that Donald Trump filed against Twitter, the latest blow to the former president’s high-profile battles with major tech companies over their decisions to suspend his accounts in the fallout of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

twitter bird CustomThe lawsuit, which Trump initially filed last year in Florida along with suits targeting Google and Facebook, was viewed as part of a broader strategy to appeal to conservatives who have long argued that social media companies unfairly censor their viewpoints. The judge’s dismissal comes after Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced his plans to buy Twitter, taking issue over content moderation decisions he views as limiting free speech — and raising speculation that Trump could return to the platform.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge James Donato rejected Trump’s argument that Twitter was operating as a “state actor” when it suspended his account in January 2021, calling it not plausible. Trump had claimed that Twitter was constrained by the First Amendment’s restrictions on government limitations of free speech because it had acted in cooperation with government officials.

May 6

 

Justice Clarence Thomas (left) and Justice Samuel Alito.

Justice Clarence Thomas (left) and Justice Samuel Alito.

Proof, Investigative Commentary:The Real Supreme Court Leak in Dobbs v. Jackson Isn’t the One You Think—and May Point Toward the Leaker’s Identity, Seth seth abramson proof logoAbramson, May 6, 2022. It turns out Alito’s draft opinion on abortion may have leaked earlier than believed, and not to Politico but another—farther right—outlet. This revelation may hold the key to a historic leak probe.

Seth Abramson, shown at right, founder of Proof, 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: 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).

May 5

 

supreme court 2018 group photo cropped Custom

SCOTUSblog, Analysis: How the leak might have happened, Tom Goldstein (SCOTUSblog editor and founder, and prominent litigator before the Supreme Court), May 5, 2022. Among the debates generated by the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs is whether the leaker was conservative or liberal. The leak will ultimately pale in importance to the court’s decision once it is issued; the ruling will directly affect the lives and rights of tens of millions of people. But in the meantime, the motives of the leaker are an important topic because they help explain why an institution that zealously guards its secrets suddenly seems porous.

Start from the premise that there were actually (at least) two leakers, and three leaks. The first leak was to the Wall Street Journal editorial board last week. john roberts oIn substance, it was that the court had voted to overrule Roe v. Wade, but that the precise outcome remains in doubt because Chief Justice John Roberts, right, is trying to persuade either Justice Brett Kavanaugh or Justice Amy Coney Barrett to a more moderate position that would uphold the Mississippi abortion restriction without formally overturning Roe.

While not formally presented as relying on a leak, the editorial transparently does. The most obvious example is that it predicts that Alito samuel alito ois drafting a majority opinion to overrule Roe, but gives no explanation for that prediction and none is apparent. We now know that Alito, left, did draft that opinion.

The second leak was to Politico. Likely within the past few days, a person familiar with the court’s deliberations told them that five members of the court – Alito, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, along with Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch – originally voted to overturn Roe and that remains the current vote. In addition, the position of the chief justice is unclear. The remaining justices are dissenting.

The third leak was also to Politico. It was presumably – but not certainly – by the same person. Someone provided them with Alito’s Feb. 10 draft opinion.

Note as well what was not leaked. Politico seemingly was not told which justices had joined the Alito opinion. (The fact that five justices voted in December politico Customto overturn Roe as a general matter does not mean that all five of them necessarily would have agreed to sign on to Alito’s draft.) And Politico apparently was not provided with a subsequent draft, which ordinarily would have circulated to the court by now – in response to comments from some members of the would-be majority.

Here is what you would conclude is the state of play if you took all the leaks as both accurate and pretty complete (assumptions that, admittedly, are by no means certain). Alito’s opinion probably has been joined by Thomas and Gorsuch. Kavanaugh and Barrett have yet to join – most likely because they are waiting to consider an alternative opinion from the chief justice.

In these circumstances, which ideological side would think it benefits from leaking the opinion? It seems to me, that is the left. I can see conservatives believing that they would gain from leaking the fact that Kavanaugh had originally voted to strike down Roe. They might believe it would tend to lock him into that position. But that was accomplished by leaking that fact to both The Wall Street Journal and Politico.

The question here is who believed they would benefit from leaking the opinion itself. That document was much more likely to rally liberals than conservatives. It brought home the fact that the court was poised to overrule Roe in much more concrete terms than merely leaking the vote. The opinion is also a full-throated attack on abortion rights and – with important caveats – substantive due process rights more broadly. And as a first draft – without the benefit of later refinement – it does not yet present the critique of Roe in its most persuasive form.

It is also important to look at the leak of the opinion through the lens of the fact that someone – almost certainly a conservative – had just before leaked the court’s tentative decision and the state of the voting to The Wall Street Journal. That leak was itself an extraordinary and unethical breach of confidences and certainly caused very deep concern inside the court.

My guess is that someone on the left felt somewhat justified in releasing the opinion in response. Through the opinion, one would see what the Journal was saying Kavanaugh and Barrett were considering. That leak was a historically unprecedented violation of the deepest and most solemn trust among the justices and the court’s staff. It wounded the institution.

One small note about the identity of the leaker. There has been some speculation that turns on a supposed relationship with Josh Gerstein, the Politico legal affairs reporter who is the lead author on their story. It seems to me that the leak very likely runs instead through the other reporter with a byline on the story: Alexander Ward, who is a national security reporter. In response to questions from The Washington Post, Politico confirmed that the story was very tightly held from even its own staff. Almost surely, the leaker would have insisted on that confidentiality. I cannot think of a reason that Ward would have been on the story other than that the leaker communicated through him, not Gerstein. And Politico would have felt compelled to give Ward a byline on such a historic scoop.

May 3

disney world mickey mouse facebook

San Francisco Chronicle, Opinion: No, Ron DeSantis’ battle with Disney isn’t just political grandstanding, Burt Neuborne and Erwin Chemerinsky, Updated May 3, 2022. The core principle underlying the First Amendment is that government cannot punish speech because it disagrees with its viewpoint. But that is exactly what Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have done to the Disney corporation for having dared to oppose legislation limiting discussion of gay issues in Florida’s public schools.

We think the Supreme Court was wrong in Citizens United when it granted full free speech rights to corporations like Disney. Nor are we fans of delegating government powers to profit-driven corporations. But, as long as corporations continue to function as powerful First Amendment speakers, the worst thing we could do is empower an all-powerful regulatory state to turn corporate speakers into mouthpieces for the government by punishing them for failing to toe the party-line. That’s how Vladimir Putin rules Russia.

ron desantis hands outGov. DeSantis, right, and Florida state lawmakers have revoked a 55-year-old arrangement that allowed the Walt Disney Co. to self-govern its 25,000-acre Disney World complex. Stripping Disney of its local governmental powers was done for just one reason, and DeSantis was explicit about it: Disney CEO Bob Chapek had criticized Florida’s recently adopted law prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain elementary school classrooms. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature were simply retaliating for Chapek’s criticism of the “don’t say gay” law.

It was once the law that government could condition the grant of a so-called “privilege,” like Disney’s authority to exercise delegated local government power, on any terms it wished. But over a half century ago, the Supreme Court rejected that approach and repeatedly has held that the regulatory state may not condition the continued enjoyment of a government-granted benefit on the recipient’s waiver of its First Amendment rights. Under disney logosettled First Amendment principles, the Florida Legislature could not provide that a person’s license to practice medicine or law, or their eligibility to receive welfare benefits, could be made contingent on supporting government policy.

Simply put, the government cannot condition the discretionary grant of a benefit on a recipient’s waiver of a constitutional right. The Supreme Court, applying its “unconstitutional condition” doctrine, has struck down efforts to condition government funding of public television stations on a waiver of the station’s First Amendment right to use privately raised funds to support news programs.

Florida’s effort to condition Disney’s continued exercise of local government authority on its support for the governor’s anti-gay bill is no different. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have unconstitutionally conditioned Disney’s ability to exercise local government benefits on the company’s silence.

There is a temptation to dismiss Florida’s action as political grandstanding by a governor who wants to run for president and is seeking issues that play to his base. Going after Disney for being too supportive of gays received just the headlines DeSantis wanted.

But if DeSantis and the Florida Republicans can get away with this, there will be no stopping their power to use the machinery of government to punish and silence their critics — corporate or otherwise. If DeSantis gets away with punishing Disney for its speech, any corporation, indeed any person receiving a benefit from a government will risk losing it unless they toe the party line. The potential for government manipulation of corporate — and other — speech is enormous.

washington post logoWashington Post, Christiane Northrup, once a New Age health guru, now spreads covid disinformation, Sam Kestenbaum, May 3, 2022. For much of the pandemic, there has been a tidy pattern to Christiane Northrup’s days.

A retired celebrity doctor with a New Age fandom, she would take her position at a sunny desk in coastal Maine, snap on a camera, and hold forth on spiritual topics such as chakra alignment and energy fields. With a flowery dress and glittering jewelry, she sometimes serenaded her online audience of half a million or so by plucking an enormous harp.

Then Northrup would land on a gloomier theme: covid-19. Northrup would claim that the virus was part of a plot involving Deep State brainwashing and treacherous depopulation schemes. She encouraged fans to check out QAnon, called the Centers for Disease Control a “covid death cult,” and described the vaccines as crimes against humanity.

“We are, indeed, at war,” she said in one recent dispatch. “It is good versus evil. Dark versus light.”

Last year, these apocalyptic-sounding messages put the doctor on a watchdog’s list of the top sources of falsehoods about the coronavirus vaccine for, among other things, sharing posts that falsely claimed the shot would lead to a 800% increase in chronic illnesses for children. The White House then called for her to be booted from the public square.

To those familiar with Northrup from the ’90s and 2000s, when she hosted PBS specials and became a beloved household name,(Oprah Winfrey once called her writing “a guide, a bible”) the doctor holding forth at her desk could seem radically transformed. Exiled from some circles, she found a hero’s welcome in the MAGA set and on anti-vaccine speaking tours that also featured former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Infowars host Alex Jones.

To some who knew Northrup personally, all of this came as a shock. Bill Manahan, a Minnesota doctor who befriended Northrup in the 1980s, said, “It’s like she went to the dark side.”

May 2

Investigations: Challenges To Democratic Norms

 

tucker carlson fox horizontal

ny times logoNew York Times, Part 1: Tucker Carlson, once a failed pundit, stoked white fear to conquer cable, Nicholas Confessore, April 30, 2022. A New York Times investigative analysis in three parts of 1,100 episodes of the apocalyptic worldview of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," the top-rated 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Fox News.

Tucker Carlson burst through the doors of Charlie Palmer Steak, enfolded in an entourage of producers and assistants, cellphone pressed to his ear. On the other end was Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of the Fox empire and his de facto boss.

fox news logo SmallMost of Fox’s Washington bureau, along with the cable network’s top executives, had gathered at the power-class steakhouse, a few blocks from the office, for their annual holiday party. Days earlier, Mr. Carlson had set off an uproar, claiming on air that mass immigration made America “poor and dirtier.” Blue-chip advertisers were fleeing. Within Fox, Mr. Carlson was widely viewed to have finally crossed some kind of line. Many wondered what price he might pay.

The answer became clear that night in December 2018: absolutely none.

When “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired, Mr. Carlson doubled down, playing video of his earlier comments and citing a report from an Arizona government agency that said each illegal border crossing left up to eight pounds of litter in the desert. Afterward, on the way to the Christmas party, Mr. Carlson spoke directly with Mr. Murdoch, who praised his counterattack, according to a former Fox employee told of the exchange.

“We’re good,” Mr. Carlson said, grinning triumphantly, as he walked into the restaurant.

In the years since, Mr. Carlson has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful.

 

sean hannity uncredited

ny times logoNew York Times, Part 2: How Tucker Carlson reshaped Fox News — and became Trump’s heir, Nicholas Confessore, May 2, 2022 (print ed.). A New York Times investigative analysis in three parts of 1,100 episodes of the apocalyptic worldview of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," the top-rated 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Fox News.

Tucker Carlson had a problem.

tucker carlsonAfter years in the cable wilderness, he had made a triumphant return to prime time. And his new show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” had leapfrogged to the heart of Fox News’s evening lineup just months after Donald J. Trump’s upset victory shattered the boundaries of conventional politics.

But as Mr. Trump thrashed through his first months in office, Mr. Carlson, right, found himself with an unexpected programming challenge: Fox was too pro-Trump. The new president watched his favorite network religiously, and often tweeted about what he saw there, while Fox broadcasts reliably parroted White House messaging. No one was more on message than Sean Hannity, shown above, then Fox’s highest-rated star, who frequently devoted his show to Mr. Trump’s daily battles with Washington Democrats and the media.

Newly planted in Fox’s newly vacated 8 p.m. time slot — previously held by the disgraced star Bill O’Reilly — Mr. Carlson told friends and co-workers that he needed to find a way to reach the Trump faithful, but without imitating Mr. Hannity. He didn’t want to get sucked into apologizing for Mr. Trump every day, he told one colleague, because the fickle, undisciplined new president would constantly need apologizing for.

The solution would not just propel Mr. Carlson toward the summit of cable news. It would ultimately thrust him to the forefront of the nationalist forces reshaping American conservatism. “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the host and his producers decided, would embrace Trumpism, not Mr. Trump. The show would grasp the emotional core of Mr. Trump’s allure — white panic over the country’s changing ethnic composition — while keeping a carefully measured distance from the president himself. For years, as his television career sputtered, Mr. Carlson had adopted increasingly catastrophic views of immigration and the country’s shifting demographics. Now, as Mr. Trump took unvarnished nativism from the right-wing fringe to the Oval Office, Mr. Carlson made it the centerpiece of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

ny times logoNew York Times, American Nationalist: Part 3, Nicholas Confessore, April 30, 2022 (print edition upcoming). A New York Times investigative analysis in three parts of 1,100 episodes of the apocalyptic worldview of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," the top-rated 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Fox News.

The nightly message to audience about the audience's domestic enemies in the media and among Democratic leaders and Left activists: "They don't care what you think. They want to control what you do."

May 1

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia struggles under unprecedented wave of hacking, puncturing myth of its cyber-superiority, Joseph Menn, May 1, 2022. Experts anticipated a Moscow-led cyber assault; instead, attacks by hacktivists and criminals have wreaked havoc in Russia.

 The rare front-line visit of such a high-ranking military official comes as analysts say Russian forces remain beset with logistical problems and disarray.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Ukraine and pledged U.S. support “until victory is won.” Civilians were being evacuated from Mariupol. Follow updates.

 

Ukraine Pilot unnamed

Proof, Investigative Commentary: The True Story of the “Ghost of Kyiv, Seth Abramson, left, May. 1, 2022. One of the most confusing and controversial news stories of seth abramson graphicRussia’s ten-week-long invasion of Ukraine is the story of a Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot whose identity—and even reality—has been hotly debated.

The Ukrainian Air Force (UAF), which is comparatively small and has comparatively old equipment, has now shot down a startling number of Russian fighter jets and attack helicopters—far more than U.S. intelligence expected would be the case, but in any case at a clip now confirmed by intelligence agencies from across the Western world. And these combat victories began very early on—even before the phrase “the Ghost of Kyiv” had been coined (let alone heard) by anybody.

seth abramson proof logoNeedless to say, almost none of these now-confirmed Ukrainian ground-to-air and air-to-air kills were recorded, for the obvious reason that all potential soldier-filmmakers were too busy fighting, and everyone else was too busy hiding. And it took several days for Western-media camera crews to get into position to get significant footage—or even to know where to go to get that footage—and even once they had that capacity, they were often prohibited from getting such footage either by safety concerns or the reasonable request of the Ukrainian armed forces that its positions not be broadcast.

But for all that, someone was downing a lot of Russian aircraft. That much is now clear.

To date, 189 Russian aircraft—at a bare minimum—have been downed by Ukrainians.

Were these 189 Russian aircraft downed by 189 different Ukrainian soldiers, wielding 189 different Stinger missile delivery systems and/or flying 189 different MiG-29s? No one knew, as February slipped into March and March into April.

So is it possible, given the miniscule size of Ukraine’s air force, the limited number of missions it runs daily (about ten, per major media reports) and the more-than-likely fact that many of the Russian aircraft lost so far have been jets that a single Ukrainian pilot managed, by March 13 of 2022—19 days into the war—to down enough Russian aircraft (five) to be officially named a “flying ace” under the conventions of modern warfare? Of course it’s possible. Frankly, in a certain view it doesn’t even seem unlikely.

Who Decides If—or When—the “Ghost of Kyiv” Exists?

Given the fog of war, the identity of any individual Ukrainian pilot who shot down any individual Russian jet or helicopter was always going to be a piece of news revealed to the world by the Ukrainian military—and almost certainly by members of Ukraine’s military speaking to members of Ukraine’s press corps.

It goes without saying that the Kremlin has never once been honest with the world or even its own people about the cost it is paying for Putin’s adventurism in Ukraine; and it’s equally clear there are far more Ukrainian journalists on the ground in Ukraine (particularly in the hottest hot spots for shelling and live small arms fire) than there are U.S. or other Western journalists. So if it were to come to pass that one Ukrainian were responsible for five of 189 downed Russian aircraft—a not unimaginable outcome—that intelligence was almost certain to come from a Ukrainian source and be given to, in turn, a Ukrainian source.

Indeed, given that we know which Ukrainian news sources are the most respected and have the most journalists on the ground in Ukraine, we could probably have predicted in advance that if it came to pass that one Ukrainian had been responsible for just five of the 189 downed Russian aircraft in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’d likely hear about it from the Kyiv Post.

But there were other things about a scenario of this sort that we could’ve predicted in advance:

  • The Ukrainians would give any such “flying ace” a nickname—because such aces always get nicknames;
  • The Ukrainians would use a nickname first created outside Ukraine if it seemed more to the Ukrainian military’s advantage to do so;
  • The Ukrainians wouldn’t hesitate to issue a nickname to such a flying ace after the fact, because nicknames for such persons are often given after the fact;
  • No matter what had actually happened with respect to such a Ukrainian ace, the Kremlin—and its far-right allies in the United States—would insist that it had not happened, if they felt it to be to their benefit to falsely say so;
  • The young white men on 4chan and Reddit would be annoyed if they felt that the Ukrainians had used for their new ace a nickname that they (the young white men) created, as irrespective of the politics of these young men—whether they’re white supremacists, alt-right, Trumpists, old-school Republican Party adherents, libertarians, apolitical, or anarchists—they do not like the idea of “meme magic” being used by anyone but them, and (if they hail from any of the first three political philosophies above) they especially do not want Ukraine using their digital work-product to the detriment of their heroes in the Kremlin.
  • And yet the core facts remained: the Ukrainian military was always going to control the identification of a Ukrainian “ace” in the first instance; it was always going to be almost impossible to confirm or deny such a claim by Ukraine’s military; Ukrainian journalists would likely be first to report such a claim being made by the Ukrainian military; and the Ukrainian military was going to use whatever name for its ace best served the purposes of the Ukrainian military, regardless of from where that name had originated.

marina ovsyannikova afp via getty

Marina Ovsyannikova, above, a 43-year-old editor from Russia’s state-run propagandist Channel One TV network, crashed the set of Russia’s top evening newscast, brandishing an anti-war poster.

Politico Magazine, The Mysterious Case of Marina O., Zoya Sheftalovich, May 1, 2022. Her anti-war protest on live Russian TV was seen by millions. But is she a Kremlin stooge? 

In a non-descript room in a secret police station deep within a sprawling Moscow exhibition center, a Russian police officer offered Marina Ovsyannikova a cup of tea.

“For some reason, I wasn’t afraid,” Ovsyannikova told me over the phone a few days ago. “In that moment I wasn’t afraid. Now — I would think twice.”

By that point, Ovsyannikova, a 43-year-old editor from Russia’s state-run propagandist Channel One TV network had already answered the same questions for hours; she was tired, hungry and thirsty. The previous night, on March 14 at 9:30 p.m., she had crashed the set of Russia’s top evening newscast Vremya wearing a necklace in the colors of the Ukrainian and Russian flags and brandishing an anti-war poster. “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They are lying to you here,” she had written in Russian. “No war” and “Russians against war,” she’d scrawled in English. “Stop the war, no to war, stop the war, no to war,” she shouted.

For a few moments, Ovsyannikova’s protest was beamed into homes around Moscow and central Russia. Then, the camera cut away. Ovsyannikova was detained, taken to a large police station within the state television studio complex known as Ostankino, before being moved half a mile to the secret police department within Moscow’s Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, a large park with exhibition halls known by its acronym VDNKh, where she was held for the next 14 hours.

It was after what seemed like endless questioning, in the wee hours of the morning, that her interrogator said: “Let’s drink a cup of tea. Let’s eat some blini. Everyone’s hungry,” Ovsyannikova recounted.

As any foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin would have warned Ovsyannikova, were they still alive to do so: When a Russian security officer offers you an Earl Grey and a snack, don’t say yes. But Ovsyannikova was new to the dissident game and unprepared for what lay ahead of her.

She drank the tea.

 

elon musk safe image time

washington post logotwitter bird CustomWashington Post, Opinion: The real problem with Twitter under Musk may be privacy, Jacob Silverman (staff writer at the New Republic and the author of "Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection"), May 1, 2022 (print ed.). Twitter already has serious issues around the globe. Musk (shown above) is unlikely to fix them.

washington post logoelon musk 2015Washington Post, Opinion: Three steps for Elon Musk if he’s serious about free speech at Twitter, Margaret Sullivan, May 1, 2022. But first, a primer for a somewhat confused billionaire on what the First Amendment actually entails.

washington post logoWashington Post, As gala returns, Biden jokes about return to near-normal, Paul Farhi, April 30, 2022. After a two-year pandemic delay, the dinner returned with a comedy routine from Trevor Noah and celebrity cameos by Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson.

Washington’s media and political elite partied like it was 2019 on Saturday at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner, the traditionally glitzy spring gala that staggered back to life after a pandemic-induced two-year hiatus.

Despite the continuing specter of the coronavirus, the event once again had all its usual trappings and excesses: a tuxedoed-and-begowned throng of insiders, a smattering of celebrities, an appearance by the president and a big-name comedian to make fun of them and it.

 

April

April 30

ny times logoNew York Times, How Twitter’s Board Went From Fighting Elon Musk to Accepting Him,  April 30, 2022. It’s highly unusual to move from a “poison pill” to a $44 billion deal in under two weeks. But Twitter’s board ran out of options.

Twitter’s board had reached the end of the road.

elon musk 2015It was April 24. Ten days earlier, Elon Musk, right, the world’s richest man, had made an unsolicited bid to buy Twitter for $54.20 a share. Alarmed by the out-of-the-blue proposal and uncertain if the offer was for real, the social media company had adopted a “poison pill,” a defensive maneuver to stop Mr. Musk from accumulating more of its shares.

But by that Sunday, Twitter was running out of choices. Mr. Musk had lined up financing for his offer and was needling the company with his tweets. And after hours of discussions and reviewing Twitter’s plans and finances, the questions the 11 board members were wrestling with — could the company be worth more than $54.20 a share? would any other bidder emerge? — were all leading to one dissatisfying answer: No.

Less than 24 hours later, the blockbuster $44 billion deal was announced.

“What I’ll tell you is that based on the analysis and the perception of risk, certainty and value, the board unanimously decided the offer from Elon represented the best value for our shareholders,” Bret Taylor, Twitter’s chairman, told the company’s more than 7,000 employees on Monday in a call that The New York Times listened to.

A central mystery of Mr. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is how the company’s board went from installing a poison pill to agreeing to sell to him in just 11 days. In most megadeals, the adoption of a poison pill leads to a protracted fight. The tactic is a clear signal that a company intends to battle. Negotiations then drag out. Sometimes buyers walk away.

ny times logoNew York Times, Twitter Isn’t for Quitters, Jeremy W. Peters, April 30, 2022. One thing that unites conservatives and liberals? No matter how loudly they denounce the social media platform, they don’t actually leave it.

It was the moment conservative Twitter tried to cancel itself.

twitter bird CustomMajor social media networks were moving aggressively to crack down on serial spreaders of false and potentially inciting information, as myths about Covid and voter fraud swirled around the 2020 election. Right-wing commentators and activists vowed en masse to delete their dan bonginoaccounts.

They included political figures like the former White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and popular media personalities like Dan Bongino, right, who made a chest-thumping, expletive-flecked rant urging fans to follow him to the alt-social media universe of platforms — they now include Parler, Rumble, Gettr, Gab and the Trump-branded Truth Social — where he said they would be free from the “tech tyrants” of Twitter, Google and Facebook.

It didn’t take.

ny times logoNew York Times, How ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Took On Murder and the Mormon Church, Austin Considine, April 30, 2022 (print ed.). A new FX mini-series adapts the investigative book by Jon Krakauer. He and the creator, Dustin Lance Black, talked about their efforts to get at the truth.

Dustin Lance Black still gets emotional when he talks about the time he left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, around three decades ago. It was hard, he said, because he loved the church. But his Mormon father had run off to marry his own first cousin, leaving behind a wife and three children. And when his stepfather became physically violent, local church leaders circled the wagons and told his mother, who was paralyzed from polio, to leave the police out of it.

So he had questions. And eventually, doubts.

He also still recalls when he first read Under the Banner of Heaven (2003), a book of investigative journalism by Jon Krakauer that is now the basis of an FX mini-series on Hulu, which Black created. Black had come out as gay by then and was trying to make it as a young screenwriter. “Banner” shined a clarifying light into corners of church practice and history that had always been hidden to him.

“It felt so true to me and then had all of these layers that I hadn’t yet examined about my childhood faith — my family’s faith still — and how I had grown up in it,” Black, 47, said in a three-way video call earlier this month. “It was formative for me.”

Krakauer, who was also on the call, had just seen the first several episodes of Black’s series, which debuts on Thursday. His knowledge of Black’s script was minimal; he had no official role in the series. He could tell, he said, that the show’s depictions of how church leaders encouraged women to stay in abusive relationships was rooted in experience.

April 28

 

Collage of photos portraying the career and memoir of Abraham Bolden, recruited by President John F. Kennedy from the Illinois State Police force to become the first African-American on a Secret Service presidential protection detail. Bolden's memoir,

Shown above is a collage of photos portraying the career and memoir of Abraham Bolden, recruited by President John F. Kennedy from the Illinois State Police force to become the first African-American on a Secret Service presidential protection detail. Bolden's memoir, "The Echo from Dealey Plaza," documents how he was framed and convicted on corruption charges in a trial with many highly dubious procedures after he sought to describe publicly security flaws in JFK's Secret Service protections. The Justice Integrity Project, among other researchers, has for years described Bolden as victim of a frame-up who deserves a presidential pardon, wihch President Biden announced on April 26, 2022.

JFK Facts, Commentary: Biden pardons Abraham Bolden, the only Secret Service agent who sought JFK accountability, Jefferson Morley, right, April 27, 2022. The jefferson morley newgood news is that President Biden has pardoned Abraham Bolden, the first African-American Secret Service agent, who was falsely convicted on bribery charges in the 1960s.

The bad news is that initial reports emphasize Bolden was persecuted for the color of his skin, which is true enough but not the whole story.

Bolden was silenced because he raised questions about the causes of JFK’s assassination. For doing his job, he was targeted, defamed, and railroaded.

After Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, Bolden said lax procedures and heavy drinking in JFK’s detail may have contributed to the breakdown of security in Dallas. He also called attention to a possible plot against Kennedy in Chicago in early November 1963.

From British historian John Simkin:

Bolden claimed that in October, 1963, the Chicago Secret Service office received a teletype from the Federal Bureau of Investigation warning that an attempt would be made to kill President John F. Kennedy by a four-man Cuban hit squad when he visited the city on 2nd November. Armed with high-powered rifles, the men from “a dissident Cuban group”. According to investigative journalist Edwin Black, the Secret Service arrested two suspects, however, they were eventually released.

Abraham Bolden later discovered that this information was being kept from the Warren Commission. When he complained about this he was warned “to keep his mouth shut”. Bolden decided to travel to Washington where he telephoned Warren Commission Counsel J. Lee Rankin.

That’s when Bolden was arrested and charged with discussing a bribe with two known counterfeiters. He was convicted on the testimony of a witness who later recanted and spent close to four years in prison.

In fact, the Secret Service and J. Edgar Hoover, the racist FBI director, wanted to blame JFK’s death entirely on Lee Harvey Oswald–the accused assassin who was conveniently dead–and absolve their agents of any responsibility for Kennedy’s violent death. In the end, only one Secret Service agent lost his job after Kennedy’s murder, the only one who served the martyred president faithfully: Abe Bolden.

Bolden chronicled his journey from a ‘first’ to a ‘disgraced’ Secret Service agent in his 2008 memoir ‘The Echo from Dealey Plaza.’”

Nonetheless, ABC News is reporting the story without reference to JFK’s assassination.

Following his conviction in a second trial, key witnesses admitted lying at the prosecutor’s request. Bolden, of Chicago, was denied a retrial and served several years in federal prison. Bolden has maintained his innocence and wrote a book in which he argued he was targeted for speaking out against racist and unprofessional behavior in the Secret Service.

The bad faith of the Secret Service was exposed in 1995 when the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) was seeking documents about the events of 1963. The Secret Service informed the ARRB that it had just destroyed “presidential protection survey reports for some of President Kennedy’s trips in the fall of 1963.” Those records might have given credence to Bolden’s allegations. Instead they were shredded.

Major U.S. news organizations often tip-toe around inconvenient facts of the JFK story that call into question the official theory of a “lone gunman.” The full story of Bolden’s overdue pardon is one such story.

 

royce white youtube

washington post logoWashington Post, How a former NBA player and activist became a far-right media darling, David Gardner, April 28, 2022. On the last Saturday in March, Royce White stepped into a Capitol Hill townhouse and descended the steps into a basement studio. He shook hands with his host and settled into his chair in front of a microphone.

The host asked White to share some of his life story. For a few minutes, it was standard fare for an interview with a former pro athlete. White was raised by a single mother in Minneapolis, he said, before becoming a standout college basketball player and a first-round NBA draft pick. The only unusual thing about the interview at first was the setting. The show was called “War Room: Pandemic,” and its host was Stephen K. Bannon.

Until recently, White was known for his battle with the NBA over mental health policy. In 2013, he asked for accommodations for his generalized anxiety disorder, and the dispute essentially ended his career after he appeared in only a handful of games. Then, after the murder of George Floyd in his hometown of Minneapolis, White led several large-scale protests against police brutality. He was hailed as an emerging civil rights activist.

Since that summer, White, 31, has publicly rebranded himself as a far-right populist. He has embraced conspiracy theories ranging from the origins of the coronavirus to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election and satanic influences in the federal government. He has appeared on Bannon’s programs at least 25 times, and he considers the former Trump strategist — who is under indictment for refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 Commission — a “friend, a mentor and an American hero,” he said. White has, in turn, been warmly embraced by figures on the far right, from Tim Pool to Alex Jones, who appear to find his backstory useful to their causes. “Here you got a Black guy, a basketball player, in Minneapolis, that actually talks about real issues,” Bannon said. “That, I think can resonate.”

In February, White announced that he would run as a Republican in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, a Democratic stronghold held by Rep. Ilhan Omar since 2019. In his opening campaign video, he said his “problem” with Omar was “not that she’s not an American or that she’s not from Minnesota” but that “she’s in on it; she’s a globalist.” A campaign spokesman for Omar, who became a naturalized American citizen in 2000 at 17, declined to comment.

The odds against White unseating Omar are overwhelming: The district hasn’t elected a Republican since 1960. And the long-shot nature of the campaign has left some political observers in the state wondering whether his real aim is to drum up attention for a future as a political commentator. But the radical shift in White’s rhetoric has left some former teammates, coaches, friends and family stumped — and saddened.

 

npc journalism institute logoNational Press Club Journalism Institute, How it became normal for public officials to attack journalists (Washington Post), Edited by National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, April 28, 2022.

■ Media coalition condemns LA County sheriff’s threat to investigate LA Times reporter (RCFP) / California's journalists stand with Alene Tchekmedyian (Media Guild of the West)

■ What Biden will (and won’t) say at the WHCA dinner (POLITICO) / No tests, vaccines required for Hilton WHCA dinner staff (Axios) / ‘Biden felt it was important to attend the dinner to showcase his support for the free press, adding that it stands "in stark contrast to his predecessor, who not only questioned the legitimacy of the press on a nearly daily basis but also never attended the dinner."’ (CNN) / ‘How does this dinner play in Peoria? The press sipping champagne and trading jokes with politicians feels perfectly harmless to Washington’s establishment, but it looks uncomfortably cozy outside the Beltway.’ (Washington Post)

■ ‘An audible gasp’: Quartz, once a high-flying startup, has sold to G/O Media (Nieman Lab) / Quartz will have its fourth owner in 10 years with its sale to G/O media (Poynter) / Quartz tried literally everything in just 10 years (New York) / Read the memo to Quartz staff from CEO and editor-in-chief Zach Seward (Quartz) / Read the memo to G/O staff from CEO Jim Spanfeller (via Ben Mullin)

■ Why this family foundation gives out $100,000 of unrestricted money to select freelance journalists (Poynter)

■ Is she a bully or did she just work for the New York Post? (The Cut) / A top New York Post editor settles her discrimination lawsuit against the tabloid (New York Times)

■ 'She Said': Movie about New York Times’ reporters' Harvey Weinstein exposé revealed at CinemaCon (Deadline)

■ Former ‘GMA’ and ‘World News’ anchor Charlie Gibson returning to ABC News … as a podcast host (Hollywood Reporter)

■ Was Martha Mitchell 'gaslit'? Or 'gaslighted'? Maybe neither (The Washington Post)

Press freedom

■ Indigenous journalists make way for sunshine (Center for Public Integrity)

■ ACLU says Amber Heard’s domestic violence Washington Post op-ed aimed to capitalize on ‘Aquaman’ press (Variety) / How the domestic violence column in the Washington Post that landed Johnny Depp and Amber heard in court was written (Daily Beast)

■ 'Rust' shooting victim's family outraged over set video release, demands police retract it (The Wrap)

April 26

joe biden 4 26 2022

ap logoAssociated Press via ABC News, Biden pardons former Secret Service agent and 2 others, Aamer Madhani, April 26, 2022. President Joe Biden is announcing he has granted the first three pardons of his term.President Joe Biden has granted the first three pardons of his term, providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of federal bribery charges that he tried to sell a copy of an agency file and to two people who were convicted on drug-related charges but went on to become pillars in their communities.

The Democratic president also commuted the sentences of 75 others for nonviolent, drug-related convictions. The White House announced the clemencies Tuesday as it launched a series of job training and reentry programs for those in prison or recently released.

Many of those who received commutations have been serving their sentences on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several were serving lengthy sentences and would have received lesser terms had they been convicted today for the same offenses as a result of the 2018 bipartisan sentencing reform ushered into law by the Trump administration.

“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the clemencies. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.”

Those granted pardons are:

— Abraham Bolden Sr., 86, the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential detail. In 1964, Bolden, who served on President John F. Kennedy's detail, faced federal bribery charges that he attempted to sell a copy of a Secret Service file. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

Following his conviction in a second trial, key witnesses admitted lying at the prosecutor's request. Bolden, of Chicago, was denied a retrial and served several years in federal prison. Bolden has maintained his innocence and wrote a book in which he argued he was targeted for speaking out against racist and unprofessional behavior in the Secret Service.

— Betty Jo Bogans, 51, was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Texas after attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice. Bogans, a single mother with no prior record, received a seven-year sentence. In the years since her release from prison, Bogans has held consistent employment, even while undergoing cancer treatment, and has raised a son.

— Dexter Jackson , 52, of Athens, Georgia, was convicted in 2002 for using his pool hall to facilitate the trafficking of marijuana. Jackson pleaded guilty and acknowledged he allowed his business to be used by marijuana dealers.

After Jackson was released from prison, he converted his business into a cellphone repair service that employs local high school students through a program that provides young adults with work experience. Jackson has built and renovated homes in his community, which has a shortage of affordable housing.

Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have pushed the White House to commute sentences and work harder to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. Biden’s grants of clemency also come as the administration has faced congressional scrutiny over misconduct and the treatment of inmates in the beleaguered federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for inmates serving sentences of home confinement.

Biden, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped shepherd through the 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentences and mass incarceration of Black people.

During his 2020 White House run, Biden vowed to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. and called for nonviolent drug offenders to be diverted to drug courts and treatment.

He also has pushed for better training for law enforcement and called for criminal justice system changes to address disparities that have led to minorities and the poor making up a disproportionate share of the nation's incarcerated population.

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, granted 143 pardons and clemency to 237 during his four years in office.

Trump sought the advice of prison reform advocate Alice Johnson, a Black woman whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense he commuted in 2018. He was also lobbied by celebrity Kim Kardashian as well as advisers inside the White House, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as he weighed applications for clemency.

The Republican used his pardon authority to help several political friends and allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father-in-law of Ivanka Trump.

Among Trump's final acts as president was pardoning his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Al Pirro, the husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Pirro.

Prosecutors alleged that Bannon, who had yet to stand trial when he was pardoned, had duped thousands of donors who believed their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, Bannon allegedly diverted more than $1 million, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. Pirro was convicted in 2000 on tax charges.

With the slate of pardons and commutations announced Tuesday, Biden has issued more grants of clemency than any of the previous five presidents at this point in their terms, according to the White House.

In addition to the grants of clemency, Biden announced several new initiatives that are meant to help formerly incarcerated people gain employment — an issue that his administration is driving home as key to lowering crime rates and preventing recidivism.

The Labor Department is directing $140 million toward programs that offer job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training and pre-release and post-release career counseling and more for youth and incarcerated adults.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes a trio of grant programs that the administration says promote hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals. And the Labor and Justice Departments announced on Tuesday a collaborative plan to provide $145 million over the next year on job skills training as well as individualized employment and reentry plans for people serving time in the Bureau of Prisons.

Biden said the new initiatives are vital to helping the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year get on stable ground.

"Helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime," Biden said.

 

sean hannity uncredited

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Yes sir’: New texts show Hannity promising on-air Trump campaign push, Jeremy Barr, April 26, 2022. Fox News host Sean Hannity promised Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, that he would push an Election Day get-out-the-vote message to his radio show listeners, according to communications within a cache of more than 2,000 text messages obtained by CNN.

“NC gonna be ok?” Hannity wrote in one text to Meadows on Nov. 3, 2020, according to the CNN report published on Monday — an apparent reference to Trump’s electoral prospects in the battleground state of North Carolina.

Meadows then asked for Hannity’s help with messaging, and offered him a slogan to convey to the host’s millions of radio show listeners. “Stress every vote matters,” Meadows wrote back. “Get out and vote. On radio.”

fox news logo SmallHannity responded in the affirmative, writing back, “Yes sir. On it,” before adding, “any place in particular we need a push.”

When Meadows suggested Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada, Hannity replied, “Got it. Everywhere.” (Trump won North Carolina but lost the other three states to President Biden.)

In past years, Fox News has attempted to set some boundaries for its on-air personalities: Even opinion hosts, who could be open about their ideological views, were nonetheless expected to stop short of publicly wading into political contests.

While Hannity has long been an outspoken supporter of Trump during his presidential campaigns and presidency, the messages — which had been turned over by Meadows to the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 — suggest that Hannity saw himself as part of the broader pro-Trump campaign apparatus on Election Day, offering up his radio show audience to help boost Trump’s chances. (CNN wrote that Hannity was one of Meadows’ most frequent pen pals.)

washington post logoWashington Post, In a city full of adjunct faculty members, many struggle to get by, Lauren Lumpkin, April 26, 2022. Part-time instructors across the region cobble together many jobs to make a living wage. Unions that represent them are gaining strength, and protests are becoming more frequent.

 

From left, Sundar Pichai of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter at House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on March 25, 2021 via YouTube.From left, Sundar Pichai of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter testified remotely in March 2021 to the U.S. Congress (Photos via House Energy and Commerce Committee).

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Buying Twitter, Elon Musk Will Face the Reality of His Free-Speech Talk, Shira Ovide, April 26, 2022. Tech’s big shots have learned again and again that free speech isn’t so simple. Our columnist considers what might happen when Mr. Musk owns Twitter.

A decade ago, Twitter executives, including the chief executive, Dick Costolo, declared that the social media site was the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” The stance meant Twitter would defend people’s ability to post whatever they wished and be heard by the world.

Since then, Twitter has been dragged into morasses over disinformation peddlers, governments’ abuse of social media to incite ethnic violence and threats by elected officials to imprison employees over tweets they didn’t like. Like Facebook, YouTube and other internet companies, Twitter was forced to morph from hard-liner on free expression to speech nanny.

twitter bird CustomToday, Twitter has pages upon pages of rules prohibiting content such as material that promotes child sexual exploitation, coordinated government propaganda, offers of counterfeit goods and tweets “wishing for someone to fall victim to a serious accident.”

The past 10 years have seen repeated confrontations between the high-minded principles of Silicon Valley’s founding generation of social media companies and the messy reality of a world in which “free speech” means different things to different people. And now Elon Musk, who on Monday struck a deal to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion, wades directly into that fraught history.

Successive generations of Twitter’s leaders since its founding in 2006 have learned what Mark Zuckerberg and most other internet executives have also discovered: Declaring that “the tweets must flow,” as the Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote in 2011, or “I believe in giving people a voice,” as Mr. Zuckerberg said in a 2019 speech, is easy to say but hard to live up to.

Soon, Mr. Musk will be the one confronting the gap between an idealized view of free speech and the zillion tough decisions that must be made to let everyone have a say.

Mr. Musk is a relative dilettante on the topic and hasn’t yet tackled the difficult trade-offs in which giving one person a voice may silence the expression of others, and in which an almost-anything-goes space for expression might be overrun with spam, nudity, propaganda from autocrats, the bullying of children and violent incitements.

If Twitter wants to pull back from moderating speech on its site, will people be less willing to hang out where they might be harassed by those who disagree with them and swamped by pitches for cryptocurrency, fake Gucci handbags or pornography?

The 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote that same year gave Silicon Valley executives, U.S. elected officials and the public a peek into what can go wrong when social media companies opt not to wade too deeply into what people say on their sites. Russian propagandists amplified the views of deeply divided Americans and Britons, further polarizing the electorate.

April 25

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the Implosion of CNN+, John Koblin, Michael M. Grynbaum and Benjamin Mullin, April 25, 2022 (print ed.). Seen as the future of CNN, the streaming channel was suddenly killed. Its next owner, Discovery, had concerns but was constrained in guiding a competitor.

David Zaslav had been chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery for all of a few hours when he learned he had a problem.

cnn logoOn April 11, the day his newly merged company began trading on Nasdaq, Mr. Zaslav greeted New York employees with pasta and ice cream bars, delivering an impromptu rallying cry to his new charges. He was on his way to Washington, next stop on the coronation tour, when a call came in.

His team had just gotten its first look at data from CNN+, the much-promoted subscription streaming service started two weeks before, and the news was grim. Fewer than 10,000 viewers were watching at any given time, despite a multimillion dollar ad campaign and big hires like Chris Wallace. They were recommending a cold-eyed review.

Three days later, shortly after Mr. Zaslav appeared with Oprah Winfrey for a rah-rah company town hall, he gathered his deputies inside a low-slung stucco building in Burbank, Calif., on the Warner Bros. studio lot, and said he agreed with their conclusion: shut it down.

ny times logoNew York Times, Twitter Nears a Deal to Sell Itself to Elon Musk, Lauren Hirsch, Mike Isaac and Kate Conger, Updated April 25, 2022. The company’s board met with Mr. Musk to discuss his offer to take the social network private. An agreement could come as soon as Monday.

elon musk 2015Twitter is nearing a deal to sell itself to Elon Musk, right, two people with knowledge of the situation said, a move that would unite the world’s richest man with the influential social networking service. An agreement could be announced as soon as Monday, the people said.

Twitter’s board was negotiating with Mr. Musk into the early hours of Monday over his unsolicited bid to buy the company, after he began lining up $46.5 billion in financing for the offer last week, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss confidential information. The two sides were discussing details including a timeline to close any potential deal and any fees that would be paid if an agreement were signed and then fell twitter bird Customapart, they said.

The discussions followed a Twitter board meeting on Sunday morning to discuss Mr. Musk’s offer, the people said. Obtaining commitments for the financing was a turning point for how the board viewed Mr. Musk’s bid of $54.20 a share, enabling the company’s 11 board members to seriously consider his offer, the people said.

Twitter’s stock rose more than 5 percent in premarket trading, to about $51.50 a share.

An agreement is not yet final and may still fall apart, but what had initially seemed to be a highly improbable deal appeared to be nearing an endgame. The situation involving Twitter and Mr. Musk remains fluid and fast-moving, the people with knowledge of the situation said.

April 23

AlterNet via RawStory, Alex Jones attorney under fire for dropping pants and using the N-word during comedy routine, Meaghan Ellis, April 23, 2022. Alex Jones attorney under fire for dropping pants and using the N-word during comedy routine

The attorney for right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is at the center of controversy amid the emergence of footage from his recent comedy set. According to HuffPost, Norm Pattis is seen in the comedy set tossing around the N-word with his pants down.

In a standup routine in East Haven, Conn., on March 21, Pattis (a former editorial writer during the 1980s for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut) could be heard saying, “You just can’t say certain words, they’re off-limits. And one of those words is n****r.”

Footage of Pattis' stand-up routine surfaced this week. It featured him rambling and ranting about a number of controversial topics including the Black Lives Matter movement. At one point in the segment, he made racial slurs and homophobic remarks with his pants down to his ankles. Pattis also made outdated remarks about former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's iconic 2016 silent protest during the national anthem.

As for his N-word portion of the segment, comedian Teddy Ren spoke with HuffPost to share details about what really transpired. Although Pattis initially danced around the offensive word, Ren notes that the entire mood of the segment changed when he actually said it.

“I wanna watch a ballgame and there’s Colin Kaepernick, ‘I’m in church,’” Pattis said of Kaepernick. “I don’t wanna hear about that, I don’t wanna hear about Black Lives Matter. You know, even the commercials are fucking political now.”

He also said, “But anyhow, the N-word, right, can I say the N-word? I guess not, I’m gonna get beat up in a parking lot, but I’m going to try. Ready? Ready?”

“Nnnniii...” Pattis teased.

Ren also explained how the segment shifted at the end. “You see, when he gets to the very end of it, there is no joke,” Ren said of Pattis’ remarks. “He just pauses, and he has a lot of charisma onstage ― never seen him drop charisma ― but in this moment he kind of seemed like he was second-guessing it."

He added, "It was like I watched his body glitch. And then he said it, and it’s not even a joke. You literally didn’t even deliver a joke. It felt like he wanted to say it because he knew I was right there.”

As the video continues to circulate, Black Lives Matter activists are pushing back with deep criticism of the attorney. Ivelisse Correa, an organizer for the local anti-racism organization, Black Lives Matter 860, shared her opinion with HuffPost.

“He can’t blame this one on Ambien,” Correa said in reference to famed comedian Roseanne Barr’s excuse at posting a racist tweet. “I’d like to know why he feels that that was appropriate in any context. This isn’t about comedy, or the spirit of being edgy. As we grow as a society, we learn that things are no longer appropriate: homophobia, sexism, racism. Those things have also fallen out of favor in comedy. So attempting to resurrect that, as someone who claims to be for civil liberties, is disgusting.”

April 22

ny times logoNew York Times, Hackers Claim to Target Russian Institutions in Barrage of Cyberattacks and Leaks, Kate Conger and David E. Sanger, April 22, 2022. Hackers claim to have broken into dozens of Russian institutions over the past two months, including the Kremlin’s internet censor and one of its primary intelligence services, leaking emails and internal documents to the public in an apparent hack-and-leak campaign that is remarkable in its scope.

The hacking operation comes as the Ukrainian government appears to have begun a parallel effort to punish Russia by publishing the names of supposed Russian soldiers who operated in Bucha, the site of a massacre of civilians, and agents of the F.S.B., a major Russian intelligence agency, along with identifying information like dates of birth and passport numbers. It is unclear how the Ukrainian government obtained those names or whether they were part of the hacks.

Much of the data released by the hackers and the Ukrainian government is by its nature impossible to verify. As an intelligence agency, the F.S.B. would never confirm a list of its officers. Even the groups distributing the data have warned that the files swiped from Russian institutions could contain malware, manipulated or faked information, and other tripwires.

Some of the data may also be recycled from previous leaks and presented as new, researchers have said, in an attempt to artificially increase the hackers’ credibility. Or some of it could be manufactured — something that has happened before in the ongoing cyberconflict between Russia and Ukraine, which dates back more than a decade.

ny times logoNew York Times, E.U. Takes Aim at Social Media’s Harms With Landmark New Law, Adam Satariano, April 22, 2022. The Digital Services Act would force Meta, Google and others to combat misinformation and restrict certain online ads. How European officials will wield it remains to be seen.

european union logo rectangleThe European Union was nearing a deal on Friday on landmark legislation that would force Facebook, YouTube and other internet services to combat misinformation, disclose how their services amplify divisive content and stop targeting online ads based on a person’s ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

The law, called the Digital Services Act, is intended to address social media’s societal harms by requiring companies to more aggressively police their platforms for illicit content or risk billions of dollars in fines. Tech companies would be facebook logocompelled to set up new policies and procedures to remove flagged hate speech, terrorist propaganda and other material defined as illegal by countries within the European Union.

The law aims to end an era of self-regulation in which tech companies set their own policies about what content could stay up or be taken down. It stands out from other regulatory attempts by addressing online speech, an area that is largely off limits in the United States because of First Amendment protections. Google, which owns YouTube, and Meta, the owner of Facebook google logo customand Instagram, would face yearly audits for “systemic risks” linked to their businesses, while Amazon would confront new rules to stop the sale of illegal products.

The Digital Services Act is part of a one-two punch by the European Union to address the societal and economic effects of the tech giants. Last month, the 27-nation bloc agreed to a different sweeping law, the Digital Markets Act, to counter what regulators see as anticompetitive behavior by the biggest tech firms, including their grip over app stores, online advertising and internet shopping.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: As Europe Approves New Tech Laws, the U.S. Falls Further Behind, Cecilia Kang, April 22, 2022. Federal privacy bills, security legislation and antitrust laws to address the power of the tech giants have all failed to advance in Congress, despite hand wringing and shows of bipartisan support.

european union logo rectangleIn just the last few years, Europe has seen a landmark law for online privacy take effect, approved sweeping regulations to curb the dominance of the tech giants and on Friday was nearing a deal on new legislation to protect its citizens from harmful online content.

For those keeping score, that’s Europe: three. United States: zero.

The United States may be the birthplace of the iPhone and the most widely used search engine and social network, and it could also bring the world into the so-called metaverse. But global leadership on tech regulations is taking place more than 3,000 miles from twitter bird CustomWashington, by European leaders representing 27 nations with 24 languages, who have nonetheless been able to agree on basic online protections for their 450 million or so citizens.

In the United States, Congress has not passed a single piece of comprehensive regulation to protect internet consumers and amazon logo smallto rein in the power of its technology giants.

It’s not for lack of trying. Over 25 years, dozens of federal privacy bills have been proposed and then ultimately dropped without bipartisan support. With every major hack of a bank or retailer, lawmakers have introduced data breach and security bills, all of which have withered on the vine. A flurry of speech bills have sunk into the quicksand of partisan disagreements over freedoms of expression. And antitrust bills to curtail the power of Apple, Amazon, Google and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, have sat in limbo amid fierce lobbying opposition.

April 21

 

"Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander, center, and his co-organizer, Infowars radio host, Alex Jones, to his right.

ny times logoNew York Times, Alex Jones Reaches Out to Justice Dept. About Jan. 6 Interview, Alan Feuer, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, April 21, 2022 (print ed.). The effort by the Trump ally to get an immunity deal is the latest sign of progress in the investigation, which recently brought on a well-regarded prosecutor. The federal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election appears to be gaining traction, with the Justice Department having brought in a well-regarded new prosecutor to help run the inquiry and a high-profile witness seeking a deal to provide information.

Alex Jones, the host of the conspiracy-driven media outlet Infowars and a key player in the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement, is in discussions with the Justice Department about an agreement to detail his role in the rally near the White House last Jan. 6 that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

Through his lawyer, Mr. Jones said he has given the government a formal letter conveying “his desire to speak to federal prosecutors about Jan. 6.”

The lawyer, Norm Pattis, maintained that Mr. Jones had not engaged in any “criminal wrongdoing” that day when — chanting slogans about 1776 — he helped lead a crowd of Trump supporters in a march to the Capitol as violence was erupting.
As a condition of being interviewed by federal investigators, Mr. Jones, who is known for his rants about the “Deep State” and its supposed control over national affairs, has requested immunity from prosecution.

“He distrusts the government,” Mr. Pattis said.

While convincing federal prosecutors to grant him immunity could be an uphill climb for Mr. Jones, his discussions with the Justice Department suggest that the investigation into the postelection period could be gathering momentum.

Two weeks ago, another prominent Stop the Steal organizer, Ali Alexander, a close associate of Mr. Jones, revealed that he had received a subpoena from a federal grand jury that is seeking information on a broad swath of people — rally planners, members of Congress and others close to former President Donald J. Trump — connected to political events that took place in the run-up to Jan. 6. Mr. Alexander, who marched with Mr. Jones to the Capitol that day, has said that he intends to comply with the subpoena.

Several months ago, the department quietly took another significant step, adding Thomas Windom, a career federal prosecutor from Maryland, to help in the expanded Jan. 6 investigation, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Politico, Justice Department, Sandy Hook families question Infowars bankruptcy, Josh Gerstein, April 21, 2022. A federal judge is asked to postpone Friday's hearing on an effort by the right-wing provocateur Alex Jones to ward off creditors.

The Justice Department and attorneys for families of victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting are questioning the legitimacy of attempts by right-wing talk show host Alex Jones to put several businesses in his media empire into bankruptcy just as a trial was set to open in Texas, where he faced the possibility of being ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages.

Both the families and a Justice Department office asked a federal bankruptcy judge in Houston to put off an initial, emergency hearing scheduled for Friday morning to address Chapter 11 filings earlier this week by three entities linked to Jones’ Infowars brand: InfoW, IW Health and Prison Planet TV.

The requests to delay the hearing said that the bankruptcy filings seemed designed to halt long-standing defamation litigation in Texas and Connecticut over Jones’ bizarre claims that the 20 children and six adults killed in the shocking 2012 elementary school shooting had somehow staged their own deaths and that their families were “crisis actors.”

The Justice Department’s Office of the U.S. Trustee told Judge Christopher Lopez the structure of Jones’ filing “may demonstrate these cases are an abuse of the bankruptcy system.” The government submission questioned why Jones had not filed for personal bankruptcy and why another business he controls, Free Speech Systems, was not included in the filings earlier this week.

Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families made similar arguments that Jones is making an “illegitimate” attempt to dodge or delay the financial consequences of his false claims about the 2012 attack.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine, machine, Taylor Lorenz, April 21, 2022 (print ed.). A popular Twitter account has morphed into a social media phenomenon, spreading anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and shaping public discourse.

In just one year, the Twitter account has helped steer the outrage machine at the center of right-wing messaging and legislation.

On March 8, a Twitter account called Libs of TikTok posted a video of a woman teaching sex education to children in Kentucky, calling the woman in the video a “predator.” The next evening, the same clip was featured on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program, prompting the host to ask, “When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?”

Libs of TikTok reposts a steady stream of TikTok videos and social media posts, primarily from LGBTQ+ people, often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage. Videos shared from the account quickly find their way to the most influential names in right-wing media. The account has tiktok logo square Customemerged as a powerful force on the Internet, shaping right-wing media, impacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and influencing millions by posting viral videos aimed at inciting outrage among the right.

The anonymous account’s impact is deep and far-reaching. Its content is amplified by high-profile media figures, politicians and right-wing influencers. Its tweets reach millions, with influence spreading far beyond its more than 648,000 Twitter followers. Libs of TikTok has become an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse, and the content it surfaces shows a direct correlation with the recent push in legislation and rhetoric directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

“Libs of TikTok is basically acting as a wire service for the broader right-wing media ecosystem,” said Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group. “It’s been shaping public policy in a real way, and affecting teachers’ ability to feel safe in their classrooms.”

The account has been promoted by podcast host Joe Rogan, right, and it’s been featured in the New York Post, the Federalist, the Post Millennial and a slew of other right-wing news sites. Meghan McCain has retweeted it. The online influencer Glenn Greenwald has amplified it to his 1.8 million Twitter followers joe rogan twitterwhile calling himself the account’s “Godfather.”

Last Thursday, the woman behind the account appeared anonymously on Tucker Carlson’s show to complain about being temporarily suspended for violating Twitter’s community guidelines. Fox News often creates news packages around the content that Libs of TikTok has surfaced.

“The role I’ve seen this account playing is finding new characters for right-wing propaganda,” said Gillian Branstetter, a media strategist for the ACLU. “It’s relying on the endless stream of content from TikTok and the Internet to cast any individual trans person as a new villain in their story.”

Throughout its increasingly popular posts and despite numerous media appearances, the account has remained anonymous. But the identity of the operator of Libs of TikTok is traceable through a complex online history and reveals someone who has been plugged into right-wing discourse for two years and is now helping to drive it.
An account in search of a voice — and a big break from Joe Rogan

Chaya Raichik had been working as a real estate salesperson in Brooklyn when, in early November 2020, she created the account that would eventually become Libs of TikTok.

Under her first handle @shaya69830552, she minimized covid, cast doubt on the election results and promoted a dubious story about a child sex trafficking ring. On Nov. 23, 2020, Raichik changed handles, this time going by @shaya_ray and identifying herself publicly as a real estate investor in Brooklyn. She began doubling down on election fraud conspiracies using QAnon-related language. Early that December, she joked about launching a clothing line titled “voter fraud is real.”

 

ron desantis hands out

washington post logoWashington Post, Disney to lose tax status in Fla. as lawmakers side with governor in rift over teaching of LGBTQ issues, Lori Rozsa, April 21, 2022. Florida’s Republican-led state legislature on Thursday passed a bill sought by Gov. Ron DeSantis to cancel Walt Disney World’s special tax district in Florida.

The speedy approval of the bill — it was filed three days ago, during a special session that was called for a different reason — was decried by state Democrats. Sen. Tina Polsky (D) called it “an enormous decision based on spite and revenge governance.”

disney logoThe House did not debate the bill after Democrats held a sit-in to protest a map that DeSantis had ordered which redraws Florida’s congressional districts and cuts the number of minority access districts in half. House speaker Chris Sprowls (R) said that if representatives couldn’t be “civil,” he would cancel the debate and go straight to the vote, which he did.

DeSantis (R) has been feuding with the Walt Disney Company for weeks, ever since CEO Bob Chapek issued a statement criticizing a parental rights law that DeSantis championed and paused donations to Florida politicians. That law prohibits discussions about gender-related issues in public school classes up to third grade, and potentially through high school.

The Disney law will dissolve the entertainment giant’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created in 1967 after Walt Disney bought 40 square miles of land in Central Florida to build the Magic Kingdom. Disney lobbyists said the project was too massive for local governments to handle, so legislators gave Disney the authority to run the development as a quasi-governmental agency.

The law doesn’t take effect until June 2023, giving local governments near Disney 14 months to decide how to manage and pay for the huge property’s public services, such as road maintenance and sewage treatment.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP’s cozy ties with Big Business unravel as DeSantis goes after Disney, Todd C. Frankel, April 21, 2022. Many Republican leaders are threatening to punish companies, alleging that these firms should be more supportive of a conservative agenda. Six years ago, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence scrambled to change a “religious freedom” bill he had just signed into law because corporate America objected.

Apple and Salesforce opposed the bill, which seemed to allow businesses to discriminate against gay men and lesbians. Eli Lilly, a big employer in the state, called it “bad for Indiana and for business.” Indiana’s Chamber of Commerce said the law was “entirely unnecessary.”

disney logoLegislators listened. The Republican-controlled statehouse quickly revised the bill to clarify that it could not be used to deny service based on sexual orientation. Pence signed it. And a fight between two longtime allies — companies and Republicans — was over.

But Pence’s capitulation can feel like a postcard from a distant era as growing numbers of state and federal Republican leaders today seem eager to clash with the country’s biggest corporations over bills on similar hot-button issues.

DeSantis proposes dissolving special tax status for Disney World

Last year, the GOP attacked entities such as Delta Air Lines and Major League Baseball for standing against Georgia’s restrictive voting law. Citigroup was threatened for taking action seen as opposing Texas’s recent abortion law. And Disney’s complaints about Florida’s new law limiting classroom discussion of sexual identity has led to Republicans targeting the Magic Kingdom’s perks. On Thursday, the GOP-controlled Florida legislature passed a bill that would eliminate Disney’s special district status, sending it to the governor. The implications of this major change remain unclear.

Despite the onslaught, companies are not backing down — goaded by heightened expectations from customers and employees. Citigroup did not rescind its offer to help its Texas workers obtain out-of-state abortion services after the new restrictive law there, despite the threat from a state GOP representative to block the financial company from underwriting municipal bonds.

The result is fresh cracks in the once-sturdy relationship between companies and a business-friendly GOP.

This strange new state of play is starkest in the clash between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with presidential ambitions, and the Walt Disney Co., a theme park and entertainment giant with 80,000 workers in the Sunshine State alone. There is little normal about Florida’s governor going after the state’s most powerful company.

The formally titled Parental Rights in Education bill, signed by DeSantis earlier this month, was instantly polarizing.

DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw labeled it the “Anti-Grooming Bill.”

Disney was hit for not doing enough to stop the legislation and protect its LGBTQ workers. Disney executives apologized. They promised to halt contributions to Florida politicians while they reexamined priorities. Then the company said the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law” and promised to push for its repeal.

Even after signing the bill, DeSantis kept taking shots at Disney. He said the company had “crossed the line.”

 

warner brothers discovery logo

washington post logoWashington Post, CNN’s new streaming service, CNN Plus, is already set to shut down, about a month after launch, Jeremy Barr, April 21, 2022. Less than a month after CNN launched with great fanfare a $100 million streaming service that represented its bet on the future of news consumption, new parent company Warner Bros. Discovery has decided to shut it down at the end of April.

CNN Plus offered a dozen new shows from veteran CNN stars and newly hired marquee talents, such as former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, that could be watched live or on-demand, as well as a substantial library of original documentaries, such as the food-and-travel programs hosted by Stanley Tucci and the late Anthony Bourdain.

cnn logoYet the service got off to a slow start, as the cable-news giant found difficulty convincing enough customers to pay the $5.99 monthly cost. On Thursday, new CNN chief executive Chris Licht stunned employees with the announcement it would shutter next week.

“While today’s decision is incredibly difficult, it is the right one for the long-term success of CNN,” Licht wrote in a memo to staff obtained by The Washington Post, adding that it would allow the company to “refocus resources” on CNN’s journalism.

A veteran producer described the announcement’s impact as “just complete shock across the network.” The producer, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that many CNN employees expected “some sort of reimagining” of the service but chris wallacenot a complete shutdown.

The service seemed to be in jeopardy almost from the beginning, but particularly after Discovery Inc. formally took control of the CNN brand on April 11.

The network has not released any data on the number of people who have subscribed, but early media reports suggested that the number was lower than expected considering the overall cost of the project. Besides Wallace, right, CNN Plus was building new shows around several other talents hired away from prominent news organizations, including Kasie Hunt of MSNBC and Audie Cornish of NPR.

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk says he’s lined up $46.5B for his proposed Twitter purchase, Faiz Siddiqui, Aaron Gregg and Douglas MacMillan, April 21, 2022. In an SEC filing, the Tesla CEO also says he is considering a tender offer to acquire all outstanding shares of the social media platform.

elon musk 2015Elon Musk, right, says he has secured $46.5 billion in financing to acquire Twitter, signaling the Tesla CEO is serious about his bid to acquire to the social media firm — and intends to back it up with his personal fortune.

The Tesla CEO’s offer, made public in a filing Thursday, draws on a combination of loans and equity financing, but questions remain about how he will structure the deal and how Twitter’s board will respond. Still, it suggests Musk is willing to risk some of the lucrative Tesla shares that have made him the world’s richest person to acquire the platform he has described as a modern-day town square.

“It signals an increasing level of seriousness,” said Donna Hitscherich, a member of the finance faculty at Columbia Business School. “You’re ratcheting up the resolve with the hopes that at one point the other side will come to the table.”

In the Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Musk listed three sources for the offer. The first two would be loans from investment bank Morgan Stanley, worth $13 billion and $12.5 billion respectively. The third source is described as an equity commitment of $21 billion from Musk himself.

But it leaves him responsible for delivering $21 billion in cash on his own while providing no details on how he will come up with the money. Musk is ranked by Bloomberg as the richest man in the world ― with a net worth of $249 billion as of Wednesday. Much of his wealth is tied up in Tesla and the rocket building company SpaceX, which he also helms as CEO.

Meanwhile, some Tesla investors have bristled at Musk’s proposal because it distracts from his responsibilities as CEO and potentially takes momentum away from the world’s most valuable automaker.

April 20

 

ron desantis hands out

washington post logoWashington Post, DeSantis proposes dissolving special tax status for Disney World, Lori Rozsa, April 20, 2022 (print ed.). Florida’s governor, shown above in a file photo, is seeking to undo a 55-year-old compact that helped create the Magic Kingdom.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is following through on his promise to try and cancel a 1967 deal between the state and the Walt Disney Co. that could leave the company on the hook for millions of dollars a year in local taxes — and with less autonomy over its property.

disney logoOn Tuesday, DeSantis announced that lawmakers in Tallahassee for a special legislative session would take up the issue. The proposal follows weeks of public attacks on Disney by the governor, who has criticized the company for opposing a new Florida law that limits how educators discuss LGBTQ issues in the classroom.

Legislators “will be considering the Congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” DeSantis said at a news conference in The Villages, a retirement community north of Disney.

A proclamation signed by DeSantis states that “it is necessary to review such independent special districts to ensure that they are appropriately serving the public interest.”

It is unclear what impact the proposal would have on Disney World’s operations. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

The bill to eliminate the special district passed GOP-majority state Senate and House committees Tuesday afternoon. Democrats called it an act of retaliation by a powerful governor that could have unintended consequences.

“If this isn’t the grandest form of bullying that I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is,” state Sen. Janet Cruz (D) said. “I have this vision of a mousetrap that we’ve created, and I see us leaning on the neck of the mouse for 12 months, just to step on Mickey’s neck.”

But the bill’s supporters pushed back. Sen. Jennifer Bradley said the legislation, which specifies Disney without naming it, “is not an attempt to villainize” the company but to reassess its legal authority after more than a half-century.

“They are not governed by a different set of rules as everyone else. They make their own rules,” said Bradley, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “Those are incredibly broad powers that have been brought to light.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Randy Fine (R) tweeted soon after DeSantis’s announcement that “Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is the official name of the 25,000-acre property that Walt Disney negotiated to buy in Central Florida in the mid-1960s. Disney sought as much control as possible over the land, and its lobbyists worked with state legislators to create the special taxing district. It is one of 1,800 special districts in Florida and allows Disney to oversee its property — which spans two counties and about 40 square miles — as a quasi-governmental agency, building roads and collecting taxes.

Republican sponsors of the legislation couldn’t answer questions Tuesday about whether the measure would leave local governments responsible for billions of dollars in infrastructure and other responsibilities in the district that Disney now pays for on its own.

The creation of Disney World helped launch the thriving Central Florida theme park industry, which draws an estimated 70 million tourists a year. About 20 million people visit Disney World annually, making it the most-visited theme park in the world.

Democrats have long been critical of the sway Disney holds over lawmakers. The company has donated millions to politicians in Florida, mostly members of the GOP, including DeSantis. But they say unraveling the company’s authority over its vast properties should be done more carefully.

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk’s talk of a Twitter takeover masks Tesla’s troubles in China, Faiz Siddiqui, April 20, 2022. Some are concerned the Tesla CEO may be stretching himself too thin. The world is distracted by Elon Musk’s hostile takeover bid for Twitter. That may be serving the Tesla CEO’s purposes well.

Tesla’s Shanghai “Gigafactory,” where it makes some of its electric sedans and crossover SUVs, has been shuttered for weeks as a result of China’s “zero covid” policy, something the company is expected to address on its earnings call when it reports first quarter results later Wednesday. Tesla has also come under fire for no longer including a standard charging cable with its cars, a move that hints at possible supply chain woes — and amounts to what analysts are calling a backdoor price increase.

elon musk 2015Meanwhile, Musk, right, has been consumed in recent weeks with a surprise push to take over the social media platform he uses for company announcements and communicating with his more than 82 million followers.

china flagAnalysts and investors have expressed concern that Musk is stretched too thin — not only by the demands of Tesla, which has opened multiple new factories in recent weeks, but other responsibilities as CEO of rocket builder SpaceX and several smaller companies. If he succeeds in his bid to buy Twitter, Musk will have a historic, and largely unprecedented, catalogue of tech companies under his helm even after questioning last year how long he could keep up with overflowing demands.

Musk praised Tesla’s performance despite the challenges in a tweet this month.

“This was an *exceptionally* difficult quarter due to supply chain interruptions & China zero Covid policy,” he wrote. “Outstanding work by Tesla team & key suppliers saved the day.”

Tesla said at the time that it delivered more than 300,000 vehicles in the quarter, the first of 2022, positioning its numbers as a strong result “despite ongoing supply chain challenges and factory shutdowns.”

Analysts expect Tesla to report strong first quarter numbers, but those will largely be a footnote as the company faces questions over how the China closure will affect its year. Tesla has called the Shanghai factory its main export hub, making it a critical site for the carmaker that is largely credited with ushering in the era of electric vehicles.

Over the course of a decade, Tesla went from a niche automaker delivering tens of thousands of vehicles to more than 936,000 in 2021. Along the way, it has faced profitability concerns, regulatory fights and production challenges that posed massive hurdles for Musk.

ny times logoNew York Times, Elon Musk Races to Secure Financing for a Twitter Bid, Lauren Hirsch, April 20, 2022 (print ed.). The world’s richest man is trying to shore up debt financing, including potentially taking out a loan against his shares of Tesla, so he can buy Twitter.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank working with Mr. Musk on the potential deal, has been calling banks and other potential investors to shore up financing for the offer, four people with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk is first focused on raising debt and has not yet begun to seek equity financing for his bid, one of the people said.

twitter bird CustomMr. Musk is evaluating various packages of debt, including more senior debt known as preferred debt and a loan against his shares of Tesla, the electric carmaker that he runs, two of the people said. Apollo Global Management, an alternative asset manager, is among the parties considering offering debt financing in a bid for Twitter. The equity he needs is likely to be sizable.

Mr. Musk is aiming to pull together a fully funded offer as soon as this week, one of the people said, though that timeline is far from certain. The people with knowledge of the discussions were not authorized to speak publicly because the details are confidential and in flux.

It is unclear if Mr. Musk’s efforts will be successful, but they go toward addressing a key question about his Twitter bid. Last week, Mr. Musk, the world’s wealthiest man, made an unsolicited offer for the social media company, saying that he wanted to take it private and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely on the service. But his offer was regarded skeptically by Wall Street because he did not include details about how he would come up with the money for the deal.

 

julian assange stella morris son gabriel righ max belmarsh prison irish examiner com

Stella Moris and son Gabriel, right, and Max leave Belmarsh prison in 2021 after visiting her partner and their father, Julian Assange. His two children could lose their father for the rest of their lives [Source: irishexaminer.com].

ny times logoNew York Times, British Court Brings Julian Assange One Step Closer to Extradition, Megan Specia, April 20, 2022. The court formally ordered the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder to the United States, but it still needs approval from a British cabinet minister and his defense can appeal to her directly.

The order to extradite Mr. Assange, who is being sought by the United States in connection with charges under the Espionage Act, must be signed by the British home secretary, Priti Patel. Mr. Assange has four weeks to appeal to her directly, and he also has the right to take his case to the English High Court after she issues her decision.

julian assange facts wikileaks CustomWednesday’s court decision, delivered in a brief hearing that saw Mr. Assange dial in by video call from a prison in London, was the latest blow to his attempts to fend off his extradition. Protesters, as they have done throughout his legal battle, gathered outside the courtroom in central London.

Britain’s Supreme Court ruled last month that Mr. Assange could not appeal an earlier decision that paved the way for his extradition, bouncing the decision back to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, which made the decision on Wednesday.

Ms. Patel will now decide whether to order the extradition or refuse the request, but Mr. Assange’s defense team also is entitled to make submissions to her before her final decision is made. His legal team has until May 18 to do so. The Home Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Assange was charged in the United States under the Espionage Act in connection with obtaining and publishing classified government documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on WikiLeaks in 2010. Those files were leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former military intelligence analyst.

Mr. Assange has waged a prolonged legal battle against his extradition following his arrest in London in 2019, after he spent seven years holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in an effort to avoid detention.

His defenders have sought to present the case as a matter of press freedom, and his extradition to the United States could raise major issues about First Amendment rights, experts say.

“The extradition of Julian Assange would also be devastating for press freedom and for the public, who have a right to know what their governments are doing in their name,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

Then-Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump attends a religious service in Detroit during the 2016 campaign with his aide Omarosa Manigault Newman (Reuters photo by Carlo Alegri).  Then-Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump attends a church service in Detroit on Sept. 3 during the 2016 campaign with his aide Omarosa Manigault Newman (Reuters photo by Carlo Alegri).

Then-Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump attends a church service in Detroit on Sept. 3 during the 2016 campaign with his aide Omarosa Manigault Newman (Reuters photo by Carlo Alegri). Her book became a tell-all No. 1 national best-seller.

CNBC, Trump campaign must pay $1.3M in legal fees to ‘Apprentice’ star Omarosa Manigault Newman in White House book lawsuit, Dan Mangan, April 20 cnbc logo2022. The presidential campaign of Donald Trump has been ordered by an arbitrator to pay $1.3 million in legal fees to Omarosa Manigault Newman in connection with a dispute over a book about her tenure as a White House advisor, her lawyer said.

The awarding of legal feels comes nearly seven months after the arbitrator ruled in Manigault Newman’s favor that a confidentiality agreement she signed while working on Trump’s 2016 campaign was invalid under New York law.

Manigault Newman first gained notoriety for her role as a villain-esque contestant on the first season of Trump’s former reality television show “The Apprentice.”

An arbitrator ordered Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to pay $1.3 million in legal fees to Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former “Apprentice” star whom the campaign unsuccessfully sued over a book about her tenure as a White House advisor, her lawyer said Wednesday.

omarosa manigault newman unhinged coverThe award comes nearly seven months after the arbitrator ruled in Manigault Newman’s favor that a confidentiality agreement she signed while working on Trump’s 2016 campaign was invalid under New York law.

The campaign in 2018 had filed a complaint with the American Arbitration Association in New York against her claiming that she violated that nondisclosure agreement with a scathing tell-all book titled Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House.

Manigault Newman’s lawyer John Phillips, in a statement, said the decision was the “largest known attorney fee award against a Political Campaign or President we can find and hopefully will send a message that weaponized litigation will not be tolerated and empower other lawyers to stand up and fight for the whistleblower and vocal critic against the oppressive machine.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Johnny Depp takes stand, says Amber Heard’s abuse allegations are untrue, ‘heinous,’ Emily Yahr and Sonia Rao, April 20, 2022. Johnny Depp took the stand Tuesday in his defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard, telling a Fairfax County jury that he was appearing before it because of the actress’s “heinous” and “disturbing” allegations of abuse and that he wanted everyone to know the claims were “not based in any species of truth.”

Though Depp acknowledged there were arguments between them, he said, “Never did I, myself, reach the point of striking Ms. Heard in any way, nor have I ever struck any woman in my life.”

Heard and Depp were married in February 2015 after dating for more than three years. In May 2016, Heard filed for divorce and a restraining order, alleging that Depp had physically abused her. They settled their divorce months later. The actor is suing Heard for $50 million for defamation over a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post calling herself a survivor of domestic abuse, which Depp says caused further damage and irreparably destroyed his reputation and career. Heard countersued him for $100 million for defamation after his lawyer called her claims a hoax.

Depp’s attorneys filed the suit in Virginia because The Post’s printing presses and online servers are in Fairfax County. (The Post is not a defendant in the case.) The state is also known for weaker anti-defamation laws.

He spoke in front of the jury and about 100 spectators in the courtroom; the testimony was also streamed online. A murmur rippled through the crowd when his attorney called “John C. Depp” to the stand. Depp said that back in 2016, Heard’s accusations “permeated” the entertainment industry, and, after being picked up in the media and on social media, became assumed as fact.

“Since I knew there was no truth to it whatsoever, I felt it my responsibility to stand up not only for myself . . . but stand up for my children, who at the time were 14 and 16,” Depp said, referring to his children Jack and Lily-Rose, whom he shares with his ex-partner of 14 years, Vanessa Paradis. He spoke about a People magazine cover at the time that showed Heard’s bruised face and said the story kept multiplying from there.

“It was my responsibility, I felt, to not only attempt to clear my name for the sake of — for many reasons, but I wanted to clear my children of this horrid thing that they were having to read about their father, which was untrue,” he said.

Heard’s lawyers have repeatedly pointed to Depp’s history of alcohol and drug use, saying that his substance issues are what ruined his career and that he’s an “obsessed ex-husband hellbent on revenge.” Depp said that Heard has “grossly embellished” his “quote-unquote substance abuse,” and that she’s using the secrets of his past against him. Depp said he first tried “nerve pills” at age 11 when he saw they calmed down his mother, and tried every drug imaginable by age 15.

  • Washington Post, What to know about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial

washington post logoWashington Post, Netflix loses 200,000 subscribers after Ukraine-linked Russia pullout, Andrew Jeong, April 20, 2022. For the first time in a decade, the streaming service said that it had lost more paying viewers than it added, even as its revenue grew, pushing its stock price down by more than 20 percent in after-hours trading. For the first time in a decade, Netflix said Tuesday, the streaming service lost more paying customers than it added after a net drop of 200,000 subscribers it attributed to its pullout from Russia.

Even though revenue grew, the announcement pushed its stock price down by more than 20 percent in after-hours trading. In a letter to shareholders, Netflix attributed the net loss in the January-March period to its decision last month to suspend services in Russia in protest of the Kremlin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

It lost 700,000 viewers in Russia, although it added 500,000 elsewhere globally.

The drop comes amid a larger trend of shrinking viewership, with the streaming service projecting that it will lose a further 2 million subscribers in the next three-month quarter ending in June.

It still said revenue would grow to almost $8 billion in that period, a 10 percent increase from the same time last year. The company also retains a paying audience of over 220 million, more than double what it had five years ago.

April 19

 

nfl logo cropped

washington post logoWashington Post, Commanders deny allegations of financial misdeeds in letter to FTC, Nicki Jhabvala and Mark Maske, April 19, 2022. The Washington Commanders sent an 18-page letter to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission on Monday that described the allegations of financial improprieties made by a former team employee and detailed by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform as “baseless” and asserted that “no investigation is warranted.”

The rebuttal claims the committee’s letter, which was sent to the FTC on Tuesday, “relies solely on the uncorroborated, false testimony of a single disgruntled former employee,” referring to former vice president of sales and customer service Jason Friedman, who worked for the team for 24 years.

In an interview with the committee and through shared emails and documents, Friedman alleged that Washington engaged in a long-running practice of withholding refundable deposits from season ticket holders and hiding money that was supposed to be shared among NFL owners. The team described the committee’s letter as “one-sided” and “uncorroborated” and included declarations from four former executives — team counsel David Donovan, chief operating officer Mitch Gershman, director of finance Paul Szczenski and senior vice president Michael Dillow — as well as documents and text exchanges to dispute Friedman’s claims.

Congress details allegations of Commanders’ ‘unlawful’ conduct to FTC

ftc logo“We are confident that, had this referral not come from a Congressional Committee, the FTC would exercise its discretion to decline to open an investigation based on the uncorroborated and implausible allegations of a single disgruntled former employee, especially one with such notable impairments to his credibility as set forth below,” read the team’s letter, which was signed by attorney Jordan Siev of Reed Smith LLP. “We respectfully suggest that the FTC should not be influenced by the patina of credibility created by a congressional referral when the actual investigation pursued by the Committee in question was conducted in such a one-sided, deficient, and partisan fashion.”

The letter was addressed to FTC chair Lina M. Khan and copied to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the Oversight Committee’s chairwoman; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy; Republican leaders of the committee; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; and attorneys general Jason S. Miyares (R) of Virginia, Brian E. Frosh (D) of Maryland and Karl A. Racine (D) of D.C.; among others.

Throughout the letter and its 17 accompanying exhibits, the team describes Friedman as an “untrustworthy” former employee who was fired for “professional misconduct” in October 2020 and later pleaded to be rehired. The letter said Friedman “repeatedly berated his staff, including minority women” and “created a culture of fear.” Included in the exhibits are emails purported to be sent from Friedman that include derogatory and misogynistic language.

Szczenski described Friedman’s claims as “speculative, uninformed guesswork” and said he “had virtually no visibility into the Team’s accounting function. He was not present at meetings of the accounting team or included in [their] communications except in very limited circumstances when it involved his department,” according to the letter.

Friedman’s attorneys, Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, said in a statement Monday that Friedman “stands by his testimony, which was truthful and based on his experiences with the team.” The attorneys previously have said that Friedman has “contractual constraints” that prohibit him from speaking publicly about his allegations regarding the team.

 

tucker carlson fox horizontal

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why Carlson wants men to aim lasers at their private parts, Dana Milbank, right, April 19, 2022 (print ed.). With the pandemic fading (at least for now), there are fewer occasions to swallow ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine or to inject oneself with bleach.

dana milbank newestSo what’s a Trump-loving, conspiracy-obsessed Fox News-viewing guy to do?

Tucker Carlson, above, has the answer: He should stand naked and spread-eagle on top of a large rock at twilight and gaze heavenward as a red laser illuminates his genitals.

fox news logo Small“One of the biggest stories of our lifetimes is the total collapse of testosterone levels in American men … completely changing the way people are at the most fundamental level,” Carlson says in introducing the trailer for his latest “documentary.” After showing the teaser, Carlson brings in his expert “fitness professional” Andrew McGovern.

McGovern recommends that you “expose yourself to red-light therapy and the Joovv” — a brand of red light — “that we were using in the documentary.”

“Which is testicle tanning,” Carlson explains.

“It’s testicle tanning,” McGovern agrees, “but it’s also full-body red-light therapy.”

Carlson, the most-watched Fox News host, sums it up: “So, obviously, half the viewers are now like, ‘What? Testicle tanning — that’s crazy.’ But my view is, okay, testosterone levels have crashed and nobody says anything about it. That’s crazy.”

No, this is what’s crazy.

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk wants a free speech utopia. Technologists clap back, Elizabeth Dwoskin, April 19, 2022 (print ed.). Musk’s vision of the Internet is outdated and doesn’t take into account the real world, they say.

Elon Musk’s vision for Twitter is a public town square where there are few restrictions on what people can or can’t say on the Internet.

elon musk 2015But the utopian ideal envisioned by the Tesla CEO, right, ceased to exist long ago and doesn’t take into account what’s happening in the real world, tech executives, Twitter employees and Silicon Valley insiders say. As Musk seeks a $43 billion hostile takeover bid for Twitter, critics say his ambition for what the platform should be — a largely unpoliced space rid of censorship — is naive, would hurt the company’s growth prospects and would render the platform unsafe.

Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have spent billions of dollars and employed armies of people to create and enforce policies to reduce hate speech, misinformation and other toxic communication that degrades public discourse. In doing so, they’ve provoked the ire not only of politicians on the right, who claim these actions amount to censorship, but also people on the left, who say tech companies’ enforcement is both too limited and biased.

“What Musk seemingly fails to recognize is that to truly have free speech today, you need moderation,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director and CEO of consultancy Anchor Change. “Otherwise just those who bully and harass will be left as they will drive others away.”

She added that content moderation and responsible platform design done right can actually allow for more speech.

Jack Dorsey, former Twitter CEO, who co-founded the social media company 16 years ago, said in a tweet about Musk’s potential takeover bid: “I don’t believe any individual or institutions should own social media, or more generally media companies. It should be an open and verifiable protocol. Everything is a step toward that.”

twitter bird CustomTwitter declined to comment. Musk didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Musk, a prolific Twitter user himself with more than 80 million followers, has touted the benefits of free speech in the lead up to his hostile takeover bid unveiled in a Securities and Exchange filing last week. Following the disclosure, he conducted a poll asking on Twitter whether taking the company private at $54.20 a share should be up to shareholders and not the board. During a TED conference in Vancouver Thursday, he touted the merits of free speech on the Internet.

“I think it’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech,” Musk said during the TED interview. “Twitter has become kind of the de facto town square, so it’s just really important that people have the, both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.”

Musk, who has previously referred to himself as a free speech maximalist, also said he hoped to make available to the public the company’s algorithm, helping people understand how content surfaces on the platform. He also said that platforms should police speech in accordance with U.S. laws, a comment that was widely interpreted to mean that he was advocating for limited content moderation because speech in the United States short of direct calls for violence is largely protected by the First Amendment.

joe kahn

ny times logoNew York Times, Joe Kahn Is Named Executive Editor of The New York Times, Michael M. Grynbaum and Jim Windolf, April 19, 2022. Mr. Kahn, 57, above, who helped steer The New York Times into the digital era, will succeed Dean Baquet in the top newsroom job.

Joe Kahn, an award-winning China correspondent who rose to lead the international desk of The New York Times, and then as managing editor helped steer the newspaper into the digital era, has been selected to be The Times’s next executive editor, the top newsroom job.

Mr. Kahn, 57, currently the No. 2-ranking editor at The Times, will take on one of the most powerful positions in American media and the global news business. He is to succeed Dean Baquet, whose eight-year tenure is expected to conclude in June.

The announcement was made on Tuesday by the publisher of The Times, A.G. Sulzberger.

“For many people, especially those who have worked alongside Joe — a brilliant journalist and a brave and principled leader — this announcement will come as no surprise,” Mr. Sulzberger wrote in a memo to the Times staff. “Joe brings impeccable news judgment, a sophisticated understanding of the forces shaping the world and a long track record of helping journalists produce their most ambitious and courageous work.”

In elevating Mr. Kahn, Mr. Sulzberger chose a veteran journalist steeped in the values of traditional newspaper reporting and editing to lead an institution undergoing enormous change. After decades devoted to the “daily miracle” of the print edition, The Times is focused on a digital future and competing for audiences around the world.

April 18

 

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

washington post logoNew York Times, Alex Jones’s Infowars Files for Bankruptcy, Derrick Bryson Taylor, April 18, 2022. Three companies affiliated with the far-right broadcaster and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, above, among them the media outlet Infowars, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Sunday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, according to court documents.

Infowars is facing multiple defamation lawsuits from families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, which Mr. Jones has claimed was a hoax. Two other companies connected to Mr. Jones, IWHealth and Prison Planet TV, also filed for bankruptcy protection on Sunday.

Last September, Mr. Jones lost two defamation lawsuits filed in Texas by victims’ families because he failed to provide requested information to the court. Months later, in a case representing the families of eight others killed in the shooting, a Connecticut judge ruled that Mr. Jones was liable by default because he had refused to turn over documents ordered by the courts, including financial records. The rulings delivered sweeping victories to the families.

Mr. Jones for years spread bogus theories that the shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn., was part of a government-led plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms and that the victims’ families were actors in the scheme.

Because of the falsehoods, families of the victims have found themselves routinely accosted by those who believe those false claims. Among those are the parents of Noah Pozner, who have moved nearly 10 times since the shooting, and live in hiding.

The Sandy Hook families maintain that Mr. Jones profited from spreading lies about their relatives’ murders. Mr. Jones has disputed that, while for years failing to produce sufficient records to bolster his claims.

Last month, a Connecticut judge found the radio host in contempt for failing to sit for a deposition and ordered that he be fined $25,000 for the first weekday he fails to appear for testimony, with the fine rising by $25,000 every day thereafter that he did not appear.

In trials scheduled to begin this month in Texas, juries will determine how much Mr. Jones must pay the families in damages. The Connecticut case is the last scheduled trial, set to begin on Sept. 1.

In its court filings, Infowars said that it had up to 49 creditors, as much as $50,000 in estimated assets and up to $10 million in estimated liabilities. The two other companies said they also had up to 49 creditors, with IWHealth stating it had up to $1 million in assets while Prison Planet TV said it had up to $50,000.

April 17

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter underscores the risks of social media ownership, Joseph Menn, Cat Zakrzewski and Craig Timberg, April 17, 2022. After years of struggling to get Facebook to confront its problems, experts worry about the impact of a Twitter owned by one individual.

elon musk 2015Social media industry safety professionals and outside experts who’ve spent years trying to slow the empowerment of tyrants and violent mobs by Facebook and other platforms are aghast that a second major company might come under the control of just one person — especially one complaining that Twitter places too many limits on what can be posted on its site.

In tweets and a TED conversation that followed his surprise bid last week to take Twitter private, billionaire Elon Musk has decried decisions to bar some users as censorship and said moderation that blunts the spread of legal but offending content as going too far.

twitter bird Custom“If it’s a gray area, let the tweet exist,” Musk said Thursday.

Such comments alarm those whose experience has been that unfettered speech makes social media platforms unusable and that lightly controlled speech favors those who can direct thousands to make versions of the same point, which is then amplified by algorithms designed to maximize engagement and thereby advertising dollars.

“This is a disaster, and it’s not only about Elon Musk, but he kind of puts it on steroids,” said Shoshana Zuboff, a retired Harvard Business School professor and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,”which says that the money coming from the collection of data about human behavior is the lifeblood of a new and thus far nearly unregulated era.

facebook logoZuboff’s work argues that Facebook, Twitter and others extract as much data about users as possible and then attempt to maximize their time on the site because that earns them money. But platforms, she argues, aren’t neutral — in driving users’ online interests, they alter not only discussions but also beliefs and even physical actions, encouraging people to do what they otherwise would not, such as joining real-world protests.

Putting so much power in the hands of one company is bad enough — but putting it in the hands of one person, as is largely the case with Facebook’s controlling shareholder, Mark Zuckerberg, and would be the case with a Musk-owned Twitter — would be, she says, incompatible with democracy.

April 15

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine is scanning faces of dead Russians, then contacting the mothers, Drew Harwell, April 15, 2022. Ukrainian officials say the use of facial recognition software could help end the brutal war. But some experts call it ‘classic psychological warfare’ that sets a gruesome precedent.

Ukrainian officials have run more than 8,600 facial recognition searches on dead or captured Russian soldiers in the 50 days since Moscow’s invasion began, using the scans to identify bodies and contact hundreds of their families in what may be one of the most gruesome applications of the technology to date.

The country’s IT Army, a volunteer force of hackers and activists that takes its direction from the Ukrainian government, says it has used those identifications to inform the families of the deaths of 582 Russians, including by sending them photos of the abandoned corpses.

The Ukrainians champion the use of face-scanning software from the U.S. tech firm Clearview AI as a brutal but effective way to stir up dissent inside Russia, discourage other fighters and hasten an end to a devastating war.

But some military and technology analysts worry that the strategy could backfire, inflaming anger over a shock campaign directed at mothers who may be thousands of miles from the drivers of the Kremlin’s war machine.

The West’s solidarity with Ukraine makes it tempting to support such a radical act designed to capitalize on family grief, said Stephanie Hare, a surveillance researcher in London. But contacting soldiers’ parents, she said, is “classic psychological warfare” and could set a dangerous new standard for future conflicts.

“If it were Russian soldiers doing this with Ukrainian mothers, we might say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s barbaric,’ ” she said. “And is it actually working? Or is it making them say: ‘Look at these lawless, cruel Ukrainians, doing this to our boys?’ ”

Clearview AI’s chief executive, Hoan Ton-That, told The Washington Post that more than 340 officials across five Ukrainian government agencies now can use its tool to run facial recognition searches whenever they want, free of charge.

washington post logoWashington Post, Twitter adopts ‘poison pill’ intended to thwart Elon Musk’s takeover bid, Faiz Siddiqui, April 15, 2022. The plan signals that Twitter does not look favorably at Musk’s bid.

Twitter is rebuffing Elon Musk’s hostile takeover bid, the company announced Friday, adopting a plan known as a “poison pill” that would seek to thwart the Tesla CEO from becoming the owner of the social media network.

twitter bird CustomThe plan, known as a “shareholder rights plan” seeks to insulate shareholders against Musk’s efforts as the largest individual shareholder to amass an exponentially bigger stake in Twitter.

“The Rights Plan will reduce the likelihood that any entity, person or group gains control of Twitter through open market accumulation without paying all shareholders an appropriate control premium or without providing the Board sufficient time to make informed judgments and take actions that are in the best interests of shareholders,” Twitter said in a news release.

elon musk 2015Musk, right, disclosed earlier this month that he had amassed a more than 9 percent stake in Twitter, and he launched a takeover bid to take the company private valued at roughly $43 billion Thursday.

The poison pill plan would effectively allow shareholders other than Musk to buy additional stock at a discounted price, flooding the market with shares that would then trade at a premium. That would make it difficult for a prospective owner to amass a higher stake without spending significantly more money.

The ”poison pill” would be triggered if Musk crossed a threshold of 15 percent ownership in Twitter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Law That Shaped the Internet Presents a Question for Elon Musk, Peter Coy, April 15, 2022. "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Those are “the 26 words that created the internet,” says Jeff Kosseff, an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy, who wrote a book with that title that came out in 2019. The fruitful words come from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That brief passage fueled the growth of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook by protecting them from lawsuits over content posted by users of their platforms.

Nearly three decades later, conservatives and liberals are equally unhappy with Section 230, but for opposite reasons, says Mary Anne Franks, a professor at University of Miami School of Law.

Liberals, for the most part, don’t like those 26 words because they feel they have permitted the platforms to host and even promote hate speech, unfounded conspiracy theories, racism and other objectionable content that attracts eyeballs and makes money.

Conservatives and libertarians, for the most part, dislike the next section, which protects the platforms when they take down objectionable material. It says the platforms can’t be held civilly liable if “in good faith” they remove content they deem “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” The conservatives and libertarians argue that platforms such as Twitter are using Section 230 to suppress their freedom of expression. (You can read the whole section here.)

Now comes Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, with an offer to buy Twitter at a valuation of about $43 billion. (The company on Friday moved to make it more difficult for any single investor to amass a large stake.)

It’s difficult to know anything for sure about Musk, but if he does buy Twitter it’s a good bet he’ll reduce content moderation. “I think it’s very important for there to be an inclusive arena for free speech,” Musk said Thursday at a TED conference. He might also end the “permanent” suspension of former President Donald Trump, which was imposed after the invasion of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

But no matter how smart and rich he is, Musk can’t rid the web of the problems that Section 230 was meant to address. It would be crazy, and counterproductive, for Musk to end all content moderation. Twitter would soon fill up with not-quite-illegal sexual material, deceptive sales pitches, trolls and other garbage that would drive away users and wreck Twitter’s market and consumer value.

No platform can reasonably promise unadulterated free speech. Trump’s faltering Truth Social platform, which claims to be a “big tent,” threatens to ban users whose contributions are, borrowing from Section 230, “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, violent, harassing, libelous, slanderous, or otherwise objectionable.” (“Otherwise objectionable” is a capacious phrase.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Elon Musk’s road to Twitter is paved with broken promises, Geoffrey A. Fowler, April 15, 2022. Musk says he’ll remake Twitter and save free speech. But his track record is a mix of wild successes and many unfulfilled pledges.

Elon Musk wants to use his billions to remake Twitter as a “platform for free speech around the globe.” He says he’ll stop it from censoring speech, ban annoying bots and make tweets editable.

But as Earth’s richest person adds the social media industry to his conquests, keep one thing in mind: Musk’s promises often need an edit button of their own.

His track record is a mix of wild successes and many, many, many broken promises.

I’ve lived it: In 2019, my family leased a Tesla Model 3 and paid thousands of dollars extra for its “full self-driving” capability. When we returned the lease a few months ago, we still hadn’t received it. (There was no refund, either — we asked.)

It’s the fundamental paradox of Musk: He’s both our Thomas Edison and that kid in school who made up fantastical stories about what he did on summer vacation. Last fall, Musk actually announced plans for a humanoid robot at an event by using a real human dancing in a robot suit. He says so many zany things that some of his critics, who are often financially invested in his failure, catalogue them on sites including Elon’s Broken Promises and Elon Musk Today.

washington post logoRobert ReichOpEdNews, Commentary: Why Elon Musk has blocked me on Twitter (and now owns the joint), Robert Reich, right, Professor at the University of California, Chairman of Common Cause and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, April 15, 2022. This isn't about freedom of speech. It's about power.

Years ago, pundits assumed the Internet would open a new era of democracy, giving everyone access to the truth. But dictators like Putin and demagogues like Trump have demonstrated how naïve that assumption was.

At least America responded to Trump's lies. Trump had 88 million Twitter followers before Twitter took him off its platform -- just two days after the attack on the U.S. Capitol which he provoked, in part, with his tweets. (Trump's social media accounts were also suspended on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, and TikTok.)

twitter bird CustomTwitter's move was necessary to protect American democracy. But Elon Musk -- the richest man in the world, with 80 million Twitter followers -- wasn't pleased about it. Musk tweeted that U.S. tech companies shouldn't be acting "as the de facto arbiter of free speech."

I would have posted that tweet for you right here, if I had access to it. But ever since I posted a tweet two years ago criticizing Musk for how he treated his Tesla workers, he has blocked me -- so I can't view or post criticisms of his tweets to his 80 million Twitter followers. Seems like an odd move for someone who describes himself as a "free speech absolutist."

It's power that compelled Musk to buy $2.64 billion of Twitter stock, making him the largest shareholder, with a 9.2 percent stake in the company. Last week, Twitter announced that Musk will be joining the company's board of directors. After the announcement, Musk promised "to make significant improvements" to the platform. (He even changed his investment designation to clarify that he's not simply a "passive" investor but one who intends to impact the way the company is run.) Yesterday evening, though, it was announced that -- contrary to last week's announcement -- Musk would not be joining Twitter's board. No reason was given but this is typical for Musk.

It's likely part of a bargaining Kabuki dance. Musk wouldn't have plopped down $2.64 billion for nothing. He probably wants more control. If he is not on Twitter's board, Musk is not bound by the "standstill" agreement in which he pledged to buy no more than 14.9 percent of Twitter's stock. Musk now has no restrictions on how much of Twitter's stock he can buy. I predict he buys more and takes an even more active role trying to influence the platform.

By the way, what "improvements" does Musk have in mind for Twitter? Would he use his additional influence over the platform to prevent users with tens of millions of followers from blocking people who criticize them? I doubt it.

Would Musk pressure Twitter to let Trump back on? I fear he would.

Musk has long advocated a libertarian vision of an "uncontrolled" Internet. That vision is dangerous rubbish. There's no such animal, and won't be. Someone has to decide on the algorithms in every platform -- how they're designed, how they evolve, what they reveal and what they hide. Musk has enough power and money to quietly give himselfthis sort of control over Twitter. He talks about freedom of speech but his real power is freedom of reach - reaching 80 million twitter followers without accountability to anyone (including critics like me) - and enough money to buy himself a seat on Twitter's board.

Musk has never believed that power comes with responsibility. He's been unperturbed when his tweets cause real suffering. During his long and storied history with Twitter he has threatened journalists and stolen memes. In March 2020 he tweeted that children were "essentially immune" to Covid. He's pushed cryptocurrencies that he's invested in. When a college student started a Twitter account to track Musk's private plane, Musk tried and failed to buy him off, before blocking him.

The Securities and Exchange Commission went after Musk after he tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla private, a clear violation of the law. Musk paid a fine and agreed to let lawyers vet future sensitive tweets, but he has tried to reverse this requirement. He has also been openly contemptuous of the SEC, tweeting at one point that the "E" stands for "Elon's." (You can guess what the "S" and "C" stand for.) By the way, how does the SEC go after Musk's ability to tweet now that he owns Twitter?

Billionaires like Musk have shown time and again they consider themselves above the law. And to a large extent, they are. Musk has enough wealth that legal penalties are no more than slaps on his wrist, and enough power to control one of the most important ways the public now receives news. Think about it: After years of posting tweets that skirt the law, Musk was given a seat on Twitter's board (and is probably now negotiating for even more clout).

Musk says he wants to "free" the Internet. But what he really aims to do is make it even less accountable than it is now, when it's often impossible to discover who is making the decisions about how algorithms are designed, who's filling social media with lies, who's poisoning our minds with pseudo-science and propaganda, and who's deciding which versions of events go viral and which stay under wraps.

Make no mistake: This is not about freedom. It's about power. In Musk's vision of Twitter and the Internet, he'd be the wizard behind the curtain - projecting on the world's screen a fake image of a brave new world empowering everyone. In reality, that world would be dominated by the richest and most powerful people in the world, who wouldn't be accountable to anyone for facts, truth, science, or the common good. That's Musk's dream. And Trump's. And Putin's. And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue, and modern-day robber baron on earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.

tucker carlson fox horizontal

ny times logoNew York Times, How Russian Media Uses Fox News to Make Its Case, Stuart A. Thompson, April 15, 2022. Russia’s state media has seized on the network’s prime-time segments, opinion pieces and online comments section to paint a critical portrait of the U.S.

As Western leaders introduced sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, said seizing personal property from Russian oligarchs went too far.

fox news logo Small“No American government had ever done anything like that before,” he said.

While the segment was aimed at Fox News’s conservative audience, it found another audience in Russia. The argument was parroted beat by beat by RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency, which wrote that “the average U.S. citizen is simply horrified by what is happening.”

In the U.S., Biden has been accused of destroying the country with anti-Russian sanctions

The narratives advanced by the Kremlin and by parts of conservative American media have converged in recent months, reinforcing and feeding each other. Along the way, Russian media has increasingly seized on Fox News’s prime-time segments, its opinion pieces and even the network’s active online comments section — all of which often find fault with the Biden administration — to paint a critical portrait of the United States and depict America’s foreign policy as a threat to Russia’s interests.

Mr. Carlson was a frequent reference for Russian media, but other Fox News personalities — and the occasional news update from the network — were also included.

April 14

Associated Press, Elon Musk accused of breaking law while buying Twitter stock, Michael Liedtke, April 15, 2022 (print ed.). Elon Musk’s huge Twitter investment took a new twist Tuesday with the filing of a lawsuit alleging that the colorful billionaire illegally delayed disclosing his stake in the social media company so he could buy more shares at lower prices.

elon musk 2015The complaint in New York federal court accuses Musk, right, of violating a regulatory deadline to reveal he had accumulated a stake of at least 5%. Instead, according to the complaint, Musk didn’t disclose his position in Twitter until he’d almost doubled his stake to more than 9%. That strategy, the lawsuit alleges, hurt less wealthy investors who sold shares in the San Francisco company in the nearly two weeks before Musk acknowledged holding a major stake.

Musk’s regulatory filings show that he bought a little more than 620,000 shares at $36.83 apiece on Jan. 31 and then continued to accumulate more shares on nearly every single trading day through April 1. Musk, best known as CEO of the electric car maker Tesla, held 73.1 million Twitter shares as of the most recent count Monday. That represents a 9.1% stake in Twitter.

The lawsuit alleges that by March 14, Musk’s stake in Twitter had reached a 5% threshold that required him to publicly disclose his holdings under U.S. securities law by March 24. Musk didn’t make the required disclosure until April 4.

twitter bird CustomThat revelation caused Twitter’s stock to soar 27% from its April 1 close to nearly $50 by the end of April 4′s trading, depriving investors who sold shares before Musk’s improperly delayed disclosure the chance to realize significant gains, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of an investor named Marc Bain Rasella. Musk, meanwhile, was able to continue to buy shares that traded in prices ranging from $37.69 to $40.96.

The lawsuit is seeking to be certified as a class action representing Twitter shareholders who sold shares between March 24 and April 4, a process that could take a year or more.

Musk spent about $2.6 billion on Twitter stock — a fraction of his estimated wealth of $265 billion, the largest individual fortune in the world. In a regulatory filing Monday, Musk disclosed he may increase his stake after backing out of an agreement reached last week to join Twitter’s board of directors.

Jacob Walker, one of the lawyers that filed the lawsuit against Musk, told The Associated Press that he hadn’t reached out to the Securities and Exchange Commission about Musk’s alleged violations about the disclosure of his Twitter stake. “I assume the SEC is well aware of what he did,” Walker said.

The SEC and Musk have been wrangling in court since 2018 when Musk and Tesla agreed to pay a $40 million fine t o settle allegations that he used his Twitter account to mislead investors about a potential buyout of the electric car company that never materialized. As part of that deal, Musk was supposed to obtain legal approval for his tweets about information that could affect Tesla’s stock price — a provision that regulators contend he has occasionally violated and that he now argues unfairly muzzles him.

Musk didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment posted on Twitter, where he often shares his opinion and thoughts. Alex Spiro, a New York lawyer representing Musk in his ongoing dispute with the SEC, also didn’t immediately respond to a query from The Associated Press.

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk launches hostile takeover bid of Twitter, Aaron Gregg, April 14, 2022. The Tesla CEO, who recently became the social media company’s largest shareholder, is offering $54.20 per share.

Elon Musk, right, has launched a hostile takeover bid of Twitter — promising to unlock its “extraordinary potential” as a private company — in the latest twist in a elon musk 2015stunning multiweek saga.

In a securities filing dated Wednesday, the billionaire tech CEO proposed $54.20 a share for the social media giant, calling it his “best and final offer. If it is not accepted, he added, “I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder.”

In a letter addressed to Twitter Chairman Bret Taylor, Musk said he invested in the company because of its “potential to be the platform for free speech around the globe." Free speech is a “societal imperative for a functioning democracy,” he added.

“However, since making my investment I now realize the company will neither thrive nor serve this societal imperative in its current form. Twitter needs to be transformed as a private company.”

twitter bird CustomTwitter confirmed Thursday in an unsigned news release that it had received an “unsolicited, non-binding proposal” from Musk. “The Twitter Board of Directors will carefully review the proposal to determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interest of the Company and all Twitter stockholders.”

The move comes after a wild two weeks between Musk and Twitter, which was full of head fakes and at least one lawsuit.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk won't join Twitter's board after all

The company’s share price closed Wednesday near $46 per share but it was up 10 percent in premarket trading Thursday morning. If Musk decided to unload his shares, it could send the company’s stock price sharply lower.

Musk recently disclosed he’d acquired a 9.2 percent stake in Twitter, suddenly becoming its largest shareholder. While he is a prolific Twitter user with more than 80 million followers, Musk also is a frequent critic: In late March, he suggested in a tweet that he was considering launching his own social media company.

On April 5, Twitter surprised employees and investors by announcing that Musk would join the board of directors. Days later, however, Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal announced that Musk had backed out.

“There will be distractions ahead, but our goals and priorities remain unchanged,” Agrawal wrote. “The decisions we make and how we execute remain unchanged. The decisions we make and how we execute is in our hands, no one else’s. Let’s tune out the noise, and stay focused on the work and what we’re building.”

Joining the board would have “handcuffed” him from fully acquiring the company, noted CFRA equity researcher Angelo Zino in an email to The Post.

Board membership also would bestow Musk with certain fiduciary responsibilities, such as requiring him to act in the best interests of the company.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary (WMR), Destroying nations through propaganda: a history, Wayne Madsen, left, April 13-14, 2022. President Biden justifiably wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallaccused Russia of carrying out genocide against Ukraine. Russia's actions to date have fulfilled one of the definitions of genocide: the systematic destruction of an entire nation and its people.

Aspirant czar Vladimir Putin claims he wants to "protect" Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Putin's military attacks on the country have been indiscriminate in their targeting: Ukrainians, Russians, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Belorusians, Crimean Tatars, Pontic Greeks, Jews, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, Romani, Armenians, Azeris, Georgians, Gagauz, and Poles have been killed by Russian forces.

wayne madesen report logoPutin and the rhetoric of Russian neo-fascism he has embraced do not recognize a separate Ukrainian nation. That recognition was even extended by Joseph Stalin even though he, too, sought to destroy the Ukrainian nation. Stalin employed an enforced famine, an event known in Ukraine as the Holodomor, which killed as many as 5 million people. The Holodomor is considered an act of genocide in the same vein as Adolf Hitler's extermination of Ukraine's Jewish population. Putin's name can now be added to the list of the genocidal tyrants of modern Ukrainian history: Stalin, Hitler, and Putin.

Putin's propaganda as seen on Russian television and other media relies on the same type of fabulism used by Hitler and other fascist leaders.

Fascist propaganda has come a long way since the 1930s and 40s. It is now available on a 24x7 basis on Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, and hundreds of largely obscure podcasts on the web. The treaties signed in 1945 by the Allies with the fascist regimes of Germany, Italy, and Japan did not end the struggle against fascism. They were merely temporary ceasefires. The war continues to this day and hour in Ukraine, France, and a select committee room in the U.S. House of Representatives.

April 13

ny times logo New York Times, Substack’s Growth Spurt Brings Growing Pains, Tiffany Hsu, April 13, 2022. The publishing platform’s founders want Substack to be an “alternate universe on the internet.” But it faces copycat rivals, an exodus by writers and a need to move beyond newsletters.

But now, Substack finds itself no longer a wunderkind but a company facing a host of challenges. Depending on whom you talk to, those challenges are either standard start-up growing pains or threats to the company’s future.

Tech giants, news outlets and other companies have released competing newsletter platforms in the past year. Consumers who loaded up on newsletters during the pandemic began to scale back. And many popular writers left, such as the associate English professor Grace Lavery and the climate journalists Mary Annaïse Heglar and Amy Westervelt, often complaining about the company’s moderation policy or the pressure to constantly deliver.

“Substack is at a pivot point where it needs to think about what it’s going to be when it grows up,” said Nikki Usher, an associate journalism professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The good news for the company, five years old this summer, is that it is still growing. Paid subscriptions to its hundreds of thousands of newsletters exploded to more than one million late last year from 50,000 in mid-2019. (The company won’t disclose the number of free subscribers.) A hiring spree hopes to net more than a dozen engineers, product managers and other specialists. Executives hope to eventually take the company — which has raised more than $82 million and is said to be valued at $650 million — public.

But to maintain that growth, Substack executives say, the company must offer more than newsletters.

Consortium News, Twitter Wars—My Personal Experience in Twitter’s Ongoing Assault on Free Speech, Scott Ritter, April 13, 2022. At some point, the U.S. people, and those they elect to higher office need to bring Twitter in line with the ideals and values Americans collectively espouse when it comes to free speech and online identity protection.

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: We see how Dan Snyder treats customers. Who would build him a stadium? Sally Jenkins, right, April 13, 2022. Washington sally jenkinsCommanders owner Daniel Snyder has denied allegations of financial impropriety.

What governor, mayor or legislator could stand on a dais with Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder for a stadium ribbon-cutting ceremony and assure constituents that they will get fair returns and not be fleeced? Only the crookedest pol at this point. There can be no stadium funds — no tax-free bonds, not so much as a discount on sewer lines — until Snyder has turned over every sticky page of his ledgers. What’s needed is a forensic accounting.

Cheating fellow NFL owners. Preying financially on unsuspecting fans. These are just two of the allegations in Tuesday’s letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation of “potentially unlawful business practices” under Snyder. The contents of the letter are at once stunning and unsurprising. Unsurprising, given that Snyder always seems to find new tar pits. Stunning, in the level of detail contained in the letter’s 20 pages and the seriousness of the accusations: A former executive alleges the flagship franchise of the nation’s capital kept two sets of books, played shell games with revenue and pocketed refunds (and interest) owed to ticket buyers, all of which could amount to fraud if verified. And if it’s true, it should be verifiable.

Of course, there can be no new stadium deal under these circumstances. For that matter, not one cent of public money or favor should go to any NFL owner until the league comes clean and stops acting as a protection racket for Snyder’s sordidness. According to the committee’s letter, the NFL has met its inquiry into pervasive workplace misconduct in Snyder’s building with “obstruction” and sought to “withhold key documents and information.”

In short, the NFL has demonstrated it doesn’t care about the women who work within it. If the league does nothing with these latest allegations, it shows it doesn’t.

 

npc journalism institute logoNational Press Club Journalism Institute, Photographer's first aid helped save Brooklyn subway shooting victims (Journal-isms), Edited by National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, April 13, 2022. 

YouTube removes account tied to Brooklyn subway shooting suspect (BloombergQuint) / WATCH: Crowd cheers ‘hero’ security camera installer who tipped police to location of subway shooting suspect (Mediaite) / ‘Zack Dahnan, the 21-year old security camera installer who first spotted the suspected subway shooter in the East Village, is holding an impromptu press conference on 1st Avenue.’ (Jack Offenhartz)

■ First migrant bus from Texas arrives in DC, drops them blocks from Capitol ‘in front of the building that houses Fox News, NBC News, and C-SPAN’ (New York Post)

Press Freedom

■ Trial date set in defamation suit against Fox News over US election claims (Reuters)

■ Media organizations sue Gov. Youngkin for allegedly violating FOIA law (Washington Post)

■ Ethics complaint filed after reporter barred from Mississippi House GOP Caucus meeting (Mississippi Today)

■ US asked Israel for help locating American journalist Austin Tice (Axios)

■ Romanian journalists call for action after facing threats, intimidation (POLITICO)

April 12

 

gannett logo Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Newspapers keep eliminating print days. They say it’s for the best, Elahe Izadi, April 12, 2022. Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, is cutting back on printed papers and pointing readers to e-editions. After more than 100 years of publication, Ohio’s Akron Beacon Journal has stopped printing on Mondays, when it instead offers readers a digital version of the newspaper.

“Your first thought is, as our aunt would have said, ‘Oh, good grief,’ ” Auburn said. “It’s a change, and for some of us, the paper has been a part of our lives.”

For more than two decades, industry sages have been predicting the death of the printed newspaper. Now, a growing number of local publishers are cutting back on their print editions, pointing to rising costs and arguing consumers will prefer the immediacy and convenience of online news.

 

Britney Spears and her father and former conservator, James Spears (Associated Press file photos).

Britney Spears and her father and former conservator, James Spears (Associated Press file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Britney Spears, Out of Conservatorship, Says ‘I Am Having a Baby,’ Julia Jacobs, April 12, 2022 (print ed.). During her successful effort to end her conservatorship, the performer had complained that the team appointed to supervise her had blocked her from having additional children.

Months after Britney Spears was released from the conservatorship that she said was restricting her from having a third child, the pop star announced Monday in an Instagram post that she is pregnant.

In explosive testimony last year, Ms. Spears called the conservatorship that had governed her life for 13 years “abusive,” saying the people who managed it had refused to let her get her IUD removed so she could try to have another child.

“I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” Ms. Spears said last June. “I was told right now in the conservatorship I am not able to get married or have a baby.”

The singer’s assertion about her birth control device was among the most stunning in her speech, during which she said she had been drugged and compelled to work against her will. Reproductive rights advocates condemned the situation as a violation of her rights.

April 11

ny times logoNew York Times, Elon Musk will no longer join Twitter’s board of directors, the company said, Mike Isaac, Updated April 11, 2022. The announcement reverses a decision last week, when Twitter said Mr. Musk would become a board member after amassing a 9.2 percent stake in the company.

Elon Musk, elon musk 2015right, the world’s wealthiest man and the biggest shareholder of Twitter, will no longer join the social media service’s board of directors, the company said late Sunday.

The move capped a whirlwind week at Twitter that had been set off by Mr. Musk, 50. On Tuesday, Twitter announced that the billionaire would be appointed to its 11-person board for a term that expires in 2024. The invitation to join the board followed Mr. Musk’s accumulating a 9.2 percent stake in the company, making him its largest shareholder.

But Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, tweeted late Sunday that the situation had changed. On Saturday morning, Mr. Musk — who is a heavy Twitter user with more than 81 million followers — told the company he would no longer become a board member, Mr. Agrawal said.

“We have and will always value input from our shareholders, whether they are on our board or not” Mr. Agrawal said in his tweet about the news. “Elon is our biggest shareholder and we will remain open to his input.”

twitter bird CustomNo reason was given for the reversal. But Mr. Musk had been tweeting erratically throughout the weekend, polling his followers with barbed questions about the future of the social media company.

In one post on Saturday, Mr. Musk asked, “Is Twitter dying?”

No reason was given for the reversal. But Mr. Musk had been tweeting erratically throughout the weekend, polling his followers with barbed questions about the future of the social media company.

In one post on Saturday, Mr. Musk asked, “Is Twitter dying?”

In another, he suggested turning Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter because “no one shows up anyway.” He also rattled off a stream of critiques of the company’s products, at one point suggesting that Twitter remove ads from the service entirely. (Most of Twitter’s revenue comes from ads.)

Under corporate governance principles, board members are required to act in the best fiduciary interest of a company and its shareholders, which Mr. Agrawal pointed out in his tweet on Sunday evening. He also said that Twitter’s board had been “clear about the risks” of Mr. Musk’s deciding to join as a director.

By not joining Twitter’s board, Mr. Musk will also no longer be bound by a previous agreement he had signed with the company. Under a “standstill” agreement last week, he had pledged not to purchase more than 14.9 percent of Twitter’s stock and not to take over the company. That suggests Mr. Musk could now keep adding to his stake in the company.

A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment beyond Mr. Agrawal’s post. In a tweet on Sunday night, Mr. Musk did not directly address the situation with Twitter’s board but posted an emoji of a hand over a face.

npc journalism institute logoNational Press Club Journalism Institute,  DC’s Gridiron COVID outbreak tally hits 72 as cases tick up nationwide (Ars Technica), Edited by National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, April 11, 2022.  White House Correspondents' Association adds vaccine requirement to attend annual dinner (The Hill) / The elite D.C. social scene sees a rash of covid cases, but parties on (Washington Post)

■ CNN reporter in Shanghai: 'I can't go outside' (The Hill)

■ 'David Zaslav visited the CNN newsroom and told them to think of CNN as a "reputation asset" and not a profit center' (Claire Atkinson) / Earlier: Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav to meet skittish CNN anchors after merger (New York Post)

■ CBS News, Norah O'Donnell make new long-term deal official (Hollywood Reporter) / Rachel Maddow is returning to MSNBC. But how long will she stay? (Los Angeles Times)

■ Russian journalist who protested Ukraine war on live TV finds new job (Newsweek)

■ As climate change intensifies extreme weather events, local newspapers see a bright future in meteorology (Nieman Journalism Lab)

■ From homeless to housing reporter: How living in a car for a year helped shape one journalist’s trajectory. (Slate)

■ ICYMI: The New York Times would really like its reporters to stop scrolling and get off Twitter - at least once in a while (Nieman Lab) / Researchers paid Fox viewers to watch CNN for one month. Here's what they found (CNN) / National Portrait Gallery exhibition looks at Watergate 50 years later (Washington Post)

Press Freedom

Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard: Dueling defamation claims go to trial over Washington Post op-ed (Hollywood Reporter) / How to watch the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial online (The Wrap)

■ Hong Kong police arrest veteran journalist for alleged sedition (WTVB)

■ Journalist Aasif Sultan granted bail, then re-arrested under preventative detention law (CPJ)

 April 10

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The media is failing the public on the good news about jobs, Margaret Sullivan, right, April 10, 2022. The job market is great right now. margaret sullivan 2015 photoIf people think it’s the opposite, some part of the blame falls on us.

But if you ask regular Americans about the jobs climate, a surprising number of them seem to think the opposite is true. One recent poll found that more respondents have it completely backward: 37 percent of the public assumes that jobs were actually lost over the past year; only 28 percent realized, correctly, there had been a gain. Among Republicans, the false belief is worse; nearly half believe jobs were lost.

This lack of knowledge matters. Political fortunes rise and fall in part on the health of the job market. As the Clinton 1992 campaign staff kept reminding themselves when gauging how to communicate with voters, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Lachlan Murdoch, once the ambivalent Fox heir, makes his views clear, Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey, April 10, 2022. The News Corp. co-chair, Rupert’s eldest son, left no mystery about his conservative politics in a fiery speech.

Lachlan Murdoch’s first major media moment was also his first public humiliation.

lachlan murdoch 2013It was 2005, and the oldest son of Rupert Murdoch was on the cover of New York magazine as “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Be King.” The dishy piece outlined how the elder media mogul had undercut his anticipated successor by siding instead with a beloved top executive, Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes, on key programming decisions.

Licking his wounds, Lachlan, then 34 (and shown at left in a 2013 photo), abruptly resigned his role in the family-controlled news empire and fled New York with his wife and child for their native Australia, which he referred to as their “spiritual home.”

It was a move that cemented a public image of the tanned, tattooed surfer as an ambivalent heir. And even as he made his way back to family business, nearly a decade later, and rose again through the ranks, the image remained of a passive Gen-Xer who kept his politics quiet and his ambitions subservient to those of the swaggering conservative billionaire dad who aspired to influence power at the highest global levels.

The unemployment rate is at an encouragingly low point. Less than 4 percent of the labor force is actively seeking work. And the latest monthly Labor Department report showed another healthy spike in the number of new jobs — they’ve been steadily on the rise for many months in a row.

Until last week.

April 8

ny times logoNew York Times, Hollywood Gets a New Giant, John Koblin, April 8, 2022. The megamerger of Discovery and WarnerMedia, expected to close as soon as Friday, would put many of the biggest names in movies, TV and news under one roof.

Discovery, the medium-size media company that began as a small cable network in 1985, is on the brink of something once unthinkable: assuming ownership of a fabled Hollywood company that controls Batman, Harry Potter, “Sex and the City,” “Game of Thrones,” CNN and March Madness.

CNNDiscovery Inc. and WarnerMedia are expected to complete their megamerger as soon as Friday afternoon, adding a new behemoth to the entertainment industry. The two companies will combine television, movie and news operations that draw revenue of nearly $50 billion, forming one of the biggest media companies in the country.

att logoThe decision by AT&T, WarnerMedia’s parent company, to spin off its entertainment division and merge it with Discovery — in a deal announced in May — will be felt throughout the media world in the months to come. It could push smaller competitors to hunt for deals to beef up in size. And it means that rivals like Netflix, Disney, Amazon and Apple now have a new ferocious competitor for streaming dominance.

The job of making the merged company a success falls to David Zaslav, the garrulous 62-year-old veteran cable TV executive who has been running Discovery for 15 years. He will take over as chief executive of the new company, which will be called Warner Bros. Discovery in a nod to the Hollywood studio started nearly a century ago.

April 7

ny times logoNew York Times, Eric Boehlert, Media Critic and Writer, Dies at 57, Katie Robertson, Updated April 7, 2022. “He was fearless and brilliant in his investigation of hypocrisies and double standards in the media, and his contribution was priceless,” his family said in a statement.

Eric Boehlert, a veteran journalist who was a fierce critic of right-wing misinformation and hypocrisy in the news media, died on Monday in New Jersey. He was 57.

eric.boehlertMr. Boehlert, right, was struck by a New Jersey Transit train while riding his bicycle near the Watchung Avenue station in Montclair. His death was confirmed by his wife, Tracy Breslin.

A frequent commentator on television and radio, as well as a prolific writer, Mr. Boehlert never shied away from searing critiques of what he saw as bias in the mainstream press and the circular impact of media on politics.

After more than a decade as a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, Mr. Boehlert had in recent years started his own newsletter, Press Run, as a vehicle for his commentary.

“I’m devastated for his family and friends and will miss his critical work to counteract misinformation and media bias,” Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Born in Utica, N.Y., Mr. Boehlert spent some of his childhood in Indiana before his family moved to Guilford, Conn. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Early in his career, Mr. Boehlert covered the music industry at Billboard and Rolling Stone, before becoming a staff writer at Salon. In 2006, he joined Media Matters.

“His passing is a real loss for truth and will leave a void in the broader media landscape,” the group wrote in a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

Mr. Boehlert was the author of two nonfiction books: Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, published in 2006, and Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, published in 2009.

After a stint as a media writer for the website Daily Kos, Mr. Boehlert started Press Run in 2020, which he described as “an unfiltered, passionate and proudly progressive critique of the political press in the age of Trump.”

Ms. Breslin said Mr. Boehlert was an avid athlete and cyclist.

“Eric was brilliant and funny and kind,” she said. “He was an amazing father to Jane and Ben, present their entire lives.” Their daughter, Jane Boehlert, remembered him as “a magnificent father, an incredible person.”

“We already miss him deeply,” she said.

In Mr. Boehlert’s last article on Press Run, published the day he died, he questioned journalists’ coverage of the Biden administration, saying the news media was playing down the president’s achievements. (Editor's Note: The Justice Integrity Project had excerpted here that column, Why is the press rooting against Biden? , among a number of others as apt commentary.)

“The glaring disconnect between reality and how the press depicts White House accomplishments means a key question lingers: Why is the press rooting against Biden?”

A statement from Mr. Boehlert’s family, provided to The New York Times by Richard Abate, Mr. Boehlert’s literary agent, described him as “a fierce defender of democracy, social justice and truth in media.”

“He was fearless and brilliant in his investigation of hypocrisies and double standards in the media, and his contribution was priceless,” the family said. “Eric was filled with vibrant enthusiasms and interests in life as a loving husband, father, sibling, uncle and friend.”

April 6

 

 

mantas kvedaraviciusl

National Press Club, News Leaders Statement on Death of Documentarian in Mariupol, Staff Report, April 6, 2022. Following is a statement by Jen Judson, President of the National Press Club and Gil Klein, President of the National Press Club Journalism Institute on the killing of Lithuanian documentarian Mantas Kvedaravicius, shown above, in Ukraine Sunday.

“With the death of Lithuanian documentarian Mantas Kvedaravicius last weekend we count 10 journalists killed during Russia’s war on Ukraine – a staggering number. Kvedaravicius was reportedly killed while trying to leave Mariupol. This tragic incident further emphasizes that Russia is firing upon civilians as they attempt to evacuate cities. Deliberate targeting of civilians – including journalists – is a war crime.”

“Kvedaravicius’s work, ‘Mariupolis,’ was recognized at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2016 and in 2011 he received an award from Amnesty International for his film on the war in Chechnya: ‘Barzakh.’” We will know less about what happened in Ukraine because of the tragic loss of this talented documentarian.”

Founded in 1908, the National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. The Club has 3,000 members representing nearly every major news organization and is a leading voice for press freedom in the United States and around the world.

About the National Press Club Journalism Institute

The National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Club’s non-profit affiliate, promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.

ny times logoNew York Times, You’re Still Being Tracked on the Internet, Just in a Different Way, Brian X. Chen and Daisuke Wakabayashi, April 6, 2022. Apple and Google are pushing privacy changes, but a shift in digital tracking is giving some platforms a bigger advertising advantage.

The internet industry shuddered last year when Apple introduced privacy measures for the iPhone that threatened to upend online tracking and cripple digital advertising. Google pledged similar privacy actions.

apple logo rainbowBut in less than a year, another type of internet tracking has started taking over. And it is having the unintended effect of reinforcing the power of some of tech’s biggest titans.

The shift suggests that gathering people’s online data for targeted advertising is not going away. That has implications for how companies make money online and how the internet operates. It also underlines the advantages built up by some of the largest digital platforms.

“They’ve entrenched their own power,” Eric Seufert, a media strategist and the author of Mobile Dev Memo, a blog about mobile advertising, said of Apple google logo customand Google.

For years, digital businesses relied on what is known as “third party” tracking. Companies such as Facebook and Google deployed technology to trail people everywhere they went online. If someone scrolled through Instagram and then browsed an online shoe store, marketers could use that information to target footwear ads to that person and reap a sale.

But that kind of invasive tracking is being scaled back or blocked by Apple and Google to protect people’s privacy. Last April, Apple introduced a feature so iPhones users could choose not to be followed by different apps. Google also announced a plan to disable the tracking tech in its Chrome web browser by 2023 and said it was working to limit data sharing on Android phones.

Now tracking has shifted to what is known as “first party” tracking. With this method, people are not being trailed from app to app or site to site. But companies are still gathering information on what people are doing on their specific site or app, with users’ consent. This kind of tracking, which companies have practiced for years, is growing.

In other words, Google is accumulating data on its own users’ search queries, location data and contact information. Pinterest is doing the same with its users on its site and app, while TikTok is gathering information on the people who are on its app.

 

Julie K. Brown rachel maddow

Florida Bulldog, Private eye slams ruling worth over $350K to Miami author Julie K. Brown who wrote book about Jeffrey Epstein drama, Noreen Marcus, April 6, 2022. A case about who did what to produce a sensational book rehashing the story of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein entered a new phase in a new forum, Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

jeffrey epstein hands handsAn arbitrator rejected private detective Mike Fisten’s $350,000 claim for his work on Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story, Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown’s book about the rich serial pedophile.

Jailed in New York for sex trafficking, Epstein, right, apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in August 2019.

Brown and Fisten, a former Miami-Dade County police detective, contracted to split a $1 million publisher’s advance 50-50. Instead, she gave him $150,000 and kept $850,000.

Arbitrator David Lichter agreed with Brown, shown above during an interview on MSNBC, that Fisten breached their contract by failing to perform investigative perversion of justice miami herald logotasks that were supposed to generate material for the book. Published last year, it expands upon and updates Brown’s award-winning 2018 newspaper series, also called “Perversion of Justice.”

Lichter wrote in his Dec. 30 ruling that Fisten contributed no more than a “negligible” 4.3 per cent of the book’s contents. He criticized as “improper messaging” Fisten’s list of completed tasks and disputed many of them.

After a hearing, Lichter found Brown more credible, though “some of her actions were less than laudatory.” He didn’t elaborate, but he referenced the confidential testimony of lawyer Bradley Edwards, who represents many Epstein victims and was a source for Brown.

Still, Fisten’s “credibility was damaged far more substantially [than Brown’s] and in far more significant ways,” Lichter concluded in his 34-page ruling.

Later he ordered Fisten to pay $58,570 in attorney fees as punishment for discovery violations and for breaching a confidentiality clause by speaking out publicly about the case.

Brown’s lawyer, Steven Peretz, sent Florida Bulldog a statement that says the arbitration award “represents a complete vindication for Ms. Brown.” He noted that Lichter “also awarded substantial attorney fees to Ms. Brown as a sanction against Mr. Fisten for his conduct during the case.”

miami herald logo“We will be moving forward to have the award confirmed in court and we expect the court will readily do so given the arbitrator’s comprehensive and detailed ruling,” Peretz wrote.

Fisten called the ruling “biased and negligent.” He wrote in an email that Brown “made numerous misstatements” in her testimony. “It is for these and many other reasons that we feel we will prevail in our appeal.”

Peretz, when asked about Lichter’s assertion that some of his client’s actions were “less than laudatory,” wrote this: “The arbitrator was unclear about what actions he was referring to … so I cannot comment on that point.”

Florida Bulldog asked Edwards to share his testimony about Brown, the testimony Lichter cited in his ruling.

“Other than being called as a witness and asked questions by both parties, I don’t know enough about the dispute to comment,” he wrote. Edwards said he hasn’t read the arbitration ruling and hasn’t worked with Fisten, once his valued lead investigator, for a decade.

On March 31 Fisten filed a motion in Miami-Dade Circuit Court to vacate the Dec. 30 arbitration award, which both parties had treated as confidential. Lichter’s ruling is an exhibit attached to the motion, making it a public record.

In the motion, Fisten’s lawyer, Andrew Kassier, previews his upcoming appeal. It will be based on Lichter’s “evident partiality” toward Brown and his “misconduct” directed at Fisten. Also, Lichter “refused to hear evidence material to the controversy.” Kassier provides no details.

Fisten has tried to focus public attention on Brown.

Chiefly, she takes credit for single-handedly identifying more than 60 Epstein victims and persuading four of them to do on-camera interviews for the Miami Herald series. But Fisten insists he tracked down almost all the victims, who later became plaintiffs and witnesses, while working as Edwards’s investigator.

In Edwards’s own book, Relentless Pursuit / My Fight for the Victims of Jeffrey Epstein, published in 2020, he writes about meeting Brown in 2017 after she approached him asking for help. At that point he’d already spoken to more than 50 victims, he wrote.

“I had accumulated all of the evidence in these cases and done all of the work,” Edwards wrote. “Unable to imagine the scope of that decade-long task or how voluminous the materials were and how complicated piecing it together was, Julie, like other reporters, wanted to start with my just spoon-feeding her everything and making it simple.”

He wouldn’t do that because he wanted her to appreciate the complexities, Edwards wrote. Instead, he made a list of documents for her to review –- and she persevered. “She followed the road map and stayed on course.”

Edwards praises Brown in his acknowledgements: “Thank you for having the courage to finally publish what other major publications would not. You made the public listen when all other journalists were scared.”

But he’s more fulsome in his praise of Fisten: “No good investigation can be done alone. While I had numerous investigators along the way, you were in the trenches with me during crucial times.

“In addition to game-planning with me, tracking down witnesses, and coordinating surveillance on Epstein, you also guarded my house and my family when things got hairy, for which I am forever grateful,” Edwards wrote.

Fisten isn’t the only one to raise questions and concerns about how Brown pursued and told the Epstein story.

Two victims are suing her for defamation in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. Haley Robson alleges that Brown threatened her when she declined to be interviewed for the Epstein book, then made good on the threat by falsely portraying her as a member of Epstein’s inner circle.

courtney wildThe other plaintiff, Courtney Wild, left, claims Brown falsely stated in her book that after Epstein raped Wild when she was underage, she had sex with him.

Wild’s lawyer, Jeffrey Gutchess, wrote that she suffered abuse by Epstein but never had sex with him. The lawsuit seeks significant money damages and a public apology from Brown.

Wild has been a leader among the Epstein victims, battling for years to undo his shady 2008 plea deal and make him answer to sex-trafficking charges. Wild also pushed for a victims’ compensation fund.

“Brown has sought to take credit away from the victims,” her lawsuit states. “Knowing Ms. Wild had spearheaded each of these major achievements, and not Ms. Brown as she claimed in her book, Ms. Brown sought to debase and defame Ms. Wild,” Gutchess wrote.

April 5

washington post logoWashington Post, Elon Musk is now the largest Twitter shareholder, setting up a showdown, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Faiz Siddiqui and Taylor Telford, April 5, 2022. His 9.2 percent stake in the company sets up a confrontation with advocates for restricting harmful accounts.

elon musk 2015Elon Musk, right, became the largest shareholder of Twitter on Monday, setting the platform up for a potential political showdown over its efforts to limit harmful content, efforts the firebrand Tesla chief executive has indicated that he sees hastening a turn toward censorship.

His surprise investment, which comes days after questioning the company’s commitment to free speech and suggesting he might start his own social platform, sent Twitter stock soaring. While it was not immediately clear what role Musk plans to play, analysts speculated he may try for an activist restructuring that could change the way Twitter polices its platform as well as who it banishes.

twitter bird CustomSome inside Twitter worry Musk may push Twitter in a libertarian direction, away from blocking or restricting accounts that cause social harm, according to people familiar with internal conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters.

Just days after Twitter banned former president Donald Trump in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, Musk wrote on Twitter that “a lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.”

Some Twitter employees and experts fear Musk’s involvement could also push the company further into chaos after years of investor activism and the sudden departure of former chief executive Jack Dorsey. The company is already at a critical juncture ahead of the 2022 midterm elections that will determine control of Congress, when it will have to police related misinformation that could help sway votes.

Musk has a 9.2 percent stake in the social media company, which was disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing and sent shares up 27 percent. His stake, worth nearly $2.9 billion based on the closing price of Twitter on Monday, now dwarfs that of Dorsey, who owns a 2.3 percent stake. Musk tweeted, “Oh hi lol,” greeting users of the social media app where he makes many of his most erratic pronouncements, including news about Tesla, where he heads the company. Musk seemed to realize the potential of his influence almost immediately. By Monday evening, he launched a Twitter poll asking users whether they would like an edit button — a longtime bone of contention among users and the app’s leadership.

 

truth social logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s Truth Social in trouble as financial, technical woes mount, Drew Harwell and Josh Dawsey, April 5, 2022. The former president has fumed about the app’s glacial rollout and has been reluctant to post there until it’s a proven success. Three top executives have resigned.

Here’s a truth former president Donald Trump doesn’t want to hear: His social network, Truth Social, is falling apart.

The app — a Twitter look-alike where posts are called “truths” — has seen its downloads plunge so low that it has fallen off the App Store charts. The company is losing investors, executives and attention. And though his adult sons just joined, Trump himself hasn’t posted there in weeks.

devin nunes file flagDevin Nunes, left, the former member of Congress from California who gave up the seat that he held for 19 years to run the company, had said the app would be “fully operational” by the end of March. But it has been hamstrung by technical issues, including a waiting list that has blocked hundreds of thousands of potential users during its crucial first weeks online.

Trump has privately fumed about the app’s slow rollout and has mused about joining other platforms such as Gettr, one of its biggest competitors, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Spurred by the former president’s frustration, Nunes has worked to install his own people atop the troubled company, leading to the resignations of its chiefs of technology, product development and legal affairs, according to the people familiar with the turmoil. The departures were first reported by Reuters and Politico.

They said Nunes has regularly traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., to brief the former president and discuss the platform’s issues. Trump is holding out hope that the platform will eventually be lucrative, but he has been reluctant to post on it because “it is not ready for prime time,” a close adviser said.

He has, however, continued to pay attention to Twitter, which he has repeatedly criticized as irrelevant since the site banned him last year. He still reviews tweets from politicians and members of the media from time to time, two of the people said.

Truth Social was planned to be the flagship product of the Trump Media & Technology Group, a start-up that Trump’s advisers said would become a “media powerhouse” encompassing online video, entertainment and news.

 

fox upside down news

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Hey, Tucker Carlson, are you still rooting for Russia over Ukraine? Max Boot, right, April 5, 2022. Only someone born yesterday max boot screen shotwould be remotely surprised by the atrocities revealed in Bucha, Ukraine. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has been committing war crimes since the day he took office. That makes it all the more sinister and enraging that he retains an influential rooting section of right-wing voters in the United States.

The Pew Research Center finds that the number of Republicans expressing confidence in the Russian tyrant has, mercifully, declined from 37 percent in 2006 to just 7 percent today. But some of the loudest and most influential voices in the MAGA movement still refuse to support Ukraine or stop pushing Russian propaganda. Many take an anti-anti Putin stance by criticizing the Ukrainians for resisting the invasion, insisting that the United States has no stake in the conflict, and focusing their ire on “neocons” and “globalists” (which, to my ears, sounds a lot like “Jews”) who are supposedly trying to drag the United States into a war with Russia.

Here, for example, is a manifesto issued on March 31 by isolationists of the left and right — including Sohrab Ahmari, Michael Anton, Glenn Greenwald and Christopher Rufo — blaming “leading interventionists in the United States and Europe,” rather than Putin, for “goading the West into an abyss of war and suffering.”

Here is what Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said a few weeks ago: “Remember that Zelensky is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.” Here is the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens on March 17: “President Zelensky is a very bad character who is working with globalists against the interests of his own people.”

Here is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on March 15: “NATO has been supplying the neo-Nazis in Ukraine with powerful weapons and extensive training on how to use them.” Here is Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance on Feb. 19: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”

tucker carlsonThe worst offenders are also the most influential: former president Donald Trump and Fox “News” host Tucker Carlson, right. Hey, Tucker, are you still rooting for Russia over Ukraine — as you said you were in 2019? Do you still think there’s no reason to “hate Putin” because he isn’t shipping “every middle-class job in your town to Russia” or “teaching your kids to embrace racial discrimination” — as you said on Feb. 22? Hey, Trump, do you still regard Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as an act of “genius,” and do you still view Putin as a “very savvy” guy who “loves his country” — as you said on Feb. 22?

More broadly, will the pro-Putin wing of the GOP stay loyal to the Butcher of Bucha as more evidence of his crimes emerges? The early indications are not promising.

 

dan snyder redskins com

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder (File photo).

washington post logoWashington Post, Commanders deny withholding revenue. Lawyer claims evidence presented, Liz Clarke, Nicki Jhabvala and Mark Maske, April 5, 2022 (print ed.). Dueling statements issued Monday provide some clarity on allegations made to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Acrimony over allegations of financial improprieties within the Washington Commanders’ front office escalated Monday with dueling statements from the team and the attorney of the former employee who made the claim to members of Congress.

In their statement, the Commanders identified the essence of the allegations The Washington Post reported March 31 that were being investigated by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

nfl logo cropped“There has been absolutely no withholding of ticket revenue at any time by the Commanders,” the team’s three-sentence statement read. “Those revenues are subject to independent audits by multiple parties. Anyone who offered testimony suggesting a withholding of revenue has committed perjury, plain and simple.”

Lawyer Lisa Banks, who represents more than 40 former team employees including Jason Friedman, a former vice president of ticketing who worked for the team for more than 20 years, countered with a statement defending her client and noting that he provided the panel with evidence to support the allegations.

The Commanders’ statement “defamed my client, Jason Friedman, who came forward at the request of the Congressional Oversight Committee and testified truthfully, with evidence,” Banks wrote. “Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman is unable to defend himself publicly due to contractual constraints that prevent him from speaking freely. He would be happy to recount his testimony if [team owner] Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders allow him to do so. I will await their response.”

The House Oversight Committee launched its investigation of Washington in October, dissatisfied with the lack of transparency in the NFL-sponsored investigation into reports of pervasive sexual harassment and toxicity in the team’s workplace.

While the panel’s focus remains on the Commanders’ workplace culture and the NFL’s response, it now is looking into Friedman’s allegations of financial improprieties.

Page Six, Nicolle Wallace marries MSNBC contributor Michael Schmidt, Francesca Bacardi, April 4, 2022. The MSNBC anchor and Schmidt married on Saturday in an intimate ceremony surrounded by immediate family, a spokesperson for the network confirmed to Page Six.

Page Six broke the news in March 2019 that Wallace, 50, and the New York Times writer, 38, began dating. The two met on the set of her show, as he appears as a frequent guest and commentator.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was around Wallace so frequently at the time that the pair disclosed their relationship to network chiefs, who were fine with it, relatively quickly. The network head honchos were also understanding when “Morning Joe” co-anchors Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough coupled up.

April 4

OpEdNews, Opinion: The Three Big Lies of 2022: Two Concern the Pandemic, Steven Jonas, rightl, April 4, 2022. "Three Big Lies," you might ask? "I thought that stephen jonasthere was only one." "Well yes," I would say. "There is indeed only one REALLY Big Lie, which is going to have very serious long-term POLITICAL consequences for the United States."

As is well-known, it is indeed the Trumpian Big Lie that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him, the persistence of which and the belief in it of many people is currently helping the Republican Party lead the nation down the road to fascism. (While this formulation was seen infrequently in political commentary just a few years ago, it is no, unfortunately, becoming commonplace.) And note that I said that it is the Republican Party, not the "Trumpublican Party" as I have referred to it over the past couple of years, that is leading this endeavour.

The Republican strategy is targeted voter suppression (and it is always targeted towards specific population groups, not just aimed at fixing a somewhat creaky system over all). It leads the way in all Republican strategy and tactics, with Trump having little if any active role to play in either the strategy or the tactics other than acting as a cheerleader. Thus, it is clear that it is the Party as a whole that is pulling the nation, or at least significant chunks of it geographically and ideologically, in that direction. Which of course is why I have taken to labelling it the Republo-fascist Party. While it is very important to note that it was Trump himself who began developing the Big Lie message of the "rigged election," actually back in 2016, it is the Republo-fascists that have taken it over for their own, broader, purposes. That is Big Lie No. 1.

Following Big Lie No. 1 of the "stolen election" come the Two Big Lies of the Pandemic, to which the bulk of the rest of this column is devoted. As it happens, they relate closely to the first and to the propaganda that the Republicans are using to drive the nation to fascism. The first of the Two Big Lies of the Pandemic is that the word "Mandate" in the (Democratic) government's program for dealing with the Pandemic and bringing it under control means forcing everybody and anybody to be vaccinated, whether they want to be or not. The second is that any national program for vaccination is comparable to the Nazi Holocaust. This latter one has not been as widely used as the false "mandates" one, but it is gaining in popularity as part of the anti-vaxx propaganda movement. It has been widely promoted by such prominent anti-vaxxers as Bobby Kennedy Jr. (self-styled-in-this-context) Left.

Dr. Steven Jonas, right, MD, MPH, MS, a professor emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook Medicine (NY) and author / co-author / editor / co-editor of over 35 books. He has been published also on many current affairs news sites. His own political website,stevenjonaspolitics.com, will eventually archive the close to 1,000 political columns he has published since 2004.

He was also a stony brook medicine2career triathlete (36 seasons, 256 multi-sport races), who is now retired from the sport.

His latest book is Ending the ‘Drug War’; Solving the Drug Problem: The Public Health Approach, Punto Press Publishing, (Brewster, NY, 2016). It is available on Kindle from Amazon, and also in hardcover from Amazon. In 1996, he published a ‘future history’ of the United States entitled The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel (Third Edition published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and also available on Amazon.

 
Press Run, Why is the press rooting against Biden? Eric Boehlert, right, April 4, 2022. Burying great news. Like clockwork, the first Friday of the month brought eric.boehlertanother blockbuster jobs report. The U.S. economy under President Joe Biden added another 400,000-plus new jobs in March, it was announced last week.

Biden is currently on pace, during his first two full years in office, to oversee the creation of 10 million new jobs and an unemployment rate tumbling all the way down to 3 percent. That would be an unprecedented accomplishment in U.S. history. Context: In four years in office, Trump lost three million jobs, the worst record since Herbert Hoover.

Yet the press shrugs off the good news, determined to keep Biden pinned down. “The reality is that one strong jobs report does not snap the administration out of its current circumstances,” Politico stressed Friday afternoon. How about 11 straight strong job reports, would that do the trick? Because the U.S. economy under Biden has been adding more than 400,000 jobs per month for 11 straight months.

The glaring disconnect between reality and how the press depicts White House accomplishments means a key question lingers: Why is the press rooting against Biden? Is the press either hoping for a Trump return to the White House, or at least committed to keeping Biden down so the 2024 rematch will be close and ‘entertaining’ for the press to cover? Is that why the Ginni Thomas insurrection story was politely marched off the stage after just a few days of coverage last week by the same news outlets that are now in year three of their dogged Hunter Biden reporting? (“ABC This Week” included 19 references to Hunter Biden yesterday.)

Just look at the relentlessly dour economic coverage. For the press, inflation remains the dominant, bad-news-for-Dems economic story. Even on Friday, the day the stellar jobs report was released, “inflation” was mentioned on cable news nearly as often as “jobs,” according to TVeyes.com.

The home-run report itself was often depicted as a mixed bag. These were some of the glass-half-empty headlines that appeared in the wake of the latest runaway numbers:

• “America’s Job Market Is On Fire. Here’s Why It Doesn’t Feel Like It” (CNN)
• “Booming Job Growth Is a Double-Edged Sword For Joe Biden” (CNN)
• “Why a Great Jobs Report Can’t Save Joe Biden” (CNN)
• “Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low in March, But Uncertainty Looms Ahead” (Washington Post)
• “Biden Gets a Strong Jobs Report, But a Sour Mood Still Prevails” (Washington Post)

April 3

 

robert malone war room

ny times logoNew York Times, The Latest Covid Misinformation Star Says He Invented the Vaccines, Davey Alba, April 3, 2022. Dr. Robert Malone (shown above in a screenshot from right-wing strategist Steve Bannon's radio show "War Room," says he helped invent mRNA vaccines and has been wronged for decades. Now he’s spreading unfounded claims about the vaccines and the virus.

Dr. Malone spent decades working in academic centers and with start-ups seeking to bring new medical treatments to market and to combat the Zika and Ebola outbreaks. But in recent months, as the coronavirus pandemic has persisted, he has taken up an entirely different role: spreading misinformation about the virus and vaccines on conservative programs.

In many of his appearances, Dr. Malone questions the severity of the coronavirus, which has now killed nearly one million people in the United States, and the safety of the coronavirus vaccines, which have been widely found to be safe and effective at preventing serious illness and death. His statements in late December on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” one of the most popular podcasts in the country, with 11 million listeners per episode on average, were at the center of the uproar over Mr. Rogan’s role in spreading bad information about the virus.

Dr. Malone also routinely sells himself on the shows as the inventor of mRNA vaccines, the technology used by Pfizer and Moderna for their Covid-19 shots, and says he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for their development. While he was involved in some early research into the technology, his role in its creation was minimal at best, say half a dozen Covid experts and researchers, including three who worked closely with Dr. Malone.

joseph mercolaIn spreading these exaggerations and unfounded claims, Dr. Malone joins medical professionals and scientists, like Dr. Joseph Mercola, left, and Dr. Judy Mikovits, right, whose profiles have grown during the pandemic as they spread misinformation about mask-judy mikovits pandemicwearing and convoluted conspiracy theories about virus experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

But unlike many of them, Dr. Malone is quite new to the right-wing media world, first appearing regularly on podcasts last June. Even two years into the pandemic, new misinformation stars are being minted. And in today’s media echo chamber — powered by social media algorithms and a tightknit network of politicians and influencers promoting debunked claims — they can quickly catapult to stardom.

In addition to his regular appearances on conservative shows, Dr. Malone has more than 134,000 subscribers to his Substack newsletter. About 8,000 pay the $5 monthly cost, he said, which would amount to at least $31,200 in monthly revenue. And mentions of him on social media, on cable television and in print and online news outlets have soared — to more than 300,000 so far this year, according to Zignal, a media research firm.

The coronavirus pandemic has “given rise to a class of influencers who build conspiracy theories and recruit as many people into them as possible,” said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council who studies digital platforms. “These influencers usually have a special claim to expertise and a veneer of credibility.”

“And almost without exception, these influencers feel that they have been wronged by mainstream society in some way,” Mr. Brooking added.

Dr. Malone earned a medical degree from Northwestern University in 1991, and for the next decade taught pathology at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Maryland. He then turned to biotech start-ups and consulting. His résumé says he was “instrumental” in securing early-stage approval for research on the Ebola vaccine by the pharmaceutical company Merck in the mid-2010s. He also worked on repurposing drugs to treat Zika.

In extended interviews at his home over two days, Dr. Malone said he was repeatedly not recognized for his contributions over the course of his career, his voice low and grave as he recounted perceived slights by the institutions he had worked for.

 

dan snyder redskins comNBC News, If allegations of withholding payments from league are true, Daniel Snyder likely will be done, Mike Florio, April 3, 2022. Saturday night’s bombshell could indeed be the last straw for the NFL and Daniel Snyder, above.

A.J. Perez of FrontOfficeSports.com reported last night that Congress is exploring whether the Washington Commanders withheld money that should have been surrendered to the league’s visiting-team pool. As a league source with knowledge of the dynamics among owners told PFT, this would become Snyder’s “death knell” as an owner, if it’s proven to be true.

There also would be an effort to force Snyder to make his payments, whether through the court system or an internal arbitration.

nfl logo croppedNFL teams don’t keep all of their ticket revenue, and they don’t directly share any of the money from each given game with the opponent. Instead, 40 percent of the gate from every game goes into a league-wide pool that goes in equal portions to all teams. (Home teams deduct 15 percent of the total ticket revenue for expenses, making it basically a 66-34 percent share of the gross and a 60-40 split of the net.)

So, if this is true, Snyder got 1/32nd of the 40-percent payments generated by the other 31 teams — and he failed to pony up all of the 40-percent chunk that should have gone to his partners.

His partners have protected him when it comes to the investigation regarding workplace misconduct because, indirectly, they are protecting themselves from having similar allegations threaten the hold on their franchises. If it can be proven that he has been picking his partners’ pockets, his partners quite likely will be kicking his ass out of the house.

April 2

 

Ukrainian photographer and documentary maker Maks Levin in Kyiv on May 5, 2019 (Photo by Genya Savilov of AFP via Getty Images).

Ukrainian photographer and documentary maker Maks Levin in Kyiv on May 5, 2019 (Photo by Genya Savilov of AFP via Getty Images).

HuffPost, Missing Ukrainian Photojournalist Maks Levin Found Dead In Combat Zone, Hilary Hanson, April 2, 2022. Maksim "Maks" Levin was a photographer and videographer who worked with a number of news organizations in Ukraine and internationally.

Ukrainian photojournalist and filmmaker Maksim “Maks” Levin has been found dead after going missing last month.

Levin’s body was found in the village of Huta Mezhyhirska in the Vyshhorod district ― an area that’s been shelled heavily by Russian forces ― where he had been reporting on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said in a statement that Levin was killed by gunshots fired by members of the Russian military, The Associated Press reported. An investigation into his death is underway.

The Kyiv-born Levin, 40, is survived by his wife and four sons. He had worked with numerous Ukrainian media outlets as well international news organizations, including The Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC.

“Maks has provided compelling photos and video from Ukraine to Reuters since 2013,” Reuters global visuals managing editor John Pullman said in a statement. “His death is a huge loss to the world of journalism.”

 

huawei meng wanzhou

washington post logoWashington Post, Huawei’s CFO promoted to a top post months after U.S. extradition deal, Eva Dou, April 2, 2022. Meng, above, daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, is now one of three rotating chairs who helm the tech giant for six-month intervals.

Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies has promoted chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou to a key role just half a year after the end of her U.S. extradition fight, setting up a potential family succession at one of China’s most important companies.

The promotion makes 50-year-old Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, one of three rotating chairs who helm Huawei for six-month intervals. Ren, 77, remains chief executive.

Ren had long said his children would not succeed him at Huawei. Meng, who spent most of her Huawei career in the finance department, was widely seen as lacking the engineering expertise that would allow Huawei’s employees to accept her as their leader. But her lengthy house arrest in Canada has raised her popularity within the company and across China.

Meng entered the international spotlight in December 2018, when she was detained in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. Her detention sparked a global standoff after China jailed two Canadian nationals on vague charges, in what Western officials said was an example of “hostage diplomacy.” Meng remained in house arrest in Vancouver for almost three years battling extradition to the United States.

She returned to China in September after cutting a deal with the U.S. Justice Department in which she acknowledged helping to conceal the company’s direct dealings in Iran, which violated U.S. sanctions. While Meng admitted illegal conduct, she did not have to plead guilty as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.

 

herschel walker hill tv

Press Run, Commentary: CNN gives Herschel Walker a pass, Eric Boehlert, right, April 2, 2022. One of the disturbing consequences of the press spending so eric.boehlertmany years refusing to call Trump a liar is that the tepid media trend now extends to the rest of the GOP at a time when key players have learned that they can make anything up and the press won’t say so.

CNN on Friday posted a revealing story (above) about how Herschel Walker, Trump’s pick to be Georgia’s next U.S. Senator, spent years telling crowds that he graduated in the top 1% of his class from the University of Georgia, where he was a star running back in the 1980’s.In truth, Walker never graduated from college. The ridiculous part: CNN gently claimed Walker was guilty of “overstating his academic achievements.”

Question: If a high-profile Democratic candidate fabricated his/her bio this aggressively, do you the think the press would treat it so politely?

CNN, Investigation: GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker has been overstating his academic achievements for years, Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck,  April 1, 2022. For years, Herschel Walker, shown above in a screenshot from HillTV.com, has told the same inspiring story: that he graduated in the top 1% of his class at the University of Georgia. He's told the story, according to a review of his speeches by CNN's KFile, during motivational speeches over the years and as recently as 2017. The only problem: it's not true.

CNNWalker, who is a candidate in the Republican primary race for US Senate in Georgia, acknowledged in December that he did not graduate from Georgia after the Atlanta-Journal Constitution first reported that the false claim was listed on his campaign website.

But a CNN KFile review found that Walker himself has been repeating the claim for years. Walker's comments in 2017, and others made over the years, show the former football star repeatedly misrepresented his academic credentials.

"And all of sudden I started going to the library, getting books, standing in front of a mirror reading to myself," Walker said in a 2017 motivational speech. "So that Herschel that all the kids said was retarded become valedictorian of his class. Graduated University of Georgia in the top 1% of his class."

Walker also made the claim in another interview in 2017.

"I also was in the top 1% of my graduating class of college," Walker told Sirius XM radio.

Walker did not graduate from Georgia, where he was a star running back after entering as a prized high school recruit. A profile of Walker from 1982 in the Christian-Science Monitor and an article in The New York Times said he maintained a B average at the school. Walker himself told The Chicago Tribune in 1985 he maintained a 3.0 before his grades dropped. He left to play professional football before graduating and, though having repeatedly said he was returning to obtain his degree, he never received a diploma.

The Walker campaign did not provide proof of Walker's claims when asked by CNN, but they defended his record as a professional athlete. Walker is endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is expected to be the Republican nominee to run against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November.

The claim was removed from his website between December and January, according to screenshots from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

That was not the only claim about Walker's education that was adjusted on his website at the time. After a review of the revised site, CNN's KFile found another little-noticed claim was removed that said Walker graduated valedictorian of his high school. The website now says that Walker graduated "top of his class." The claim still remains on the Heisman Winners page for Walker.

While Walker was a top student at his high school and the president of the Beta Club -- he maintained an "A" average to be in the school's Beta Club -- CNN's KFile found no evidence he was the class valedictorian.

Walker has mentioned in numerous speeches over the years, including in the 2017 speech where he claimed to have graduated in the top 1% of his college class, and in his 2008 autobiography that he was class valedictorian at Johnson County High School. The street where Johnson County High School resides was officially renamed "Herschel Walker Drive" in 2017 in honor of Walker's football achievements.

April 1

 

hunter biden

Press Run, Commentary: The media's Hunter Biden debacle, Whitewater II, Eric Boehlert, right, April 1, 2022. Eagerly deploying newsroom resources to the eric.boehlertperpetually overblown Hunter Biden story — just as Trump and Fox News kick off a new smear campaign — CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post gladly did the GOP’s bidding this week. Signing off on the idea that the Hunter Biden story remains a scandal simply because Republicans say so, the press has adopted a Whitewater-like obsession with the perpetual dead-end story.

One White House reporter on Thursday, doing his best Fox News impression, asked if President Joe Biden would take the extraordinary step of pardoning Hunter (shown above) — who is not accused of any crime.

Producing remarkably similar articles that were published nearly simultaneously this week, the CNN.com, Journal, and Post efforts all swung and missed. On paper, there’s no reason why they would pick the exact same moment to churn out nearly 7,000 words of Biden reporting. Especially since none of the investigations dug up any startling revelations about his business dealings from the previous decade.

The copycat nature of the reports raises questions about who the unnamed sources for these stories were, and if there was a coordinated effort by Republican operatives to push simultaneous Hunter updates.

It’s also telling that the hand-delivered leaks arrived the same time we’re learning even more about the Trump White House’s criminality. Specifically, the administration’s clear lawbreaking surrounding the January 6th coup attempt.

This was the big ah-ha moment from the Post piece: “The new documents illustrate the ways in which his family profited from relationships built over Joe Biden’s decades in public service.”

And?

The press can’t provide an answer to the “and” — they can’t find anything illegal or shocking — so they pretend that the business deals themselves are newsworthy and that Hunter’s career requires years of media digging. Meanwhile, the recent revelation about a Supreme Court Justice’s wife strategizing with the Trump White House to overturn an election has evaporated from most newsrooms in less than one week.

After years of media focus there’s nothing to suggest Joe Biden was involved in his son’s business dealings or profited from them in any way, or that the senior Biden ever did anything remotely unethical in connection with Hunter’s career.

The son has never run for office, never served in the government, never lobbied to change U.S. policy, and never acted as an advisor to his father in any way.

The fact is, he remains under investigation for matters related to tax payments and his foreign work, and there is a chance he could be indicted. Although, as the New York Times recently reported, Biden recently paid off “a significant tax liability,” which “could make it harder for prosecutors to win a conviction or a long sentence for tax-related offenses.”

It’s a relatively small stakes tax case that has produced a ridiculous amount of breathless Beltway coverage, much to the delight of the GOP. Context: 11 Trump associates who worked directly with the president have been indicted on criminal charges.

The press relentlessly pursues the Hunter story because they insist there’s the appearance of conflict of interest given the family connections. But Hunter began making overseas energy deals just as his father was leaving office in 2016 after eight years serving with President Barack Obama. If Hunter wanted to cash in on his father’s vice presidency, why did he wait until the end of his father’s vice presidency?

Still, the media fixation continues.

“I’m so glad our colleagues are still doing strong reporting on this story,” New York Times columnist Gail Collins cheered last week. “Hunter Biden’s scummy business dealings shouldn’t be swept under the rug any more than anyone else’s.”

Swept under the rug? Good grief. Since 2017, “Hunter Biden” has appeared in more than 800 articles and columns published by the Times, according to Nexis.

 

census bureau logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Seven Decades Later, the 1950 Census Bares Its Secrets, Michael Wines, Updated April 1, 2022. Federal law kept the answers on the census forms secret for 72 years. The forms went online Friday, a bonanza for historians and the merely curious.

At 12:01 a.m. on Friday, precisely 72 years after enumerators began knocking on the doors of some 46 million American houses and apartments, the federal government made public what they learned: the ages, incomes, addresses, ancestry and a trove of other facts about the 150.7 million people who were counted in the 1950 census.

Those millions of census forms, painstakingly filled out by hand in ink, were posted online by the National Archives and Records Administration, which by law has kept them private until now. The records, searchable by name and address, offer an intimate look at a nation on the cusp of the modern era — for the merely curious, a glimpse of the life parents or grandparents led, but for historians and genealogists, a once-in-a-decade bonanza of secrets unveiled.

“This is the Super Bowl and the Olympics combined, and it’s only every 10 years — it’s awesome stuff,” Matt Menashes, the executive director of the National Genealogical Society, said in an interview. “What’s so great about these points of data is that it helps you paint a picture — not just relationships, but what society was like.”

The last release of similar data was in 2012, when the National Archives made details of the 1940 census public. The government has imposed a 72-year ban on the release of census records since 1952, when the Census Bureau turned over to the National Archives all the data it had collected since the first census in 1790.

Trump Administration White House Photographer Shealah Craighead (Photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times).

Trump Administration White House Photographer Shealah Craighead (Photo by Doug Mills of the New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, She Took the White House Photos. Trump Moved to Take the Profit, Eric Lipton and Maggie Haberman, Updated April 1, 2022. The former chief White House photographer made plans to publish a book of Trump photos. The former president had other plans.

As President Donald J. Trump’s tenure came to an end, the chief White House photographer, who had traveled the world with him and spent countless hours inside the White House snapping pictures, notified Mr. Trump’s aides that she intended to publish a book collecting some of her most memorable images.

This was hardly a radical idea: Official photographers from every White House since President Ronald Reagan’s have published their own books. Barack Obama and George W. Bush were so supportive that they wrote forewords for them.

But like so much else involving Mr. Trump, the plan by his chief photographer, Shealah Craighead, did not follow this bipartisan norm.

First, aides to Mr. Trump asked her for a cut of her book advance payment, in exchange for his writing a foreword and helping promote the book, according to former associates of Mr. Trump.

Then Mr. Trump’s team asked Ms. Craighead to hold off on her book project to allow the former president to take Ms. Craighead’s photos and those of other White House staff photographers and publish his own book, which is now selling for as much as $230 a copy.

That the profits from Ms. Craighead’s labor are now going into Mr. Trump’s pocket has left several of Mr. Trump’s former aides upset — but not exactly surprised.

“Shea’s a very talented photographer and this was really all of her hard work,” said Stephanie Grisham, who served as the White House press secretary for Mr. Trump and wrote her own book, referring to Ms. Craighead by her nickname. “I just keep thinking: What a shame that he is actually now profiting off of it. But then again, this is the guy who is hawking caps and all kinds of stuff right now to raise money for himself.”

Eric Draper, who was the chief White House photographer during Mr. Bush’s tenure, said the move was disrespectful to Ms. Craighead.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Mr. Draper said, adding that he had spoken with Ms. Craighead last year about her plan to do her own book. “I would be disappointed if I were in her shoes.”

The 317-page book Mr. Trump published in December, titled Our Journey Together, includes no photo credits. It does not mention any of the photographers who took the images until the last page, where he briefly offered a “grateful acknowledgment” to “all the phenomenal White House photographers,” listing them by name, including Ms. Craighead, whose pictures make up much of the book.

There is no legal prohibition on Mr. Trump assembling and publishing photographs that a White House staff member took during his tenure; under federal law, those photographs are considered in the public domain and not subject to copyright. There is a public Flickr account, now managed by the National Archives, that has 14,995 photos from the Trump White House, a third of them listing Ms. Craighead as the photographer.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jen Psaki is said to be in talks to join MSNBC, John Koblin, April 1, 2022. Ms. Psaki joined President Biden’s administration as his first press secretary. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, is in advanced talks with MSNBC to join the network after she leaves the Biden administration, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

Ms. Psaki could leave the White House as soon as next month, one of the people said.

While the details of her role are still being discussed, the negotiations have centered on an arrangement in which she could host shows both for MSNBC and for Peacock, the streaming platform of MSNBC’s parent, NBCUniversal. Ms. Psaki could also make regular appearances on other MSNBC shows as well as on NBC News, the people said.

Though a deal is not yet finalized and could still fall apart, Ms. Psaki is now only talking with NBCUniversal officials, the two people said. CNN had also been pursuing bringing Ms. Psaki aboard, one of them said.

washington post logoWashington Post, A Jan. 6 pastor divides his Tennessee community with extremist views, Annie Gowen, April 1, 2022 (print ed.). The pastor promised his followers that this church service would be like no other, and the event on a cold Sunday in March did not disappoint.

“Devil, your foot soldiers are coming out tonight, they’re coming all the way out. We will expel them,” Pastor Greg Locke howled from the stage in a crowded white tent. “You gotta leave, Devil,” he shouted, “you gotta get out!”

Wielding a microphone as he paced the stage, his wife Tai at his side, Locke called out “spirits” of anger, rage, bitterness, lust and envy.

“Spirit of molestation, spirit of abuse, get out right now!” Locke commanded.

“Every spirit of homosexuality, lesbianism, come out, come out,” his wife ordered. “Transgenderism, gender dysphoria, come out.”

“We rebuke it, we rebuke it!” Locke yelled.

The tent slowly took on a spirit of its own. Worshipers began writhing as if in pain, others waved their hands in the air in benediction. “Amens” began to mix with the guttural sound of growling, moaning and praying in tongues.

“If you’ve had the covid-19 shot, I’m telling you you’ve got poison in your veins,” Locke thundered. “We call out the covid-19 vaccine out right now. Keep that demonic spirit out of you right now in the name of Jesus!”

Some fell to the ground, pawing at cedar chips, or wretched into silver vomit buckets that had been set at the end of each row of white folding chairs.

To those unfamiliar with charismatic worship style, the scene might be easily dismissed or mocked. Yet Locke, 45, head of the Global Vision Bible Church, boasts millions of followers, many of them online, gaining national attention during the coronavirus crisis when he kept his church open and defied the mask mandates of the “fake pandemic.”

But to his critics, he is spreading a dangerous message of hate that is taking root in some conservative churches. His rising prominence also comes as many mainstream faith leaders and experts on extremism grow increasingly concerned about the spread of White Christian nationalism, the belief that patriotism and love of America are explicitly intertwined with White evangelical Christianity.

Locke is an “ambassador” of a movement where he and other pastors around the country appear at rallies and tent revivals preaching Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that the election was stolen as a new holy war, according to Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization dedicated to religious freedom.

“If someone is convinced that God has preordained an election result for a messiah-like candidate and is told over and over that the election was stolen, that erodes trust in elections and democracy,” Tyler said.

Locke, in an interview, was defiant that he is not a Christian nationalist, but he makes no apologies for bringing politics into the pulpit. He was on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection and has continued to preach the falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Locke and his ministry have divided this quiet town on the outskirts of Nashville with many residents distressed at the thousands who flock here to hear him and the attention he attracts, most recently with a book burning where he and followers threw copies of the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series and Disney villain merchandise into a giant bonfire. He has declared he now wants to “deliver” people from demonic influences and witchcraft.

washington post logoWashington Post, Turmoil at CBS News over Trump aide Mick Mulvaney’s punditry gig, Jeremy Barr, April 1, 2022 (print ed.). Mulvaney’s punditry gig
A network executive said they want to hire more Republicans to gain ‘access’ ahead of a ‘likely’ Democratic midterm wipeout.

CBS News’s decision to hire former Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney as a paid on-air contributor is drawing backlash within the company because of his history of bashing the press and promoting the former president’s fact-free claims.

CBS News logoBut a top network executive seemed to lay the groundwork for the decision in a staff meeting earlier this month, when he said the network needed to hire more Republicans to prepare for a “likely” Democratic midterm wipeout.

“If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” CBS News’s co-president Neeraj Khemlani told the staff of the network’s morning show, according to a recording of his comments obtained by The Washington Post. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), Court rejects appeals by Oberlin College, Gibson's Bakery from 2019 civil trial, Dave O'Brien, April 1, 2022. The 9th District Court of Appeals in Akron on Thursday rejected appeals by both Oberlin College and Gibson's Bakery over the results of a 2019 civil trial.

The court unanimously upheld all of Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi's rulings in the bakery's long-running civil case against the college, stemming from student protests regarding alleged racist behavior by the business on West College Street in Oberlin in November 2016.

A jury awarded the bakery and its owners, the late David and Allyn W. "Grandpa" Gibson, more than $44 million in damages in June 2019.

Miraldi lowered that to $25 million to conform with state law, but he also awarded more than $6.2 million in fees to the Gibsons' attorneys. The monetary award has been stayed pending the appeals process.

In a 50-page ruling on the dueling appeals filed by the college and the Gibsons, Judges Donna Carr, Jennifer Hensal and Betty Sutton overruled three arguments made by the college and one by the bakery.

The court said Miraldi was right to deny the college's request for a new trial and that his rulings on the amount of damages and attorney fees owed the Gibsons were appropriate.

The Gibsons also appealed the damages award, saying it didn't sufficiently punish the college for its behavior. The appeals court also rejected that argument.

Through the trial and a more than two-year appeals process and the deaths of both David and Grandpa Gibson, the Gibson family persevered, attorney Lee Plakas said.

"The Gibsons fought the good fight, as the family has done for over 130 years," he said Thursday. "Somewhere high above us, Grandpa and Dave Gibson are smiling to know that the truth still matters."

The unanimous appeals court decision "shows that the judges recognized the importance of the case on both a regional and national level and methodically and insightfully dissected the evidence and the record which supported the verdict," Plakas said. "I was very impressed with the judges' command of and reference to specific evidentiary portions of the very large record that confirmed, even to the judges, that in fact truth does still matter."

In a statement provided to The Chronicle-Telegram on Thursday, Oberlin College said it was "obviously disappointed that the appeals court affirmed the judgment in its ruling earlier today."

"We are reviewing the Court’s opinion carefully as we evaluate our options and determine next steps," it said. "In the meantime, we recognize that the issues raised by this case have been challenging, not only for the parties involved in the lawsuit, but for the entire Oberlin community. We remain committed to strengthening the partnership between the college, the city of Oberlin and its residents, and the downtown business community. We will continue in that important work while remaining focused on our core educational mission."

The ruling

The appeals court noted the "significant local and national media attention" around the case, and how much of the outside focus "has been on an individual’s First Amendment right to protest and voice opinions in opposition to events occurring around them locally, nationally and globally."

The appeals court did not take those arguments into consideration, Carr wrote.

The appeals court "must emphasize, however, that the sole focus of this appeal is on the separate conduct of Oberlin and (former Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith) Raimondo that allegedly caused damage to the Gibsons, not on the First Amendment rights of individuals to voice opinions or protest," she wrote.

Oberlin College, and media rights and free speech groups that filed briefs on its behalf, argued that a finding of defamation "could have a chilling effect on students' rights to free speech at colleges and universities across the country."

Miraldi agreed, but that wasn't the issue at hand, the appeals court said. Instead, "the Gibsons' libel claim focused solely on whether Oberlin had disseminated false, written statements of fact that caused the Gibsons significant harm," the appeals court found.

In one of three "assignments of error," Oberlin College argued that Miraldi improperly denied its request to dismiss the case in its favor or overturn the jury's verdict.

It argued that the Gibsons failed to prove that the college libeled them or the bakery and that any alleged libel was constitutionally protected opinion.

Students protesting the arrest of three of their number gathered outside the bakery for two days in November 2016. They passed out flyers saying the bakery had a long history of racist discrimination and profiling.

Raimondo also was there and the appeals court said testimony at the trial was that she and other college employees actively passed out flyers and assisted students who were protesting.

Allegations that bakery employee Allyn D. Gibson — the son and grandson of the owners — "assaulted" a student for shoplifting in an incident that was the catalyst for the student protests were on the flyers. The allegation was repeated in an Oberlin College Student Senate resolution that was posted on campus.

The college argued the flyer and senate resolution were simply opinions, "but it has focused its arguments throughout this case on statements alleging merely that the Gibsons were racists," Carr wrote. "Despite Oberlin’s arguments to the contrary, the potentially libelous statements in this case include much more than calling the Gibsons 'racists.'"

In fact, Miraldi found "that both the flyer and the Senate Resolution were not statements of constitutionally protected opinion but were defamatory," Carr wrote, and that he focused "on the statements about the Gibsons and their bakery having a history of racial profiling and discrimination toward students and residents and the statements about an 'assault' of a student by an owner or owners of the bakery."

Miraldi "found that allegations of an assault, if untrue, were defamatory per se and Oberlin has not raised a timely or proper challenge to that ruling by the trial court," Carr wrote.

A "reasonable reader" of the flyer and resolution could be led to believe that the Gibsons "had a verifiable history of racially profiling shoplifters on that basis for years," even though no such testimony was offered or allowed in court.

And "a reasonable person could conclude that Oberlin (College) took actions to directly publish and/or assist in publishing the flier," Carr wrote.

The Gibsons called multiple witnesses to testify that they had never experienced racism while working at or patronizing the store, while Oberlin College employees who tried to testify they had heard reports or rumors of racial profiling or discrimination had their testimony rejected as hearsay.

The college "did not call witnesses to testify about their personal experiences with the Gibsons. Instead, the defendants sought to have Oberlin administrators testify about 'what Oberlin heard' about the Gibsons from community members," Carr wrote. "Oberlin’s excluded evidence was hearsay, while the Gibsons' evidence on this issue was not."

Oberlin College also argued the Gibsons had no claim against Raimondo for interfering with the business relationship between the bakery and the college, but the appeals court rejected that argument.

David Gibson and Allyn W. "Grandpa" Gibson were required to prove at trial that Oberlin College intended to cause, knew or should have known that it would cause serious emotional distress, and that its conduct was "extreme and outrageous, going beyond all bounds of decency and considered intolerable in a civilized society" causing "psychic injury" or "mental anguish beyond what a reasonable person would be expected to endure," according to the law.

The appeals court said any statements of alleged libel were not protected by the First Amendment. The Gibsons were not public figures, for whom the rules are different when it comes to allegations of libel, the court ruled.

The Gibsons presented evidence that when the college learned "that the student allegations of assault and racial profiling might be false," it started doing business with the bakery again but refused to correct the statements in the flyer or the Student Senate resolution.

"The Gibsons also presented evidence that they had been continually taunted and harassed for many months, that their business and property had been vandalized, and that Grandpa Gibson had broken his back after an encounter with someone he believed was trying to harass him or break into his apartment," Carr wrote, adding that the appeals court "cannot conclude that reasonable minds could only conclude that this conduct failed to rise to the level of extreme and outrageous."

Oberlin College had also requested a new trial, a request Miraldi denied. In its appeal, it argued Miraldi gave the jury bad instructions about libel, improperly excluded evidence and should have reduced compensatory damages.

The appeals court disagreed, saying Miraldi properly instructed the jury.

Oberlin College failed to cite any legal authority to support different jury instructions, didn't give Miraldi grounds for its objection and forfeited its right to raise the issue in a motion for a new trial or on appeal, Carr wrote.

Miraldi also properly kept testimony about the shoplifting incident that led to the protest out of the civil trial, the appeals court ruled.

The jury originally awarded the Gibsons more than $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages, for a total of $44 million that Miraldi reduced to $25 million under Ohio law.

It was up to Oberlin College to demonstrate that Miraldi made mistakes in his rulings on capping monetary damages — which the appeals court ruled it did not.

The appeals court "will not make an argument for Oberlin" on that matter, Carr wrote.

The Gibsons' argument that punitive monetary damages didn't go far enough toward punishing Oberlin College for damaging their reputation and the reputation of the bakery was flawed because the family didn't establish a constitutional right to "a particular degree of punitive damages."

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that defendants subject to punitive damages also have a right to fairness "which requires that they receive notice of the severity of the penalty the state may impose for their conduct," Carr wrote.

The Gibsons "failed to establish" that caps on punitive damages "infringed on their constitutional rights," she wrote.

The five-week trial in 2019 was extended by a sixth week for arguing motions, involved 33 witnesses, 32 depositions taken by the college, and 33 motions by the college that the Gibsons and their lawyers had to respond to, according to the bakery's attorneys.

The Gibsons' attorneys spent 14,417 hours on the case, at an average hourly rate of $290, according to testimony in the case, and Miraldi ordered the college to pay them more than $6.2 million in fees.

His calculation also was based on the skills of the attorneys involved, the time and labor involved and the difficulty of the issues in the case, he said, and the appeals court agreed.

Plakas said David Gibson, who died in November 2019 after battling cancer, had worried the college would wait him and his father out until they died. Grandpa Gibson died Feb. 12.

March 30

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok, Taylor Lorenz and Drew Harwell, The firm, Targeted Victory, pushed local operatives across the country to boost messages calling TikTok a threat to American children. “Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger,'" one campaign director said.

facebook logoFacebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok.

The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping tiktok logo square Customtake down its biggest competitor. These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users.

Employees with the firm, Targeted Victory, worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society, according to internal emails shared with The Washington Post.

Targeted Victory needs to “get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using,” a director for the firm wrote in a February email.

Campaign operatives were also encouraged to use TikTok’s prominence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns.

“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t where [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should be focused,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote.

The White House is briefing TikTok stars about the war in Ukraine

The emails, which have not been previously reported, show the extent to which Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics on the Chinese-owned, multibillion-dollar rival that has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world, often outranking even Meta’s popular Facebook and Instagram apps. In an internal report last year leaked by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook researchers said teens were spending “2-3X more time” on TikTok than Instagram, and that Facebook’s popularity among young people had plummeted.

Targeted Victory declined to respond to questions about the campaign, saying only that it has represented Meta for several years and is “proud of the work we have done.”

In one email, a Targeted Victory director asked for ideas on local political reporters who could serve as a “back channel” for anti-TikTok messages, saying the firm “would definitely want it to be hands off.”

In other emails, Targeted Victory urged partners to push stories to local media tying TikTok to dangerous teen trends in an effort to show the app’s purported harms. “Any local examples of bad TikTok trends/stories in your markets?” a Targeted Victory staffer asked.

“Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger: how TikTok has become the most harmful social media space for kids,’” the staffer wrote.

Press Run, Commentary: Are only Dems guilty of "gaffes?" Eric Boehlert, right, March 30, 2022. Most of President Joe Biden’s historic foreign policy eric.boehlertspeech given over the weekend was washed away by the press.

For days, journalists fixated not on how the Poland address marked a fundamental change in the West’s relationship with Russia, but on a nine-word ad-lib that Biden added to the text, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” in reference to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Journalists rushed in to claim the “gaffe” had produced “shock waves” around the world. (It did not.)

Swinging into theater criticism mode and searching for a conflict narrative, the press obsessed over the semantics story, portraying Biden as “undisciplined” and creating a monster “distraction” — an “unforced error” — as the war in Ukraine drags on.

Biden doubled down, saying that he was expressing his “moral outrage” over the mass killing that Putin had unleashed. He confirmed his comment came from the heart and did not represent a policy change for the U.S., which is not trying to change the regime in Moscow.

Still, journalists refused to drop the weird gotcha coverage. They hit Biden on Monday with 14 separate questions at a press briefing (“It sounded like you were calling for regime change in Russia”), pretending the story was still shrouded in confusion. Meanwhile, the press didn’t ask a single question about the state of the Ukraine war.

The media theatrics were especially galling since the previous president spent four years struggling to string together coherent sentences, garbling his way through a presidency.

Famous for being a habitual liar, as well as boasting often impossible-to-follow syntax that left people scratching their heads trying to make sense of his oddball pronouncements, Trump obliterated the idea that an occasional gaffe ought to define a politician, and the press stopped caring about his nonstop missteps. (To this day, Trump thinks "stealth" fighter planes are invisible to the human eye.)

Biden’s nine-word comment about Putin? That was Katie bar the door for the media — “gaffe” was mentioned on cable news over 100 times with regards to the Biden-Putin story, according to TVeyes.

It certainly appears the breathless pursuit of “gaffes” is a sport the press plays only with Democrats. “You will notice that the use of "gaffe" almost disappeared during Trump's term as president because most of what he said was a gaffe— or would have been under a previous president,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen.

How many news articles and television reports did you see in 2020 about Trump "gaffes" and how they might stand in the way of his re-election bid?

Probably the same number as I did, which was basically zero. Even though Trump was urging people to inject bleach into their veins.

The press for years has been overly interested in Biden “gaffe” coverage. The president famously grew up with a severe stutter, which he overcame but sometimes finds himself at a temporary loss for words. The press likes to lean into that to generate news, and especially during the 2020 campaign. One Hill headline read, “Do Biden's Gaffes Make Him Unelectable?” Mediaite labeled it an "insane gaffe" when Biden at a rally mistakenly referred to Super Tuesday as Super Thursday, before quickly catching his mistake. That doesn't seem "insane."

Biden ended up getting more votes for president than any candidate in U.S. history, confirming that voters don’t care about Democratic “gaffes.”

 

joan joyce ted williams frank spec shea joan chandler via nyt

ny times logoNew York Times, Joan Joyce, a Sensation in Softball and More, Is Dead at 81, William McDonald, Updated March 30, 2022. Her pitching feats — including striking out Ted Williams — were legend. And her prowess in basketball, volleyball and golf as well spoke to her all-around athletic greatness.

On a warm August night in 1961, Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter” who had finished his Hall of Fame baseball career the year before as the last hitter to bat .400 in a single season, strode to the plate before an overflow crowd at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, Conn., to face a young softball pitching phenom by the name of Joan Joyce.

The occasion was a charity fund-raising exhibition. Williams was in his Boston Red Sox uniform, No. 9. Joyce stood on the mound 40 feet away (regulation in women’s softball, as opposed to 60 feet 6 inches in major-league baseball), clad in the red-and-white jersey and shorts she wore as the premier pitcher for the Raybestos Brakettes, one of the top teams in the women’s game, with its home field 30 miles to the south in suburban Stratford, Conn.

It was one of several such exhibitions in which Williams and Joyce faced off in the early 1960s, but the one in Waterbury — Joyce’s hometown, where the fans were chanting “Joanie, Joanie Joanie!” — proved to be the most memorable. It would become an oft-told tale in the lore that enveloped Joyce over her long career as, many would say, the most dominant player in the history of women’s fast-pitch softball and — given her prowess in basketball, volleyball and golf as well — as one of the greatest female athletes of her generation.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bruce Willis to Step Away From Acting After Aphasia Diagnosis, Maya Salam, March 30, 2022. His ex-wife, Demi Moore, announced online that the actor was recently diagnosed with a disorder that affects the ability to understand or express speech.

On Wednesday, Demi Moore announced on Instagram that her ex-husband Bruce Willis, the prolific action-movie star, had recently been diagnosed with aphasia — a disorder that affects the brain’s language center and a person’s ability to understand or express speech — and that he would be stepping away from acting.

“To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” Moore’s post reads. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

“We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him,” it continued. “As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up,’ and together we plan to do just that.”

The post is signed “Emma, Demi, Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Mabel & Evelyn” — referring to Emma Heming Willis, Willis’s wife, and his children. Moore is the mother of Rumer, Scout and Tallulah, and Heming Willis is mother to Mabel and Evelyn.

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

ap logoAssociated Press via HuffPost, Sandy Hook Families Reject Alex Jones Settlement Offer Of $120,000 Per Plaintiff, Staff Report, March 30, 2022. A trial is planned to determine how much he should pay the plaintiffs.

Infowars host Alex Jones offered to pay $120,000 per plaintiff to resolve a lawsuit by relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims who said he defamed them by asserting the massacre never happened, according to court filings Tuesday. The offer was quickly rejected by the families.

A Connecticut judge found Jones liable for damages in November, and a trial is planned to determine how much he should pay the families.

The plaintiffs said they have been subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy promoted on his show.

The court filings posted online said: “Mr. Jones extends his heartfelt apology for any distress his remarks caused.”

Last week Jones defied a court order to attend a deposition near his home in Austin, Texas, to provide testimony ahead of the trial. Jones said he was ill. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on a request by the plaintiffs to sanction Jones for not cooperating.

Lawyers for the families rejected the settlement offer within a few hours, saying in court filings that it was a “transparent and desperate attempt by Alex Jones to escape a public reckoning under oath with his deceitful, profit-driven campaign against the plaintiffs and the memory of their loved ones lost at Sandy Hook.”

Twenty first graders and six educators were killed in the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school sued Jones, Infowars and others in Connecticut over the hoax conspiracy. Jones has since said he believes the shooting did occur.

Jones also was found liable for damages in similar lawsuits filed in Texas by relatives of Sandy Hook victims, and also faces trial later this year.

truth social logo

Huff Post, Donald Trump's Truth Social App Is Failing Fantastically, Report Says, Ron Dicker, March 30, 2022. The former president's effort to keep his MAGA base talking appears to be cratering.

Donald Trump’s Truth Social app has plummeted in sign-ups and traffic since its technically challenged launch last month, The Wrap reported Tuesday.

The former president’s social media network for MAGA disciples has sunk to about 60,000 new users a week.
Advertisement

“This is down 93% from its launch week, when it saw 872,000 installs during the week of Feb. 21,” Stephanie Chan of the analytics site Sensor Tower told The Wrap. “We estimate that Truth Social has so far reached approximately 1.2 million installs since its launch.”

Truthsocial.com reportedly has fallen to 1.9 million weekly visits from a high of 6 million in the debut week for the Twitter-like platform, according to Similarweb stats cited by the news website.

Team Trump created Truth Social after he was banned from Twitter for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The digital opinion site has struggled in a conservative space already occupied by right-leaning ventures such as Gettr.
Advertisement

Truth Social also caught the snarky attention of talk show hosts like Jimmy Kimmel.

“Truth Social has been such a disappointment so far, Trump may have to rename it to ‘Don Jr.,’” Kimmel sniped last month.

Trump has been so perturbed by the stumbling rollout that he was heard asking, “What the fuck is going on?” on the phone, The Daily Beast reported.

March 29

 

npc journalism institute logo

National Press Club Journalism Institute, Homeless man living in tree attacks New York Post reporter and photographer, according to NYPD, and is released without bail (New York Daily News/New York Post), National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, March 29, 2022  Lights. Camera. Crime: How a Philly-born brand of TV news harmed Black America. (Inquirer).

CNNCNN takes a $100 million step into streaming today (Washington Post) / Earlier: CNN+ readies for debut: Next news innovation or too late to the streaming wars? (Deadline)

■ Vogue, Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast staffers form union (Washington Post) / BuzzFeed Union votes to authorize newsroom strike amid escalating tensions; CEO Jonah Peretti was a no-show to Tuesday’s negotiations (The Wrap)

■ ‘White House comms director Kate Bedingfield says at the press briefing that the White House has "no official comment on the altercation" between Will Smith and Chris Rock, and says Biden did not watch the Oscars.’ (Max Tani) / White House ASL interpreters bring the president's message to a larger audience (CBS News) / Oscars American Sign Language live stream racks up 300,000 views, 1 million impressions (The Wrap) / Oscars: How 'CODA’ helped spotlight ASL interpretation, deaf community (The Hollywood Reporter) / Oscars audience grew by 555,000 after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (New York Times) / How an Oscars photographer captured the moment Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (CNN) / Will Smith vs. Chris Rock through the eyes of an L.A. Times photographer (Los Angeles Times) / The real reason Will Smith's Oscars outburst was censored on US broadcasts (Washington Post) / Earlier: What was happening in the ABC control room as Will Smith slapped Chris Rock (Variety)

■ Cincinnati broadcast journalist says he's 'taking a break from sports reporting to focus on my mental health' (WVXU)

■ ‘If Alden is a cancer on journalism, Lee is COVID, MRSA and SARS’: Lee quietly slashes jobs following hostile takeover attempt (Axios)

■ CBS News under fire for hiring former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (Mediaite) / Fox News’ ratings surprise: ‘The Five’ keeps outperforming primetime (Variety)

■ ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl talked with Fox about replacing Chris Wallace (Daily Beast)

■ 'Stupid of me:' Nick Lachey says he overreacted after incident with photographer (Cincinnati Enquirer)

■ Photographer captures photos of family hours before they died in Ohio car crash (WTVG/Gray News) / 4 women photographers on the hardest photo they ever took (WIRED)

March 28

 

voice of america logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Kremlin tries to stifle Radio Free Europe — and its audience surges, Margaret Sullivan, right, March 28, 2022 (print ed.). As margaret sullivan 2015 photothe U.S.-funded broadcaster is forced to shut most of its Russian operations, its Web traffic indicates that Russian people are eagerly consuming its stories.

Radio Free Europe, the U.S.-funded operation that got its start by piping American-flavored news through the Iron Curtain in 1950 (and has been affiliated with Voice of America), could see big trouble brewing for its Russian operation in recent years.

The Kremlin kept putting the screws to its Russian-language broadcasts, throwing up ever more regulatory hurdles. But it was in late 2020 that the hammer really came down. The “media regulator” demanded that every broadcast, digital story and video carry an intrusive disclaimer at the top stating that what followed was the product of a foreign agent.

“Basically, it was like telling our audience to go away,” said Jamie Fly, the CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as the organization has been known since a 1976 merger.

That labeling would interfere with the private nonprofit’s mission at a core level. So, Fly told me, “we refused to comply.”

ny times logoNew York Times, When Nokia Pulled Out of Russia, a Vast Surveillance System Remained, Adam Satariano, Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik (the reporters, who report on technology, vetted more than 75,000 documents for this article), March 28, 2022. The Finnish company played a key role in enabling Russia’s cyberspying, documents obtained by The Times show, raising questions of corporate responsibility. Nokia said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. But the Finnish company didn’t mention what it was leaving behind: equipment and software connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network.

The tool was used to track supporters of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. Investigators said it had intercepted the phone calls of a Kremlin foe who was later assassinated. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, it is also most likely being employed at this moment as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia.

For more than five years, Nokia provided equipment and services to link SORM to Russia’s largest telecom service provider, MTS, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not make the tech that intercepts communications, the documents lay out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, streamline and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence service, the F.S.B., uses SORM to listen in on phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other internet communications.

 

chris wallace pool getty

ny times logoNew York Times, Chris Wallace Says Life at Fox News Became ‘Unsustainable,’ Michael M. Grynbaum, Updated March 28, 2022. As he starts a new streaming show at CNN, the longtime TV anchor (shown above in a pool photo via Getty Images) reflects on his decision to leave Fox News after 18 years.

“I just no longer felt comfortable with the programming at Fox.”

Chris Wallace uttered those words matter-of-factly, in between bites of a Sweetgreen salad at his new desk inside the Washington bureau of CNN, the network he joined in January after nearly two decades at Fox News.

fox news logo SmallFor those on the left who admired him, and those on the right who doubted him, it’s a statement that was a long time coming.

A down-the-middle outlier at Fox News who often confounded conservatives by contradicting the network’s right-wing stars, Mr. Wallace CNNwas also one of the channel’s fiercest defenders, disappointing liberals who hoped he might denounce colleagues like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

But in December, Mr. Wallace, 74, issued a final verdict: He was done. In a surprise move, he declined to renew his contract as host of “Fox News Sunday” and jumped to archrival CNN. His daily interview show — “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?” — starts Tuesday on the new CNN+ streaming service.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Slap Echoes the Morning After the Oscars, Raising Questions, Julia Jacobs, Matt Stevens and Nicole Sperling, March 28, 2022. When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards for telling a joke about his wife, it divided Hollywood, sparking denunciations, defenses and debates. 

The morning after the Oscars tends to be dominated by lighthearted celebrations of the night’s winners and admiring chatter about the fashion on the red carpet, but on Monday it was given to a more somber discussion of the disturbing spectacle that dominated the night: Will Smith striking Chris Rock onstage after taking issue with one of his jokes.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos described it as “something we have never seen before, something that is very hard to process: Will Smith, walking up onto that stage after Chris Rock told a joke about his wife — simply assaulting Chris Rock.”

The Academy put out a statement saying that they do not condone violence, but Stephanopoulos noted they “have not taken any other action yet.”

“It changed the entire night,” the anchor Robin Roberts said.

Rolling Stone, Fox News Host Lara Logan Suggests Theory of Evolution Is a Hoax Funded by Jews, Ryan Bort, March 28, 2022. Lara Logan’s latest anti-Semitic dog whistle is a claim that Charles Darwin only came up with the idea of evolution because Jews paid him to.

rolling stone logoIt wasn’t long ago that Lara Logan was a correspondent for CBS News, which is a little hard to believe considering the types of conspiracy theories she’s been pushing since she left the network. The latest came during an appearance on the right-wing podcast “And We Know,” during which Logan suggested that the theory of evolution is the result of a wealthy Jewish family paying Charles Darwin to devise an explanation for what gave rise to humanity.

“Does anyone know who employed Darwin, where Darwinism comes from?” Logan, recently (but perhaps no longer) with Fox News’ streaming service Fox Nation, asked. “Look it up: The Rothschilds. It goes back to 10 Downing Street. The same people who employed Darwin, and his theory of evolution and so on and so on. I’m lara logan screenshotnot saying that none of that is true. I’m just saying Darwin was hired by someone to come up with a theory — based on evidence, OK, fine.”

Logan rambled for a bit longer, but her point was that evolution is a “chicken or the egg” debate and “you can’t answer it scientifically” and, while we’re here, Jews are trying to control the world with their money. Media Matters caught the claim on Monday:

The Rothschilds, who Logan says is responsible for the theory of evolution, are a Jewish family that often shows up in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) famously wrote on Facebook that the Rothschilds funded a space laser that started the California wildfires.

Logan and Greene share more in common than anti-Semitic comments. Both the Fox Nation host and the bigoted, virulent conspiracy theorist lawmaker have pushed Russian propaganda since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last month. Greene has blamed Ukraine for the invasion, while suggesting the nation’s military is rife with Nazis. Greene, however, at least made some sort of superficial effort to insist she’s not a Putin supporter. Logan made no such effort.

“Whether you like Putin or don’t like him, Putin is not willing to be a part of whatever global governing structure is coming our way,” Logan said last week on a right-wing podcast. “Vladimir Putin has been very calculating, he’s been very careful … he’s said for 15 years that he would not tolerate NATO expansion.”

“He’s the man standing between us and this New World Order,” she added after rambling about Ukrainian biolabs funded by Hunter Biden.

The idea of a “New World Order” constructed by Jews is a trope of anti-Semitic rhetoric. We’re starting to notice a pattern in Logan’s conspiracy theorizing.

rumble logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Rumble, the Right’s Go-To Video Site, Has Much Bigger Ambitions, Jeremy W. Peters, March 28, 2022. The company, supported by Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and other prominent conservatives, wants to help build an internet free from Silicon Valley titans.

You won’t find Red Pill News or the X22 Report on YouTube anymore. The far-right online shows were taken down in the fall of 2020 after the major social media and tech companies started purging accounts that spread the QAnon conspiracy theory.

But you will find both of them on a video-sharing platform called Rumble, where their content ranks among the most popular on the site.

Over the last week, as Republicans opened a misleading attack on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as too lenient with criminals who sexually abuse children, Red Pill News and the X22 Report posted videos claiming that her nomination to the Supreme Court by President Biden was all the proof anyone needed that a cabal of pedophiles operated at the highest levels of the government, a belief QAnon adherents hold.

“Think about the bigger picture,” the host of the X22 Report, which has more than half a million Rumble subscribers, implored his viewers in an episode posted on Wednesday. “Right now, people are being taught about pedophilia. People are listening to this, and they’re seeing exactly how these people think and how they’re trying to normalize it.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Wartime news reporting is worse now than it was during World War II, Wayne Madsen, left, March 28, 2022. wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallThe news coverage of the current war in eastern Europe has generally been abysmal as compared to reporting during the last major ground conflict in Europe, the Second World War.

From the outset of the rise of fascist regimes in Italy, Japan, Germany, and Spain consumers of news in the United States and the West were much better informed about pre-war and wartime developments than their modern-day counterparts.

wayne madesen report logoThat was because newspapers, radio stations, and networks provided raw wire service reports with little in the way of editorializing, including the taking of their scissors to the teleprinter or radio-teletype feed.

Editors in the 1930s and 40s aired more on the side of inclusion than exclusion. If a wire service reporter was staking his reputation on a wire dispatch being correct, editors gave the green light for the copy to the printing press or over the airwaves. Obviously, in their minds, an informed public was better overall for national security and war preparedness than ignorant masses going about their daily routines.

Today, cable and broadcast news are more interested in ratings and a combination of Rupert Murdoch's infamous mantra of "if it bleeds, it leads" and a Hallmark television rendition of a tear-jerker family separation story from the battle zones. Reporters who may have been covering tornado damage in the South one week are virtually "parachuted" the next week into eastern European towns near the Ukrainian border. Their lack of knowledge about the local and regional situation is more than apparent in the first few days of their reporting, with the mangling of names of geographical locations and government officials more than apparent. Also, viewers back in the States do not need to know about reporters' spartan sleeping accommodations, lack of WiFi access, or the quality of local food. No one cares and it's not news at any rate.

In a long-forgotten 1952 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report on the existing news agencies, World War II, rather than limit news sources, saw them increase in large numbers. With additional agencies came more sources for reporting on the war and other developments.

Press Run, Commentary: Media sleepwalks past Ginni Thomas’ treason, Eric Boehlert, right, March 28, 2022. Burying a blockbuster. The Sunday morning talk eric.boehlertshows sprinted into “gaffe” patrol mode after President Joe Biden made a 9-word, ad-libbed comment in Poland over the weekend about how Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to stay in power in Russia.

On “Meet the Press,” USA Today’s Susan Page emphasized Biden’s comment was “distracting” and “undisciplined.” The assembled pundits spent nearly ten minutes discussion the story, along with a new NBC poll that was bad news for Biden. (Inflation!)

What was mostly ignored by the round table was the blockbuster story about Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, wife of right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She had been texting unhinged QAnon-like messages to Trump’s chief of staff after the 2020 election, strategizing and urging that Biden’s victory be overturned, saving America from “the end of Liberty.” The NBC pundits on Sunday spent 45 seconds discussing that story.

Like when Trump was recently caught smuggling boxes of top-secret documents out of the White House, the Beltway press is treating Ginni Thomas’ seditious assault on democracy as a middling story; one that will likely receive little or no new coverage in coming days.

The revelation that Thomas’ plugged-in wife who enjoyed easy access to the Trump White House hoped that “Biden crime family & ballot fraud co-conspirators … will be living in barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition,” came just after Republican Senators used QAnon signaling during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She was smeared as a child pornography apologist.

“Meet the Press” was hardly alone in sleepwalking past the Ginni Thomas story, which represents another GOP direct assault on democracy and election integrity. “ABC This Week”s’ round table spent ten minutes dissecting Biden’s Putin “gaffe,” and just three minutes acknowledging the Supreme Court’s stunning setback in terms of its reputation for fairness. (The Court’s already at its lowest standing ever.)

Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has yet to run a single page-one piece on the Thomas story and how she accused the “Left” of “attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” and complained about being “disgusted” with Vice President Mike Pence for approving the 2020 election results.

CNN announced Biden’s overseas Putin comment had set off “shock waves.” But I can find no CNN coverage that suggest the same thing occurred when we learned about Ginni Thomas’ relentless, high-level push to overturn the election (a “fight of good versus evil”) while Judge Thomas was the only justice who voted against allowing the release of records from the Trump White House related to the Jan. 6 attack. Thomas’ lone, radical dissent on another 2020 election case openly promoted Trump lies about mail-in ballots. Lies that sound a lot like Ginni’s.

Cable news in general has been slow walking the story. Look at how much TV attention the Thomas controversy received compared to how many hours this month were showered on the issue of rising gas prices in the U.S.

News organizations still see themselves primarily as witnesses in the anti-democracy drama, paid to document the beating it’s taking at the hands of radical Republicans who try to dismantle the concept of free and fair elections in America.

“The Thomases are a team. When I was a Heritage intern as a young conservative, Ginni brought in Clarence to visit with the interns. The idea that there’s some wall of separation btw their respective, uh, professional activities is willful naivety,” tweeted Matthew Sitman. He’s a co-host of the “Know Your Enemy” podcast, which spotlights the conservative movement. “One of the most important tasks of our time is to see extremely obvious things and not pretend they’re anything other than they are because our brains’ have been poisoned by the idea that telling the truth and holding corrupt, lawless actors accountable is “partisan.”

The press isn’t all that interested in telling the obvious truth about Ginni and Clarence Thomas.

March 26

ny times logoNew York Times, Putin Goes Into Battle on a Second Front: Culture, Anton Troianovski and Javier C. Hernández, March 26, 2022. Beyond Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin is also fighting cultural battles.

In a speech on Friday from the nondescript, beige-walled office in which he has been conducting much of his public business this month, Mr. Putin made no mention of Ukraine. Instead, he expanded upon a personal obsession: “cancel culture.”

Western elites “canceled” the author J.K. Rowling because she “did not please fans of so-called gender freedoms,” Mr. Putin said in his nationally televised remarks, flanked by two Russian flags. Ms. Rowling was widely criticized in 2020 after voicing support for a researcher whose views on transgender people had been condemned by a court.

Japan, he claimed, “cynically decided to ‘cancel’” the fact that it was the United States that dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. And now, he said, the West is busy “canceling” Russia, “an entire thousand-year-old country, our people.”

That the Russian president delivered a disquisition on Western public discourse on Friday may seem odd at a time when Russia is fighting what some analysts believe to be its bloodiest war since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. But it underscores how Mr. Putin tries to channel cultural grievances and common stereotypes for political gain — while using language that also allows him to speak directly to possible allies in the West.

“This is his cultural front,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “He’s also at war there.”

Speaking at the beginning of a videoconference with Russian cultural figures, Mr. Putin said “proverbial ‘cancel culture’ has become the cancellation of culture.”

And, as seems inevitable in Mr. Putin’s speeches these days, the Nazis came up, too.

“The names of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff are being removed from playbills. Russian writers and their books are being banned,” Mr. Putin said. “The last time such a mass campaign to destroy objectionable literature was carried out was by the Nazis in Germany almost 90 years ago.”

For the moment, Mr. Kolesnikov said, Mr. Putin’s main audience when railing against Western “cancel culture” is domestic, with the Kremlin intent on feeding the grievances against the West upon which Mr. Putin draws much of his support. But casting Russia as a protector of traditional values from the thrall of wanton liberalism is also a message that finds sympathy around the world — including among American right-wing commentators like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, whose monologues are often shown on Russian state television.

“We have a constitutional right to a free press but we don’t have it,” Mr. Carlson, dubbed into Russian, said in a clip from his show that was played in a news segment on state-controlled Channel 1 this week. “And that is not Russian propaganda.”

Mr. Putin on Friday defined “cancel culture” as the “public ostracism, boycotting and even complete silencing” of people who “do not fit into modern templates, no matter how absurd they really are.”

It was at least the third time in recent months that he spoke about the subject, one that appears to encapsulate for him the hypocrisy and shallowness of Western elites.

 

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

ap logoAssociated Press via Hartford Courant, Sandy Hook families seek Alex Jones arrest after 2nd no-show, Staff Report, March 26, 2022. Lawyers for relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims have asked a Connecticut judge again to order the arrest of Infowars host Alex Jones, shown above in a broadcast screenshot, after he defied a court order to attend a deposition as part of a lawsuit over his calling the massacre a hoax.

Jones missed both days of a scheduled deposition Wednesday and Thursday in Austin, Texas, home to Jones and Infowars. He cited a health problem that included vertigo and revealed Friday that it was a sinus infection. After he didn’t show up Wednesday on the advice of his doctors, Connecticut Judge Barbara Bellis ordered him to appear Thursday, noting he wasn’t hospitalized and had appeared in-person on his show Tuesday.

Bellis did not immediately rule on the new arrest request. She rejected a similar motion by the families’ lawyer seeking an arrest order after Jones failed to appear Wednesday. She has set a hearing by video conference for Wednesday next week.

The families’ lawyers filed a motion late Friday afternoon requesting that Jones be arrested and detained until he sits for a deposition, be fined $25,000 to $50,000 a day until he completes the questioning, be found in contempt of court and to pay their expenses for traveling to Austin this week.

“The plaintiffs subjected themselves to hours and hours of painful questioning by Mr. Jones’s lawyers — and Mr. Jones plays sick when it is his turn to tell the truth under oath,” Alinor Sterling, one of the families’ lawyers, wrote in the motion.

Jones’ lawyer, Norman Pattis, called the request “an unprecedented overreach” and raised concerns about due process, in an email to The Associated Press.

Earlier Friday, Jones said on his website show that it was “absolutely preposterous” the families’ lawyers were trying to have him arrested for missing a deposition because of illness. He said the families’ lawyers had delayed depositions in the case several times and he didn’t complain.

In November, Bellis found Jones liable for damages, and his testimony is now being sought in a deposition ahead of a trial later this year to determine how much he should pay the families.

Twenty first graders and six educators were killed in the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The families of eight of the victims and an FBI agent who responded to school sued Jones, Infowars and others in Connecticut, saying they have been subjected to harassment and death threats from Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy promoted on the show. Jones has since said he believes the shooting did occur.

Jones also was found liable for damages in similar lawsuits filed in Texas by relatives of Sandy Hook victims, and also faces trial later this year.

Jones returned to the Infowars studio on Friday for the first time since Tuesday and disclosed on the show that medical testing showed he had a sinus infection. He said he had experienced vertigo, and his doctors initially thought it was a serious heart problem and advised him to stay home and not go to the deposition.

March 24

BIG, Commentary: Judges Behaving Badly: Amazon Antitrust Suit Dismissed, Matt Stoller, right, March 24, 2022. It was a good week for Amazon, with the firm matt stolleralso closing on the MGM merger. But the antitrust meat grinder goes on.

Three items this week:

  • An incompetent judge let Amazon off the hook for monopolization.
  • Why hasn’t the FTC challenged the Amazon-MGM merger?
  • Is Congress about to fix our shipping mess? Sort of!

Last May, I wrote a long piece explaining the scam at the heart of Amazon Prime. When you think about it, Prime doesn’t really make any economic sense. Prime members pay a small annual or monthly fee, and in return get massively valuable and expensive benefits like free shipping, free movies and TV, video games, and so forth. Amazon likely gets between $10-20 billion a year in Prime fees, but delivering these services costs Amazon probably upwards of $80-100 billion a year. That means Amazon has to find $70 billion of cash somewhere as an endless subsidy. Yet, Amazon is profitable, and prices for goods on Amazon are almost always the lowest you can find online. How does Amazon pull this off?

amazon logo smallThere are three steps. First, Amazon acquired enough customers for its retail division to monopolize online buying and selling. It did this by offering free shipping and other benefits at a vastly subsidized rate to Prime members. For consumers, this seemed like a great deal. They got a very good reliable place to buy stuff online. But on the other side of the market, for sellers, many of whom sold 80-100% of their wares on Amazon’s Marketplace, Amazon acquired substantial market power. “[We] have nowhere else to go and Amazon knows it,” said one seller that sells products on Amazon.

Second, Amazon forced these captive sellers to pay massive fees to sell on its marketplace, by making them use its fulfillment and warehousing (as well as other services). Amazon took those fees, which brought in $121 billion in 2021, to pay for its various Prime benefits, including shipping. And third, and this is where it becomes brilliant, Amazon then forced those sellers to keep their prices high through non-Amazon sales channels. If they ever sold elsewhere for less, they would be de facto kicked off Amazon.

These three steps were each pivotal. Without the subsidy of Prime, it wouldn’t have been possible for Amazon to capture control over most online buying. Without the seller fees, Amazon couldn’t afford that subsidy. And without forcing sellers to raise their prices elsewhere to ensure Amazon had the lowest prices online, you’d see signs like ‘Buy cheaper at eBay.com’ or ‘Walmart.com costs less than Amazon’ everywhere, and Amazon would be undercut in the marketplace. But you don’t see such signs. Consumers think they are getting the best deal at Amazon, and they usually are.

It’s a genius scheme, because it gives the appearance that Amazon offers the lowest price and free shipping, when in fact consumers pay a higher cost karl racinefor products without realizing it. I first wrote about Prime because of an antitrust suit filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, right, who filed a case in district court spelling out this scheme in a rigorous and detailed way. There are a bunch of investigations going on into Amazon, and this was the first case filed that came out of them. Filing this case was a sort of loner approach by Racine, who is an aggressive and fearless litigator. It was an excellent complaint -- detailed, factually rigorous, and legally sound -- and a class action case with a very similar theory just passed the critical motion to dismiss stage in a Seattle courtroom with a Bush-appointee judge.

I thought it was going to be a titanic clash, and it brought critical legal questions into the courts to be hashed out by a jury. Unfortunately, the judge Racine got assigned to this case, Hiram Puig-Lugo, did not agree. Earlier this week, at what looked like a routine scheduling hearing, Puig-Lugo, whose expertise is in family law, shocked everyone involved by dismissing Racine’s Amazon complaint outright. That means the case is over, unless Racine appeals. And how Puig-Lugo dismissed the case was as odd as his choice to do so. For important complaints like this, judges almost always put down in writing their rationale for making decisions at key stages. But Puig-Lugo did not. He simply read from the bench that he didn’t think the claimed conduct violated the law.

The deeper you go, the more odd the decision. According to Law360, Puig-Lugo said in his ruling that maybe it was just a coincidence that merchants were raising prices on other channels. They could be engaged in “lawful, unchoreographed free-market behavior.” Such a statement makes no sense, because there were explicit contracts between Amazon and sellers mandating higher prices. And yet, the judge simply said when making his ruling from the bench, "That's how the market works.”

There are bad decisions in antitrust law, ones that make the law harder to enforce going forward. Usually bad decisions are on the outer edge of precedent, and have legal reasoning that is illogic but coherent. This, however, wasn’t just a bad decision. It was the decision of someone who didn’t care to learn the facts of the case before him, or even how antitrust law itself works. Frankly I’m not sure Puig-Lugo even read the complaints, though it’s also possible he’s just dumb. There are dumb judges. Or maybe he wanted the case to go away; his interest is in family law and trafficking, not complex business litigation. In any case, Puig-Lugo dismissed a well-prepared complaint on a very important part of the economy, without even explaining himself in writing.

Obviously, Racine should appeal.

Jezebel, Commentary: The Sordid History of Right-Wing Pedophilia Conspiracy Theories, Kylie Cheung, March 23, 2022. Republican attacks framing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as "soft" on child sex offenders are part of a greater conservative trend to disrupt social progress.

Ahead of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Senate confirmation hearings this week, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri injected a predictable dose of nastiness into the dialogue when—sans evidence—he accused the Supreme Court nominee of enabling child sex offenders.

Hawley backed up his claim by misrepresenting Jackson’s record of sentencing offenders in several child pornography cases to less prison time than was recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, which is an ordinary practice within the federal judiciary. At Jackson’s Tuesday confirmation hearing, she clarified that she had ruled on 14 cases involving child pornography or sex crimes related to children, and in 10 of those cases, she imposed a sentence consistent with or greater than what was recommended by the government.

If Hawley and other Republicans’ bizarre fixation on framing Jackson as supposedly soft on child sex crimes feels like a twistedly familiar right-wing song and dance at this point, that’s because it is. There’s a reason 15% of Americans have said they believe Satan-worshiping pedophiles run the country. From Pizzagate—the viral 2016 conspiracy theory that the Hillary Clinton campaign ran a child sex trafficking ring at restaurants including a pizzeria in DC—to QAnon, the very online far-right has relied on equating the Democratic Party with pedophilia as its go-to smear. And actual prominent Republican politicians like Hawley, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and others have not-so-subtly been taking their cues from these conspiracy theorists.

None of this is new. Cultural panics involving child porn and pedophilia have long been weaponized to stymie social progress, Jeffrey Debies-Carl, a professor of sociology at the University of New Haven whose research has focused on online conspiracy theories, told Jezebel. “People often make these accusations kind of cynically, because they have an agenda, because they know a lot of people will believe them,” he said. “These theories are frequently reactionary, or there’s some sort of threat perception involved that’s usually progressive in some way.”

Historically, the rise of cultural lore about supposed pedophilia and child sexual abuse at daycare centers in the 1980s was deployed as part of anti-feminist backlash against mothers for supposedly endangering their kids by dropping them off at daycare to go to work. More recently, the right wing has used egregious sexual violence cases involving children to argue for more policing, despite lack of evidence that registries or expanding the carceral system keeps children safe at all.

March 23

npc journalism institute logo

National Press Club Journalism Institute, The Latest: Politico names new top editor; Journalist dies in Kyiv; ‘'This year has taken a bigger toll,' National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, March 23, 2022. Journalist Oksana Baulina died Wednesday under fire in Kyiv after a rocket strike on a shopping center (The Insider) / ‘Oksana was funny, dedicated and extremely brave. She was putting a new life together in Warsaw after having to flee Russia due to Navalny links and determined to do important journalism. Another victim of this awful senseless mess.’ (Shaun Walker)

■ ‘We knew that something big and awful was coming’: I was a reporter in Russia for 20 years—until I finally fled three weeks ago. I watched our press fall apart in real time. (Slate) / As risks for media rise in Ukraine, safety efforts ramp up (VOA)

■ Almost as many Americans getting Ukraine news from social media as TV, poll shows (The Hill)

■ Kirsten Allen to serve as Harris' new press secretary (CNN) / When Anna Wintour pissed off Kamala (POLITICO)

■ POLITICO names Dafna Linzer executive editor (POLITICO) / ‘Honored to join this stellar news organization at a time when POLITICO is expanding in scope and ambition, building upon its 15-year legacy of excellent political journalism and policy reporting. Excited to join talented colleagues and be part of a new era at POLITICO.’ (Dafna Linzer) / POLITICO's new administration is taking office (Puck)

■ 'I’ve decided it’s time to close this chapter. This industry can be tough’; 'This year has taken a bigger toll on me personally than I first realized' (News & Observer) / Four local TV reporters announce they're leaving (Times Union)

■ Inside the app Minnesota police use collect data on journalists at protests (MIT Technology Review) / Minneapolis city attorney subpoenas reporters in police brutality suit filed by photographer blinded by officer (MPR News)

■ BuzzFeed shares jump over 6% amid news of journalist job cuts (Insider)

■ Go big or go home: The Baltimore Banner readies for launch; 'Job No. 1 has been attracting top talent, which has gone slower than … anticipated' (Northwestern)

■ Doomscrolling got you down? Take a break at a digital rest stop. (Washington Post)

Press Freedom

■ Palin moves to disqualify judge in defamation case against NY Times (The Hill)

Vanity Fair, Marilyn Monroe’s Final Hours: Nuke Fears, Mob Spies, and a Secret Kennedy Visitor, Anthony Summers, March 23, 2022. Sixty years ago, her death was ruled a “probable suicide,” but questions have persisted about the iconic actor’s relationships with JFK and RFK—and how they might have been exploited by the Mafia, the Soviet Union, and the FBI. New details from an updated investigative biography, soon to feature in a Netflix documentary, shed clarifying light on the turmoil swirling around Monroe on the last day of her life.

The Daily Howler, Von Drehle profiles "Putin's brain!" Bob Somerby, March 23, 2022. In search of Putin's dream: Based on current tabulations, it's currently the fourth MOST READ piece in the whole of the Washington Post.

daily howler headlineWe recommend it strongly. It's David Von Drehle's profile of Aleksandr Dugin, the man who is apparently known as "Putin's brain."

VON DREHLE (3/23/22): Dugin’s intellectual influence over the Russian leader is well known to close students of the post-Soviet period, among whom Dugin, 60, is sometimes referred to as “Putin’s brain.” His work is also familiar to Europe’s “new right,” of which Dugin has been a leading figure for nearly three decades, and to America’s “alt-right.” Indeed, the Russian-born former wife of the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, Nina Kouprianova, has translated some of Dugin’s work into English.

It sounds to us like David Von Drehle may know what he's talking about.

VON DREHLE: A product of late-period Soviet decline, Dugin belongs to the long, dismal line of political theorists who invent a strong and glorious past—infused with mysticism and obedient to authority—to explain a failed present. The future lies in reclaiming this past from the liberal, commercial, cosmopolitan present (often represented by the Jewish people). Such thinkers had a heyday a century ago, in the European wreckage of World War I...

Dugin tells essentially the same story from a Russian point of view. Before modernity ruined everything, a spiritually motivated Russian people promised to unite Europe and Asia into one great empire, appropriately ruled by ethnic Russians. Alas, a competing sea-based empire of corrupt, money-grubbing individualists, led by the United States and Britain, thwarted Russia’s destiny and brought “Eurasia”—his term for the future Russian empire—low.

In his magnum opus, “The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia,” published in 1997, Dugin mapped out the game plan in detail. Russian agents should foment racial, religious and sectional divisions within the United States while promoting the United States’ isolationist factions. (Sound familiar?) In Great Britain, the psy-ops effort should focus on exacerbating historic rifts with Continental Europe and separatist movements in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Western Europe, meanwhile, should be drawn in Russia’s direction by the lure of natural resources: oil, gas and food. NATO would collapse from within.

Putin has followed that counsel to the letter, and he must have felt things were going well when he saw window-smashing rioters in the corridors of the U.S. Congress, Britain’s Brexit from the European Union and Germany’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas. With the undermining of the West going so well, Putin has turned to the pages of Dugin’s text in which he declared: “Ukraine as an independent state with certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia” and “without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics.”

ny times logoNew York Times, How Russia and Right-Wing Americans Converged on War in Ukraine, Sheera Frenkel and Stuart A. Thompson, March 23, 2022. Some conservatives have echoed the Kremlin’s misleading claims about the war and vice versa, giving each other’s assertions a sheen of credibility.

After President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia claimed that action against Ukraine was taken in self-defense, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, below right, and the tucker carlsonconservative commentator Candace Owens repeated the assertion. When Mr. Putin insisted he was trying to “denazify” Ukraine, Joe Oltmann, a far-right podcaster, and Lara Logan, another right-wing commentator, mirrored the idea.

The echoing went the other way, too. Some far-right American news sites, like Infowars, stoked a longtime, unfounded Russian claim that the United States funded biological weapons labs in Ukraine. Russian officials seized on the chatter, with the Kremlin contending it had documentation of bioweapons programs that justified its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

As war has raged, the Kremlin’s talking points and some right-wing discourse in the United States — fueled by those on the far right — have coalesced. On social media, podcasts and television, falsehoods about the invasion of Ukraine have flowed both ways, with Americans amplifying lies from Russians and the Kremlin spreading fabrications that festered in American forums online.

By reinforcing and feeding each other’s messaging, some right-wing Americans have given credibility to Russia’s assertions and vice versa. Together, they have created an alternate reality, recasting the Western bloc of allies as provokers, blunderers and liars, which has bolstered Mr. Putin.

The war initially threw some conservatives — who had insisted no invasion would happen — for a loop. Many criticized Mr. Putin and Russia’s assault on Ukraine. Some have since gone on to urge more support for Ukraine.

But in recent days, several far-right commentators have again gravitated to narratives favorable to Mr. Putin’s cause. The main one has been the bioweapons conspiracy theory, which has provided a way to talk about the war while focusing criticism on President Biden and the U.S. government instead of Mr. Putin and the Kremlin.

 

nso group logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Israel blocked Ukraine from getting potent Pegasus spyware out of fear of upsetting Russia, Craig Timberg, Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Souad Mekhennet, Ellen Nakashima and Shane Harris, March 23, 2022. Worries about Russia drove Israel’s decision to keep the surveillance technology out of the hands of the Ukrainian government

A Ukrainian effort to acquire the powerful Pegasus spyware system was blocked by Israeli defense officials out of fear that such a move would upset Russia, which in 2014 had seized Crimea and fomented separatist fighting in Ukraine’s eastern region, according to people familiar with the decision.

Ukraine’s efforts to bolster its surveillance capabilities, like its efforts to strengthen its military, had support from the United States, Israel’s closest ally.

But Israeli officials balked at any move that might provoke a confrontation with Russia, whose military at the time was aggressively helping Syria combat a rebellion beyond Israel’s northeastern border. The country’s Defense Exports Controls Agency rejected a possible license that would have allowed the NSO Group to offer Pegasus to Ukraine, said the people familiar with the decision, who included Western intelligence officials. These people believed this action happened as far back as 2019, but the exact timing was unclear.

Concerns about Russian reaction also affected NSO’s dealings with Estonia, a member of NATO, say people familiar with those actions. According to these people, NSO had licensed Pegasus to Estonia, which achieved independence from five decades of Soviet rule in 1991 and is known for its aggressive counterintelligence measures against Russia, but the company later imposed restrictions on the spyware’s use. The exact nature of those restrictions is not clear, though Estonia does not have the ability to target Russian phones, according to people familiar with its Pegasus license.

ap logoAssociated Press, Amid Russia's new crackdowns, small signs of defiance emerge, Staff Reports, March 23, 2022. When Alexei Navalny was arrested in January 2021, tens of thousands of Russians filled the streets in protest, demanding that the top Kremlin critic be released and chanting slogans against President Vladimir Putin. Thousands were arrested.

Since then, Putin has unleashed the harshest crackdown since the era of the Soviet Union: Navalny was imprisoned and his organization outlawed. His associates and other activists were either prosecuted, fled the country or had their hands tied by draconian new laws. Independent news outlets were blocked and social media platforms banned.

And now, Russia has sent its military into Ukraine, the largest invasion in Europe since World War II.

But while the Kremlin has worked hard to crush political dissent and opposition to the war, flickers of defiance have emerged.

Antiwar marches of protesters chanting “No to war!” occurred in Moscow, St. Petersburg and elsewhere after the Feb. 24 invasion, with more than 15,000 people detained, according to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests.

A live evening news broadcast on Russia’s state TV was interrupted March 14 by a woman who walked behind the anchor and held up a handmade poster protesting the war in English and Russian. OVD-Info identified her as Marina Ovsyannikova, an employee of the station, who was taken into custody and fined.

Navalny remained unbowed at a trial held in the penal colony where he is serving a 2 1/2-year sentence. On Tuesday, he was convicted on fraud and contempt of court charges and given nine years — a move that was seen as an attempt to keep Putin’s biggest foe behind bars for as long as possible.

The 45-year-old corruption fighter, who in 2020 survived a poisoning with a nerve agent that he blames on the Kremlin, said on Facebook in a sardonic comment that was posted by his team: “My space flight is taking a bit longer than expected.”

Navalny ally Ilya Yashin, who has vowed to remain in Russia, also spoke out against the increased jail time.

“Of course, nine years is a stiff sentence,” Yashin said on Facebook. “Rapists, thieves and murderers in Russia often get less. ... But in reality (the sentence) doesn’t mean anything, because everyone understands: Alexei will spend as much time behind bars as Putin will sit in the Kremlin.”

Addressing Putin, Yashin added sarcastically, “You’re quite the optimist.”

Navalny’s trial, which began a week before Russian troops rolled into Ukraine, prompted a small act of defiance by one of the witnesses for the prosecution. Fyodor Gorozhanko, a former activist in Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, who has since left Russia, testified that he had been coerced to give evidence against the opposition leader.

Navalny’s foundation and a nationwide network of regional offices were outlawed last year as extremist and ceased operating. The Kremlin also turned up the heat on other opposition activists and groups, as well as on independent media and human rights organizations.

Dozens have been slapped with a crippling “foreign agent” label, which implies additional government scrutiny and scorn. Many have been forced to shut down under pressure.

Navalny’s team has been undeterred by both the war and the trial of its leader, announcing it was rebooting the foundation as an international organization.

“Corruption kills,” read its new website. “As Ukrainian cities are bombed by Putin, this has never been more obvious. Putin and his circle have done everything to stay in power — and steal, and steal, and steal some more. High on their own impunity, they unleashed a war.”

“We will find all of their mansions in Monaco and their villas in Miami, and when we do, we will make sure Putin’s elite loses everything it owns,” the statement said. “We have been fighting Putin since 2011. We will fight him until we win.”

The Navalny team also promoted a new YouTube channel it has launched, Popular Politics, that since March 5 has attracted more than 920,000 subscribers.

March 22

 

npc journalism institute logoNational Press Club Journalism Institute, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tests positive (again) for COVID (NPR), National Press Club Journalism Institute staff: Beth Francesco, Holly Butcher Grant, and Julie Moos, March 22, 2022. Deputy Press Secretary fills in for Psaki after positive COVID test results (POLITICO) / 'No members of the press who attended the briefing yesterday are considered to be close contacts.’ (NBC News) / Psaki’s statement (The White House)

■ Journalist reportedly kidnapped and tortured by Russian soldiers in Ukraine (CBS News) / Ukrainian photographer missing following captured journalist’s release: report (New York Post) / In Ukraine, Russia is turning on journalists and the truth with personal & painful consequences (Deadline) / 'She loved every day of her life.' Family and friends pay tribute to Ukrainian journalist killed in Kyiv (CNN)

■ Fox News hosts thank Biden official John Kirby for helping evacuate Benjamin Hall from Ukraine (The Wrap) / 'Save Our Allies' helps rescue Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall from behind enemy lines in Ukraine (Fox News) / 'Post injury, I’ve covered conflicts again. Benjamin Hall, when he’s ready, if he chooses, may as well. We got into this job to speak for those who can't & to let the rest of the world know what's being done to those who can't escape it.' (Kim Dozier)

■ Russian journalist will auction his Nobel peace medal for Ukrainian refugees (CNN) / Facing Putin's wartime censorship, a Nobel laureate fights to keep truth in Russia alive (Washington Post)

■ BuzzFeed announces news cuts on first earnings call (Axios) / BuzzFeed investors have pushed CEO Jonah Peretti to shut down entire newsroom, sources say (CNBC) / Top editors to leave BuzzFeed News ahead of newsroom cuts (New York Times) / Read BuzzFeed editor-in-chief's resignation letter to staff (The Wrap) / BuzzFeed News deputy editor-in-chief Tom Namako joins NBC News as executive editor, digital (Adweek's TVNewser).

March 21

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: New Details Flesh Out How Project Veritas Acquired Ashley Biden’s Diary,  Michael S. Schmidt and Adam Goldman, March 21, 2022 (print ed.). The right-wing group made a deceptive call to President Biden’s daughter to confirm the diary’s authenticity weeks after it was shown around at a Trump fund-raiser.

A month before the 2020 election, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s daughter, Ashley, received a call from a man offering help. Striking a friendly tone, the man said that he had found a diary that he believed belonged to Ms. Biden and that he wanted to return it to her.

Ms. Biden had in fact kept a diary the previous year as she recovered from addiction and had stored it and some other belongings at a friend’s home in Florida where she had been living until a few months earlier. The diary’s highly personal contents, if publicly disclosed, could prove an embarrassment or a distraction to her father at a critical moment in the campaign.

She agreed with the caller to send someone to retrieve the diary the next day.

But Ms. Biden was not dealing with a good Samaritan.

The man on the other end of the phone worked for Project Veritas, a conservative group that had become a favorite of President Donald J. Trump, according to interviews with people familiar with the sequence of events. From a conference room at the group’s headquarters in Westchester County, N.Y., surrounded by other top members of the group, the caller was seeking to trick Ms. Biden into confirming the authenticity of the diary, which Project Veritas was about to purchase from two intermediaries for $40,000.

The caller did not identify himself as being affiliated with Project Veritas, according to accounts from two people with knowledge of the conversation. By the end of the call, several of the group’s operatives who had either listened in, heard recordings of the call or been told of it believed that Ms. Biden had said more than enough to confirm that it was hers.

The new details of Project Veritas’s effort to establish that the diary was Ms. Biden’s are elements of a still-emerging story about how Trump supporters and a group known for its undercover sting operations worked to expose personal information about the Biden family at a crucial stage of the 2020 campaign.

Drawn from interviews, court filings and other documents, the new information adds further texture to what is known about an episode that has led to a criminal investigation of Project Veritas by federal prosecutors who have suggested they have evidence that the group was complicit in stealing Ms. Biden’s property and in transporting stolen goods across state lines.

And by showing that Project Veritas employed deception rather than traditional journalistic techniques in the way it approached Ms. Biden — the caller identified himself with a fake name — the new accounts could further complicate the organization’s assertions in court filings that it should be treated as a publisher and granted First Amendment protections. Project Veritas regularly carries out undercover stings, surveillance operations and ambush interviews, mostly against liberal groups and journalists.

At the same time, new information about the case suggests that the effort to make the diary public reached deeper into Mr. Trump’s circle than previously known.

A month before the call to Ms. Biden, the diary had been passed around a Trump fund-raiser in Florida at the home of a donor who helped steer the diary to Project Veritas and was later nominated by Mr. Trump to the National Cancer Advisory Board. Among those attending the event was Donald Trump Jr., though it is not clear if he examined it.

james okeefe american pravdaFederal prosecutors have been investigating how Project Veritas obtained the diary, and last fall carried out searches at the homes of three of the group’s operatives, including that of its founder, James O’Keefe, shown at left on a book cover. In court filings, prosecutors have suggested that the organization was complicit in the theft of some of Ms. Biden’s other belongings, which interviews show the group obtained as it was seeking to confirm the diary’s authenticity.

Project Veritas — which is suing The New York Times for defamation in an unrelated case — has denied any wrongdoing or knowledge that the belongings had been stolen. It has portrayed itself as a media organization that is being unfairly investigated for simply doing journalism and has assailed the Justice Department and the F.B.I. for their handling of the case.

Prosecutors have signaled that they view the circumstances very differently, all but dismissing in one court filing the group’s defense that it was acting as a news organization, saying that “there is no First Amendment protection for the theft and interstate transport of stolen property.”

In response to a request to Project Veritas for comment, Mr. O’Keefe sent an email criticizing The Times. “Imagine writing so thoroughly divergent from reality and so mendacious with innuendo that there is literally no utterance that won’t make it worse,” he said.

Daily Howler, Commentary: Who is Tucker Carlson?: The latest episode began with a simple Q-and-A during a Senate hearing, Bob Somerby, March 21, 2022. The question was quite straightforward. At least on its face, the non-answer answer was not.

daily howler headlineThe question was asked by Marco Rubio. During a March 8 Senate committee hearing, he posed the question to Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Biden administration.

Rubio's question was quite straightforward. At least on its face, Nuland's response was not.

marco rubio official.jpg SmallFor the record, Rubio, right, showed no sign of dissatisfaction with Nuland's response, nor did anyone else on the Senate committee. The Q-and-A went like this:

RUBIO (3/8/22): I only have a minute left. Let me ask you, does Ukraine have chemical or biological weapons?

NULAND: Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of. So we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.

The next Q-and-A went like this:

RUBIO (continuing directly): I'm sure you're aware that the Russian propaganda groups are already putting out there all kinds of information about how they've uncovered a plot by the Ukrainians to release biological weapons in the country with NATO's coordination.

If there is a biological or chemical weapon incident or attack inside of Ukraine, is there any doubt in your mind that, 100 percent, it would be the Russians that would be behind it?

NULAND: There is no doubt in my mind, Senator. And it is classic Russian technique to blame on the other guy what they're planning to do themselves.

In that follow-up, Rubio lobbed the kind of softball question senators will frequently direct to allies, feeling confident of what they will hear in response. From there, Rubio moved on to one last question on a completely different matter.

All in all, he and Nuland seemed to be of one mind concerning events in Ukraine. All in all, they seemed to agree "100 percent."

There was no sign of any concern about what Nuland had said. Still, she'd been asked a very specific question—"Does Ukraine have chemical or biological weapons?"—and she hadn't said no.

In a rational world, Nuland's response, or lack of same, might have generated a bit of journalistic follow-up. It's normal for journalists to take note of "non-response responses"—misleading responses which may have been carefully couched by an evasive official.

In the world in which we live, Tucker Carlson hosts an hour-long TV program on the Fox News Channel.

tucker carlsonOn the following evening—on Wednesday, March 9—Carlson, right, opened his program with a lengthy monologue about what Nuland had said.

As is fairly common with Carlson's monologues, he made so many different statements during his lengthy cri de coeur that it remains hard to say exactly what he said.

What did Carlson say that night? We can't exactly tell you! But we can tell you this—this is what some editor or producer at Fox News apparently thought he said:

Tucker Carlson: Someone needs to explain why there are dangerous biological weapons in Ukraine. The Pentagon is lying about this—why?

Those are the headlines which sit above the official Fox News transcript of Carlson's March 9 monologue. They seem to represent what Fox News believes that Carlson said.

fox news logo SmallIs that what Carlson actually said? Did he actually say that "there are dangerous biological weapons in Ukraine?" Did he actually say that "the Pentagon is lying about this?"

Because of the shrieking hysterics which routinely appear in Carlson's monologues, we can't necessarily tell you what Carlson actually said. But it isn't hard to see why Fox News believes that Carlson said those things. Those headlines provide a perfectly reasonable account of what it sounded like Carlson had said.

Those headlines emerged from Carlson's shrieking monologue on Wednesday, March 9. Pushback quickly emerged, much of it as imprecise and as hard to parse as Carlson's monologue was.

Result! On Monday evening, March 14, Carlson returned to the issue in another opening monologue. On this garbled occasion, he seemed to deny that he and one of his guests had ever said that Ukraine had nuclear weapons, or any other such thing.

Quite routinely, Carlson's monologues are a garbled, barely coherent mess. His hysterical shrieking on March 9 provides a good case in point.

We're going to spend the rest of the week examining what Carlson did and didn't say on March 9, and then again on March 14. Two major questions arise at this point: Who in the world is Tucker Carlson? And what can be said about the news org which lets him shriek in such ways?

 ny times logoNew York Times Magazine, Anaïs Nin’s Los Angeles Hideaway Still Keeps Her Secrets, Kurt Soller, Photographs by Chris Mottalini, March 21, 2022, Shrouded by the pines of Silver Lake, the erotic writer’s minimalist, midcentury residence is a lasting monument to her life and legacy.

Among many writers, there’s a commonly held belief that a desk must be organized, an office must be tidy, an entire home must be cleaned, before one can finally sit down and fill the empty pages before them. One can’t help but think of such habits — the physical manifestation of routine and discipline — when visiting the completely preserved home of the midcentury French American eroticist Anaïs Nin, who died at 73 in 1977 in Los Angeles.

Here, hidden among pines overlooking the Silver Lake neighborhood’s reservoir, Nin envisioned a low, single-story aerie, which she called her “one large studio, no separate, small partitions.”

This description appeared in the first edition of her diary (originally published in 1966), which she began writing at 11 as a child traveling to America from the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine and continued until her death.

Today, there are 18 volumes — with a final one left unpublished — comprising an oeuvre that also includes frank, feminist, sexually explicit, oft-censored essays about her various lovers; literary criticism (the English writer D.H. Lawrence was a favorite); and beloved works of fiction like “House of Incest” (1936) and “Delta of Venus” (1977), many of which she initially printed herself.

March 20

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The GOP’s gibberish about ‘cancel culture’ never looked so dumb, Jennifer Rubin, right, March 20, 2022. The GOP’s profligate jennifer rubin new headshotuse of “cancel culture” — like its use of “critical race theory” and “wokeness” — has turned the phrase into an all-purpose epithet to be flung at the left. “Cancel culture” is a cry of victimhood and an accusation (the left is made up of intolerant bullies!). But it has no real meaning. It’s a way of escaping accountability or even mild public criticism for behavior that deserves social opprobrium.
Sign up for a weekly roundup of thought-provoking ideas and debates

republican elephant logoWhen a right-wing politician who cheered on the Jan. 6 mob loses a book contract, he isn’t being “canceled”; his publisher is exercising good moral and business judgment. When Twitter and Facebook boots a defeated former president from their networks, they are not “canceling” him; they are forcing him to find his own platform from which he can undermine democracy.

The best proof that “cancel culture” is a vapid jibe comes from people who both the left and right can agree are immoral bullies. Russian President Vladimir Putin, widely seen as a war criminal, now whines that economic sanctions deployed in response to his brutal war of aggression amount to a campaign to “cancel” Russia.

When perpetrators of unacceptable conduct invoke “cancel culture” as their defense, they reveal not only their disgraceful character, but also the people they are trying to impress. They are appealing to the right-wing culture warriors in the United States who want to be free to insult, demean and bully others. This includes Republicans currying favor with the MAGA crowd who want to avoid criticism or the consequences of supporting an attempted coup, suppressing voting or spewing antisemitic conspiracy theories.

March 18

 

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, seen in this photograph from a state-run media organization, addressed a crowd at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Friday, March 18, 2022 (Photo by Ramil Sitdikov of Sputnik via AFP and Getty Images).

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, seen in this photograph from a state-run media organization, addressed a cheering crowd of tens of thousands at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the city's largest, on Friday, March 18, 2022 (Photo by Ramil Sitdikov of Sputnik via AFP and Getty Images).

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Putin's many fifth columns constitute fascist toeholds around the world, Wayne Madsen, left, March 18-19, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2022. In many respects, there has not been a war in Europe like the current Russo-Ukrainian War since Adolf Hitler's armored divisions rolled across frontiers in Europe, sending millions of refugees scurrying for safety to countries around the world.

And there has not been such active fifth columns in support of fascism -- in the current situation, the Russian variety -- since Hitler's Nazis and Benito Mussolini's fascists co-opted international support from the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, Senator Theodore Bilbo, Oswald Mosley, Ezra Pound, and Errol Flynn.

wayne madesen report logoIn 1941, The New York Times referred to Germany's fifth column in the United States, among whose ranks included one Fred Trump, Sr., as "fools, madmen, and paid spies." That description fits nicely for Vladimir Putin's fifth column outside of Russia.

It is important to note that the very term "fifth column" was borne out of the fascist conquest of Spain by the army of General Francisco Franco, a prelude to Hitler's and Mussolini's occupation of most of Europe.

Putin's fifth column abroad can be separated into various categories, the first being those who are out-and-out fascists, Hitler admirers, and white nationalists. These include Putin's greatest asset recruiting triumph, Donald Trump.

The second fifth column includes those who claim they are progressive, Democrats, or Greens but have clearly sided with Putin because they have some tired old worn-out enmity toward NATO, the U.S. military, vaccinations, Corvairs, or sliced white bread. To these ranks we can include Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, former U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, perennial Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and the cranky pedantic Trotskyists who comprise the Democratic Socialists of America.

The third set of fifth columnists are professional grifters, con men, and robber barons, including those who have profited handsomely from the largesse bestowed on them by Russian oligarchs and their money troughs. In this category we find Paul Manafort and his colleague, Rick Gates; Blackwater founder Erik Prince; retired U.S. Army Lieut. General and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Mike Flynn; Charles Koch of Koch Industries; and Robert Herring, the founder and CEO of One America News (OAN).

March 17

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Unprecedented’ wave of hacking attacks hit Russian government websites, ministry says, Mary Ilyushina, March 17, 2022. Russian government websites and state-run media face an “unprecedented” wave of hacking attacks, the government said Thursday, prompting regulators to filter traffic coming from abroad.

In a statement, the Ministry of Digital Development and Communications said the attacks were at least twice as powerful as any previous ones. It did not elaborate on what filtering measures had been implemented, but in the past, this has often meant barring Russian government websites to users abroad.

“We are recording unprecedented attacks on the websites of government authorities,” the statement said. “If their capacity at peak times reached 500 GB earlier, it is now up to 1 TB. That is, two to three times more powerful than the most serious incidents of this type previously recorded.”

Wednesday evening, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry website was defaced by hackers, who altered its content. Notably, the hack replaced the department hotline with a number for Russian soldiers to call if they want to defect from the army — under the title “Come back from Ukraine alive.”

Computer programmers are taking aim at Russia’s propaganda wall, March 17, 2022.

washington post logoWashington Post, Amazon closes $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM, Cat Zakrzewski, March 17, 2022. Amazon on Thursday said that it closed its acquisition of MGM, in an $8.45 billion deal that will allow the e-commerce giant to expand its TV and movie offerings.

amazon logo smallThe deal underscores the limits of the mounting antitrust scrutiny of tech giants in Washington, with the closure happening after anti-monopoly groups and their allies pressed Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan to block the deal to slow Amazon’s ftc logogrowth.

The FTC signaled it would take a tougher line on tech acquisitions under Khan’s leadership, but it is mired in a 2-2 partisan deadlock that has prevented key agenda items from moving forward.

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“MGM has a nearly century-long legacy of producing exceptional entertainment, and we share their commitment to delivering a broad slate of original films and television shows to a global audience,” said Mike Hopkins, senior vice president of Prime Video and Amazon Studios.

washington post logoWashington Post, Five people charged with acting as Chinese government agents to spy on and harass U.S. residents critical of Beijing, Ellen Nakashima and Shayna Jacobs, March 17, 2022. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have charged five people with acting on behalf of the Chinese secret police to stalk, spy on and harass U.S. residents critical of Beijing, officials announced Wednesday.

The defendants were charged in three separate cases brought by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York as part of the Justice Department’s new strategy to counter nation-state threats.

A major focus of the strategy is fighting transnational repression by authoritarian governments. Its launch last month coincided with the shutting down of a program known as the China Initiative, following controversy fueled by what officials said was a misperception that the department was targeting ethnic Chinese for prosecution.

Justice Department officials stressed that prosecutors remained committed to cracking down on crimes such as espionage and cyberattacks, especially those directed by or benefiting foreign governments.

March 16

 

marina ovsyannikova afp via getty

Marina Ovsyannikova, the editor at the state broadcaster Channel One who protested against Russian military action in Ukraine during the evening news broadcast at the station, speaks to the media as she leaves the Ostankinsky District Court after being fined for breaching protest laws in Moscow on March 15, 2022 (AFP photo via Getty Images).

Truthout, Marina Ovsyannikova Refuses to Retract Antiwar Statements in Moscow Court, Chris Walker, March 16, 2022. Marina Ovsyannikova, a former employee of the state-run Channel One television station in Russia who protested the invasion of Ukraine by holding up a “No War” sign on the air, was offered the chance to retract her antiwar statements in a Moscow court on Tuesday.

She refused to do so, and pleaded not guilty to administrative law charges that were filed against her.

Those charges did not stem from her protest, but from the content of a pre-recorded video she made ahead of her action, in which she explained her antiwar views and how she was “embarrassed” for being part of the propaganda machine on Channel One.

“What’s happening in Ukraine right now is a true crime. And Russia is the aggressor,” she said in that video. “And the responsibility for this crime lies only on the conscience of one person, and that person is [Russia President] Vladimir Putin.”

Ovsyannikova was found guilty of violating the administrative law and fined 30,000 rubles (the equivalent of $280 USD). She could face future criminal charges for her on-air protest.

Ovsyannikova’s lawyers pointed out that her rights were being denied to her during her detainment — under Russian law, women who have children under the age of 14 cannot be detained for violating administrative laws (Ovsyannikova has two children under that age limit).

In addition to refusing to retract her statements and pleading not guilty, Ovsyannikova reiterated her viewpoints on the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine to the judge overseeing her case.

“I still believe that Russia committed a crime by attacking Ukraine,” she said. “I do not retract any of my words, it was indeed an antiwar statement.”

Speaking outside of the courthouse after being fined, Ovsyannikova shared her experience in detention, during which her lawyers presumed she was missing due to the fact that she wasn’t allowed to contact them. The dissident, whose father is Ukrainian and mother is Russian, explained that she was interrogated for more than 14 hours while under arrest, and wasn’t allowed to call any of her family to tell them what was going on.

“I spent two days without sleep,” she added.

Ovsyannikova’s protest is but one example out of thousands of Russians in the country speaking out against the Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine. Protests have sprung up in dozens of cities across the nation, with dissidents risking their livelihoods to showcase their opposition to the war.

Earlier this month, the Kremlin made it illegal to independently report on the war or for citizens to protest against it, threatening those who violated the law with up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

As of last week, more than 13,000 Russians have been arrested for protesting the invasion of Ukraine, according to a protest monitoring group called OVD-Info.

washington post logoWashington Post, Why haven’t Apple and Google shut down their app stores in Russia? The U.S. doesn’t want them to, Joseph Menn, March 17, 2022 (print ed.). Cloudflare, Apple and Google provide ordinary Russians with the means to find independent news sources and to connect to activists and nonprofit organizations opposed to the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s digital officials and some tech-savvy expatriates in the United States have been calling for Apple and Google to cut Russia off from their app stores and for security company Cloudflare to stop protecting Pravda and Russian war propaganda sites from state-backed and activist hackers.

But civil liberties groups and American officials are pushing the other way, arguing that the three California companies provide ordinary Russians with the means to find independent news sources and to connect to activists and nonprofit organizations opposed to the war in Ukraine.

“It’s important for tech companies to maintain those channels,” said Natalia Krapiva, an attorney at digital rights group Access Now. “App stores are important alternatives for people to learn what is happening.”

Asked about the continued presence in Russia of Cloudflare, one of the world’s best-known providers of cybersecurity services, a State Department spokesperson said, “It is critical to maintain the flow of information to the people of Russia to the fullest extent possible.” The spokesperson agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

March 15

 

Oleksandra Kuvshynova and Pierre Zakrzewski cpj03 15 2022 washington post logoWashington Post, Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova killed near Kyiv, Jeremy Barr, March 15, 2022. Zelensky to family of slain U.S. journalist: ‘The people of Ukraine ... are mourning with you.’

Pierre Zakrzewski, a cameraman for Fox News, was killed Monday alongside a Ukrainian colleague, Oleksandra Kuvshynova (shown above), while reporting outside Kyiv, according to statements from Fox News and Ukrainian officials on Tuesday.

Both journalists were traveling in a car Monday with Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall in the town of Horenka when the vehicle was struck by incoming fire. The network said on Monday that Hall, a State Department correspondent, has been hospitalized with his injuries, but no further update has been given on his condition.

fox news logo SmallZakrzewski, 55, an Irish citizen who was based in London, had been working in Ukraine since February. Kuvshynova, left, was serving as a consultant for Fox News in Ukraine, helping the network’s team navigate the area, gather news and speak with sources, the olelsandra kuvshynova fox pressnetwork said.

In a memo to employees Tuesday, Fox News Media chief executive Suzanne Scott said Zakrzewski had covered “nearly every international story for Fox News,” including dispatches from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. In December, Fox gave the cameraman the company’s “Unsung Hero” award for helping evacuate Afghan citizens who had worked for the network along with their families last summer.

“He was profoundly committed to telling the story and his bravery, professionalism and work ethic were renowned among journalists at every media outlet,” Scott wrote. “He was wildly popular — everyone in the media industry who has covered a foreign story knew and respected Pierre.”

Kuvshynova’s death was confirmed Tuesday afternoon by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. A young native of Kyiv, she recently held jobs in public relations, filmmaking and the local music scene, according to her social media accounts. Yonat Friling, a senior field producer for Fox News, said that Kuvshynova worked with the network’s team for the past month and “did a brilliant job.”

 

omarosa djtPolitico, Judge imposes $61K penalty on Omarosa for failing to file financial disclosure, Josh Gerstein, March 15, 2022. The former Trump White House aide (shown above in a file photo) claimed officials held necessary files after she was fired.

A judge on Tuesday hit former White House official Omarosa Manigault Newman with a $61,585 penalty for ignoring her duty to file a financial disclosure report after she was fired from her post as a communications aide to President Donald Trump in December 2017.

politico CustomU.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon rejected Manigault Newman’s claims that her firing was so abrupt that she did not have a chance to collect her personal files, which contained financial details she said were necessary for the filing.

In an unsparing 15-page opinion, the judge also dismissed her assertion that the protracted delay in filing the report was due to a dispute over precisely which day was her final one on the White House staff.

“Manigault Newman was well aware of her obligation to file a Termination Report … having received countless reminders — but nevertheless failed to file her report for more than a year after the statutory deadline,” wrote Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “This conduct establishes a willful violation.”

The Justice Department sued Manigault Newman over the missing form in June 2019. She finally filed the financial disclosure report in September of that year.

Leon agreed with Justice Department attorneys that the “egregiousness” of Manigault Newman’s actions merited the maximum allowable civil penalty under the Ethics in Government Act for the belated filing. “Manigault Newman’s years-long failure to comply with the EIGA after ‘many written and verbal reminders’ is a ‘flagrant’ violation warranting imposition of ‘the full civil penalty,’” Leon wrote.

Manigault Newman appeared as a contestant on several seasons of Trump’s TV show “The Apprentice” before taking a post as head of African-American Outreach for Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. After Trump’s victory, she took a $179,000-a-year job as a communications adviser in the White House Office of Public Liaison. However, her relationship with other aides reportedly grew acrimonious, leading chief of staff John Kelly to fire her in a meeting in the situation room in December 2017.

Unknown to Kelly, Manigault Newman was recording the session.

“It’s important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure … you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation,” Kelly said. He also offered to keep her on the government payroll for a month without her working, she said. She was later escorted out of the White House complex.

In heated social media exchanges about her firing and her surreptitious recordings, Trump later called her a “lowlife” and a “dog.”

Manigault Newman suggested on Tuesday that it was absurd she was being punished for failing to file a form on time, while others — perhaps alluding to her former boss or colleagues — had broken the law without consequence.

“The question remains … are there two systems of justice in this country,” she said in a message posted on Twitter. “One that allows those who violate the Hatch Act and Emoluments Clause a slap on wrist and the other that orders an unprecedented fine (highest in history) for an alleged unintentional failing to file a form?”

Manigault Newman’s attorney, John Phillips, expressed disappointment in the decision and in the Justice Department’s decision to keep pursuing the case even after President Joe Biden’s appointees took over last year.

“I’ve advised her to appeal. I’m frankly stunned by the ruling,” Phillips said in a statement sent via email. “They kept her boxes hostage, which contained the records she needed; while weaponizing litigation against her on multiple fronts. They played games with the system, which is laid out in our Motions and Responses. And a record setting fine as a penalty for public service is beyond inappropriate. Merrick Garland is supposed to be returning stability and reason back to government. This is the opposite of that. They wouldn’t even respond to my requests.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Guest Essay: The Case That Killed #MeToo in Sweden, Jenny Nordberg (a Swedish journalist and author based in New York), March 15, 2022. In 2017, Cissi Wallin, a Swedish journalist, posted a now infamous mirror selfie to her tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.“The powerful media man who drugged and raped me in 2006 is named Fredrik Virtanen.” She would soon learn how much trouble naming the man would cause. cissi wallinThe post led to a maelstrom on social media and in the news. Cissi Wallin convicted of gross libel.

As Flight SK946 rounded the southern tip of Greenland, with her husband and 2-year-old son quietly sleeping next to her, Cissi Wallin felt her resolve begin to harden. Two generations of silence was enough.

Her mother and her grandmother, too, told her they had mostly kept quiet when they’d been mistreated by men. It’s what women did back then, they’d said.

But as the plane carried Ms. Wallin, a Swedish writer and actor, from Chicago back to Stockholm that night in October 2017, her thoughts were on what was happening in America. Harvey Weinstein had just been exposed and was fired within days. Something seemed to be gathering momentum. Within a few weeks, women across the country and the world would be saying it out loud: Me Too.

A week after the flight, after working out, skipping her shower and drinking several mugs of strong coffee at a cafe near her house, Ms. Wallin posted a mirror selfie to her tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. “The powerful media man who drugged and raped me in 2006 is named Fredrik Virtanen,” the caption began.

Today — more than four years later — Mr. Virtanen has never been charged with any crime in connection to his encounter with Ms. Wallin. (He has denied her allegations.) She, meanwhile, is a convicted criminal, at risk of prison time.

In 2019 she was charged with and convicted of defamation, after Mr. Virtanen reported her to the police. Other Swedish men have pursued similar tactics: At least 12 criminal convictions have followed of women who had told their own stories since the #MeToo movement began.

And now, in what might be a low point in Ms. Wallin’s quest for the right to speak about what she says happened to her, she’s about to be prosecuted again — after self-publishing a memoir about her experience. Although the book doesn’t name the man, if she’s convicted, the government will seek to have all unsold hard copies of her book destroyed.

Even today, in the post-Stieg Larsson era, Sweden retains its reputation as the feminist capital of the world. Much of that reputation is deserved: In Sweden, 480 days of parental leave is standard; fathers can be spotted pushing strollers around on any given day in the capital’s parks; sexual encounters are — in theory, at least— governed by a consent law; the government even officially proclaims itself “feminist.”

And still, the outpouring of testimonials at the height of #MeToo was striking. More than 60,000 Swedish women signed appeals, many of which detailed personal stories ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault at workplaces and beyond.

But what marked the Swedish version of #MeToo as unusual is that this outpouring of testimonials took place almost completely anonymously: few women were willing to come forward to be identified as the victims, and only a handful of the accused men were named.

March 14

Press Run, Commentary: Covid Nation — press shrugs as Biden restores "normalcy,” Eric Boehlert, right, March 14, 2022. Covid cases evaporate. The media’s eric.boehlertgoalpost moving on Covid has become exhausting.

For months, the press hammered President Joe Biden for not returning “normalcy” to America, especially as the Omicron variant surged. Thankfully, new cases have fallen 95 percent from a peak of 800,000. In New York City, which got pummeled by the surge, officials now count fewer than 700 new infections each day, down 99 percent from the winter spike. The pandemic is not over (Barack Obama just tested positive), but the news is mostly good these days.

That’s why so many mask mandates have been lifted nationwide, and virtually all schools are open.

What’s the media’s response to that long-awaited turn for the better? They shrug and move on. Instead of celebrating and crediting the Biden administration, returning towards normalcy has instead stirred “disappointment, frustration and queasy ambivalence,” according to a New York Times front-page piece on Sunday. Using anecdotes only, the article suggested that lots of residents in “Covid cautious cities” are reluctant to return to normal.

Talk about heads you lose, tails you lose. The Times somehow managed to frame Covid’s rapid decline in the U.S as upsetting news. (People are “bewildered.”) Can you imagine the coverage today if cases under Biden were still rising?

The press, which treated Covid as the most important news event for two years and hung it around Biden’s neck like a political anchor for the last nine months, suddenly thinks gas prices in the U.S. represents a bigger news story.

Americans have noticed the welcome Covid developments. Eight in ten acknowledge we are in a better place than we were a year ago. Approval for Biden’s handling of the pandemic jumped eight points in the most recent NPR poll. And Google searches of “Covid,” a good indication of public anxiety, are now at their lowest point of the two-year pandemic. (85 percent of Americans 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.)

For months this winter, the press was adamant Covid represented the defining issue of the Biden administration. It was the “central crisis” according to NPR. Added Puck, “Presidencies are just as defined by events beyond one’s control as they are by promises, and the primary culprit for Biden’s woes is an unmistakable five-letter word that would slot nicely into the first row of a morning Wordle: COVID.”

CNN not long ago demanded Biden address his Covid “crisis,” stressing that the pandemic had led to a sense “that events at home and abroad are cascading out of control.” Covid this year spurred, “growing doubts over whether [Biden] can fulfill his promise to solve problems,” according to the network.

When the U.S. economy added nearly 700,000 new jobs in February, Politico announced it represented a “rare spot of bright news” for Biden’s “mired” presidency. Apparently, Covid cases plummeting to pandemic lows in 2022 doesn’t constitute a “bright” spot.

Today as infections plunge, the topic has virtually disappeared. “Covid” mentions on cable news during the first two weeks of March are down nearly 90 percent compared to the first two weeks of January, according to TVeyes. (References dropped nearly 95 percent on CNN, from 1,170 to 85.)

It’s true that the mainstream media are more interested in relaying bad news vs. good news, simply because it’s more compelling and likely more alluring to news consumers. But the Covid coverage represents a telling example of how an issue that the press itself claimed would define the Biden administration gets translated into no news when it turns towards positive territory. Look for the same look-away coverage when gas prices and inflation eventually go down.

Some might argue that Covid coverage has been thinned out because there’s an unprecedented land invasion taking place in Ukraine and the media are rightly focusing their time and resources on that life-and-death story. That argument would ring true if the same press corps — and especially TV news — didn’t lose its mind last week with its around-the-clock gas price coverage. ‘Breathless’ barely begins to describe the relentless, hyperbole-laced reportage that has dominated the airwaves in recent days.

In that environment, the good news about Covid — and the good news for the White House — has been treated as an afterthought.

Ukraine bumped lots of stories off the front page and off the airwaves, including Covid’s sharp decline in America. Still, the press made sure to carve out oceans of space to constantly remind news consumers that gas prices are up, and that is trouble for Biden. Over that same, recent seven-day period, “gas” was mentioned a total 1220 times on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, compared to “Covid” being referenced just 205 times.

The salivating press lost touch with context and reality, last week treating the bloody, murderous war in Ukraine as being just slightly more pressing than the fact Americans are paying $10 more each week at the gas pump. (Fox News: 720 “Kyiv” mentions, 605 “gas” references.)

Covid remains a hugely important story today and should be covered that way, even if most of the news is good.

March 13

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: How the right embraced Russian disinformation about ‘U.S. bioweapons labs’ in Ukraine, Glenn Kessler, March 13, 2022 (print ed.). Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up bioweapons labs in Ukraine. The effort paid off when remarks by a State Department official were twisted to suggest the falsehood was confirmed.

maria zarkhova Custom“Bioweapon labs in Ukraine prove US criminal activity, diplomat says”

— headline of Tass news article, quoting Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, right, the morning of March 9

“Under oath in an open committee hearing, Toria Nuland just confirmed that the Russian disinformation they’ve been telling us for days is a lie and a conspiracy theory and crazy and immoral to believe is, in fact, totally and completely true.”

tucker carlsonTucker Carlson, right, remarks on his Fox News show, the evening of March 9

 

Russian disinformation often begins with a speck of fact, which is then twisted into a full-blown conspiracy theory. The technique makes it easier to spread and take root among the country’s supporters. Note how quickly the party line uttered by the Russian Foreign Ministry was embraced by Carlson.

In this instance, Russia for years has been seeding the ground to claim that the United States set up biowarfare labs in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Then, brief remarks by Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, were twisted to provide “confirmation” of the disinformation program.

The Facts

The Russian claims about Ukrainian labs bear the earmarks of the Soviet Union’s long-running campaign of false allegations that the United States used biological weapons. The KGB, for instance, in the early 1980s spread false claims that a U.S.-funded research project in Pakistan was sending “killer mosquitoes” into Afghanistan, leading to local outrage that ended the program.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, former officials admitted the fabrications. But Russian disinformation about biological weapons resumed again in earnest after Vladimir Putin took control in 1999, according to a 2021 article in the Nonproliferation Review by Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland. Leitenberg says the effort is designed to distract from Russian’s own biological weapons program.

Here are the specks of truth that Russian officials are using to spread their propaganda. The labs were initially funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), as part of its cooperative biological engagement program. And the labs do study African swine fever — but with the aim of preventing its spread.

Nevertheless, despite the constant debunking, the Russian propaganda that the United States has bioweapons labs in Ukraine has taken root, robert malone headshotespecially on the right, with the hashtag #usbiolabs trending on Twitter as the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced. “Would the Russian invasion of Ukraine be justified if it were for biodefense?” asked Robert W. Malone, right, a prominent vaccine skeptic, on March 9.

The latest iteration of this claim was sparked by a brief exchange during a Senate hearing on March 8 between Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Nuland. Rubio, left, asked whether Ukraine has biological or chemical weapons. Nuland responded by talking about the research marco rubio official.jpg Smalllabs and the U.S. concern that Russia would get access to them.

“Ukraine has biological research facilities, which, in fact, we are now quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of,” Nuland replied. “So, we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.”

Following the lead of the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman — who asserted Nuland’s comment was proof of the United States’ “illegal and criminal activity on Ukrainian soil” — Carlson and many others on the right jumped to the conclusion that this meant the labs really were biological weapons facilities.

Carlson briefly acknowledged numerous fact checks that previously had debunked the claim but then embraced the latest Russian spin as the truth. Russian state TV then featured Carlson’s take the next day, completing the circle.

Donald Trump Jr. gleefully tweeted a clip of Nuland, saying: “Well that went from conspiracy theory to Senate testimony in about 6 days … It used to take six months to go from conspiracy theory to fact.”

fox news logo Small(Never mind that in 2020, during Trump’s father’s presidency, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine expressly denied Russia’s renewed claim that Ukraine possessed U.S.-funded bioweapon labs after China’s Foreign Ministry echoed that falsehood to distract from scrutiny of the origins of the coronavirus.)

In reality, Nuland’s statement about “biological research facilities” did not confirm allegations of bioweapons labs. African swine fever, for instance, is not a human pathogen. But it does devastate pigs and can be used as an economic weapon, so it is considered by the United States to be a potential biowarfare agent — especially in countries (such as the United States) with little experience with it.

Asked on Thursday to expand on Nuland’s comment, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said medical facilities “all have equipment, pathogens or other things that you have to have restrictions around because you need to be sure it is being treated and handled appropriately.” She said there was a concern the Russians could misuse materials, even if not designed for weapons, “in dangerous ways or create challenges for the population.”

The Pinocchio Test

Under Putin, Russia has a biological weapons program, one that it has clearly used to target its opponents. Yet it tried to provide cover for its activities by repeatedly charging that the United States, through facilities it has funded in countries like Ukraine, has its own bioweapons program.

As we said, it’s straight out of the old Soviet playbook. But that doesn’t mean prominent commentators like Carlson should be so quick to fall for it.

 

Brent Renaud, right, and his brother Craig Renaud in Little Rock, Ark., in 2007 (Photo by Oscar Hidalgo for The New York Times).

Brent Renaud, right, and his brother Craig Renaud in Little Rock, Ark., in 2007 (Photo by Oscar Hidalgo for The New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, An award-winning American video journalist was killed while reporting in a suburb of Kyiv, a local official said, Michael Schwirtz, March 13, 2022. Brent Renaud, an award-winning American filmmaker and journalist, was killed in Ukraine on Sunday while reporting in a suburb of the capital, Kyiv, according to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.

Mr. Renaud, 50, had worked for a number of American news and media organizations in the past, including HBO, NBC and The New York Times. The Ukrainian authorities said he was killed in Irpin, a suburb that has been the site of intense shelling by Russian forces in recent days, but the details of his death were not immediately clear. Ukrainian officials said another journalist was wounded as well.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said in a statement that Mr. Renaud “paid with his life for attempting to expose the insidiousness, cruelty and ruthlessness of the aggressor.”

Mr. Renaud had contributed to The Times in previous years, most recently in 2015, but he was not on assignment for the company in Ukraine. Early reports that he was working for The Times in Ukraine circulated because he was found with a Times press badge that had been issued for an assignment years ago.

oan logo

ny times logoNew York Times, First Amendment Scholars Want to See the Media Lose These Cases, Jeremy W. Peters, March 13, 2022. Some legal experts say it is time to draw a sharp line between protected speech and harmful disinformation.

The lawyers and First Amendment scholars who have made it their life’s work to defend the well-established but newly threatened constitutional protections for journalists don’t usually root for the media to lose in court.

But that’s what is happening with a series of recent defamation lawsuits against right-wing outlets that legal experts say could be the most significant libel litigation in recent memory.

fox news logo SmallThe suits, which are being argued in several state and federal courts, accuse Project Veritas, Fox News, The Gateway Pundit, One America News and others of intentionally promoting and profiting from false claims of voter fraud during the 2020 election, and of smearing innocent civil servants and businesses in the process.

If the outlets prevail, these experts say, the results will call into question more than a half-century of precedent that created a clear legal framework for establishing when news organizations can be held liable for publishing something that’s not true.

Libel cases are difficult to prove in the United States. Among other things, public figures have to show that someone has published what the Supreme Court has called a “calculated falsehood” or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

But numerous First Amendment lawyers said they thought the odds were strong that at least one of these outlets would suffer a rare loss at trial, given the extensive and well-documented evidence against them.

That “may well turn out to be a good thing,” said Lee Levine, a veteran First Amendment lawyer who has defended some of the biggest media outlets in the country in libel cases.

The high legal bar to prove defamation had become an increasingly sore subject well before the 2020 election, mainly but not exclusively among conservatives, prompting calls to reconsider the broad legal immunity that has shielded journalists since the landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision New York Times v. Sullivan. Critics include politicians like former President Donald J. Trump and Sarah Palin, who lost a defamation suit against The Times last month and has asked for a new trial, as well as two Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch.

Mr. Levine said a finding of liability in the cases making their way through the courts could demonstrate that the bar set by the Sullivan case did what it was supposed to: make it possible to punish the intentional or extremely reckless dissemination of false information while protecting the press from lawsuits over inadvertent errors.

 

Trump attorney and former Justice Department Deputy Attorney Gen. Rudy Giuliani, his colleague and significant other Maria Ryan, and One America Network White House correspondent Christina Bogbb are shown working in a Willard Hotel

Trump attorney and former Justice Department Deputy Attorney Gen. Rudy Giuliani, his colleague and significant other Maria Ryan, volunteer Trump attorney John Eastman, a law professor, and One America Network White House correspondent Christina Bobb are shown working in a Willard Hotel "War Room" near almost across the street from White House grounds with fellow Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 in a photo by a fellow Trump supporter.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Major media outlets are finally warming up to the growing signs that the DOJ may be criminally targeting Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, bill palmerright, March 13, 2022. Signs have been brewing for months that the DOJ might be criminally targeting Trump, which we’ve been steadily documenting here at Palmer Report.

Now that major media outlets are finally waking up to this trend, it’s a good time to revisit what the DOJ would want to have in hand in order to charge Trump: one or more key co-conspirators flipping on him.

bill palmer report logo headerTo get a trial conviction against a crime boss like Trump who mostly doesn’t do his own dirty work, rarely uses email or texts, and often gives henchmen instructions in code words, you need one of those henchmen to testify that Trump really was instructing them to commit the crimes they committed.

Justice Department log circularThat’s why it’s so crucial that Roger Stone’s Oath Keeper driver cut a seditious conspiracy plea deal last week. If the DOJ can convince Stone that it has him nailed, and that he’s better off flipping now than going to trial, the DOJ gains a witness who can get Trump convicted.

It’s also why the DOJ case against Rudy Giuliani, which was stalled by the courts for about eight months in a battle over attorney-client privilege that was just recently resolved (largely in the DOJ’s favor), is now so relevant.

“So if the DOJ has Stone and Giuliani nailed already, why not just indict them?” Because it’s not about nailing them. It’s about nailing them so thoroughly, they REALIZE they’re nailed, and flip. Otherwise you have to wait a long time for their trial conviction, before they flip.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Whitmer Kidnapping Trial, Lawyers Debate Defendants’ Free Speech, Frances Robles, March 13, 2022. The case of what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s governor, is testing the government’s ability to root out extremism.

Few people took the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions that swept the world in the spring of 2020 harder than the far-right extremist Adam Fox.

The burden of being unable to work out at shuttered gyms offended Mr. Fox to his core, so he took to recording Facebook videos to rant about what he viewed as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s tyrannical regime. Ms. Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, had mandated masks, canceled school and closed most commerce, and for militia movement members like Mr. Fox, she personified everything going so wrong in America.

He suggested a citizen’s arrest.

“We want her flex-cuffed on a table,” Mr. Fox, 38, said in a recording played in court.

Mr. Fox and three fellow militia members are now on trial at the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Michigan in connection with what prosecutors say was a conspiracy to kidnap Ms. Whitmer and blow up a bridge a few miles from her lakeside vacation cottage to delay the police response. The trial, which opened with jury selection on Tuesday and is expected to take up to six weeks, is an important and unusual domestic terrorism prosecution that will test the government’s ability to root out violent right-wing extremism on American soil, particularly in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol last year.

As the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections helped fuel a rise of extremism, the case offers a rare inside look at the secretive world of militia groups that use social media, encrypted apps, field training exercises and secret meetings to discuss violent uprisings.

The suspects — some survivalists, others who hoped to foment a new civil war — have framed the case as a critical examination of something entirely different: the country’s commitment to free speech. To them, the legal proceedings underway at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids, Mich., before Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker put a spotlight on an overreaching government willing to manufacture plots to criminalize free speech and crack down on the government’s perceived enemies. Although Judge Jonker had initially ruled that he would limit the use of an entrapment defense, he changed course after opening statements.

But even as defense lawyers argue that the alleged conspiracy amounted to nothing more than trash talk from drug users, prosecutors contend that hundreds of hours of the defendants’ own words, surreptitiously recorded by informants and presented as evidence in support of the charges of kidnapping, conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, are the very thing that will do them in. If found guilty, they potentially face life sentences.

“I’m going to do some of the most nasty, disgusting things that you have ever read about in the history of your life,” one of the defendants, Barry G. Croft Jr., 46, of Delaware, said as he was secretly recorded chronicling his plans to sow mayhem. He went on to explain how packing pennies in explosives could cause even more injuries and how he had thought about killing police officers and federal agents.

“They’re looking forward to the civil war,” Jonathan Roth, an assistant U.S. attorney, said. “They’re getting ready for it, and they’re looking for ways to start it.”

 

nicaragua map

daniel ortega composite

washington post logoWashington Post, Nicaraguan presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro convicted in crackdown on opposition, Ismael López Ocampo and Mary Beth Sheridan, March 13, 2022. Chamorro, the most prominent of dozens of political activists arrested by Nicaragua’s government, faces up to 13 years in jail.

Cristiana Chamorro, the most prominent of dozens of political activists arrested by Nicaragua’s government, has been found guilty of money-laundering and other charges, part of a judicial offensive that could derail any serious challenge to President Daniel Ortega for years. Ortega is shown above in file photos spanning his decades in power or as a left-wing opposition leader.

polish flag wavingChamorro, 68, is the daughter of former president Violeta Chamorro and a member of one of the best-known political dynasties in Central America. Cristiana Chamorro was placed under house arrest in June, as she was emerging as a leading candidate in presidential elections. After locking up his potential opponents, Ortega cruised to a fourth consecutive term in November.

Cristiana Chamorro, 68, had served as editor of the country’s largest newspaper, the family-run La Prensa, and as director of a press-freedom foundation named after her mother.

She, her brother Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, and three other people who were involved with the foundation were found guilty on Friday, at the end of a week-long trial, according to relatives. Prosecutors had maintained the organization received money from overseas to destabilize the government, a charge the defendants denied. Cristiana Chamorro faces up to 13 years in jail, while her brother, a former lawmaker, could get up to seven years.

“As my siblings said in court, this trial has the goal of staining the legacy of our parents — an objective that will not be achieved,” said Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a journalist, in a telephone interview from exile in Costa Rica. The Chamorros’ father, also named Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was the best-known opposition figure confronting the right-wing Somoza dictatorship when he was shot dead in 1978.

Nicaragua's Ortega is strangling La Prensa, one of Latin America's most storied newspapers

Some analysts had expected Ortega to ease his crackdown on the opposition after his November reelection. Instead, the judicial system has convicted more than 30 opposition activists, many charged with treason.

ny times logoNew York Times, Former employees of RT America described what it was like to work for Russian state television, Cecilia Kang, March 13, 2022 (print ed.). For eight years, Lee Camp hosted a weekly show on RT America that aimed to satirize American politics, finding punchlines in subjects like sanctions against Afghanistan and student debt forgiveness. That ended unceremoniously on March 3, a week after Russian airstrikes began in Ukraine, when the Russian-state-funded network suddenly shut down.

Now, Mr. Camp is fuming about it.

He blamed the “U.S. government war machine” for RT America’s defeat and lamented what he saw as corporate media’s victory in squelching alternative views like his.

rt logoMore than 100 people lost their jobs at the network, which the Russian state media outlet RT created more than a decade ago to offer a counternarrative to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. It had headquarters in Washington and bureaus in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, and produced a full slate of news, comedy and political commentary programs available on cable and satellite television and online.

A role at RT America was a rare job in an industry where if you had screwed up, were washed up or were completely new to the field, there weren’t many other options. RT America was where Rick Sanchez, who had lost his anchor gig at CNN, was given a second shot, and where Mr. Camp, a standup comedian, made his way to the television set with the potential to reach tens of millions of cable subscribers with RT America on their menus.

Opportunities abounded. Young reporters were promoted to anchors and teleprompter technicians to control room operators within months. Rachel Blevins co-hosted a show, “Boom Bust,” four years out of college.

For the employees who swiped into the second-floor office in downtown Washington, a few blocks from the White House, RT America offered good pay and benefits in the fiercely competitive cable news job market.

It looked and felt like a typical American cable news network, with flashy live studios ensconced in fishbowl glass walls, stylish leather furniture in the green room and free bagels with schmears on Fridays.

“It was actually so normal,” Ms. Blevins said.

In interviews with 11 former employees of RT America, some who were working there when it shut down and some who worked there in the network’s earlier days, many stressed that they were against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and some had criticized the invasion on air.

But they are now grappling with having worked at a company that American television distributors kicked off their platforms days before RT America closed down. Several former employees would discuss their experience only on the condition of anonymity for fear of drawing attention to the affiliation.

March 12

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin’s moves against U.S. tech giants set stage for crackdown on free speech, Greg Miller and Joseph Menn, March 12, 2022. Google and Apple blinked after direct threats from Russian agents.

Russian agents came to the home of Google’s top executive in Moscow to deliver a frightening ultimatum last September: take down an app that had drawn the ire of Russian President Vladimir Putin within 24 hours or be taken to prison.

google logo customGoogle quickly moved the woman to a hotel where she checked in under an assumed name and might be protected by the presence of other guests and hotel security, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The same agents — believed by company officials to be from Russia’s FSB, a successor to the KGB intelligence service — then showed up at her room to tell her the clock was still ticking.

Within hours, an app designed to help Russians register protest votes against Putin could no longer be downloaded from Google or Apple, whose main representative in Moscow faced a similarly harrowing sequence. Titans of American technology had been brought to their knees by some of the most primitive intimidation tactics in the Kremlin playbook.

apple logo rainbowThe unnerving encounters, which have not previously been disclosed, were part of a broader campaign that Putin intensified last year to erode sources of internal opposition — moves now helping him maintain his hold on power amid a global backlash over the invasion of Ukraine.

In a single year, Putin had his political nemesis Alexei Navalny imprisoned after a poisoning attempt failed to kill him; pushed independent news outlets to the brink of extinction; orchestrated a Kremlin-controlled takeover of Russia’s Facebook equivalent; and issued “liquidation” orders against human rights organizations.

Amid this internal offensive, Putin also moved to bring foreign technology companies to heel. Moscow deployed new devices that let it degrade or even block Russians’ access to Facebook and Twitter, imposed fines totaling $120 million on firms accused of defying Kremlin censors, and ordered 13 of the world’s largest technology companies to keep employees in Russia and thus exposed to potential arrest or other punishment for their employers’ actions — a measure that U.S. executives refer to as the “hostage law.”

March 11

 

World War

ukraine olena kurilo 52 teacher Russian missile Chuhuiv amazon

52 year-old Ukrainian teacher Olena Kurilo following a Russian missile strike in Chuhuiv, Ukraine.

Proof, The Ten Hardest Truths About the War in Europe, Seth Abramson, left, March 11, 2020. The author of a bestseller on Russia, Ukraine, and links seth abramson graphicbetween the Russia-Ukraine conflict and U.S. politics reveals 10 terrifying things about the worst military crisis in Europe since 1945.

Introduction: I’ve been nervous about publishing this article ever since I started writing it.

The reason for my anxiety will be familiar to anyone inside or outside the American government who has extensively researched Vladimir Putin and understands what the current atrocities in Europe represent: a terrifying new stage in the war against the West that Putin has been waging for twenty years, and that he’s been winning for at least half that time in part because many in the West remain unaware they’re at war.

seth abramson proof logoTo write at length about Putin and his twenty-first-century infiltrations of Western democracies and their institutions—as I did in the “Proof” trilogy—is to run the risk of seeming not just alarmist but almost ludicrously paranoid. It’s only the fact that all the warnings those who’ve written extensively about Putin have been giving for years are now coming to horrific fruition that it even feels safe to write candidly about what we’re all now experiencing.

Academics can debate whether our current period is in the umbra of the same Cold War that dominated the last century, or a new one; whether we’re on the doorstep of World War III, or are already in it; whether the conditions on the ground in Europe today are most reflective of the eve of World War I or World War II; but what no one can deny is that what is happening in Ukraine is not merely a “news story” or even a spate of well-televised war crimes but a fundamental shifting of our age toward chaos.

There is no need to rehash the core facts beyond this brief summary: Putin is a former KGB agent and current murderous autocrat who is almost certain to be a dictator over Russia until his death; he has repeatedly said that the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century was the 1991 fall of the Communist Soviet Union; he seeks to reconstitute the land area of the Soviet Union by whatever means necessary and over however long a period of time is required, though he understands that this cannot be accomplished without the dissolution or destruction of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization defensive alliance (NATO) and possibly both the European Union and the United States; the post-Soviet government in Russia, including (indeed perhaps especially) Putin’s KGB, began searching for ways to collapse American democracy through asymmetrical warfare from the moment the Soviet Union passed into history; and some significant portion of the current domestic political strife in the United States has been deliberately provoked by the Kremlin and its agents through acts of subterfuge, espionage, propaganda, and hacking that properly answer to the name war.

Yesterday, a former high-ranking official in the Donald Trump administration, Miles Taylor, said that the current Trumpist-Putinist Republican Party is far and away the greatest national security threat America has faced in his lifetime. That he is correct is confirmed not just by the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trumpist irregulars or the fact that former president Trump—to please Putin and ensure his own future business opportunities in Russia—put every U.S. alliance and interest lying beyond our shores at risk, but the fact that America is now in a global conflict (call it the Cold War, World War III, or Second Cold War, as you like) at a time when Trump and Trumpism have deliberately put our body politic at a point of permanent fracture. That most Americans still do not understand what Putin is trying to do and the cost that will be exacted upon the United States as he seeks to do it means that the coming months and perhaps years will be the darkest and most fraught in a century.

Because Putin has now advanced from waging a “hot” cyberwar on America’s sacred electoral infrastructure to waging a hot conventional war on the European continent, everything is now in play that was previously only a harrowing specter in books like Proof of Collusion (Simon & Schuster, 2018), Proof of Conspiracy (Macmillan, 2019), and Proof of Corruption (Macmillan, 2020). Putin has already threatened the world with nuclear war; facing the most comprehensive sanctions ever leveled against a major global power, he has categorized those sanctions as themselves an act of war (thus, at least theoretically, permitting an immediate military response from Russia); there are already significant signs that the war in Europe will destabilize Earth’s international economy for the foreseeable future; the war has also shifted global alliances in such an extraordinary fashion and to such a dramatic degree that America’s supposed allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will not speak to the president of the United States, and the United States has now sent emissaries to negotiate with our long-time enemies in Venezuela. Gas prices just hit a historic high and show no signs of coming down rather than going up. Thousands of civilians are now being killed in Ukraine because they lack air cover, and yet the United States has just declared that it has no appetite for aiding Ukraine in rebuilding its air force via MiG-29s from Poland.

In short, we’re in the earliest days of a sequence of global events whose end none can know but whose present is a darkness deeper than anyone younger than 85 has known.

By and large, American media has so far done yeoman’s work covering the fighting in Europe. While certain news articles published in the United States have endangered the Ukrainian resistance by giving explicit descriptions of its defensive operations and placement, the fact that so many leading American journalists are now embedded in Ukrainian cities has given those of us who care about the indiscriminate killing of women and children—which at this point appears to be approximately half our nation at most—an unmistakable sense that the System of the World is unraveling. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who his aides say has survived more than a dozen assassination attempts in just the last two weeks, may be speaking first and foremost on behalf of the nation he leads when he says the Ukrainians are now fighting for the preservation of Western democracy—and against the global march of autocracy that our own president, Joe Biden, has so often spoken of—but his personal investment in this framing does not make the claim incorrect. While the NATO alliance has refused (and will continue to refuse) to deploy its forces into Europe’s current theater of war, this strategic decision in no way obviates the reality that right now the Ukrainians are indeed the world’s foremost proxies for capital-“d” Democracy.

In the coming weeks and months, Americans will be repeatedly confronted with the question of how much we’re willing to sacrifice to preserve our nation and preserve the very notion of democracy on the global stage. Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic we learned that at least half of America is unwilling to have its daily routine at all disturbed by a global or even domestic tragedy; there’s no reason to expect we’ll answer the call of history any more honorably now that it’s a political principle and the integrity of American democracy at stake rather than hundreds of millions of lives.

Of course, the impact of what’s happening now in Europe will fall upon the shoulders of hundreds of millions soon enough. Already we’re learning that the war in Ukraine is launching a refugee crisis the likes of which the West hasn’t seen since World War II, with the near certainty that at least 5 million Ukrainians will ultimately cross a national border to flee the war crimes Putin is presently inflicting on their homeland. But beyond this ever-expanding refugee crisis, and the morally intolerable civilian deaths in cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv and Mariupol, lies the fact that many millions in European democracies like Finland and Latvia and Estonia and Lithuania now feel under military threat from Russian aggression, as will those in Romania and Poland if (or more likely when) Ukraine is annexed in its totality by Russia. The economic and geopolitical effects of having the world’s largest country by land area—and its second-largest military—become a “pariah state” encompass the lives of hundreds of millions more than the tragedy in Ukraine has already affected. And that’s only in the medium term.

This essay seeks to speak candidly about this medium-range outlook, and to do so in terms that American media has so far eschewed—in part because it is habitually and temperamentally “present-oriented,” and in part because it has missed the fact, as have most Americans, that our country is, sadly, already implicitly at war with Russia.

While this may seem an inauspiciously hot-headed and alarmist start to what intends to be a sober essay on the very geopolitics that I wrote three national bestsellers about over the last forty months, understand that with the advent of the internet and the establishment of a global economy there was never a chance that World War III would look like World War II or World War I. The war we are in now is very much a twenty-first-century war, which doesn’t mean that there are no conventional components to it—as the Ukrainians are learning right now, with devastating consequences—but that if we fail to appreciate the unconventional components of international warfare in this century we are dooming ourselves to defeat at the very moment that the inchoate and unconventional aggressions of our enemies have become conventional and dire.

With all this said, here are ten truths that American media and American voters need to come to terms with immediately.

 

The Ten Hardest Truths About the War in Europe

(1) America is now in a world war.

If you’re one of those people who—like the notoriously geopolitically unsophisticated Trumpists, who speak so often of courage yet categorically oppose any instance of it—have always thought that World War III would feature the same sort of military, para- military, and asymmetrical logistics that World War I and World War II did, you need to rearrange your thinking immediately. While major international military conflicts always bear certain hallmarks—for instance, war crimes, so-called collateral damage, and the threatened use (or use) of weapons of mass destruction—the chances that a global military conflict in 2022 would look like a global military conflict that began on September 1, 1939 (let alone one that began on July 28, 1914) were always zero. Don’t be fooled by the fact that what’s happening now indeed exhibits certain similarities to what happened when Nazi Germany invaded Eastern Europe at the close of the 1930s, whether it’s the fact that Eastern Europe has again been invaded by a global military power with an autocratic leader, that fears of a genocide in Europe again dominate international political discourse, or that the use of nuclear weapons already hangs over the world like a glowering spectre. 2022 is, nevertheless, not 1939, and no amount of far-right Putin apologists whining about “liberals” wanting to drag America into a war with Russia will change the simple fact that America is already at war with Russia.

This war is a worldwide conflict that could last as many as a hundred years—think of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France (1337-1453) rather than World War I or World War II—and began upon the conclusion of hostilities in the European theater of WWII in 1945. The principal disputants have from the start been the United States and Russia, and while one could certainly question the instances in which one or the other of the two parties pushed the dispute into outright military conflict (e.g., the Korean War, the disaster at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War, or the 1979-to-1989 Soviet-Afghan War that the United States involved itself in by coordinating with men who’d later turn their violent attentions on America), one of the least-discussed errors that either side has made during this Second Hundred Years’ War was made by America: many of our diplomats, generals, and politicians believed the war had ended when the Soviet Union fell. By the time GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was correctly telling Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama that the Russians were still America’s foremost geopolitical opponents, it was all then-President Obama could do not to laugh in Romney’s face. And back in 2012, U.S. media scored the point for Obama.....

(6) The costs of the current world war may well be more than Americans are willing to bear—and if a majority of Americans come to wrongly believe that it’s President Biden rather than Vladimir Putin and his allies (very much including Donald Trump) who’ve brought the world to its current pass, they’ll punish the Democrats and reward the Republicans. Yet doing so would play into Putin’s hands.

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: 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).

March 10

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: 4 Falsehoods Russians Are Told About the War, Stuart A. Thompson, March 10, 2022. Russia’s international disinformation campaign seemed to flounder in the early days of the invasion, as narratives about Ukrainian bravery dominated the internet. But in Russia, the country’s propaganda machine was busy churning out a deluge of misinformation aimed at its own citizens.

The narrative disseminated online through state-run and unofficial channels has helped create an alternate reality where the invasion is justified and Ukrainians are to blame for violence. To control the narrative at home, Russia also shut down access to several websites and threatened the news media with long prison sentences for criticizing the war. There’s some evidence that the effort has mollified at least some Russians.

Here is what the war looks like to Russians, based on a review of state news articles, channels on the popular chat app Telegram, and input from several disinformation watchdogs who are monitoring Russia’s propaganda machine.

Some of the most disturbing images from the war have come from Mariupol, a port city in the southeastern coast. Shelling battered the region, killing several civilians who were trying to flee the area, during what was supposed to be a cease-fire.

But Russians got a different explanation online: Ukrainians had fired on Russian forces during the cease-fire, and neo-Nazis were “hiding behind civilians as a human shield,” according to the Russian state news website Tass.

Neo-Nazis have been a recurring character in Russian propaganda campaigns for years, used to falsely justify military action against Ukraine in what Russian officials have called “denazification.” Those claims have only continued during the conflict. To explain away attacks on other Ukrainian apartment buildings, the same article by Tass claimed that neo-Nazis had placed “heavy weapons in apartment buildings, while some residents are forcibly kept in their homes,” providing no evidence.

Russian social media accounts have used a mix of fake and unconfirmed photos showing Ukrainian soldiers holding Nazi flags or photos of Hitler. An analysis by the Center for Information Resilience, a nonprofit focused on identifying disinformation, showed that the number of tweets connecting Ukrainians to Nazis soared after the invasion began.

“Propaganda works when it coincides with your existing assumptions,” said Pierre Vaux, a senior investigator at the Center for Information Resilience. “The stuff that chimes into the Nazi stuff is really effective.”

After Russia attacked an area near the nuclear complex in Zaporizhzhia, leading to a fire, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called it “nuclear terrorism.”

But according to a Kremlin statement reported in Tass, the military seized the facility to prevent Ukrainians and neo-Nazis from “organizing provocations fraught with catastrophic consequences.” Even though Ukrainians heavily fortified the region against an attack, Russian officials claimed they already had control of the compound before Ukrainians opened fire. They added that Ukrainians set fire to an adjacent building before fleeing, providing no evidence. Western experts said controlling the Zaporizhzhia complex would allow Russia to trigger blackouts or shut down the entire power grid.

The image of Russia as a world protector surfaced again after the country’s officials claimed they discovered evidence that Ukraine was working on a nuclear bomb. According to Russian officials, plans for the bomb were uncovered at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

“It doesn’t even make sense, because if you’re going to develop a nuclear weapon, you don’t do your secret development in a nuclear power plant,” Mr. Vaux said. “But that kind of thing is just being beamed out on Russian state TV.”
After Russia shelled a residential neighborhood, Russians claimed Ukrainians did it.

An attack on Kharkiv, a northeast Ukraine city bordering Russia, provided additional evidence that Russia had indiscriminately bombed residential neighborhoods and killed civilians, according to the Atlantic Council, an American research group. The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into war crimes after the assault.

In one attack that included heavy shelling, 34 civilians were killed and 285 were injured, according to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service.

March 9

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: A judge uses Tucker Carlson’s own words against Fox News, Aaron Blake, right, But not like you might expect. It’s a pretty remarkable state of affairs when a judge is approvingly citing Tucker Carlson’s journalistic rigor, but that’s precisely the situation we find ourselves in now.

And rather ironically, that could be bad news for Fox News.

fox news logo SmallNew York Supreme Court Judge David B. Cohen has now ruled that voting-machine company Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and Rudolph W. Giuliani can proceed. The case involved numerous false and baseless claims made on Fox about voter fraud involving the company’s voting machines.

In the ruling, the judge notably dropped Fox host Jeanine Pirro and former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell from the lawsuit — Pirro because her statements didn’t so directly accuse Smartmatic of illegality, and Powell because New York doesn’t have jurisdiction over her.

But the case against Fox, its other hosts and Giuliani can proceed. And in allowing it to, the judge previewed a tough road ahead for them in this monumental defamation case.

The ruling repeatedly says Fox hosts, Giuliani and Powell made claims “without any evidence” and “without any basis.” It also says that claims made by Giuliani, Fox host Maria Bartiromo and now-former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs could meet the legal standard of claims being “so inherently improbable that only a reckless person would have put [them] in circulation.”

But perhaps the ruling’s most biting — and also potentially legally important — section involves Carlson.

smartmaticIn the course of laying out the legal requirements for Smartmatic to prove its case, the judge noted that the company must prove Fox met the standard of acting with “actual malice” — i.e. not merely promoting false claims, but doing so with malice. And on that count, the judge says the best evidence that it did is Carlson.

That’s because Carlson, unlike the others, applied significant actual skepticism to the claims — and broadcast it.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why we need to keep protections for the news media, George Freeman and Lee Levine, March 9, 2022 (print ed.). In New York Times v. Sullivan, decided on March 9, 1964, the Supreme Court wisely recognized that news organizations need constitutional protection against libel suits to ensure “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” debate. Today, the safeguards established by that landmark case are under a dangerous two-pronged assault.

First, the past several years have seen a worrisome increase in libel lawsuits brought by a broad array of political candidates, elected officials and domestic corporate titans, not to mention foreign autocrats and oligarchs.

Second, despite this torrent of litigation, the Supreme Court might be poised to weaken constitutional protections for the news media — “opening up the libel laws,” as Donald Trump once urged.

Two justices have called for Sullivan to be reconsidered, and they might find takers among their colleagues. Justice Clarence Thomas wants to see the case overruled. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch has suggested that, given “momentous changes in the Nation’s media landscape,” Sullivan now incentivizes shoddy journalism and an “ignorance is bliss” mentality.

Reconsidering Sullivan and relaxing the “actual malice” standard imposed on public officials and public figures who claim they have been defamed would be a terrible mistake. The case was correct when it was decided; it remains equally correct — and at least as necessary — today.

George Freeman is executive director of the Media Law Resource Center. He was previously the in-house newsroom and First Amendment attorney for the New York Times. Lee Levine, a retired lawyer, served as managing editor of the MLRC report referenced in this column.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Pence-backed ad falsely blames Biden for hike in purchases of Russian oil, Glenn Kessler, March 9, 2022. “Before Russian bombs began to rain on Ukraine. Before hundreds of innocent Ukrainians lost their lives. A horrific decision had already been made. Joe Biden caved to the radical environmentalists and stopped America’s Keystone pipeline and dramatically increased Americans’ dependence on Russian oil, endangering America’s security and helping Russia fund their invasion.”

Voice-over of a new ad, “Horrific Decision,” via former vice president Mike Pence’s political organization, Advancing American Freedom, March 7, 2022

Well, this ad certainly is not subtle. It starts with vivid, frightening images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine — and then connects President Biden’s “horrific decision” to halt the Keystone XL pipeline to increased U.S. purchases of Russian oil.

Text appears at one point: “U.S. reliance on Russian oil hits record high.” And then another text appears: “U.S. ‘paying Putin to invade’ Ukraine.” That is attributed, oddly, to “Oil analyst, Fox News.” (It turns out to be Stephen Schork, a onetime commodity trader and research analyst who writes a newsletter.)

The Pence organization claims it will spend $10 million targeting 16 congressional Democrats with this message. The ad ends by urging viewers to contact the lawmaker to “support America’s security instead of Russia’s terror.” Images of explosions and the sound of a woman’s cry close the ad.

Given that Biden on Tuesday announced a halt to imports of Russian oil and gas, the ad already feels rather stale. Moreover, the ad displays little understanding of the energy markets and makes an unwarranted suggestion that Biden is responsible for increased purchases of Russian oil. Energy analysts say other factors — which predate the Biden administration — are responsible.

The Facts

Within hours of taking office, Biden canceled the planned construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The move was designed to be a signal that the Biden administration was taking a tougher stand on fossil fuels and shifting the country toward cleaner energy.

We’ve written many fact checks on this project over the years, about inflated claims about the number of jobs that would be created and about false assertions that the oil moving through it would bypass the United States. If the pipeline were built, the crude oil would travel to the Gulf Coast, where it would be refined into products such as motor gasoline and diesel fuel, with one estimate that 70 percent of the refined product would be consumed in the United States.

But here’s the rub — despite President Donald Trump’s enthusiastic backing, the pipeline still had not been built because of court fights and other challenges. So even if Biden had not canceled it, there is little chance it would have been built by now. The move was more symbolic than anything else. (Moreover, in the past 10 years, the production of oil from tar sands has doubled, by more than what the Keystone XL would have carried, and it is ferried by railroad and other pipelines.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Tucker Carlson goes full blame-America on Russia’s Ukraine invasion, Aaron Blake, March 9, 2022 (print ed.). Tucker Carlson’s remarkably Putin-sympathetic view of the war in Ukraine has yet to catch on with large swaths of the conservative movement. But if it doesn’t, it apparently won’t be for lack of trying.

tucker carlsonCarlson, right, lately has tempered his unfortunately timed suggestion that perhaps Vladimir Putin isn’t that bad a guy. But with that point largely conceded, he now has shifted to assuring that Putin is not the only bad guy. Carlson on Monday drove home an argument that has lingered on the fringes of the conservative movement for some time — that the United States and the West fox news logo Smallinvited this war with their support for admitting Ukraine into NATO, a step that Russia finds unacceptable.

To be clear, the idea that NATO expansion into countries such as Ukraine is provocative and might even be a bad idea is not a fringe position; it has long been espoused, dating to prominent, establishment foreign policy voices in the 1990s. But Carlson took things a good few conspiratorial steps further, arguing that the push for NATO was deliberately intended to provoke this war.

March 7

 

alex jones screen shot 2020 05 01 at 12.02.06 pm

ny times logoNew York Times, Alex Jones and Donald Trump: A Fateful Alliance Draws Scrutiny, Elizabeth Williamson, March 7, 2022. The Infowars host, shown above, tormented Sandy Hook families and helped elect former President Trump. Investigators are now eyeing his role in the Capitol attack.

The day President Donald J. Trump urged his supporters to “be there, will be wild!” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Alex Jones spread the message to millions.

“This is the most important call to action on domestic soil since Paul Revere and his ride in 1776,” Mr. Jones, the Infowars broadcaster, said on his Dec. 19, 2020, show, which airs live online and on a network of radio stations. Mr. Jones, whose lies about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting fueled years of threats against the 26 victims’ families, urged his listeners to take action.

A little more than two weeks later, Mr. Jones joined his followers at the Capitol as a behind-the-scenes organizer — a crucial role in the riot that is under increasing scrutiny by congressional investigators.

It is part of a reckoning Mr. Jones faces on multiple fronts. He is still fighting a half-dozen defamation lawsuits filed by the targets of his false claims, including the relatives of 10 Sandy Hook victims. Late last year the Sandy Hook families won four default judgments against him after he for years resisted court orders, and in upcoming trials, juries will decide how much he must pay them.

For Jan. 6, Mr. Jones helped secure at least $650,000 from a Publix grocery-store heiress, Julie Fancelli, an Infowars fan, to underwrite Mr. Trump’s rally on the Ellipse the morning of the attack, $200,000 of which was deposited into one of Mr. Jones’s business accounts, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack said. The night before the riot Mr. Jones was at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, where Trump aides and allies had set up an outpost. He has longtime ties to at least a half-dozen people arrested after the riot, including the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, Stewart Rhodes, still a regular guest on Infowars, and Joseph Biggs, a former Infowars employee and Proud Boys leader.

The House committee has subpoenaed Mr. Jones, and included a three-page list seeking his related communications and financial records. The panel is also seeking Mr. Jones’s communications with Mr. Trump, his family and anyone from the White House or Congress in the days before the riot. Questioned by the panel this year, Mr. Jones invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times, and is trying to block the committee’s demand for records in court.

Whatever the outcome of the Jan. 6 investigation, Mr. Jones’s journey from Sandy Hook to the assault on the Capitol is a reflection of how conspiracy theories in the United States have metastasized and corroded public discourse in the digital age. A defender of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and a former regular on RT, the Kremlin-funded international television outlet, Mr. Jones espoused such extreme views of American democratic society — he has cast airport security screenings as a plot to usurp Americans’ freedoms — that in 2011 RT stopped inviting him on air.

This article is adapted from “Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth,” to be published by Dutton on March 8.

Elizabeth Williamson is a feature writer in the Washington bureau. She has worked for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and is the author of “Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth.”

washington post logoWashington Post, The tiny radio station broadcasting Russian propaganda in D.C., Paul Farhi, March 7, 2022. How the Kremlin found a middleman who found a Beltway home for Radio Sputnik, known for spreading Russian spin.

For a few seconds every hour, WZHF-AM interrupts its round-the-clock schedule of talk to air a curious disclaimer: “This radio programming is distributed by RM Broadcasting on behalf of the Federal State Unitary Enterprise Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, Moscow, Russia. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.”

The cryptic notification masks a larger story. WZHF, a former Spanish-language station 11 miles east of the White House in Maryland’s Capitol Heights, is the flagship of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to harness America’s radio airwaves to sell the Kremlin’s point of view. Despite periodic legal and political challenges, and the imposition of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the station has stayed on the air, broadcasting its Kremlin-approved message.

The station at 1390 AM is one of only five outlets in the United States that air English-language broadcasts of “Radio Sputnik,” produced in Moscow and Washington under the Russian government’s supervision.

rt logoSputnik is the radio and digital arm of Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), the same Kremlin-controlled media agency that directs RT and RT America, the better-known TV and digital media operations founded by Putin’s regime in 2005.

But while American distributors and European governments have banned RT since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, leading to the collapse of RT’s American operations on Thursday, WZHF is still offering Sputnik’s content to Beltway listeners.

With names like “Political Misfits” and “By Any Means Necessary,” its talk shows are as slickly produced as anything on NPR or the giants of conservative talk radio. Some discussions — organ transplantation, recycling and paranormal activity were among last week’s topics — are apolitical. But many Sputnik hosts offer more barbed commentary about America’s perceived flaws: racism, economic inequity and political dysfunction. One consistent thread for years: Skepticism of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia acted to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump.

Sputnik’s talking heads have tended to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, alleging Ukrainian “crimes” against its Russian-speaking population and “encroachment” on Russia from the NATO alliance. They typically describe the invasion as “a military operation” or “an intervention,” echoing Putin’s framing. There’s plenty of whataboutism: A Russian commentator on Friday fretted that the United States could give nuclear weapons to Ukraine. “We cannot be confident that America will be a responsible member of the international community,” he said.

Listeners are also likely to hear arguments that the severe economic sanctions imposed on Russia are doomed to backfire. A guest, American economist Jack Rasmus, predicted on Wednesday that sanctions could lead to a 20 percent stock market decline and a $1-per-gallon spike in gas prices. One host speculated recently that the United States and Europe could experience a “cataclysmic shift where entire industries won’t survive.”

Despite a 9,000-watt signal that can be heard across the region, the message doesn’t appear to be going very far. WZHF doesn’t rank among the top 40 stations in the Washington area in Nielsen’s ratings. But as limited as Sputnik’s audience and likely influence is, its Kremlin connections have lately begun to attract some negative attention.

The National Association of Broadcasters on Tuesday called on station owners to stop carrying Russian state-sponsored programming. Without mentioning WZHF or Sputnik by name, chief executive Curtis LeGeyt nevertheless suggested they were spreading Kremlin propaganda.

“While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech … it does not prevent private actors from exercising sound, moral judgment,” LeGeyt said in a statement. “Our nation must stand fully united against misinformation and for freedom and democracy across the globe.”

Sputnik has come under political fire before. In 2017, three Democratic members of Congress sought an investigation into why it was still on the air despite evidence that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at the time, Ajit Pai, declined to take action, saying the First Amendment would bar his agency “from interfering with a broadcast licensee’s choice of programming, even if that programming may be objectionable to many listeners.”

Sputnik doesn’t own WZHF, nor could it under federal regulations that bar foreign governments from controlling U.S. broadcast licenses. The decades-old prohibition was driven by concerns that hostile foreign powers would use American radio and TV stations to broadcast propaganda. But the Kremlin found another way to get on the air.

WZHF has been licensed to a New York company, Way Broadcasting, since 2001, according to FCC records. But Way appears to be a largely passive owner. In 2017, it agreed to lease the station’s airtime to a second party, RM Broadcasting of Jupiter, Fla.

RM, in turn, sold all of the station’s airtime to Rossiya Segodnya and Sputnik. RM made a similar deal in 2020 with Alpine Broadcasting to place Sputnik’s programs on Alpine’s three stations in the Kansas City area.

The practice, known as a time-brokerage agreement, has been a financial lifeline for small and financially troubled broadcast outlets since the 1930s. Instead of hiring a sales staff and producing programs, station owners merely lease blocks of airtime to another party, often through a broker, which puts its own programs on the air. The best-known form of such agreements are TV “infomercials.”

Sputnik’s deals have been lucrative for the broadcasters involved. According to federal filings, RM paid Way Broadcasting $1.12 million last year to air Radio Sputnik full time and Alpine Broadcasting about $160,000 to carry Sputnik for six hours a day on its Kansas City stations.

RM’s owner, Arnold Ferolito, defended Sputnik in a recent interview, saying efforts to remove it from the air were an attack on free speech.

March 6

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Putin’s full-scale information war got a key assist from Donald Trump and right-wing media, Margaret Sullivan, right, March 4, margaret sullivan 2015 photo2022. Thanks to his skills at the influence game, Putin knew how to ‘soften up the enemy’ — and get a swath of the American public cheering for him. The former presidential adviser and Russia expert Fiona Hill made headlines last week when she stated bluntly in a Politico interview that Vladimir Putin would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons.

But it was another part of that long interview that I found almost as arresting. Hill described how Putin, as he reaches for domination, relies heavily on his skills at the influence-and-information game.

“What happens in a Russian ‘all-of-society’ war, you soften up the enemy,” she told her interviewer, Maura Reynolds. Hill named some names: “You get the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps doing your job for you.”

And now, after a few years of their apologetic rhetoric on behalf of Russia, Putin “has got swaths of the Republican Party” and “masses of the U.S. public saying ‘Good on you, Vladimir Putin,’ or blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S.” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she added.

It was quite an indictment from a well-respected intelligence officer, who worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations. She became known to the American public for her unsparing analysis when she testified during Trump’s first impeachment hearings.

But while it’s startling to hear it said so directly — a Fiona Hill specialty — the proof is there for anyone to see.

March 5

ny times logoNew York Times, TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, is grappling with a flood of violent footage and misinformation about the war, Sheera Frenke, March 5, 2022. Bre Hernandez used to scan TikTok for videos of makeup tutorials and taco truck reviews. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the 19-year-old has spent hours each day scrolling the app for war videos, watching graphic footage of Ukrainian tanks firing on Russian troops and civilians running away from enemy gunfire.

tiktok logo square Custom“What I see on TikTok is more real, more authentic than other social media,” said Ms. Hernandez, a student in Los Angeles. “I feel like I see what people there are seeing.”

But what Ms. Hernandez was actually viewing and hearing in the TikTok videos was footage of Ukrainian tanks taken from video games, as well as a soundtrack that was first uploaded to the app more than a year ago. The footage and soundtrack were traced back to their original sources in a New York Times analysis of the videos.

TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app known for viral dance and lip-syncing videos, has emerged as one of the most popular platforms for sharing videos and photos of the Russia-Ukraine war. Over the past week, hundreds of thousands of videos about the conflict have been uploaded to the app from across the world, according to a review by The Times. The New Yorker has called the invasion the world’s “first TikTok war.”

March 3

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid Live Updates: U.S. Surgeon General Seeks Virus Misinformation Data From Big Tech, Staff Reports, March 3, 2022. Dr. Vivek Murthy said top tech platforms must provide the major sources of misinformation and how much users may have been exposed to it. “This is about protecting the nation’s health,” he said.

President Biden’s surgeon general on Thursday formally requested that the major tech platforms submit information about the scale of Covid-19 misinformation on social networks, search engines, crowdsourced platforms, e-commerce platforms and instant messaging systems.

A request for information from the surgeon general’s office demanded that tech platforms send data and analysis on the prevalence of Covid-19 misinformation on their sites, starting with common examples of vaccine misinformation documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The notice asks the companies to submit “exactly how many users saw or may have been exposed to instances of Covid-19 misinformation,” as well as aggregate data on demographics that may have been disproportionately exposed to or affected by the misinformation.

vivek murtha o obamaThe surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, right, also demanded information from the platforms about the major sources of Covid-19 misinformation, including those that engaged in the sale of unproven Covid-19 products, services and treatments.

“Technology companies now have the opportunity to be open and transparent with the American people about the misinformation on their platforms,” Dr. Murthy said in an emailed statement. He added: “This is about protecting the nation’s health.”

Companies have until May 2, 2022, to submit the data. Denying requests for information does not carry a penalty, but the notice represents the first formal request from the Biden administration of the tech companies to submit Covid-19 misinformation data, according to the surgeon general’s office.

The move comes six months after Dr. Murthy used his first formal advisory to the United States to deliver a broadside against tech and social media companies, which he accused of not doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous health misinformation — especially about Covid-19. Dr. Murthy called the misinformation “an urgent threat to public health.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: As criminals unleash more violence in Mexico, the president goes on the offensive — against the press, León Krauze, March 3, 2022. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, right, keeps stepping up his attacks against the press — an alarming development in the andrés lópez obrador wWestern Hemisphere’s most dangerous country to be a journalist. Just this year, five journalists have already been killed.

Recently, in a brazen (and likely illegal) act of intimidation, López Obrador publicly divulged what he said were the sources of income of Carlos Loret de Mola, a Mexican reporter and contributing columnist for The Post’s Spanish-language Post Opinión section who has uncovered alleged corruption scandals. In the following days, López Obrador demanded that other journalists disclose their income. He insinuated that the journalists in the group (in which I was included) were members of a shadowy conservative cabal.

His obsession with characterizing journalists as political enemies not only adds to the deadly climate of intimidation in Mexico, but also reveals the populist leader’s brazen efforts to obscure the fact that the country is becoming more and more dangerous, with various regions now resembling war zones.

Last weekend, in the southern state of Michoacán, a large convoy of heavily armed men reportedly rode into the town of San Jose de Gracia and barged into a funeral. They then lined up a group of people against a wall and shot them. The exact number of dead is still unclear, but the purported execution, in a hail of bullets, was apparently caught on video.

mexico flag1Just a few days prior, dozens of heavily armed men drove into Caborca, Sonora, near the border with the United States, and opened fire, terrorizing the community. At least two people were killed.

This carnage is reminiscent of other massacres that have shaken Mexico throughout the country’s drawn-out war against drug cartel violence. In 2010, sicarios, or hit men, killed 13 people at a drug rehabilitation center in Tijuana. Then, in 2014, 43 student teachers from the town of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero, another southern state in Mexico that has suffered years of bloodshed, were kidnapped by a criminal organization, in cahoots with the local authorities. At least 38 of them were killed.

The Tijuana and Ayotzinapa massacres changed the course of the administrations of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto. Public debate in Mexico changed, as well. Back then, as Mexico’s most prominent opposition figure, López Obrador did not mince words. “Ayotzinapa is an impossible case to close without achieving justice,” he tweeted in 2014. “They will fail if they try to manipulate or have impunity prevail.”

But now, about seven and a half years later and in power, López Obrador has reacted to the San José de Gracia massacre in a starkly different way. At first, he questioned the veracity of the reports and suggested journalists had jumped to conclusions, despite the fact that local authorities and television crews had visited the site and found evidence of the massacre, including blood stains and bullet casings.

On Tuesday, a few minutes before his own national security officials confirmed details of the carnage, López Obrador still made sure to cast doubt over the motives of the press. “Anything that happens, like these regrettable events, they amplify it!” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation because the conservatives are desperate and set on attacking us. Most media outlets act like a choir, against the transformation we are carrying out.”

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. to share some coronavirus technologies with World Health Organization, Dan Diamond, March 3, 2022. Plan would allow other countries to replicate American scientific breakthroughs, intended to boost supplies to fight pandemic.

The Biden administration will share U.S. government-devised coronavirus technologies with the World Health Organization, a policy shift intended to allow other countries to replicate some American scientific breakthroughs and better fight the pandemic abroad, according to three people with knowledge of the announcement who were not authorized to discuss it.
FAQ: What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

Under the plan, some technologies now being developed by the National Institutes of Health will be licensed to WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, the people said. The technologies will also be sub-licensed to the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool.

The policy is not intended to apply to the vaccines and therapeutics that have been developed by private companies and are currently in the U.S. market, the people said.

The United States is not expected to share NIH-developed technology that was used by Moderna, the vaccine maker that worked closely with the U.S. government in its messenger RNA vaccine. Foreign countries and developers have long petitioned for access to Moderna’s technology and know-how, saying that it would allow them to more quickly replicate their own versions of Moderna’s vaccine.

washington post logoWashington Post, Amazon is killing off its physical bookstores, after killing everyone else’s, Rachel Lerman, March 3, 2022. Amazon will close 68 physical bookstores and 4-Star stores.

Amazon has realized it’s easier to sell books online.

amazon logo smallThe tech company confirmed Wednesday it is closing all of its physical bookstores, as well as its small pop-up stores and its chain of 4-Star locations, which sell products that are well-reviewed online. In total, the company will close 68 stores, the vast majority in the United States.

Amazon’s grocery stores, including Whole Foods locations and Go convenience stores, will remain open. Company spokeswoman Betsy Harden said in a statement that Amazon will focus on its grocery stores, its new clothing store in Los Angeles and its computer-vision technology that allows shoppers to pick items off shelves and stroll out of stores, bypassing cashiers. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“We remain committed to building great, long-term physical retail experiences and technologies, and we’re working closely with our affected employees to help them find new roles within Amazon,” Harden said in an emailed statement.

The Seattle e-commerce giant opened its first bookstore in an upscale shopping mall in its hometown in late 2015 to much speculation, fanfare — and a bit of disbelief. Amazon started its rise to prominence by selling books online, and it became a big reason once-successful bookstore chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble shrank and withered.

Borders filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, and Barnes & Noble sustained years of declining revenue. Small, independent shops have regularly pointed to competition and price-cutting from Amazon as a reason they are struggling, while urging customers to shop local.

Reuters earlier reported the news of the closures.

Amazon Books stores were a way for the company to collect customer data and track people’s shopping habits in the real world. The stores never grew to be a big source of revenue for the company, said Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali.

March 2

Mother Jones Magazine, Pro-Putin Disinformation on Ukraine Is Thriving in Online Anti-Vax Groups, Kiera Butler, March 2, 2022. All the usual themes: Secret government alliances, anti-Semitic tropes, and nefarious scientists.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen how conspiracy theories can overlap and collide. I’ve documented how anti-vaccine groups embraced QAnon disinformation about liberal elites conspiring to unseat Trump, and how white nationalists find willing audiences for their racist ideology in anti-mask groups. Over the last week, a new disinformation hybrid has appeared, as online anti-vaccine groups have become a hotbed of pro-Russia conspiracy theories about the conflict in Ukraine—and some of the most prominent anti-vaccine activists are actively promoting geopolitical falsehoods.

Imran Ahmed, executive director of the online extremism tracking group Center for Countering Digital Hate, has been following the convergence of the conspiracy theories, and he’s noticed they share familiar themes: alleged secret government alliances, anti-Semitic accusations, and allusions to nefarious scientists. “There are particular individuals within the anti-vaccine world who are amenable to pro-Russian propaganda,” he says, “and that would include some of the people who’ve cohered around QAnon and Trump.”

One example of this is how an old Trump-era storyline—the theory that SARS-CoV-2 was deliberately engineered in a lab and released—seems to have been reconstituted in a new form: Anti-vaccine influencers claim that the United States owns a network of secret biolabs in Ukraine where dangerous infectious disease research takes place. For them, it’s just obvious that Biden is sending aid to Ukraine in order to protect those assets. This rumor has been proven to be manifestly false—but that hasn’t stopped it from circulating and gaining momentum.

Last week, Christiane Northrup, an influential holistic medicine practitioner who regularly spreads pandemic misinformation and promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory, shared with her 78,000 Telegram followers a map that supposedly showed the secret labs in Ukraine that she insists create viruses. She also shared a post from a Bulgarian news site claiming that the US government “conducted biological experiments with a potentially lethal outcome on 4,400 soldiers in Ukraine and 1,000 soldiers in Georgia.” This is not true. On Instagram, a popular meme traveling with the hashtag “#biolabs” shows a photo of Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, with the caption “I might not be a smart man, but I do know if they lied to me about Covid for 2 years, they are probably lying to me about why Russia invaded Ukraine this week.”

Meanwhile, Candace Owens, a conservative political pundit-turned-anti-vaccine activist, used an extended metaphor involving the lab-leak Covid origin theory to describe the conflict in Ukraine. “We are now experiencing Foreign policy Covid: ‘Experts’ pretending that what is happening between Russia and Ukraine is a naturally occurring event, when in fact, it was manufactured in a lab by the people who stood to benefit trillions,” she tweeted to her 3 million followers last week.

Imran’s team has also noted that a strong current of anti-Semitism runs through many of the Ukraine conspiracy theories in anti-vaccine chats. Sherri sherri tenpenny ohioTenpenny, right, the anti-vaccine activist who has claimed that Covid shots make people magnetic, suggested in a Monday post to more than 150,000 followers that Jews were using the Ukraine conflict to distract the world from a meeting in Europe about pandemic preparedness. She shared a post from an account called End Times Newz that used echo parentheses, a widely recognized symbol that anti-Semitic hate groups use to identify Jewish people. “Whilst everyone is distracted by the events in (((Ukraine))), the (((WHO))) is ramming through an international treaty on ‘pandemic’ procedures,” the post said. “Same tribe every time 🔯” On the same day, in a separate Telegram post, Tenpenny claimed that the hacker group Anonymous, which has carried out recent cyberattacks against Russia, is “part of the Soros/Klaus/WEF puppet army.” This refers to billionaire philanthropist George Soros and Klaus Schwab, who is the founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF) that holds a yearly economic symposium in Davos, Switzerland.

Ben Dubow, a fellow of the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis, has documented the spread of Russian disinformation during Covid. He notes that anti-Semitic tropes involving Hungarian-born Soros are a hallmark of Russian disinformation campaigns, largely because Soros has promoted democracy in “what Russia considers its sphere of influence,” says Dubow. “He is very much an obsession of Russian leadership.” Anti-vaccine groups have their own diabolical Soros myth: Many believe that he worked with Bill Gates to hide microchip tracking devices in the Covid vaccines.

One aspect of Putin’s rhetoric on the Ukraine invasion—that the Western hegemony is trying to force progressive values on Ukraine—will appeal to Americans steeped in far-right conspiracy theories about the Deep State and the villainous intentions of public health agencies. Putin’s message, Dubow notes, “really does throw pretty naturally off of a lot of messaging they had, to try to raise skepticism about vaccines, about the origins of Covid, about how generally you can’t trust any member of the Western establishment.”

 

djt john bolton Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Bolton, in rejecting Newsmax host’s assertion, says Trump ‘barely knew where Ukraine,’ Timothy Bella, March 2, 2022 (print ed.). Former national security adviser John Bolton, above left, rejected a claim from a Newsmax host who asserted that the behavior of President Donald Trump deterred the Russians from invading Ukraine. Bolton emphasized that Trump “barely knew where Ukraine was.”

Speaking with the conservative network Monday night, Bolton sat back as host Rob Schmitt listed Trump accomplishments that the broadcaster claimed helped hinder Russia from attacking Ukraine. All the while, the pro-Trump network displayed a chyron that read, “Trump was tough on Russia.”

But Bolton, who has become a vocal critic of Trump, denied that his former boss was tough on Russia, claiming that Trump complained about any sanctions on Russian oligarchs in the United States. Then Bolton, who said Trump “did not” do a better job with Russia than President Biden, went one step further about Trump’s knowledge of Ukraine.

Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Budowich told the Hill in a statement that Bolton was fired “because he believes anything less than war is not enough.”

“President Trump ensured peace during his administration and ended wars, making Bolton irrelevant,” Budowich said.

Bolton’s comments come as Russian forces continue to bear down on Ukraine. A 40-mile-long Russian convoy approaching Kyiv had “stalled,” perhaps to regroup, a senior U.S. defense official said, but other forces gathered menacing strength on Tuesday, six days into the conflict in Ukraine. While fighting continues across the country, nearly 680,000 Ukrainians have fled since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi.

Convoy near Kyiv stalls but forces close in on Kharkiv, other cities

Trump has faced criticism since he recently described Putin as “smart,” “savvy” and a “genius” for sending military forces into Ukraine. Trump has continued to champion Putin at the expense of Biden, who defeated him in the 2020 presidential election.

Jefferson Public Radio (Oregon), Klamath Falls Herald and News to lose entire reporting staff, Erik Neumann, March 2, 2022. The Great Resignation has come to the Klamath Falls Herald and News. All members of the four-person newsroom are leaving their jobs this week.

That leaves a newspaper in one of Oregon’s most complicated rural areas, plagued by drought and facing a series of massive dam removal projects, without a reporting staff.

Last month the paper’s editor, Tim Trainor, announced he will be departing Klamath Falls to join the Redmond Spokesman in Central Oregon. After his announcement, the paper’s other three reporters, two of whom are partially funded by the non-profit Report for America, announced they too would leave.

According to Trainor, the paper had struggled to recruit new staff to fill positions in recent years, as the region’s cost of living has increased and pay remained relatively low.

“It’s hard to get good candidates for rural news reporting positions. The jobs are becoming less and less exciting for any journalism student,” Trainor said.

Despite losing the current reporting staff, the paper will not close, according to the Herald and News General Manager Joe Hudon. “We’re going to continue to put out a newspaper for as long as we can. For years to come,” Hudon said. He declined to comment further on the staffing changes.

The Herald and News is owned by Adams Publishing Group, a Minneapolis-based company that owns 220 “media-related products” in 20 states. Unlike a national trend of hedge funds buying and gutting local newspapers, Adams describes itself as a family-owned company.

But the publishing group came under fire on social media in late February when an editor at The Athens News in Ohio was fired for allegedly violating the publisher’s social media policy for criticizing ads in the paper for supposedly valuable collectible coins.

“You need to invest in the news side of things. If you don’t, you’re doing a disservice to the community ... I know the bottom line is the money, but you also have to invest in your product.”

Joe Siess, former Klamath Falls Herald and News reporter

According to the former editor Corinne Colbert, Adams is also known for underpaying and undervaluing journalists.

“The higher ups at APG talk about maintaining/increasing revenue to protect jobs. But they have cut the editorial and production staff of their SE Ohio papers to the bare minimum. Every issue is a struggle to produce quality journalism with no resources or support,” Colbert wrote in a tweet.

Adams Publishing Group did not respond to a request for comment.

Former Herald and News reporter Joe Siess left his job in January for a position at the Bend Bulletin that would offer better pay at a larger paper.

“You need to invest in the news side of things. If you don’t, you’re doing a disservice to the community,” Siess said. “I know the bottom line is the money, but you also have to invest in your product.”

According to Trainor, most Herald and News reporters start out being paid in the low $30,000 range. A current Herald and News job posting on the website JournalismJobs.com lists compensation for a general assignment reporter at $14 to $20 per hour.

Meanwhile, the City of Klamath Falls and the greater Klamath Basin are areas rich with news. The region along the Oregon-California border continues to struggle under exceptional drought conditions. Residents' domestic wells went dry over the past year because of the drought and tensions over scarce water remain between farmers, Native American tribes, and environmentalists.

Next year could also see the start of the largest dam removal in U.S. history with the deconstruction of four dams on the Klamath River. And in November, more than $160 million was allocated for watershed investments in the Klamath Basin in the coming years through President Biden’s federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

According to managers at the paper, they’ll fall back on a mix of freelancers in the short-term and attempt to fill the open positions going forward.

ny times logoNew York Times, Major League Baseball canceled games, delaying the start of the season, James Wagner, March 2, 2022 (print ed.). After the league and the players’ union failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement by M.L.B.’s self-imposed deadline Tuesday evening, the league said the season would not start on March 31.

major league baseball mlb logoMajor League Baseball canceled the first two series of the 2022 regular season on Tuesday after the league and the players’ union failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

After nearly a year of negotiating, including nine straight days of talks between the league and the union in Florida starting Feb. 21, the sides could not come to a new pact by M.L.B.’s self-imposed deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday in order to begin the 162-game season on March 31 as scheduled.

Rob Manfred, the M.L.B. commissioner, announced the cancellations in a news conference on Tuesday at Roger Dean Stadium, where the Cardinals and Marlins would usually be having spring training but instead hosted the talks.

“I had hoped against hope I wouldn’t have to have this press conference where I am going to cancel some regular season games,” Manfred said, adding, “I want to assure our fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”

 


The late Congressman Allard Lowenstein (D-NY) during his time in Congress (Photo via WNYC radio).The late Congressman Allard Lowenstein (D-NY) during his time in Congress (Photo via WNYC radio).

Covert Action Magazine, Was Liberal Activist Allard Lowenstein—a NYC Congressman Who Headed “Dump Johnson” Movement in 1968 and Investigated Robert Kennedy’s Assassination—a CIA Asset? Gregg Wager, March 2, 2022.

The name Allard Lowenstein (1929-1980) may not mean too much to political activists today, but in the 1960s and 1970s he was a well-known liberal figure associated with many of the progressive causes of the day.

For this reason, it would come as something of a shock to many of his contemporaries to discover that he appears to have been an asset of the CIA.

Despite his fervent opposition to the Vietnam War, Lowenstein was strongly anticommunist. His political mentors included Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962),[1] with whom he remained very close, Frank Porter Graham (1886-1972) and Norman Thomas (1884-1968) who all defined themselves during the Cold War as part of the anti-communist left.[2]

Five of the most dynamic episodes in Lowenstein’s life reveal diverse political activities which can be sorted under the following headings: 1) Lowenstein’s presidency in the National Student Association; 2) his role in smuggling Hans Beukes out of South West Africa; 3) his work with and political betrayal of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi; 4) his “Dump Johnson“ movement of 1968; and 5) his television appearances and ongoing bromance with conservative talk show host William F. Buckley.

Did Lowenstein simply stumble with Forrest Gump-like serendipity into one of these hot situations after another? Or were allegations and rumors of his secret ties to the CIA true and his peripatetic antics part of larger strategies steered by some sort of domestic espionage?

In 1985 (as soon as five years after Lowenstein’s bizarre assassination[3]), Hendrik Hertzberg[4] of The New York Review of Books called out Lowenstein biographer Richard Cummings[5] for his then-shocking accusations that linked Lowenstein to the CIA.
A person with a beard and glasses Description automatically generated with low confidenceHendrik Hertzberg [Source: twitter.com]

While eviscerating Cummings and Cummings’s publisher, Grove Press, this critic (and former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter) often referenced a telephone-book-sized volume prepared by three lawyers[6] purporting to list inaccuracies in Cummings’s research.

Fox News 5 (Washington, DC), Virginia substitute teacher suspended for allegedly pushing Russian propaganda in class, Maureen Umeh, March 2, 2022. A Northern Virginia substitute teacher was suspended by a public school system for allegedly trying to push Russian propaganda on students.

FOX 5's Maureen Umeh reports Swanson Middle School officials say the incident happened Friday during a world languages class.The substitute teacher identified as 65-year-old John Stanton allegedly made comments supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Umeh says.

Umeh spoke with Stanton who says he is a journalist and that he was recorded without his knowledge. According to his resume he has worked for such outlets as Pravda, which is the Soviet Union's main propaganda platform and Sputnik news. He's also written and commented on national security and political issues for various news outlets including CNN and ABC, Umeh says.

Stanton says he has no intention of seeking his job back at Swanson Middle School.

March 1

washington post logoWashington Post, Arlington suspends substitute teacher who backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Hannah Natanson, March 1, 2022. Arlington Public Schools has suspended a substitute teacher who, during a Spanish class, expressed approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and urged students to read Russian-run propaganda outlets.

The substitute, John Stanton, 65, made the comments during an eighth-grade Spanish lesson on Friday at Swanson Middle School. Stanton said in an interview Tuesday that he spoke about Russia and Ukraine for the first 10 minutes of a 90-minute class and that he hoped to offer students an opposing viewpoint that he said is rarely heard.

Stanton said he told the students to read as many news sources as possible — including Sputnik News, a Russian news agency that a 2017 report compiled by the FBI, CIA and NSA declared a “state-run propaganda machine.” He said he also drew a map of Ukraine and marked areas where Russian forces had invaded.

“I said, ‘Here’s what’s going on,’” Stanton said. But “the statement I think that got me was I said, ‘I personally support the logic of Putin,’ and what I meant by that is, he made a rational decision from his perception.”

The Friday lesson prompted parents of a student in the class to write to the School Board raising concerns about Stanton. In the email, a copy of which was shared with The Washington Post, the parents wrote that Stanton “told students he supported Russia, asked whether anyone in the class ‘hated Russia,’ and complained about rising gas prices, presumably as an effect of the current crisis.” The email noted there was a Ukrainian student in the class.

The parents wrote that Stanton’s comments amounted to “advocacy of political positions, and Russian propaganda” and called the remarks “wholly inappropriate.”

On Tuesday, Stanton received a letter from Arlington school officials notifying him that he was suspended because of “an allegation of comments made to students during instructional hours regarding sensitive world events with Russia and Ukraine.” In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Post, Arlington officials wrote that Stanton can petition for reinstatement within five days, but Stanton said he has no desire or plans to do so.

Stanton said that he has been subbing for Arlington for three years, and that he took the job because he is retired and wanted to supplement his income. Before that, he said, he had a varied career.

He emailed The Post a two-page résumé that listed roles as a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, as host of an unspecified 1980s “political/cultural radio program” in D.C. and as an “independent journalist” who provided commentary on national security and political issues to U.S. news outlets including CNN, ABC and this newspaper’s Foreign Policy magazine. Stanton said he still writes for outlets such as Pravda, which was the Soviet Union’s chief propaganda platform.

In a Pravda opinion piece published Feb. 28, Stanton wrote that the United States owns “every country in the NATO alliance” and called the Russia-Ukraine conflict “great news for the West’s defense contractors” who will earn “billions of profit.” He also wrote that “any support aired by anyone on the West for the Russian position gets mauled and derided by pro-West pundits” and that “self-censorship by Western media will only get more wicked.”

From 2016 to 2018, Stanton said, he worked as a reporter for Sputnik News in D.C. A 2018 “PBS NewsHour” article identified Stanton as a Sputnik News “wire reporter” covering the Pentagon and quoted a Sputnik spokeswoman, Beverly Hunt, confirming that Stanton was employed there.

The “NewsHour” piece said Stanton was fired by Sputnik News because he provided information about the news outlet to an unnamed third-party client. Stanton said in an interview that the client was “a U.S. government intelligence agency.” He declined to specify which agency or to provide proof of his employment there.

“I was extracting as much information as possible from their [Sputnik News] computer systems, taking pictures of the staff, collecting information,” Stanton said.

washington post logoWashington Post, How Ukrainians have used social media to humiliate the Russians and rally the world, Drew Harwell and Rachel Lerman, March 1, 2022. A defiant resistance has used the Internet to counter one of the world’s most fearsome war machines, telling the invaders, ‘Welcome to hell.’

Ukrainians and their supporters have used social media to bruise, belittle and humiliate the Russians, seeking to boost citizens’ spirits and sap invaders’ morale during the most Internet-accessible war in history.

A flood of real-time videos across Facebook, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter has blunted Kremlin propaganda and rallied the world to Ukraine’s side as it facebook logofights to defend its democracy from a military behemoth.

It has also potentially saved lives: Ukrainians have raced to disseminate defensive strategies, plot escape routes and document the brutality of a raging clash. Some expect that the phone footage recorded in recent days could play a critical role in investigating war crimes after the combat ends.

Russia has long been fabled as the Internet’s most wily mischief-maker, and the nation’s propaganda machine has for years used social and state-backed media to deceive and disempower its enemies.

But Ukraine has in many ways begun to beat Russia at its own game, using constant, colorful communication to foment a digital resistance and expose its aggression on a global stage.

tiktok logo CustomThe tactics reveal how social media has opened a new dimension of modern war, showing how the Internet has become not only a territory to fight over but a tactic for real-world conquest.

It has also helped Ukrainians feel they can contribute to the fight. Solomiia Shalaiska, a Kyiv-based motion designer, said she felt helpless until she started posting pro-Ukraine rally images on an Instagram page she previously used for art and design.

One image — a David-and-Goliath-style map comparing the size of both countries titled “Realize the Scale of Ukrainian Heroism” — has been “liked” more than 100,000 times in the past day. Shalaiska said she has joined the nation’s nascent “IT army” of volunteer hackers and hell-raisers, who have worked to counter Russian psychological operations by overwhelming their websites and flooding their intelligence officers with spam. (Shalaiska said she has helped mostly by spreading information and reporting bots.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Cyberwar predictions are still unrealized in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Joseph Menn and Craig Timberg, March 1, 2022. For more than a decade, military commanders and outside experts have laid out blueprints for how cyberwar would unfold: military and civilian networks would be knocked offline, cutting-edge software would sabotage power plants, and whole populations would be unable to get money, gas or refrigerated food.

But while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spawned all manner of cyberattacks and defenses, few are playing out the way the experts thought they would.

As of Monday, five days after tanks moved into Ukraine, the Internet and other key Ukrainian infrastructure were still functioning, the outgunned Ukrainian military was still coordinating effectively and Russia’s vaunted disinformation capabilities were failing to persuade Ukrainians that resistance is futile.

“We imagined this orchestrated unleashing of violence in cyberspace, this ballet of attacks striking Ukraine in waves, and instead of that we have a brawl. And not even a very consequential brawl, just yet,” said Jason Healey, a former White House staffer for infrastructure protection and intelligence officer who’s now a research scholar on cyber conflict at Columbia University.

A vastly larger, more powerful military — one especially feared for its cyber-military prowess — has allowed Ukrainians almost unfettered access to the Internet. This has helped them get weapons to citizens and harness social media to rally global political support through direct, emotional appeals backed by stirring visuals.

“It’s certainly not what anyone predicted,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a longtime cybersecurity executive and U.S. government adviser who heads Silverado Policy Accelerator.

Ukraine’s core cyberdefense has done better than expected because it focused on the issue after Russian hackers briefly knocked out power to swaths of the country in 2015 and 2016, said David Cowan, a veteran cybersecurity venture capitalist and corporate director, and because it has had help from American and European experts.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin fully loses her patience with Fox’s Ukraine punditry, Aaron Blake, March 1, 2022 (print ed.). Among the many times in which punditry can go very wrong, few rank as high as wartime. And nothing demonstrates that better than some corners of Fox News right now.

tucker carlsonTucker Carlson, right, has spent years suggesting maybe Vladimir Putin isn’t a bad guy. Several of its hosts wagered that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine was manufactured to distract from the Biden administration’s domestic political issues — right before Russia actually invaded. A number of its pundits and hosts have seen their statements on issues like sanctions contradicted by the network’s actual reporting on the situation.

fox news logo SmallFox’s Jennifer Griffin seems to have almost completely lost patience with all of it.

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr reported Friday on how the network’s respected longtime national security correspondent has repeatedly found herself in the position of fact-checking her network’s hosts and pundits. And it continued this weekend, with Griffin apparently becoming even more exasperated. She even went so far as to seemingly question the platform her employer has afforded some fringe figures.

washington post logoWashington Post, Art Briles steps down as Grambling’s offensive coordinator days after being hired, Des Bieler, March 1, 2022 (print ed.). Just days after being hired to be Grambling’s offensive coordinator, Art Briles stepped down from the position. The former Baylor head coach, who was fired from the school in 2016 amid criticism of his handling of sexual assault allegations against a number of his players, said in a statement Monday that he didn’t want to be a distraction for Grambling’s program.

 

February

Feb. 28

Guardian, EU to ban Russian state-backed channels RT and Sputnik, Patrick Wintour, Jennifer Rankin and Kate Connolly, Feb. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The EU has announced it will ban the Russian state-backed channels RT and Sputnik in an unprecedented move against the Kremlin media machine.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union. So we are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe.”

rt logoThe move, which was not trailed or widely discussed, came as part of a package of tougher sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government and the regime of the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, which Von der Leyen described as “complicit in this vicious attack against Ukraine”.

European foreign policy taboos have been smashed in just a few days. European foreign policy taboos have been smashed in just a few days, after Russia invaded its neighbour, provoking fears of the biggest war in Europe since 1945.

For the first time in its history, the EU will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons to a country under attack, Von der Leyen said. EU foreign ministers are expected to approve the use of funds from the European Peace Facility to finance lethal and non-lethal aid to Ukraine at a meeting on Sunday evening. While a handful of countries may hold back, because of policies against sending weapons into a conflict zone, the plan is expected to pass.

Ministers are also set to agree to ban Russian airlines from EU skies, after more than a dozen countries took the decision unilaterally. “Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane – and that includes the private jets of oligarchs,” Von der Leyen said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Facebook and TikTok ban Russian state media in Europe, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Cat Zakrzewski, Facebook also took down a Russian disinformation campaign targeting Ukraine. Facebook and TikTok said Monday that the companies would shut down access to Kremlin-controlled media sites RT and Sputnik in Europe, setting the stage for retaliation from Russia.

facebook logoIn blocking Russian state media in the region, the companies are complying with requests from the European Union and individual governments there to punish the media outlets for sharing misinformation and propaganda about Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Facebook’s announcement came in a tweet from its president for global affairs, Nick Clegg. TikTok confirmed its decision to The Washington Post late Monday.

Clegg’s announcement came after Facebook disclosed late Sunday that it had disrupted a Russian disinformation operation targeting Ukraine, one of the first official confirmations of such a campaign since the invasion of Ukraine last week. In addition, it said it blocked efforts by a hacking group that in recent days attempted to compromise the accounts of prominent Ukrainians.

Feb. 27

washington post logoWashington Post Sunday Magazine, ‘You Just Got the World According to Spike Lee,’ Interview by KK Ottesen, Photos by Satchel Lee, Feb. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The seminal filmmaker on the power of storytelling, conspiracy theories and the endless reach of racism.

spike lee imdbSpike Lee, 64, right, is an award-winning filmmaker, cultural icon, social critic and die-hard New York Knicks fan whose career includes directing, producing, writing and acting in feature and documentary films, most recently the HBO documentary “NYC Epicenters: 9/11➔2021½.” His vast body of work — close to 40 films — has won numerous awards, including an Academy Award (best adapted screenplay) for “BlacKkKlansman” and an Emmy Award for the documentary “When the Levees Broke.” Lee’s book “SPIKE,” a career-spanning monograph of his work and life, was released in late 2021.

Through his bold and provocative storytelling, Lee has been an important voice on race, racism and other social issues for three decades, and he will receive the Director’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in March. Lee’s company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, is based in his home borough, “Da People’s Republic of Brooklyn,” and he lives in Manhattan with his family.

The following is based on two conversations, which have been edited and condensed.

Can you talk about what shaped your desire to become a filmmaker? When did that first take root?

I grew up in a very artistic household. So you might say the seeds were planted there.

When envisioning your projects, your joints, how much do you think about the audience: who your audience is, who you want it to be, what they will tolerate, what they won’t?

The first thing is: Do I want to make this film? For me. What’s the next film I want to do, what I’m going to say? And then the audience.

The original cut of [your recent documentary] “NYC Epicenter” reportedly featured debunked 9/11 conspiracy theories, and you caught a lot of flak for including them. So I wanted to ask you about why you chose to include them in the first place — and then why you decided to cut them?

Thank you for asking that question. First of all, just because somebody says it’s debunked does not mean it’s not true. The Warren Commission said the motherf---ing magical bullet did a 360-change midair and killed — that was the bullet that assassinated JFK! It defies physics. Bullets don’t do that. So just because somebody says “debunked” does not mean that it’s false. I mean, I was taught in school that that motherf---ing terrorist Christopher Columbus discovered America!

So where do you fall on that? Do you think those [9/11 theories] are true? Or do you think that they may be true?

I think that there’s things that need to be discussed. In all my work, I put the information out there, whether it be documentaries or feature films, and I leave it up to the audience to decide. Simple. They make up their own minds. People, before they come to my theaters, they’ve lived a life. They’ve been impacted where they grew up, the education — all those factors. So I don’t expect everybody to have the same reaction to the film. People today still stop me in the street and say, “Spike, who did the right thing in ‘Do the Right Thing?’ ” And I say, “Who do you think?”

I would not be the filmmaker I am today if just because someone says it’s not true you can’t do it.

So then why did you decide to make the cuts, ultimately?

Well, I really wasn’t given a choice, to be honest.

By HBO, or …

I wasn’t given a choice. But, that too shall pass. I’ll leave it at that.

Feb. 26

washington post logoWashington Post, RT was Russia’s answer to CNN. Now its pro-Putin spin on Ukraine is sparking new outrage, Paul Farhi, Feb. 26, 2022. Whether defending Putin or downplaying the war, the Kremlin-backed global news organization is drawing louder accusations of propaganda.

rt logoAs Russian military forces began their broad assault on Ukraine, the top news stories on RT’s English-language website weren’t about missiles, airborne troops or the deaths of civilians.

Instead, Thursday’s most prominent headlines included, “Firm admits selling potentially tainted rocket fuel to NASA” and “U.S. investigating complaints of self-braking Hondas.”

As for Russia’s deadly aggression against its neighbor? That story was literally off to the side, dressed up in benign, pro-Russian spin: “Russia ready to negotiate with Ukraine — Kremlin.”

The latest on the war in Ukraine

It was, in short, a predictable display for RT, the Kremlin-funded media organization. Long denounced as Russia’s propaganda megaphone to the world by the Western nations where it broadcasts, the multilingual network has routinely echoed Vladimir Putin’s criticisms of NATO and the United States, and championed his dubious rationales for attacking Ukraine.

This week, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine sparked a new round of outrage and condemnation of RT, whose initials once stood for “Russia Today.”

Feb. 25

 

fcc logoPolitics USA, This Could Be Huge: The FCC Is Investigating American Media And Other Companies For Russian Ownership Ties, Jason Easley, Feb. 25, 2022. The FCC is investigating American media, telecommunication, and infrastructure companies for potential Russian ownership ties.

CNN reported: Conducted jointly with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the FCC review covers more than just media entities regulated by the FCC’s broadcast licensing program, the person said. It also covers a vast array of telecommunications and infrastructure companies, including wireless providers, submarine cable operators, and foreign telecom services that connect US-international phone calls, the person said.

It is not yet clear how many companies with ties to Russia the review may uncover, the person said, describing the initiative as a “top-to-bottom” effort to “identify the universe of licensees that have Russian ownership that should be on our radar.”

Conservative companies like Fox News that have been engaging in pro-Russia coverage have raised suspicion. Any companies that are found to have ownership ties to Russia could be deemed a security threat to the United States and could be subject to being ejected from the United States.

There are likely some conservative media companies that should be very nervous about what the FCC review could find. Any outlet that is offering pro-Putin coverage should raise suspicion.

RT, the Russian own propaganda network in the US, should be kicked out of the country ASAP.

The investigation is the clearest sign yet that the Biden administration isn’t fooling around, as it is possible that the investigation could reveal the Russian penetration into conservative media and get Russian propaganda out of the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Some conservative media hosts ridiculed Biden’s warnings of an attack on Ukraine. Now they say it’s his fault, Jeremy Barr, Feb. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Many top hosts for Fox News and other conservative media voices are blaming the White House for supposedly enabling Russia’s attack on Ukraine — even some of the same personalities who previously ridiculed President Biden’s warnings that an invasion was imminent.

fox news logo Small“It’s just extraordinary what this president has allowed our adversaries to do,” Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo told viewers Thursday morning, as reports of Russian incursions across Ukraine poured in. She argued that Biden “has not been tough enough on Russia” and, “so far, anything that this administration has said has been weak.”

But days earlier, Bartiromo had sounded confident the Biden administration was inflating the threat of Russian aggression to distract from bad political news at home — particularly, a motion filed by special counsel John Durham that was described by many Fox News hosts as a massive scandal.

Feb. 23

 

truth social logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s Truth Social’s disastrous launch raises doubts about its viability, Drew Harwell, Feb. 23, 2022. Former president Donald Trump's new social media venture, Truth Social, became available for download in Apple’s App Store on Feb. 20.

His long-promised social network, Truth Social, has been almost entirely inaccessible in the first days of its grand debut because of technical glitches, a 13-hour outage and a 300,000-person waitlist.

Even Trump supporters made jokes about the early slog. Jenna Ellis, a former member of his legal team, posted to Instagram a photo showing Trump with his finger hovering over a laptop, “letting us on to Truth Social one at a time.”

The site had been heralded for months as the crown jewel of Trump’s post-presidential business ambitions, with allies pledging it would revolutionize social media and take down the mainstream social networks where Trump is banned.

But early glimpses at Truth Social suggest its offerings are almost identical to what Twitter and other sites have offered for years — except tweets are called “truths,” and retweets “retruths.” The site’s early struggles also have fueled doubts that Trump’s company will be able to handle tougher long-term challenges, such as policing for dangerous content and guarding against cyberattacks.

“The basic thing they needed to actually get right, to get someone in the door, they couldn’t get right,” said Bill Fitzgerald, a privacy researcher. The “ineptitude of the rollout,” he added, could be a warning of future issues ahead: “There is no better sign of a rushed implementation than the fact that you can’t onboard anybody. So I’m hard-pressed to understand why anyone would trust that these people would keep their information safe.”

Although Trump has criticized social networks’ “wildly aggressive censorship,” his site’s “terms of service” mark some extensive restrictions for acceptable speech.

Trump’s company, the Trump Media & Technology Group, also prohibits anyone from attempting to “disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site.” Truth Social has already banned an account named for a Twitter parody that targeted former congressman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who resigned from Congress to become the Trump company’s CEO. The site’s terms of service also show it is designed to benefit from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which Trump has said should be “completely terminated” because it protects tech companies from being sued for what their users post. Pranksters have already defaced Trump’s new social network.

ny times logoNew York Times, Fed Up With Google, Conspiracy Theorists Turn to DuckDuckGo, Stuart A. Thompson, Feb. 23, 2022. Some far-right influencers and conspiracy theorists have embraced the search engine as part of an effort to shift people away from Big Tech.

On an episode of Joe Rogan’s popular podcast last year, he turned to a topic that has gripped right-wing communities and other Americans who feel skeptical about the pandemic: search engines.

joe rogan logo“If I wanted to find specific cases about people who died from vaccine-related injuries, I had to go to DuckDuckGo,” Mr. Rogan said, referring to the small privacy-focused search engine. “I wasn’t finding them on Google.”

duck duck logoPraise for DuckDuckGo has become a popular refrain during the pandemic among right-wing social media influencers and conspiracy theorists who question Covid-19 vaccines and push discredited coronavirus treatments. Some have posted screenshots showing that DuckDuckGo appears to surface more links favorable to their views than Google does.

In addition to Mr. Rogan, who has recently been at the center of an outcry about misinformation on his podcast, the search engine has received ringing endorsements from some of the world’s most-downloaded conservative podcasters, including Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino.

“Google is actively suppressing search results that don’t acquiesce to traditional viewpoints of the left,” Mr. Shapiro claimed last March. “I recommend you install DuckDuckGo on your computer, rather than Google, to combat all this.”

The endorsements underscore how right-wing Americans and conspiracy theorists are shifting their online activity in response to greater moderation from tech giants like Google. They have increasingly embraced fledgling and sometimes fringe platforms like the chat app Telegram, the video streamer Rumble and even search engines like DuckDuckGo, seeking conditions that seem more favorable to their conspiracy theories and falsehoods.

That attention has put search engines in a difficult position, fielding queries from a growing set of Americans who seem increasingly gripped by conspiracy theories. They must now try to deliver relevant results for obscure search terms and avoid surfacing possible misinformation, all while steering clear of censorship claims.

DuckDuckGo, which has about 3 percent of the United States search market, holds little direct control over the links in its search results because they are generated by the search engine algorithm provided by Bing, which Microsoft owns. And all search engine algorithms are considered black boxes because the companies that create them do not completely disclose what informs their decisions.

In a statement, DuckDuckGo said it condemned “acts of disinformation” and said the company’s internal surveys showed that its users had a wide mix of political orientations. The company said it was also studying ways to limit the spread of false and misleading information.

Feb. 22

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Soccer and Women’s Players Agree to Settle Equal Pay Lawsuit, Andrew Das, Feb. 22, 2022. The athletes will receive $24 million and a pledge from the soccer federation to equalize pay for the men’s and women’s national teams, ending a six-year fight.

For six years, the members of the World Cup-winning United States women’s soccer team and their bosses argued about equitable treatment of female players. They argued about whether they deserved the same charter flights as their male counterparts and about the definition of what constituted equal pay.

But the long fight that set key members of the women’s team against their bosses at U.S. Soccer ended on Tuesday just as abruptly as it had begun, with a settlement that included a multimillion-dollar payment to the players and a promise by their federation to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams.

Under the terms of the agreement, the women — a group of several dozen current and former players that includes some of the world’s most popular and decorated athletes — will share $24 million in payments from U.S. Soccer. The bulk of that figure is back pay, a tacit admission that compensation for the men’s and women’s teams had been unequal for years.

Perhaps more notable is U.S. Soccer’s pledge to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams in all competitions, including the World Cup, in the teams’ next collective bargaining agreements. That gap was once seen as an unbridgeable divide preventing any sort of equal pay settlement. If it is closed by the federation in negotiations with both teams, the change could funnel millions of dollars to a new generation of women’s national team players.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trial spilled secrets of players’ abuse, but are opioids really MLB’s next drug scandal? Gus Garcia-Roberts and Jack Douglas, Feb. 22, 2022. Prosecutors suggested that baseball has an opioid problem at the trial that followed Tyler Skaggs’s overdose death, but MLB says testing shows otherwise.

major league baseball mlb logoThe trial of former Los Angeles Angels communications director Eric Kay, which ended last week with the jury finding him guilty of giving pitcher Tyler Skaggs the fentanyl-laced oxycodone that led to his death, at times seemed to spill secrets about a drug scourge in Major League Baseball clubhouses.

MLB players, including former star pitcher Matt Harvey, gave testimony that suggested some were self-medicating with black-market pain pills. They were there ostensibly to help prosecutors prove Kay was distributing drugs to players. But like a miniature version of the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985 — during which more than a dozen players testified about rampant cocaine and amphetamine use — their testimony also appeared to pull back the curtain on a broader problem in baseball, with prosecutors suggesting the Angels and MLB are complicit.

“There’s no question the MLB system is broken,” assistant U.S. attorney Errin Martin said during her closing statement. “[Major leaguers] have to do whatever it takes to play.”

That appeared to be the government’s answer to the question that was raised by the discovery of ­Skaggs’s body at a Texas hotel in 2019: Does baseball have an opioids problem? But outside of the courthouse, there’s hardly a consensus that baseball is in the grips of a drug dependency epidemic. MLB’s own numbers, the product of thousands of random drug tests implemented following Skaggs’s death, indicate the opposite. And players interviewed by The Washington Post said that, outside of the Skaggs case, they had never encountered opioid abuse in baseball.

 

fcc logoThe Daily Howler, Commentary: When Newton Minow gave a speech...Gilligan's Island responded, Bob Somerby, Feb. 22, 2022. Long ago and far away, Newton Minow gave a famous speech. He spoke on May 9, 1961. He was delivering his first major address since the newly elected President Kennedy made him head of the FCC.

At that time, a basic view was widely held, at least within certain cultural groups. We refer to the widespread belief that American popular culture tended to possibly be a bit dumb.

daily howler headlineNeedless to say, the question of whether something is dumb always involves matters of judgment. Also, issues of courtesy may arise when popular entertainment, or widely held beliefs, are described as being dumb.

newton minow wThat said, for better or worse, Minow, right, pulled few punches that day. In what became a famous speech, he said the typical contents of American television were unhealthily violent and dumb.

As Minow spoke, he employed a turn of phrase which became quite famous. Here's part of what he said:

MINOW (5/9/61): When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.

I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

American television had become "a vast wasteland," Minow famously said. As he continued, he described what you'd see if you were willing to chain yourself to your TV set for a day:

MINOW (continuing directly): You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

We ourselves were just 13 when Minow delivered his speech. That said, the notion that our popular culture was possibly dumb was widespread among many teens of the day.

Newton Minow took a swing at the TV of the day. Before we make a modern-day point, we'll offer two more observations about his original speech:

First, the speech occasioned some pushback. That said, we have to chuckle when the leading authority on the speech recalls this stinging retort:

The speech was not without detractors, as that lambasting of the state of United States television programming prompted Sherwood Schwartz to name the boat on his television show Gilligan's Island the S. S. Minnow after Newton Minow.

Was commercial television "a vast wasteland?" Aggressively, the fellow who gave us Gilligan's Island decided he had to push back!

Also, there was Minow's sense of who was to blame for what he saw on the tube. Again, we quote the leading authority:

Minow went on to dismiss the idea that public taste was driving the change in programming, stating his firm belief that if television choices were expanded, viewers would gravitate toward higher culture programming.

If television choices were expanded, viewers would gravitate toward higher culture! On balance, we'll guess that Minow was basically wrong in that assessment.

What makes us think that Minow may have been wrong? We'll cite two relatively recent examples:

First, we'd cite the way modern basic cable channels started out with high-brow aims, then steadily ratcheted their programming downward, presumably in the face of public preferences.

Bravo "originally focused on programming related to fine arts and film." It now pays its bills thanks to the battles of its fatuous gangs pf "Real Housewives."

Meanwhile, the History Channel fills its days, and burns away its nights, with silly/dumb UFO shows. The pattern is widely observed among an array of cable channels which started out with high aims.

For a second example, consider the way the Internet was originally expected to serve as "the information superhighway." (Never mind who said it!)

The Internet does provide instant access to astonishing amounts of information. On balance, though, it isn't always used that way, not even by major journalists.

Instead, the Internet has served as a medium for endless mis- and disinformation, along with lots of puppy videos and rumored boatloads of porn. The information is there for the taking, but we simply don't run on such fuel.

Feb. 20

ny times logoNew York Times, Who Is Behind QAnon? Linguistic Detectives Find Fingerprints, David D. Kirkpatrick, Feb. 20, 2022 (print ed.). Using machine learning, separate teams of computer scientists identified the same two men as likely authors of messages that fueled the viral movement.

“Open your eyes,” the online post began, claiming, “Many in our govt worship Satan.”

That warning, published on a freewheeling online message board in October 2017, was the beginning of the movement now known as QAnon. Paul Furber was its first apostle.

paul furberThe outlandish claim made perfect sense to Mr. Furber, left, a South African software developer and tech journalist long fascinated with American politics and conspiracy theories, he said in an interview. He still clung to “Pizzagate,” the debunked online lie that liberal Satanists were trafficking children from a Washington restaurant. He was also among the few who understood an obscure reference in the message to “Operation Mockingbird,” an alleged C.I.A. scheme to manipulate the news media.

As the stream of messages, most signed only “Q,” grew into a sprawling conspiracy theory, the mystery surrounding their authorship became a central fascination for its followers — who was the anonymous Q?

Now two teams of forensic linguists say their analysis of the Q texts shows that Mr. Furber, one of the first online commentators to call attention to the earliest messages, actually played the lead role in writing them.

Sleuths hunting for the writer behind Q have increasingly overlooked Mr. Furber and focused their speculation on another QAnon booster: Ron Watkins, right, who operated a website where the Q messages began appearing in 2018 and is now running for Congress in Arizona. And the ron watkins twitterscientists say they found evidence to back up those suspicions as well. Mr. Watkins appears to have taken over from Mr. Furber at the beginning of 2018. Both deny writing as Q.

The studies provide the first empirical evidence of who invented the toxic QAnon myth, and the scientists who conducted the studies said they hoped that unmasking the creators might weaken its hold over QAnon followers. Some polls indicate that millions of people still believe that Q is a top military insider whose messages have revealed that former President Trump will save the world from a cabal of “deep state” Democratic pedophiles. QAnon has been linked to scores of violent incidents, many of the attackers who stormed the Capitol last year were adherents, and the F.B.I. has labeled the movement a potential terrorist threat.

The forensic analyses have not been previously reported. Two prominent experts in such linguistic detective work who reviewed the findings for The Times called the conclusions credible and persuasive.

In a telephone interview from his home near Johannesburg, Mr. Furber, 55, did not dispute that Q’s writing resembled his own. Instead, he claimed that Q’s posts had influenced him so deeply that they altered his prose.

Q’s messages “took over our lives, literally,” Mr. Furber said. “We all started talking like him.”

Linguistic experts said that was implausible, and the scientists who conducted the studies noted that their analyses included tweets by Mr. Furber from the first days Q emerged.

Mr. Watkins, in a telephone interview, said, “I am not Q.”

But he also praised the posts. “There is probably more good stuff than bad,” he said, listing as examples “fighting for the safety of the country, and for the safety of the children of the country.” His campaign signs in the Republican primary refer to the online name he uses in QAnon circles, CodeMonkeyZ, and he acknowledged that much of the initial support for his campaign came from the movement.

ron watkins paul gosar nick martin twitterRelying mainly on small donors, Mr. Watkins, 34, (shown with a hat alongside Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar in a photo on Twitter) trails the primary’s front-runners in fund-raising. (Two other Republicans who have expressed support for QAnon were elected in 2020 — Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado.)

Computer scientists use machine learning to compare subtle patterns in texts that a casual reader could not detect. QAnon believers attribute this 2017 message to an anonymous military insider known as Q.

Paul Furber wrote this tweet after a mass shooting in New Zealand. Scientists who studied the Q posts say Mr. Furber played a leading role in writing the earliest, formative messages.

The scientists say that in 2018 a collaborator took control of the writing as Q: Ron Watkins. This message from Q appeared in 2019, and Mr. Watkins wrote this tweet shortly after the 2020 election.

The two analyses — one by Claude-Alain Roten and Lionel Pousaz of OrphAnalytics, a Swiss start-up; the other by the French computational linguists Florian Cafiero and Jean-Baptiste Camps — built on long-established forms of forensic linguistics that can detect telltale variations, revealing the same hand in two texts. In writing the Federalist Papers, for example, James Madison favored “whilst” over “while,” and Alexander Hamilton tended to write “upon” instead of “on.”

Instead of relying on expert opinion, the computer scientists used a mathematical approach known as stylometry. Practitioners say they have replaced the art of the older studies with a new form of science, yielding results that are measurable, consistent and replicable.

Sophisticated software broke down the Q texts into patterns of three-character sequences and tracked the recurrence of each possible combination.

Their technique does not highlight memorable, idiosyncratic word choices the way that earlier forensic linguists often did. But the advocates of stylometry note that they can quantify their software’s error rate.

The Swiss team said its accuracy rate was about 93 percent. The French team said its software correctly identified Mr. Watkins’s writing in 99 percent of tests and Mr. Furber’s in 98 percent.

Neither team ruled out the possibility that other writers had contributed to Q’s thousands of messages, especially during what appears to have been a period of collaboration between Mr. Furber and Mr. Watkins around late 2017.

But the scientists relied on other facts to narrow the list of feasible writers to test. That evidence, the scientists said, increased their confidence that they had unmasked the main authors.

Some QAnon followers had begun to suspect as early as mid-2018 that one or more of the commentators who first claimed to stumble onto the Q messages had actually written them. Without prior knowledge, how could anyone have plucked those almost nonsensical postings out of the online torrent? An NBC news report that summer identified Q’s earliest boosters as Mr. Furber (known online as Baruch the Scribe) and three others. The report emphasized that the three others had possible financial motives for stoking the craze because they had solicited donations for Q “research.” (Mr. Furber did not.)

The Swiss team studied writings by those four, as well as by Mr. Watkins and his father, who owns the message board.

In addition to examining those six potential authors, the French scientists added seven more to the mix. They tested tweets by another online Q booster close to the Watkinses as well as by Mr. Trump, his wife, Melania, his son Eric, and three others close to the former president who had publicly encouraged QAnon: Michael T. Flynn, his onetime national security adviser; the political consultant Roger Stone; and Dan Scavino, a Trump White House deputy chief of staff.

“At first most of the text is by Furber,” said Mr. Cafiero, who works at the French National Center for Scientific Research. “But the signature of Ron Watkins increased during the first few months as Paul Furber decreased and then dropped completely.”

The early Q messages, which the scientists say resemble Mr. Furber’s writing, lay out the core QAnon myths and slogans that later messages repeat. That was also when Mr. Furber and a few other early promoters helped attract the interest of entrepreneurial YouTube creators who amplified the messages.

But at the start of 2018, both studies found, the writing changed conspicuously. Where the 2017 posts were filled with Socratic questions, the later posts were more declarative and expository, with heavy use of exclamation points and words written in all capital letters. Sometimes, Q shared internet memes.

The Q messages had recently jumped from an older message board to the one run by Ron Watkins and owned by his father, Jim — the site known then as 8chan and now as 8kun. Jim Watkins, a former U.S. Army helicopter repairman who had settled in the Philippines, also owned pig and honey farms and dabbled in the online pornography business. Around the 2016 election, he had created a conspiracy-minded pro-Trump website, with his son overseeing the technical side.

The evident change in writing style at the start of 2018 coincided with an unusual exchange between the Q account and Ron Watkins. After a period of confusion, whoever was writing as Q publicly asked Mr. Watkins to confirm that the messages were still coming from the original Q. Mr. Watkins immediately did, and then Q declared all future posts would appear exclusively on Mr. Watkins’s platform.

paul furber youtubeMr. Furber, left, began complaining that Q had been “hijacked” and that Mr. Watkins was complicit.

From then on, the scientists said, the messages very closely matched the writing of Ron Watkins alone. “When QAnon started to be successful, one of them took control,” said Mr. Roten of OrphAnalytics.

In a podcast interview in 2020, Fredrick Brennan, who started the message board that the Watkinses now own, asserted without proof that Q was the invention of Mr. Furber. An HBO documentary released last year, “Q: Into the Storm,” built a case that Ron Watkins was behind the messages, and in it Mr. Watkins briefly seemed to admit that he had written as Q. He then smiled, laughed and resumed his denials.

Q has now gone silent, without posting a message since December 2020.

Mr. Furber, in an interview, said he believed that QAnon was “an operation that has run its course.” He said he was still convinced that it was orchestrated by a true insider “to awaken people to this massive secret war against the cabal,” and that “the next phase is coming.”

In an online memoir he posted about the QAnon movement, he writes wistfully about the early days before “the hijacking.” Q’s messages, he says, seemed to validate conspiracy theories he had subscribed to for years — tying the Clintons and George Soros to the Rothschilds and the Illuminati.

djt hands open amazon safe

Palmer Report, Opinion: This is outrageous, Bill Palmer, right, Feb. 20, 2022. Over the past week various judges in various jurisdictions ruled that Donald bill palmerTrump and his family must testify in the New York probe into the Trump Organization, that Allen Weisselberg must testify in the Washington DC probe into the Trump inaugural, and that Trump can be held personally liable for harm caused by the January 6th attack.

This swarm of devastating rulings against Donald Trump has finally convinced a lot of you that his future really does consist of bill palmer report logo headerbankruptcy and prison, not some kind of mythical comeback. It’s good to see some of the defeatist fretting finally subside, and give way to positive momentum. When defeatism rules the day, it’s difficult to organize and put in the work and win any upcoming battles. But when your side has momentum and is able to see what a win looks like, it becomes a whole lot easier to organize and win tough battles such as, say, the 2022 midterms.

However, before we embark on the constructive hard work of winning upcoming political battles, we should take a moment to think about how we got to this point – because it’s not pretty. If you look at what transpired in court this week (particularly in New York), and you work backwards, you realize that this was always going to be the outcome. It’s been clear since late 2019 that if Trump lost the 2020 election, New CNNYork would take his assets and put in him in prison. Once he did lose the election, there was never any doubt that we’d end up where we’re at now. Trump was always going down.

Yet for the past year, nearly everyone in the mainstream media – left, right, or center – and nearly all of the most prominent social media pundits, have been insisting that Donald Trump would get away with it all and somehow retake control of the country. Since literally the minute Trump was declared the loser, the media and the pundits have been insisting nonstop that Trump in 2024 was inevitable. Not only was he going to automatically win the Republican nomination, he was somehow magically going to steal the general election as well – and then we’d all be doomed.

There was never anything to support this narrative. Within days of leaving office, polling showed that only about half of Republican voters even wanted Trump to be their 2024 presidential nominee. There was no consensus on an alternative candidate; Republican voters were simply making clear that they knew Trump was washed up, damaged goods, someone who had no future and certainly wouldn’t be competitive if he were the 2024 Republican nominee.

fox news logo SmallYet even as the facts have made clear for the past year that the Republican electorate had already moved beyond Trump, and that New York was going to put Trump in prison long before 2024 anyway, the media has almost unanimously spent the past year feeding us a fictional story instead. The media simply ignored every single thing that was happening, and instead fed us baseless “Trump 2024” hype. And if anything, media outlets that lean liberal were more guilty of promoting this narrative.

How could the entire media have spent an entire year getting the entire narrative about Donald Trump entirely wrong? That kind of industry-wide ineptness isn’t possible, of course, unless it was done on purpose. And let’s not mince words: it was in fact done on purpose.

Every single person in the mainstream media, and every prominent political pundit, has known all along that things in New York would inevitably end up where they are now. The New York Attorney General would not only dismantle the Trump Organization, but do it in way that would feed the related criminal case against Donald Trump and his family. Trump was always heading for bankruptcy and prison in New York – and nothing was going to cause that path to deviate.

msnbc logo CustomBut it was going to take time for things to progress to this point – an unknown amount of time. And that was the problem. The media and the pundits didn’t want to have to spend every day of the past year factually pointing out that at some unknown future time, Trump would be ripped limb from proverbial limb by New York prosecutors. The media didn’t want to have to keep covering a story that was moving at a snail’s pace and didn’t produce any publicly visible results most days. More specifically, the media didn’t want to annoy audiences by repeatedly pointing out that Trump was going to be indicted and put in prison, without being able to specify when this would actually end up happening.

You should be so outraged by this industry-wide deception, there should be steam coming out of your ears. You’ve been lied to.

Not only have you been lied to, you’ve been lied to in an injurious manner. Many of you have spent the past year scared to death that Trump was going to “get away with it all” and take over the country in 2024. Many of you have been too scared, too paralyzed with fear, too demotivated, to be able to focus on fighting the political battles that have needed to be fought.

Feb. 18

PressRun, Commentary: The media and Durham’s corrupt “spying” investigation, Eric Boehlert, right, Feb 18, 2022. Ken Starr II. Fox News has lost its eric.boehlertmind. Again.

Looking for a partisan outrage to promote as Covid cases plummet and the U.S. economy continues to soar, Fox News, Trump and the ferocious Right Wing Noise Machine have gone all-in claiming Hillary Clinton’s campaign six years ago “spied” on the Republican candidate. The dreamt-up allegation comes courtesy of special counsel John Durham’s dishonest handiwork and his Trump-sanctioned investigation into Russiagate and the hollow claims that Trump had been the target of a massive deep state conspiracy.

fox news logo SmallThe current caper has more holes than the GOP’s Benghazi production, but it’s sucking up lots of Beltway oxygen and generating right-wing hysteria which is the whole point — to create a spectacle of Democrat lawbreaking. (Trump’s demanding Durham’s defendant be executed.)

hillary clinton buttonThe good news is the mainstream media are not blindly repeating bogus claims about Clinton “spying,” for the simple reason that nobody has offered any proof.

The bad news is the same elite news outlets are stepping lightly around the real story at the center of the right-wing mob — the unethical nature of Durham’s work and how he’s clearly working with the far right to try to manufacture controversy where none exists.

In the ABC News report, it wasn’t until the ninth paragraph that that network spelled out, “nowhere in Durham's filing does he state that lawyers for the Clinton campaign paid a tech company to "infiltrate" servers belonging to Trump Tower and later the White House.” That crucial debunking should have been found in the first paragraph, if not the headline.

john durham CustomThe New York Times dissected the phony spying claims, but its woefully soft headline claimed the right-wing “narrative” was merely “off track.” Off track? It’s a mountain of deliberate lies. A Washington Post report suggested Trump’s claims were built on “inaccurate Durham reporting,” which makes the whole thing sound innocuous.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal pretended it couldn’t figure out which side was telling the truth about the “spying” claims, and insisted Durham, left, had simply “reignited disputes.”

By legitimizing the “spying” nonsense in any way, the press helps the GOP run interference on Trump’s 2016 ties to Russia, as well as the January 6 insurrection, by suggesting Clinton is the real traitor.

Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, initially appointed Durham to investigate alleged deep-state plotting within the FBI. Unable to find any proof, Durham has instead spent years helping the right-wing media create a fantasy storyline that the Clinton campaign in 2016 spread misinformation to the FBI and to the media that there was illegal collusion between Russian and Trump, and that somehow that Clinton strategy was against the law.

Along the way, Durham’s court filings have been irregular, unethical and “indecipherable,” as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough put it, as the prosecutor stuffs unsupported conspiracy theories into court records, designed to give the dishonest GOP media new nuggets of vague information, which they can conflate anyway they want, like Durham’s filing last week and Clinton being caught “spying” on Trump’s campaign.

“News organizations often struggle to debunk right-wing disinformation, a complicated undertaking that often ultimately muddies up the truth simply by virtue of covering it, which is what that disinformation is designed to do,” noted Greg Sargent at the Post.

Durham is taking advantage of longtime Beltway media traditions as he aggressively peddles misinformation. Traditions like, if someone has the title “special counsel” in front of their name, than that person is a serious, honest prosecutor doing serious, honest legal work and that they must be left alone to do their digging; their ethics and motivations should not be questioned. So far, that’s working for Durham, who appears to be working with the GOP political and media infrastructure within the Beltway.

Durham is Ken Starr II, and the press still hasn’t learned any lessons.

Here’s a quick example of the type of joke investigation Durham is overseeing. Last year, his shining moment was indicting Democratic cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussman on a single count of making a false statement to an FBI agent, five years after the fact. (The indictment had nothing to do with FBI misconduct, which was supposedly under investigation.)

Durham’s indictment, which is based on the testimony of one witness who has contradicted himself, claims Sussmann committed perjury by denying he was working for the Clinton campaign at the time he brought his information about Trump’s Russian ties to the FBI in 2016. The false statement claim is a laughably small crime to serve as the centerpiece of Durham’s $4 million investigation, which has produced two indictments. (By contrast, Robert Mueller indicted 34 people as part of his Russia probe.)

As blogger Marcy Wheeler details, Durham’s allegation is based on the central claim that Sussman had secretly “coordinated with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign.” When Sussman’s lawyers in a court filing last October demanded to know with whom Sussman had directly plotted with on the Clinton campaign, Durham refused name anyone. That’s because at the time, Durham had not interviewed anyone with the Clinton campaign to see if Sussman had coordinated with them.

It’s amateur hour. “There’s tons of instances of where Durham demonstrably failed to do basic investigative work before charging Sussmann five years after a claimed lie,” notes Wheeler, who’s been picking apart Durham’s shoddy work for years.

When Fox News and Trump team up with a corrupt investigation, the role of the media isn’t to do neutral fact checks. It’s to call out the liars and the lies.

Yahoo Sports, Opinion: Michele Tafoya finally free to speak her ugly truths, Shalise Manza Young, Feb. 18, 2022. Just days after she tearfully left her lucrative and high-profile job as sideline reporter for Sunday Night Football, Michele Tafoya appeared on right-wing media networks to show her true colors.

There's a feeling of repugnance seeing Tafoya's recent comments contrasted with the fact that for years she was smiling in the faces of Black coaches and players to mine them for nuggets of information to make sure she looked good in her job, but we'll set that aside for now.

There's also a familiar feeling of disgust, as in some cases she is turning to lies – or at minimum a painfully thin understanding of American history – to prop up her statements. Saying Colin Kaepernick made "business decisions" in protesting the extrajudicial killings of Black citizens by agents of the state, as she told one radio show, is flat out untrue. Kaepernick didn't sit and then kneel with the aim of leaving his job.

The NFL made a business decision by excising him from its league, listening to a loud minority of people, including the former president of the United States, who called Kaepernick and others "sons of bitches" for daring to silently protest and completely ignoring the Black fans and others who understood his message and at minimum supported his method.

(And if we're talking about business decisions, let the record reflect that Kaepernick stood on his principles while he was still playing and had his career taken from him. Tafoya waited until she knew she was leaving NBC before she started spewing her venom, lest she face any backlash.)

One talking point for Tafoya, which she touched on in November while auditioning for "The View" and returned to again Wednesday night on Fox News, is that her children are being taught that skin color matters. She cited affinity groups for children of similar backgrounds and a picnic for families of color at the school. In classic Karen style, she even apparently called the school to rail about the picnic, saying she was "stepping up."

She wasn't stepping up, she was just mad there was something other families were getting that hers didn't.

Affinity groups exist everywhere, and they always have. White people just used to call it legal segregation.

"It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters," Tafoya sighed.

It is completely ahistorical for Tafoya to assert, as she did a few months ago, that white people have been working "since the Civil War" to make sure that skin color doesn't matter in this country, as if the legions of Confederates weren't fighting for the exact opposite, as if the violence of the Jim Crow era and civil rights movement never happened, as if data to this very day, from the rise in hate crimes to the widening racial wealth gap to disparities in health care access don't disprove her assertion.

And as if this video does not exist.

Taken at Somerset Commons mall in New Jersey last weekend – the same weekend Tafoya was in Los Angeles reporting on Super Bowl LVI, her final game before getting to lose the shackles of faux civility in her interactions with Black NFL coaches and players – the video as we see it shows a white-appearing Latino teenager and a Black teenager arguing. When the Latino boy starts sticking a finger in the Black boy’s face, the Black boy swats it away.

They start to throw punches, and of course the peers around them pull out their phones to record it.

Within seconds, two police officers arrive. The female officer pulls the Latino child off the Black child and sits him on a small couch at the scene. The male officer throws himself on top of the Black child, smacking the child's head on a small table and knocking it over.

While the male officer fights to place the Black boy's arms behind his back to put him in handcuffs, the female officer leaves the other boy sitting on the couch to kneel on the upper shoulders and lower neck area of the Black child, prone on the floor with an adult man already on him.

At one point the other child stands up off the couch. The police pay him no mind.

The kids around knew exactly what was happening; you can hear one girl's voice toward the end say, "It's because he's Black … racially motivated!" The Latino teenager told a local news outlet that he couldn't believe what happened: "I didn't understand why. I even offered to get handcuffed."

The police in that situation very clearly saw skin color. The white-appearing Latino teenager, the one that looks to have been the aggressor and was on top of the Black teenager when they arrived, was treated as he should have been. As they both should have been. It was a fistfight between kids. Neither should have been in handcuffs. Break it up, let them disperse and go on with their days.

But the Black child was immediately treated as a threat and violently placed into cuffs, something that will haunt him for weeks if not longer. Something that Black mothers and Black fathers have seen happen again and again to our children. Something people like Tafoya want us to get "get over" because they believe it's "in the rearview mirror," as she said this week.

That teenager was taught something about his skin that day: that it's seen as a threat. That is heartbreaking.

Don't worry Michele, no one expects you to "step up" and talk about how awful this incident was, how a Black teenager was clearly singled out, traumatized by police in a clear case of racial bias.

You've shown your true colors.

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump’s New Social App Is Poised to Join a Crowded Field, Matthew Goldstein and Ryan Mac, Feb. 18, 2022. Truth Social, the former president’s hard-right alternative to Twitter, could go live next month. But as businesses go, outrage may not be the best moneymaker.

For months, former President Donald J. Trump has promoted Truth Social, the soon-to-be-released flagship app of his fledging social media company, as a platform where free speech can thrive without the constraints imposed by Big Tech.

At least seven other social media companies have promised to do the same.

Gettr, a right-wing alternative to Twitter founded last year by a former adviser to Mr. Trump, bills itself as a haven from censorship. That’s similar to Parler — essentially another Twitter clone backed by Rebekah Mercer, a big donor to the Republican Party. MeWe and CloutHub are similar to Facebook, but with the pitch that they promote speech without restraint.

Truth Social was supposed to go live on Presidents’ Day, but the start date was recently pushed to March, though a limited test version was unveiled recently. A full rollout could be hampered by a regulatory investigation into a proposed merger of its parent company, the Trump Media & Technology Group, with a publicly traded blank-check company.

If and when it does open its doors, Mr. Trump’s app will be the newest — and most conspicuous — entrant in the tightly packed universe of social media companies that have cropped up in recent years, promising to build a parallel internet after Twitter, Facebook, Google and other mainstream platforms began to crack down on hate speech.

At least one other social media start-up is hoping to ride the former president’s popularity among conservatives to build its business. Gettr, which began on July 4 and is led by Jason Miller, the former Trump adviser, had hoped to land Mr. Trump before he decided to open his own venture. In January, Gettr advertised that it was the “place to watch” recent rallies by Mr. Trump.

In a written statement, Mr. Miller said the former president was welcome “to join GETTR whenever he is ready.” The site claims to have five million users and a cash pile of tens of millions of dollars. In a recent interview, Mr. Miller denied a previous claim that Gettr had raised $75 million.

parler logoParler, the platform popular with Trump supporters, is still reeling from its role after the violent protests at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 by thousands of angry fans of Mr. Trump. Downloads of Parler’s app plummeted 88 percent last year after Apple and Google removed it from their app stores and Amazon cut off web services after the riot, according to SensorTower, a digital analytics company.

Parler, which said in January that it had raised $20 million from investors, has since returned to the Apple Store. However, internal turmoil has continued. Last year, Parler fired John Matze, one of its founders, from his position as chief executive. Mr. Matze has said he was dismissed after a dispute with Ms. Mercer — the daughter of a wealthy hedge fund executive who is Parler’s main backer — over how to deal with extreme content posted on the platform.

Christina Cravens, a spokeswoman for Parler, said the company had always “prohibited violent and inciting content” and had invested in “content moderation best practices.”

Moderating content will also be a challenge for Truth Social, whose main star, Mr. Trump, has not been able to post messages since early 2021, when Twitter and Facebook kicked him off their platforms for inciting violence tied to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

With Mr. Trump as its main poster, it was unclear if Truth Social would grow past subscribers who sign up simply to read the former president’s missives, Mr. Matze said.

Feb. 17

 

tucker carlson trucker protestDaily Beast, Russia’s Top Propagandists Beg for a Putin Interview with Tucker Carlson, Julia Davis, Feb. 17, 2022. That'll Calm It Down. The top Kremlin mouthpieces on Russian state TV think that now is the perfect time for President Vladimir Putin to sit for an interview on Fox News.

For many months, translated clips of Fox News host Tucker Carlson have been making the rounds on Russian state television, delighting daily beast logohosts, pundits and experts with their pro-Russian slant. Some of the top propagandists even worried out loud that Carlson’s apparent pro-Kremlin bias might result in him being “marginalized” or silenced.

Behind the scenes, Carlson reportedly courted Kremlin intermediaries in his plight to secure an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What might have been considered an extended audition could soon pay off—Putin’s mouthpieces in high places are now openly pushing for an interview with the controversial host. Appearing on the state TV show "The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev" on Wednesday, RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan practically begged anyone who can make it happen to go ahead and grant Carlson’s long-standing wish.

The show aired a translated clip of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" from the night before, where Carlson’s guest, retired Army Col. Doug Macgregor, argued that Russia’s intent to subjugate Ukraine should be taken seriously and even respected. Macgregor contended that “Russia has fox news logo Smalllegitimate national security interests in Ukraine” and said that “Russia is about to demonstrate that we are powerless in Eastern Europe to stop them.” Macgregor asserted: “And I do not see any evidence for this overwhelming support around the world for sanctions against Russia over something that most people rightly regard as a matter of national security interest to Russia.” Carlson nodded approvingly.

After viewing the video, the head of RT praised Carlson in a way no other American television host is being lauded on Kremlin-funded TV. Delivering her pitch to Putin in the style of former President Trump’s notorious “Russia, if you’re listening,” Simonyan gushed to Soloviev: “You showed the clip of wonderful Tucker Carlson, who—by the way—is dreaming of interviewing Vladimir Putin, simply dreaming about it! It’s not within my purview, but if anyone could make it happen, it would be amazing. He is the most popular host in the United States and perhaps the only one who is reasonable, has the biggest audience, who understands everything the way it should be understood.” Soloviev and guests in the studio nodded approvingly.

tulsi gabbardThe same day, RT published an op-ed, praising Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, right, and Jill Stein for their “anti-war” stance, because of their opposition to Ukraine being able to join NATO.

Dmitry Kulikov—a member of the Zinoviev Club, instituted by the Kremlin-controlled media giant Russia Today—said that the growing friction between Russia and the United States should be treated as an ongoing info-war. He praised Simonyan for “brilliantly describing the arrangements between the media and intelligence agencies” and claimed that Tucker Carlson is one of the very few journalists exempt from such dealings.

In this ongoing “info-war,” Carlson’s show and the Russian state television somehow ended up in perfect alignment on multiple contentious topics, not limited to Ukraine and Russia. During his show on Wednesday night, Soloviev urged Americans to pay attention to Canadian truck drivers protesting coronavirus vaccine mandates—instead of focusing on imprisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny (New York Times, Navalny Appears in Penal Camp Court to Face More Charges, Ivan Nechepurenko, Feb. 15, 2022). Tucker Carlson Tonight and Fox News in general have been providing ample coverage of the topic—second only to RT, according to the stats by Real Clear Politics which Simonyan posted on her Twitter page.

kamila valieva chang lee ny times

washington post logoWashington Post, How NBC handled one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in Olympic figure skating history, Cindy Boren, Feb. 17, 2022. One of the most stunning moments in the history of Olympic defeats unfolded Thursday after Kamila Valieva, shown above in a file photo, the 15-year-old Russian figure olympics 2022 beijing winter logoskater largely expected to waltz to a gold medal, fell twice during her free skate to finish in fourth place.

Centered around a youngster who had been under intense scrutiny after she was allowed to compete despite a positive test for a banned substance, the scene on NBC’s broadcast on the USA Network was excruciating to watch and quickly devolved into teary disbelief and chaos that was unlike anything in recent Olympic memory.

“This is my 18th Olympic Games,” NBC’s Jimmy Roberts said as he closed the live coverage, “and I can honestly say I do not think I have ever seen anything like this. Raw emotions everywhere. A stunning resolution to the story, and it’s one I can’t imagine anyone saw coming.”

 

Guo Wengui, above right, with Steven Bannon

Mother Jones, Steve Bannon’s Patron Claimed to Be a Billionaire. Now He Says He’s Broke, Dan Friedman, Feb.16, 2022. Guo Wengui, above right with Trump backer and radio host Steven Bannon, who touted his luxurious lifestyle, filed for bankruptcy.

Gou Wengui, an exiled Chinese businessman and patron of Steve Bannon, who has described himself as a billionaire and touted his luxurious residences and a $28 million yacht, filed for bankruptcy Tuesday, claiming he has assets worth just $50,000 to $100,000.

Guo, who is an investor in Gettr, the conservative social media app, filed for Chapter 11 protection in federal court in Connecticut, where sources said he owns property.

Guo listed liabilities of $100 million to $500 million. His biggest is $254 million that New York Justice Barry Ostrager has ordered Guo to pay a Cayman Islands-based hedge fund, the Pacific Alliance Asia Opportunity Fund, which sued Guo in 2017 to try to recover a debt dating to 2008, when Guo was involved in real estate in China. The bankruptcy filing came on the day the judge had set as a deadline for Guo to pay $134 million for violating a court order to keep his yacht within the court’s jurisdiction.

Gou fled China in late 2014, ahead of fraud charges, and settled in New York, quickly buying a $68 million Central Park West apartment and joining Mar-a-Lago.

In 2017, he began publicly accusing Chinese Communist Party elites of corruption and sexual hijinks. Few if any of his allegations were substantiated, but his efforts helped him win fans among critics of China, including on the U.S. right. After Bannon’s ouster from the White House, he joined forces with Guo, receiving consulting fees and other perks to help Guo launch anti-CCP nonprofits, media companies, and a host of other ventures, many that use the letter “G,” for Guo, and heavily promote his assertions and ventures. These outfits have pushed out false conspiracy theories about Covid, the 2020 election, and other topics.

The bankruptcy filing is an apparent effort to avoid paying Pacific Alliance and other potential civil penalties. Guo’s filing listed creditors that include a number of people who are suing him in cases that remain active.

Guo had already set up complex corporate arrangements that appear aimed at allowing him to try to avoid creditors by denying ownership of assets courts have repeatedly ruled he controls.

Gou has “secreted his assets in a maze of corporate entities and with family members,” Ostrager said in his ruling last week. “This scheme has enabled [Guo] to assert that he has no assets despite his lavish lifestyle, which plaintiff has catalogued with material from social media clippings, photographs and videotapes showing [Guo] living large and boasting of his wealth, expensive homes, private plane, and yacht.”

Guo used his yacht and other flashy possessions to help market a crypto currency offering, a lifestyle company, and other products to fans. Bannon was living on Guo’s yacht in 2020 when he was arrested and charged with defrauding a charity that raised private funds that were supposed to help build a border wall. Trump, in one of his last acts as president, pardoned Bannon.

Guo’s bankruptcy filing, which does not appear to list as assets his stake in companies that bear his name and homes he has bragged about owning, seems to be his latest effort to avoid paying creditors.

“He’s trying to use the Chapter 11 process to avoid lots of debts,” said Sasha Gong, an academic and journalist who was friendly with Guo before falling out with him in 2019. Gong noted that Guo’s list of creditors includes his own family company, Golden Spring New York, through which Guo has made various investments. Guo says that he owes the company about $21 million dollars. This appears to be an effort to shield assets controlled by Golden Spring from creditors, Gong argued.

miguel mendozaCommittee To Protect Journalists, CPJ condemns ‘harsh’ 9-year sentence for Nicaraguan journalist Miguel Mendoza, Staff Report, Feb. 17, 2022. Nicaraguan authorities should release journalist Miguel Mendoza Urbina, above, from prison immediately, and should ensure that members of the press do not face criminal penalties for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Wednesday, February 16, in a closed door hearing in the Ninth Criminal District Court of Managua, a judge sentenced Mendoza to nine years in prison along with a ban on holding political office during that time, according to news reports. Last week, the court convicted the journalist of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and disseminating false news, as CPJ documented at the time.

Following his conviction, Mendoza’s lawyer said they intended to appeal the verdict.

“The entire criminal process against Nicaraguan journalist Miguel Mendoza has been nothing more than a transparent attempt by authorities to silence anyone who dares to question them,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator. “Mendoza should never have been arrested, nor have spent a single day in prison. This harsh sentence makes it clearer than ever that the government of Daniel Ortega views critical journalists as political opponents to be suppressed.”

Mendoza was detained on June 21, 2021, after police raided his home in Managua, as CPJ documented at the time. He has covered sports for a variety of Nicaraguan outlets for about 30 years, and also shares commentary on politics and human rights issues, including criticism of the government of President Daniel Ortega, on social media.

Steady, This is Not Okay, Dan Rather, right, author and former CBS News Anchor and Managing Editor, Feb. 17, 2022. This won’t take long. Because there’s not much to say. It involves something that went out dan rather 2017earlier today on Twitter, that social media platform that limits thoughts to 280 characters and can be both inspirational and a cesspool.

One user who tends to wade into the latter is the tech billionaire Elon Musk, who posted and then deleted a Tweet that created quite a stir [by using a photo of Adolf Hitler to denounce Canada's prime minister]. That he eventually removed his Tweet is welcomed, but it is far from sufficient.

For context, Musk posted his tweet in response to this: "Canadian authorities have ordered financial institutions not to interact with 34 different crypto addresses tied to the country's ongoing trucker protests."

I do not want to get bogged down in the details of cryptocurrency, the Canadian government, or the truck blockade. Those are all important stories that deserve their own treatment. I want to get at something far more basic. There are no words to capture the depravity of what Musk did in using a meme of Adolf Hitler, but words are what we have so we must try. It was offensive, disgusting, and shameful. It trafficked in the basest currencies of hate and ignorance.

To see this face staring back at us, with a message like this, is absolutely beyond the pale of any civilized communication. I think of the millions dead. I think of a world destroyed. I shake with anger. The pit of my stomach is sick. I am deeply saddened.

This kind of dangerous rhetoric cannot go unchallenged. I cannot imagine any resepected national public figure in my lifetime doing something like this. It’s not some “tech dude” being provocative. This is appropriating the deaths of millions of people to make a snarky political comment. And Musk is not alone. More and more we are hearing Hitler and the Nazis invoked to demonize science, knowledge, public health, and social and racial justice. There can be no false equivalence in how widespread the Third Reich is used by right-wing actors in their political and social attacks. But we should denounce all instances where the specter of Nazism is bandied about with abandon.

On the individual level this raises serious concerns about Musk, whose public pronouncements have become increasingly strident and aligned with fringe political actors. Meanwhile, his company Tesla is being sued in California for racism.

No Mr. Musk, this is not going to be allowed. Even those with unlimited funds can be bankrupt of decency. My hope is that this episode causes Musk to pause and reflect. I desperately desire that we can find ways to start to pull back from some of this caustic rhetor

ny times logoNew York Times, Spotify’s Joe Rogan Deal Is Said to Be Worth Over $200 Million, Katherine Rosman, Ben Sisario, Mike Isaac and Adam Satariano, Feb. 17, 2022. The deal, which reportedly was worth double what was initially known, made Spotify a podcasting giant. But controversy followed.

joe rogan logoIt was the deal that helped make Spotify a podcasting giant, but has now put the company at the center of a fiery debate about misinformation and free speech.

spotify logoSpotify was already the king of music streaming. But to help propel the company into its next phase as an all-purpose audio juggernaut, and further challenge Apple and Google, it wanted a superstar podcaster, much as Howard Stern helped put satellite radio on the map in 2006. Spotify executives came to view Joe Rogan — a comedian and sports commentator whose no-holds-barred podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” was already a monster hit on YouTube — as that transformative star.

In May 2020, after an intense courtship, Spotify announced a licensing agreement to host Mr. Rogan’s show exclusively. Although reported then to be worth more than $100 million, the true value of the deal that was negotiated at the time, which covered three and a half years, was at least $200 million, with the possibility of more, according to two people familiar with the details of the transaction who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss it.

But in recent weeks the show that helped Spotify catapult into a market leader for podcasts has also placed it at the center of the sort of cultural storm that has long engulfed Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, over questions about the responsibility tech behemoths have for the content on their platforms.

Feb. 16

jeff zucker cnn

ny times logoNew York Times, How a Secret Assault Allegation Against an Anchor Upended CNN and Jeff Zucker, Emily Steel, Jodi Kantor, Michael M. Grynbaum, James B. Stewart and John Koblin, Updated Feb. 16, 2022. The network’s top-rated host and its president were forced out following ethical lapses, an office romance and a letter from a lawyer for “Jane Doe.”

Late in the day on Nov. 30, Jeff Zucker, above, the president of CNN Worldwide, summoned his star anchor and friend, Chris Cuomo, to a meeting in the network’s skyscraper overlooking the Hudson River.

CNNMr. Zucker was joined by the network’s chief marketing officer — and his secret romantic partner — Allison Gollust. They had to deliver a delicate message.

chris cuomo cnnMr. Zucker told Mr. Cuomo that CNN was suspending him because of his unethical interactions with his brother, New York’s governor.

Mr. Cuomo, right, was shocked and offered to resign. Mr. Zucker countered that the anchor might be able to return at some point, according to people with knowledge of the conversation. Mr. Cuomo felt reassured. He and Mr. Zucker were confidants, their fortunes entwined. Mr. Cuomo didn’t bother to consult a lawyer.

Barely 24 hours later, a letter arrived at CNN. It was from a lawyer representing a woman who had worked with Mr. Cuomo years earlier at ABC News. She said he had sexually assaulted her and that, in the heat of the #MeToo movement, Mr. Cuomo had tried to keep her quiet by arranging a flattering CNN segment about her employer at the time. The letter described it as an “abuse of power at CNN to attempt to silence my client.”

While a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo denied the allegations in the letter, it set in motion a chain of events that would quickly upend one of the world’s most powerful news networks.

By week’s end, Mr. Zucker had fired Mr. Cuomo, telling him that a drumbeat of scandals had become “too much for us.”

Two months later, Mr. Zucker was forced to resign. On Tuesday, CNN announced that Ms. Gollust, too, was leaving the network.

Publicly, Mr. Zucker blamed the failure to disclose his relationship with Ms. Gollust. But other forces had set the stage for his downfall.

CNN had skidded into third place in cable news ratings. A key investor had criticized the network’s opinionated, personality-driven programming. Mr. Zucker had clashed with a top executive at CNN’s parent company. And he had made powerful enemies out of Mr. Cuomo and his brother, the former New York governor.

By the time of Mr. Cuomo’s ouster, the law firm that had been hired to investigate his behavior had turned its attention to Mr. Zucker and his management of a network where his intimacy with sources and employees had been both his calling card and Achilles’ heel. Mr. Zucker’s abrupt departure has thrown the future of CNN into chaos, just as it was poised to introduce a highly anticipated streaming service and to come under new corporate ownership.

Bloomberg, Palin Jurors Knew Judge Dismissed Times Case Before Verdict, Bob Van Voris, Feb. 16, 2022. Several jurors tasked with deciding Sarah Palin’s defamation case against the New York Times learned from smart-phone push notifications that the judge presiding over the trial had already ruled in the newspaper’s favor.

The jurors were still in the midst of deliberating Monday when U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said in court that he would throw out the suit regardless of their verdict, based on the failure of Palin’s team to present sufficient evidence to win the case.

But some of the jurors learned of his decision when they went home that night, before completing their deliberations, according to people with knowledge of the matter. After Rakoff was told by Bloomberg that jurors had disclosed the information to his clerk, the judge issued a court filing notifying both sides in the case.

“I’m disappointed that the jurors even got these messages, if they did,” Rakoff said in an interview, referring to the news notifications. “I continue to think it was the right way to handle things.”

The incident follows on the heels of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s efforts to win a new trial based on disclosures in the press by one of the jurors in her criminal sex-trafficking case. And it illustrates the difficulty of keeping jurors insulated from information that could affect their verdicts in a time where news -- from the score of a recorded football game to a judge’s decision in a high-profile case -- is increasingly hard to avoid.

On Monday, Rakoff cited a lack of evidence proving the Times had knowingly or recklessly published falsehoods about Palin when it ran a 2017 opinion piece linking her to a deadly shooting. The next day, jurors returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Times.

Several jurors told one of the judge’s clerks on Tuesday that they weren’t able to avoid learning about Rakoff’s widely-reported decision, according to people with knowledge of the matter. When Rakoff was informed of that information by Bloomberg on Wednesday, he said he spoke to his clerk.

The judge said he was told “at most three” jurors reported knowing about his ruling before delivering their verdict, and all said it didn’t affect their deliberations.

He later issued a written order informing the parties of the jurors’ discussion with his clerk.

“In an excess of caution, the Court hereby brings the foregoing facts to the parties’ attention,” Rakoff said. “If any party feels there is any relief they seek based on the above, counsel should promptly initiate a joint phone conference with the court to discuss whether any further proceedings are appropriate.”

Whether there will be any fallout for Palin or the Times is unclear.

“The standard for overturning a jury’s verdict is a demanding one,” said Barbara Wahl, a partner with the law firm Arent Fox LLP.

Rakoff told the parties that he allowed the jury to deliver a verdict despite his ruling so that if the case is appealed, the court would have the benefit of both for review.

The jury’s knowledge of Rakoff’s intent to throw out Palin’s case doesn’t affect his decision to do so. And Palin may choose to appeal.

 

vicky ward investigatesVicky Ward Investigates, Prince Andrew Settles to Keep Giuffre Case Out of the Courts, Vicky Ward, Feb. 16, 2022. As I wrote last week, I have bounced a lot of the legal activity around the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell off of former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida-turned-litigator David S. Weinstein, who has been a wise sounding board.

I asked him about today’s news that Prince Andrew has settled with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who had accused him of sexual abuse when she was a minor. In just weeks, Andrew was scheduled to give a deposition.

Here’s my conversation with Weinstein, condensed for clarity.

WARD: You said you foresaw this settlement. Why?

WEINSTEIN: Because of the high stakes that were involved. The stakes were very high for Prince Andrew in this, and you saw how he was prince andrew virginia roberts ghislaine maxwell 2001trying to avoid any litigation whatsoever because of the fact that he filed his motions to dismiss—he was doing whatever he could to keep this case out of the courts. When that didn't work, he had to answer the complaint, and they were getting ready for the deposition. He certainly didn't want to sit down under oath and answer any questions. So he was faced with a difficult choice: He could reach a settlement and pay Virginia Giuffre or he could pay his lawyers to keep fighting this. But then it would keep staying in the public view.

Above, right: A photograph appearing to show Prince Andrew with a then-17-year-old Virginia Roberts Giuffre and, in the background, Ghislaine Maxwell.

Feb. 15

washington post logoWashington Post, Jury rules against Palin in New York Times libel case, Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison, Feb. 15, 2022. A jury ruled against Sarah Palin in her libel case against the New York Times, one day after the judge said he would toss out her claim, saying she had not met the high legal standard required in libel cases involving public figures and journalists.

The jury’s decision conforms with the one made by U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff. On Monday, he told lawyers for Palin and the Times that he would formally dismiss the former Alaska governor’s claim once the jury returned its verdict.

But since he expected his ruling to be appealed — a process that could alter long-standing protections afforded journalists writing about public figures — Rakoff explained that he wanted the jury to keep deliberating, so that future courts to have both his ruling and the jury’s decision to consider.

ny times logoIt was the first libel case against the Times to go to trial in nearly two decades, and its long path to trial has drawn close attention from press freedom advocates. A landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling set a high bar for public officials — later extended to include all prominent individuals — who try to sue journalists for libel.

sarah palin david shankbone wIn 2017, when Rakoff first reviewed Palin’s case — in which the former Alaska governor, right, sued the Times for an editorial that inaccurately suggested a link between some rhetoric from the political action committee and a 2011 mass shooting — he dismissed it, stating that it was doubtful that she could demonstrate that the Times had shown the “actual malice” required by that 1964 standard. The newspaper corrected the error hours later.

Yet an appellate court reinstated Palin’s case, prompting many legal scholars to wonder if the courts’ once-forgiving attitude toward journalistic errors had begun to wane — and whether media organizations may find themselves increasingly beset by costly litigation.

Regardless of the judge and jury’s decision this week, it remains likely that Palin will appeal the case again, at a time when higher courts may be open to reassessing the “actual malice” standard. At the Supreme Court, both Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch have signaled an openness to reviewing the 1964 precedent, which has not been seriously challenged in half a century.

This legal tinderbox of a lawsuit began in the wake of a June 2017 shooting attack on a group of Republican lawmakers who had gathered at an steve scaliseAlexandria baseball field to practice for a game. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), left, was among those wounded. Within hours, a writer for the New York Times’s editorial page had started crafting an editorial, later published under the headline “America’s Lethal Politics,” that took note of another mass shooting — the one that injured then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six people in Tucson. That shooting, the Times wrote, had been preceded by the circulation of a map by Palin’s PAC that placed stylized crosshairs over targeted Democratic districts. “The link to political incitement was clear,” the Times wrote.

In fact, there was never any indication that the Tucson shooter was motivated by the map. After an immediate backlash, the Times corrected the error the next morning — which attorneys for the newspaper later pointed to as evidence that it had been an “honest mistake.”

Yet the jury spent the better part of three days considering the case — suggesting that it was no easy decision.

On Monday, while the jury was still nearly eight hours into deliberations, Rakoff took the surprising step of announcing that he would rule in james bennet Customfavor of the Times’s motion to dismiss, saying Palin had failed to demonstrate that then-editorial page editor James Bennet, right, had known the statements he was rewriting were false, or even that he suspected they might be.

Rakoff could have dismissed the case after hearing arguments and before handing the case to the jury. But as he explained to the court Monday, he settled on his stance over the weekend. And once he realized how he was going to rule, he decided that to not tell the participants sooner was “unfair to both sides.”

“We’ve had very full argument on this. I know where I’m coming out, and I want to therefore apprise the parties of that,” he said Monday.

The jury, however, was not made aware of Rakoff’s decision and continued to deliberate for another day.

When they delivered their verdict, Rakoff thanked them for the “careful attention” they paid to the case, and then explained that he had already decided to dismiss the case.

“Your job was to decide the facts, which you’ve now done. My job is to decide the law,” he said. “And I’ve concluded as a matter of law that the defendants are not liable, too.”

An attorney for Palin, Kenneth Turkel, said his team was “obviously disappointed” with the outcome and is still deciding whether to appeal.

“That being said, anytime a jury convenes and renders a decision, that is our system, allowing a private citizen like Gov. Palin or anyone to seek redress against a giant media company that wields so much power," Turkel told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday.

As she left the courthouse, Palin praised Turkel and fellow attorney Shane Vogt for “doing all they can to make sure the little guy has a voice, the underdog can have their say.”

A spokeswoman for the New York Times, Danielle Rhoades Ha, on Tuesday called the jury’s verdict a “reaffirmation of a fundamental tenet of American law: public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish or intimidate news organizations that make, acknowledge and swiftly correct unintentional errors."

She added: ”It is gratifying that the jury and the judge understood the legal protections for the news media and our vital role in American society."

The new study focused on children under six months of age who were admitted to one of 20 U.S. pediatric hospitals between July 1 and Jan. 17. Of the 379 infants included in the study, 176 had been admitted for Covid-19 or had symptoms of the disease; all of these children tested positive for the virus. The remaining 203 children tested negative for the virus.

Among the infants with Covid-19, 16 percent of mothers had been vaccinated during pregnancy, compared to 32 percent of the mothers of hospitalized children without the virus.

Vaccination during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy was 32 percent effective against Covid-19-related hospitalization for infants, the researchers found, whereas later vaccination was 80 percent effective.

Slate, Commentary: The former Alaska governor lost her libel suit against the New York Times. But others were watching—and learning, Seth Stevenson, Feb 15, 2022. At about 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, after roughly a dozen hours of deliberation, a nine-person jury—featuring, among others, a refrigerator repairman, a docent at the Met, a creative director, a hedge fund worker, and a receptionist at a fertility clinic—found that the New York Times Company, and its co-defendant James Bennet, did not libel Sarah Palin.

A day before, Judge Jed S. Rakoff—out of earshot of the jury—had already ruled that “no reasonable juror” could possibly conclude Palin had met her burden of proof. Rakoff advised both sides that if the jury decided the Times had defamed Palin, he’d reverse the outcome. Thus, the verdict from these (apparently reasonable) jurors was a second blow—and a bit of salt in the wound for the former Alaska governor. I’m tempted here to point Palin toward one of her trademark mottos, invoked by an opposing attorney at the trial: “Suck it up, buttercup.”

It seems obvious to me that the jury’s conclusion was sound, given the high hurdle Palin needed to clear as a public figure alleging libel. Palin failed to demonstrate—as she was required to do, per the Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan—that the Times acted with “actual malice.”

She didn’t prove that the Times published something false despite knowing it was false, or that the Times recklessly disregarded the high probability it was publishing something false, or that the Times intended to defame her and took conscious, deliberate steps to do so. What Palin instead showed was that Times journalists are, much like everyone else in the world, capable of making sloppy errors when they rush to meet a deadline. She also showed (and this didn’t help her case) that those journalists really, really hate to make mistakes and try hard to correct them as quickly as possible.

Sitting in the observer section at the trial—along with Sarah Palin’s boyfriend, James Bennet’s wife, a bunch of journalists, and a few curious members of the public—there was one especially intriguing figure. Charles Harder was the lead attorney when Hulk Hogan sued Gawker out of existence. And Harder watched every minute of the testimony in this trial, taking copious notes on a legal pad. He wasn’t working with Palin’s legal team (though he’d worked with them before, in that Gawker case). He was just watching.

During breaks in the proceedings, I peppered Harder with questions. How much did he think this trial was costing Palin? Answer: More than $1 million. How much would it cost to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court? Answer: $5 million, give or take. Was it possible Palin’s attorneys were working on a contingency basis, or maybe doing this just for the publicity? Answer: Basically, no.

Hulk Hogan didn’t pay his own legal costs (meaning, in part, Harder’s invoices) when he took Gawker to court. Silicon Valley grotesquerie Peter Thiel famously footed Hogan’s bill—secretly at first, until he was outed as Hogan’s backer. When it comes to this trial, I just can’t bring myself to believe that Palin paid for it out of pocket. If indeed she didn’t, and someone else was funding this, I wondered where that money was coming from. I asked Harder if he knew. He said he didn’t.

Then I asked Harder one last thing: Why exactly was he here? He was taking all those notes—was it for an article he’s writing, or a book? No, he said, “I’m just here to observe and learn.”

That was the most chilling thing I heard in that courtroom. What exactly did he learn from Sarah Palin’s (so far) failed effort to sink the Times? How exactly is he planning to apply those lessons? My fear is that, before long, we’ll all find out.

Feb. 14

Press Run, Commentary: But Her Emails haunts the D.C. press, Eric Boehlert, right, Feb 14, 2022. Toxic double standard. Responding to critics of the eric.boehlertNew York Times’ halting, timid coverage of the unfolding story of how Trump smuggled top secret documents out of the White House and stashed them at Mar-a-Lago for a year, the Times’ top Trump chronicler, Maggie Haberman, claimed it wasn’t for the newspaper to suggest whether Trump broke any laws.

“Many are awaiting [Attorney General] Merrick Garland’s view on what’s against the law, which law enforcement and not reporters dictate,” she tweeted.

Haberman’s rationale was stunning — journalists are clearly in a position to determine whether public figures like Trump have broken laws by absconding with 15 boxes of documents when the Presidential Records Act requires that all records created by presidents be turned over at the end of their administrations. The idea that the Times newsroom has to wait for law enforcement to officially make determinations of lawbreaking is a new approach.

hillary clinton buttonThat’s certainly not how the Times covered the manufactured Hillary Clinton email scandal for two years, commonly referred to as the media’s "But Her Emails" fiasco. In the first Times article about the Clinton email story in March 2015, and in the first paragraph of that story, the daily openly suggested the presumptive Democratic nominee had broken the law [emphasis added]:

Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.

It wasn’t until August 2015 that the FBI began investigating the Clinton server and whether it involved transmission of classified material. By then, the press had spent five months leaning into the idea that possible criminality was fueling the endless coverage .

The media’s chronic and dishonest But Her Emails coverage, framed as nonstop horse race updates, changed the course of American history by denying Clinton the chance to become the first woman president. By helping elect Trump, it also hastened a political unraveling at home, as he unleashed a new brand of criminal and authoritarian rule. To date, the D.C. press has never acknowledged its sins of 2016; made no serious attempt to grapple with what went so wrong.

Now with the Trump document story, the press is being forced to confront the obvious hypocrisy. One year after the Clinton story broke in March 2015, But Her Emails was still be being covered like the Moon Landing. Yet just five days after the Trump story about smuggling out top secret documents (and reportedly flushing others down the toilet), the same D.C. press corps has already lost interest. On this Sunday’s “ABC This Week,” a panel of pundits had an extended debate about Trump’s impact on the Republican Party — there was no mention of the fact he stole top secret documents from the White House.

Appearing on MSNBC, the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker stressed that stealing documents might not raise to the level of being “nefarious,” and that because Trump wasn’t a “traditional” president and because his aides were “frenzied” during the month of January 2021, the theft of the documents made sense. Why is there still a driving media need to normalize Trump’s criminality?

Feb. 13

 

 

Watergate Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward, left, and Carl Bernstein speaking at the National Press Club on Oct. 20, 2014 (Photo courtesy of Noel St. John).20 14

Watergate Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward, left, and Carl Bernstein speaking at the National Press Club on Oct. 20, 2014 (Photo courtesy of Noel St. John).

New York Magazine, Book Excerpt and Commentary: Woodward and Bernstein Didn’t Act Alone, Garrett M. Graff, right (adapted from the author's garrett graff twitterforthcoming book, Watergate: A New History, Avid Reader Press), Feb. 13, 2022. If not for their competitors, Nixon would probably have survived Watergate.

It’s easy looking back a half-century later to feel that the fall of Richard Nixon was inevitable, but the Watergate plotters almost got away with it. At a half-dozen moments after the June 17, 1972, burglary and attempted bugging of the Democratic Party headquarters, the investigations and follow-ons appeared all but over. Nixon won many of the early rounds of the coverup and went on to win reelection that same year in a landslide. It really did appear, in the White House’s famous words, to be just a “third-rate burglary.”

What eventually caused Watergate to turn from an odd political sideshow into an ultimately fatal, inescapable scandal was dogged investigative reporting — but there, again, the history we remember is not the history that actually happened.

It wasn’t just the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who broke open the story but a half-dozen other reporters, all working far from the cozy corners of D.C. power — none of whom were immortalized onscreen by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Woodward and Bernstein mattered, yes, but not in the way that the popular history recorded in the gauzy, laudatory movie All the President’s Men tells us. Under a slightly different set of circumstances, it’s not even clear that Woodward and Bernstein’s names would be synonymous with Nixon’s downfall. Without their competitors at other newspapers, Nixon would have almost surely survived.

The first Watergate leak from the man who would become the most famous source of all time, Deep Throat, a.k.a. FBI associate director W. Mark Felt, went not to the Post at all but to its crosstown rival, the Washington Daily News.

On June 30, Felt, already frustrated by what he saw as stonewalling in the investigation by the bureau’s acting director, L. Patrick Gray III, handed the capital’s afternoon tabloid a scoop about the suspicious contents of E. Howard Hunt’s safe at the White House. It turned out to be the Daily News’ first and last Watergate scoop; it shut down publication in early July, a victim of the city’s 1970s newspaper wars. Whether, if it had continued publishing, the paper would have become Felt’s preferred source of leaks, rather than Post, will never be known.

Over the next few weeks, both Woodward and Bernstein, who had doggedly reported about the burglary in the first following days, both drifted away from the story. The Post had all but moved on by mid-July. Bernstein was sure that the break-in was bigger than anyone imagined, but the Post had a daily newspaper to run, and despite his protests, his editors assigned him back to his normal Virginia beat. Woodward took a July vacation home to Michigan, where his Republican father urged him to vote for Nixon in the fall.

Meanwhile, a steady drip of stories about the FBI’s stalled investigation emerged from Time magazine’s Sandy Smith, a gruff former organized-crime reporter who was well-sourced in law enforcement. Smith documented how even in those first days, the Justice Department leadership appeared to be stonewalling attempts by the FBI’s Washington Field Office to dig deeper into the burglary and its ties to Nixon’s campaign. Smith’s scoops resulted in a then-unknown explosive meeting between the field agents and acting director Gray, where he hauled them into his director’s suite on a Saturday morning to rail against the leaks.

It was only a late July scoop by the New York Times’ Walter Rugaber that jolted the capital back to attention. Rugaber had come to the D.C. bureau in 1969 after covering the civil rights movement in Georgia and Alabama and had been suspicious of the Watergate operation as soon as he heard Nixon’s campaign security director was involved.

Rugaber’s scoop on July 25 spurred the Washington Post to reassemble their Watergate team. Managing editor Howard Simons, annoyed, cornered city editor Barry Sussman with the Times in hand and demanded, “Why didn’t we have that?” And by the end of the day, Woodward and Bernstein were back on the beat until further notice. Though in its own way, the assignment of two young, inexperienced reporters amid a newsroom filled with respected veterans still indicated how little attention the Post expected to get out of the scandal.

Barely two years later, Woodward and Bernstein’s legacy of aggressive investigative reporting was mythologized in the movie that grew out of their book. The movie also rewrote history in ways big and small: It put Deep Throat at the center of a story in which he was actually mostly a barry sussman cover newbit player and sidelined from the narrative two of the paper’s main internal Watergate champions: managing editor Howard Simons and city editor Barry Sussman.

Sussman, who had edited and overseen the paper’s trove of stories, was written out of the movie entirely and ultimately wrote his own (very good) history of the scandal, The Great Cover-Up. “I don’t have anything good to say about either one of them,” he said to journalism historian Alicia Shepherd decades later when she was writing a biography of the duo forever short-handed as “Woodstein.”

By the end of the scandal in August 1974, the reporters on the beat — Woodward, Bernstein, Smith, Nelson, Rugaber, Hersh, and others — collectively ushered in a new style of journalism and posture for reporters. “This was a turning point in the relationship between the White House and the press,” Shepherd wrote. “Never again would White House reporters be so trusting or respectful of a press secretary pushing the administration’s agenda.”

Feb. 11

washington post logoWashington Post, Another Mexican journalist is killed, and Lopez Obrador attacks the media, Kevin Sieff, Feb. 11, 2022. One day after the fifth journalist was killed in Mexico in six weeks, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched into another diatribe against the press.

This time, at his regular morning news conference on Friday, López Obrador projected a slide purporting to show the income of one of the country’s most prominent journalists.

“I mean he earns about 15 times more than me,” López Obrador said of journalist Carlos Loret de Mola. “You think it's because he's a highflying journalist, very intelligent, a very good writer? No, it's because of his attacks.”

López Obrador’s use of Loret de Mola’s alleged income drew condemnation from defenders of press freedom and the journalist himself. Loret de Mola, a radio, television and print journalist in Mexico who contributes columns to The Washington Post’s Spanish-language Post Opinión section, also said the number was incorrect.

It also repeated a pattern for López Obrador, who has continued to excoriate the media during a surge in attacks against Mexican journalists. His administration has been criticized for not doing more to protect them.

Mexico offers bodyguards and bulletproof vests to vulnerable journalists. It hasn’t been enough.

On Thursday evening, Heber López Vásquez, the director of RCP Noticias in the state of Oaxaca, was shot to death when he returned to his house after work. He was 39.

López Vásquez had received threats for months. He told colleagues he believed they were related to his reporting on corruption among local officials.

Last year, seven journalists were killed in Mexico. That was more than in any other country in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders. This year, the country is on pace to surpass that total by March.

Rather than addressing the causes behind López Vásquez’s killing or expressing concern about the continued onslaught against the Mexican media, López Obrador showed a slide that he claimed showed Loret de Mola’s salary. It included a sum he supposedly received from The Post.

López Obrador said he was seeking to verify the salary information with Mexico’s tax authority, which appeared to be a violation of Mexico’s privacy laws.

Loret de Mola has been a frequent critic of López Obrador. He recently published a story in Latinus showing the apparently opulent lifestyle of López Obrador’s son in Houston, a stark contrast to the public image of frugality projected by the president. Loret de Mola later referred to the piece in a column for The Post.

kamila valieva chang lee ny times

washington post logoWashington Post, After Russian figure skater’s positive drug test, officials promise expedited hearing, Emily Giambalvo, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Gus Garcia-Roberts, Feb. 11, 2022 (print ed.). An expedited hearing will determine whether Russian Olympic Committee figure skater Kamila Valieva will be allowed to compete in the women’s individual competition at the Beijing Olympics, the International Testing Agency said in a statement Friday.

olympics 2022 beijing winter logoValieva, shown above in a photo by Chang Lee of the New York Times, tested positive for a banned substance in December and was briefly suspended from competition until a Russian anti-doping committee lifted that suspension.

The International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency appealed the lifting of the suspension, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport will make a decision that determines whether Valieva, 15, can continue to compete here. She participated in the team event earlier in these Games, leading the ROC team to a gold medal that has yet to be presented because of the case’s unresolved status. The United States won silver and Japan bronze in the team competition.

According to the ITA’s statement, Valieva’s sample in question was collected on Dec. 25, 2021, during the Russian national championships. On Tuesday, the day after the Russians won the figure skating team event, a Swedish lab reported that the sample contained the prohibited substance trimetazidine.

 vicky ward investigates

Vicky Ward Investigates, The Last Word on the New Yorker and Isaac Chotiner, Vicky Ward, Feb. 11, 2022. This is the last time, I hope, I refer to the misleading article that Isaac Chotiner wrote in the New Yorker about my reporting on Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell over the last twenty years.

What I want to point out is that, strangely, if you bother to read Chotiner’s article closely, it shows that—amid a whole lot of opinionated, fact-less nonsense about my integrity—the answer to the central question of who buried Maria and Annie Farmer’s allegations of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse back in 2002, and then again in 2011, is…drumroll…Graydon Carter. Further, it shows that when Carter was asked about this, his answers were disproven by the time-stamped emails and transcripts I sent to Chotiner and New Yorker fact-checkers.

So how and why then does the article, on an initial reading, make it appear that I am a liar, an unreliable journalist, while Carter is just brushing off a poor memory?

I’m going to give you the facts about what happened during the reporting of this because I am entitled to defend myself and my reputation when it’s under attack. First, why did Chotiner even write this piece? I’ve had many puzzled phone calls with people asking, What is the point of this piece? The news value? The public interest? It’s a head-scratcher.


________________________________________

 

vicky ward epstein vanity fair 2003 cover mansion

 

Vicky Ward: My 2003 Vanity Fair article, “The Talented Mr. Epstein”
________________________________________

The first thing I should say is that it is just completely false for Chotiner to say that “many of the things that she told me—and had told her podcast listeners—turned out to be untrue.” There was one notable mistake I made—about the use of the word “peccadilloes” in my blog. I actually pointed that out to Chotiner, not vice-versa. I told him I found it in the original draft; I don’t know how it got through vetting. It’s a bad mistake, but I owned it and I immediately informed Audible about it as well.

Does he mention my transparency—as compared with the cover-up by Carter? No.

What Chotiner is trying to milk here is that, during the reporting of his piece, he called me often— catching me on the fly at 10pm, or in transit—and so, when he asked me did I remember X from 20 years ago—or things from even one year ago—I was honest that I couldn’t recall off the top of my head. On the spot, I couldn’t remember every precise date and time and fact from the last 20 years. Could you? Once I was back at my computer with the records of the scripts of my podcast and two decades of emails and transcripts in front of me, I corrected what I had made my best guess at on the fly. But he decided to nitpick and say that I “chang[ed] my story from year to year and at times from day to day.”

No. What happened is he’d talk to me when I was without my computer. I’d then go and look at my computer and phone him back with what the documents supported.

And what those documents showed was that I had the Farmers on the record in early drafts of my 2003 article (contrary to what Carter claimed—he said I was late); that those allegations were supported by others (contrary to what Carter claimed); that I was right to believe the Farmers over Epstein (Carter believed Epstein over the Farmers); that editors at Vanity Fair did email that Carter needed to see the 2011 blog prior to publication (he said he never read it); and that changes were made to the blog—with the critical changes of the deletion of the Farmers’ allegations and the insertion of the word “I” by someone other than myself.

I sent all this to Chotiner, most of it after he spoke to Carter who had made his assertion the Farmers were not in my first draft. Chotiner told me he believed he had gotten his story wrong, because an email I showed his fact-checker conflicted with that. Chotiner then castigated me for not previously sending over all my numerous emails from 2002. How was I supposed to know, in advance, what Carter would claim about my reporting? I was bewildered, and I knew Chotiner could not possibly have the right facts. Chotiner then asked me to send over all the records that I had.

So I spent an entire weekend and several nights going through old email records and transcripts, trying to piece together from hundreds of old records exactly what the facts said.

As I was undertaking that journey, I occasionally wondered aloud to Chotiner, via email and phone, if there was Possibility A or B in some cases. I was trying, openly, to get to the actual facts for him—a really time-consuming effort for me, but one I thought was important—and yet he turned around and completely mischaracterized that effort as me being inconsistent. I think that is dishonest.

 

nfl logo cropped

washington post logoWashington Post, NFL tells Congress that Commanders are blocking access to documents from workplace probe, Mark Maske and Nicki Jhabvala, Feb. 11, 2022 (print ed.). The NFL told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a letter that the Washington Commanders, not the league, are impeding the committee’s access to many documents related to the investigation of the team’s workplace, another sign of increasing tension between the team and league over the handling of the probe.

carolyn maloney oThe letter — dated Wednesday and sent to Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), right, the committee’s chairwoman, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) — reiterates the league’s assertion that “[d]ecisions related to the findings of the investigation have been made by the NFL, not the team.” The NFL also defended its decision to have attorney Beth Wilkinson, who beth wilkinsonconducted the investigation, submit only oral findings to the league rather than a written report.

The NFL said that it entered into a “common interest agreement” with the team to avoid having to restart the investigation after taking over the probe from the team. And as the committee now seeks information related to Wilkinson’s investigation, the league wrote that the team is responsible for blocking access to more than 100,000 documents.

In sharp rebuke, NFL plans independent probe of sexual misconduct allegations against Daniel Snyder

The NFL sought approximately 109,000 team documents related to the investigation that were previously shared with Wilkinson’s firm, Wilkinson Stekloff, and are in the possession of a third-party vendor, the league’s attorneys wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

“That vendor refused to provide the NFL or even Wilkinson Stekloff with access to the documents unless the team consented because of its concern that it could be sued by the team or its owner," the attorneys wrote. "The NFL promptly directed the team to provide its consent to the vendor, but the team repeatedly has refused to do so.”

The team denied the allegation.

 

djt hands open amazon safe

Press Run, Commentary: How Trump gets away with shredding everything, Eric Boehlert, right, Feb. 11, 2022. The consummate bully. We just witnessed eric.boehlertanother textbook example this week of how Trump gets away with bending rules in his favor, and without having to pay a price from the press or the Beltway establishment.

It’s maddening to watch and it highlights just how unprepared D.C. institutions still are in terms of dealing with an unapologetic authoritarian like Trump who, through his entire adult life, has always assumed rules do not apply to him. And they clearly do not.

The media continue to normalize his criminality, in this case absconding from the White House with classified documents as he readies another presidential run. (And shredding other docs.) It’s the same D.C. press corps that crucified Hillary Clinton for years simply because journalists thought her email story might have a hint of criminality to it. It never did.

What Trump has done since he first arrived in Washington, D.C., in January 2017 was shred longstanding Beltway protocols; traditions that for decades and sometimes centuries were based on a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ on the proper way to behave and the ethical course that should be followed while running the government. The consummate bully and liar, Trump didn’t care about any of those rules and began obliterating them immediately. He flooded the zone with crass, outlandish and destructive behavior, which the press tried to keep pace with the first. Shattering Beltway protocols used to carry a penalty, which was handed out by the press.

Eventually, as the years passed, news outlets mostly gave up, especially with the day-to-day transgressions, adopting a Trump-being-Trump view of his chronic rule breaking. Beltway institutions, particularly within the federal government, embraced the same mealy-mouthed approach, which gave Trump the okay to trample norms. “He didn’t think the rules applied to him,” a former White House aide told CNN this week. And he was right.

That’s why he packed up 15 boxes of presidential documents, some of them marked “top secret,” and shipped them off to Mar-a-lago, even though all the contents should have been sent to the National Archives, because the Presidential Records Act requires that all records created by presidents be turned over at the end of their administrations. Previously, Trump spent years destroying presidential documents, which is not allowed by law.

The whole story revolved around “the Trump administration flagrantly violating federal law by removing and destroying protected federal records,” as Media Matters noted. But that’s not how it got played in the press this week.

The Washington Post, which broke the 15-boxes story on Monday, politely carried spin from unnamed Trump advisers saying there had been no “nefarious intent” in keeping the batch of documents, some of which the January 6 committee want as part of its insurrection investigation. Instead, there had been a “frenzied packing process” in the wake of Trump’s defeat, the Post explained.

The newspaper actually granted anonymity to a “former Trump White House official,” so he or she could be quoted as saying that Trump packing up the 15 boxes was just an honest mistake by a man who would never consider breaking the rules — the same Trump who told more than 20,000 lies while in office.

Following up the Post’s credulous reporting, the New York Times managed to be equally obsequious, as it typed up the same spin from the same former Trump officials. Shorter Times: Nothing to see here folks, it was all just a misunderstanding.

Feb. 9

 

Trucks are backed up Monday on both sides of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit (Photo by Daniel Mears via Associated Press).

Trucks are backed up Monday on both sides of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit (Photo by Daniel Mears via Associated Press).

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, Anti-vaxxers are the vanguard of the global fascist movement, Wayne Madsen, left, author of wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small21 books, including the recent The Rise of the Fascist Fourth Reich: The Era of Trumpism and the Far Right (shown below) and former Navy intelligence officer, Feb. 9, 2022.

wayne madesen report logoThe anti-vaxxer truckers' "FREEDOM CONVOY" siege of the Canadian capital of Ottawa and other Canadian cities finally exposed what the entire anti-Covid vaccination movement is all about: providing a cause to united and rally fascists around the world in a multi-pronged attempt to overthrow by force democratically-elected governments.

Opposition to public health requirements during the pandemic was used by fascists the world over to create political instability. First, the fascists opposed lock downs, mandatory masking, and safe distancing prior to a vaccine being fielded to the general population.

wayne madsen fourth reich coverIn August and September 2020, white supremacist militiamen with the Wolverine Watchmen attempted to storm the Michigan legislature in Lansing, kidnap Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, below right, from her vacation home, assassinate Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, and kill as many Democratic legislators and Michigan State Police officers as possible.

gretchen whitmer o horizontal CustomThis act followed the April siege of the Michigan legislature by armed protesters opposed to state lock down orders. Similar sieges of state Capitols by anti-vaxxers and the violence-prone far-right took place in Richmond, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Salem, Oregon; Olympia, Washington; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" siege would serve as a template for future political disruption, including the January 6, 2021 siege of the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

The weaponization of lunacy with the rise of conspiracy cults like Qanon and the anti-vaxx cause fed directly into the unsuccessful attempt later in 2021 to recall California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. In these and other political actions, the not-so-hidden hands of Russian, other Eastern European, Israeli, and domestic U.S. "bot farms" and "boiler rooms" were at play in stirring up the far-right on social media platforms, including Facebook, Gab, Instagram, Telegram, and Twitter.

Feb. 8

washington post logoWashington Post, Peter Thiel to exit Facebook’s board to focus on 2022 midterms, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Michael Scherer, Feb. 8, 2022 (print ed.). Thiel, who backed Trump in his 2016 bid for the presidency, will support two close associates running for Senate.

peter thiel npc noel st john oct 31 2016Longtime investor and board member Peter Thiel (shown in a Noel St. John photo) plans not to seek reelection to Facebook’s board this year, the company announced Monday, ending his tenure as one of the company’s longest-serving board members at a moment of tumult for the social media giant.

facebook logoThiel, a right-leaning billionaire and Trump supporter who has also been a close adviser to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, plans to focus his energies on the 2022 midterm elections, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Thiel is supporting two close associates, J.D. Vance and Blake Masters, who are running for Senate seats in Ohio and Arizona, respectively. Thiel sees the midterms as a critical moment for the country, the person said, and he is backing a slate of candidates who are allies of former president Donald Trump.

“Peter has been a valuable member of our board and I’m deeply grateful for everything he has done for our company — from believing in us when few others would, to teaching me so many lessons about business, economics, and the world,” Zuckerberg said in a news release.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Requiem for a Liberal Giant,  Michelle Goldberg, right, Feb. 8, 2022 (print ed.). There’s an indelible scene in Todd Gitlin’s michelle goldberg thumb1987 book The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, in which he and other leaders of Students for a Democratic Society — the leading organization of what was called the New Left — meet with old guard democratic socialists from the journal Dissent.

It was the early 1960s (1963, according to Gitlin, 1962, according to Howe). The young activists, with their romantic enthusiasm for revolutions in the developing world, strike the older socialists as feckless and naïve. The socialists seem, to young men who feel themselves on the brink of a radical breakthrough, resigned to their own irrelevance.

But there would be no revolution in the U.S., unless you count the right-wing one that would sweep much of the New Deal away. By the end of the 1960s S.D.S. would implode; the giddily nihilistic Weathermen spun off and became terrorists, albeit mostly ineffectual ones.

A remarkable thing about Gitlin, who died this weekend at 79, was that he never stopped trying to forge that link. The president of S.D.S. in 1963 and 1964, Gitlin eventually became a renowned professor of sociology. He was also a critic, a novelist and a poet — and, to the end, an activist.

I spoke to him many times about the failings of various parts of the left, which became one of his great subjects, but I don’t recall him ever seeming embittered. Some people, disenchanted by the left, make a whole politics out of that disenchantment. But Gitlin’s broad ideals remained consistent, even if his onetime radicalism was chastened by experience. He threw himself into the fight to get universities to divest from fossil fuel corporations. He was excited by Occupy Wall Street and by the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.

Something I learned from Gitlin and never forgot was that in 1968, when a majority of Americans had turned against the war in Vietnam, “the antiwar movement was detested still more — the most hated political group in America, disliked even by most of the people who supported immediate withdrawal.”

The Sixties ends with a quote from Rabbi Tarfon, who lived around the first century A.D.: “It was not granted you to complete the task, and yet you may not give it up.” Gitlin never did.

 

Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, testified for 13 hours before a Republican led House Committee investigating deaths at a State Department facility in the Libyan city of Benhazi (CNN screenshot on Oct. 22, 2015).15

Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, testified for 13 hours before a Republican led House Committee investigating deaths at a State Department facility in the Libyan city of Benhazi. There was never a strong basis for the repeated congressional hearings attacking her since it was Congress that had cut back on funding for defense of State Department facilities and no one could have reasonably expected a Secretary of State, as opposed to military commanders and CIA in the region, to have saved the four American victims from the surprise terrorist attack (CNN screenshot on Oct. 22, 2015).

Palmer Report, Opinion: The media is STILL massively downplaying Donald Trump’s criminal liability, Bill Palmer, Feb. 8, 2022. When it was bill palmerrevealed during the 2016 election cycle that Hillary Clinton had been using a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, the entire mainstream media – left, right, and center – treated it as a national security breach and a criminal scandal. The media spent the entire election cycle implying and often outright insisting that Clinton would end up criminally indicted over her email, even though it was fairly clear from the start that she hadn’t broken any laws.

In fact the media’s coverage of the “Hillary email scandal” – which ended up not even being a scandal once the facts came out – bill palmer report logo headerserves as Exhibit A of how the media can collectively lose its mind and resort to fictional coverage of an imaginary scandal in the name of chasing ratings. We’ve long held up the email debacle as an example of everything that’s gone wrong with the media over the past several years, and everything that needs to change.

What’s always been remarkable is that, even as it gradually became more clear that Donald Trump was going to face serious criminal trouble if he lost reelection, the media still had little to no interest in acknowledging as much. When the Manhattan District Attorney’s office went all the way to the Supreme Court to get then-president Trump’s tax returns, it meant he was likely going to end up indicted if he lost, but the media ignored this. The DA’s office has since expanded its criminal probe into Trump and has an active grand jury, but the media mostly ignores this too. The Fulton County DA has a special grand jury and clearly intends to indict Trump, but the media only covers that story briefly and occasionally. And even as more breadcrumbs emerge to suggest that the DOJ may indeed be targeting Trump, the media ignores these breadcrumbs and claims to know that the DOJ is not investigating Trump (even though it can’t possibly know that).

There’s a reason the media almost uniformly refuses to admit that Trump is on track for prison, and it’s the exact same reason the media spent 2016 uniformly pretending Hillary Clinton was on track for prison. It’s not any sort of partisan bias. It’s not an attempt at helping one candidate or hurting the other. It’s simply about the one thing it’s always about: ratings.

The media had no idea how it was going to get ratings out of what would have been a non-competitive Hillary Clinton blowout victory in 2016. So it latched onto her imaginary email scandal, hyped it as if it were some kind of criminal scandal, and managed to get ratings out of it every single day of the election cycle. All it had to do was lie about the nature of the scandal – which the media has disturbingly comfortable doing over the past decade, as everything has become about ratings.

Similarly, once Trump was bounced from office and banned from Twitter, the media lost its ability to get automatic daily ratings by merely obsessing over his ludicrous words that day. So instead the media spent 2021 pretending that Trump was on the verge of some kind of whirlwind comeback and was a lock to take over the country in 2024. Ratings plummeted anyway, perhaps a testament to how few among the public were willing to fall for this baseless nonsense about a Trump comeback. But even as it’s become crystal clear that Trump is on track for indictment in at least two jurisdictions, the media – on the left and right – has still largely been sticking with its “Trump 2024” narrative.

Now the media is facing a potential breaking point. The updates from the Fulton County criminal probe are becoming more frequent, and they keep getting worse for Trump. The January 6th Committee is making clear that it’ll refer Trump for federal criminal prosecution, which will have a strong chance of pushing the DOJ into indicting Trump whether it was already planning to or not. The media may soon have to abandon the fictional “Trump 2024” narrative, simply because no one will believe it anymore, in favor of an honest narrative about Trump being on a path to prison.

Fittingly, even as the media faces this breaking point, we’re all now learning that Donald Trump illegally took crucial presidential records when he left the White House, and stashed them in his private Mar-a-Lago residence. This isn’t merely a violation of the Presidential Records Act. Given that Trump surely knew investigators would come looking for the kinds of records he stole, such as his suspicious private communications with Kim Jong-Un, Trump may have also committed felony obstruction of justice.

So now we have a story about Trump illegally mishandling government communications, in an attempt at hiding those communications from the public record. This is exactly what the media spent the entire 2016 election cycle falsely accusing Hillary Clinton of having done. You’d think the media would cover this Trump scandal in the same manner, right?

Well, in a word, no. The New York Times, which broke the story, has gone out of its way to characterize Trump’s actions as “improper,” not illegal. Sure, the story acknowledges that Trump violated the Presidential Records Act. But the Times goes out of its way to avoid acknowledging the fact that Trump’s violation of this particular law is indeed a crime. That’s remarkable given that this same New York Times once published an article that was so aggressive in falsely accusing Hillary Clinton of criminal behavior with her emails, the Times ended up having to publish two different sets of retractions just to walk it all back.

It’s not just the New York Times. MSNBC’s Morning Joe is also painting Trump’s stolen records scandal as mere weird behavior on the part of a “weird” man, instead of acknowledging that it’s a criminal scandal that could result in Trump’s prosecution. What we’re seeing is yet another attempt by the media at pretending Trump isn’t actually facing any criminal trouble, so that it can continue to milk the “Trump 2024” nonsense for ratings a bit longer. After all, if the public figures out that Trump is on track for prison, it’s not going to stay glued to scary news coverage about how Trump is somehow going to take over the country.

It’s not as if people aren’t noticing how dishonest the media is being with these stories. The words “improperly” and “illegally” have been among the top trends on Twitter today, because just that many people have been calling out the media for continuing to massively downplay Donald Trump’s criminal liability. Of course if the media isn’t the real world, neither is Twitter. When the media collectively decides to push ratings-driven false narratives, it’s only forced to change its mind when audiences at large begin to see through it.

So if you want this kind of behavior by the media to stop, and you want the media to shift into a more honest gear, you’ll have to get out and push, so to speak. Your job as a political activist is to not only educate yourself on what’s factually goin on, but to also educate those around you so that they’re not prone to falling for the media’s ratings-driven false narratives. When the media sees that a given narrative isn’t working anymore, it’ll shift to a new one. And if we can make sure that audiences are sufficiently educated on what’s really going on, the media will inevitably conclude that it has to stick to honest narratives if it indeed wants to hit its ratings marks.

Feb. 6

ny times logoNew York Times, Joe Rogan Apologizes for ‘Shameful’ Past Use of Racial Slur, Ben Sisario, Feb. 6, 2022 (print ed.). His apology came as listeners said that as many as 70 episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast had been quietly taken off Spotify; the company has yet to comment on the reported removals.

joe rogan logoAs pressure has intensified on Spotify and Joe Rogan, its star podcaster, listeners reported that the company had quietly removed dozens of episodes of his show, while Rogan apologized early Saturday for his use of a racial slur in past episodes.

In an Instagram video, Rogan — whose talk show, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” is Spotify’s most popular podcast, and has been available there exclusively for more than a year — addressed what he called “the most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly.” A compilation video showed Rogan using the slur numerous times in past episodes of his show; it had been shared by the singer India.Arie, who removed her catalog from Spotify in protest of spotify logowhat she called Rogan’s “language around race.”

Rogan said the compilation was drawn from “12 years of conversations” on his show, and that it looked “horrible, even to me.” The clips, he said, had been taken out of context, which he said included discussions about how it had been used by comedians like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, who were Black, and Lenny Bruce, who was white. Rogan said he has not spoken the slur “in years.”

When posting the clip compilation, Arie said that Rogan “shouldn’t even be uttering the word. Don’t say it, under any context.” This week, Arie joined a small but influential boycott of Spotify led by the musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who had cited complaints by health professionals that guests on Rogan’s show had spread misinformation about the coronavirus.

Rogan, a comedian and sports commentator, began his show in 2009 and built a huge following on YouTube before signing an exclusive licensing deal with Spotify in 2020, for a reported $100 million or more. According to the website JRE Missing, which tracks the show, a total of 113 episodes — out of more than 1,700 since the podcast began — have been removed from Spotify since Rogan’s show became an exclusive offering there.

Since Young called for his music to be removed from Spotify on Jan. 24, the company has come under growing pressure from musicians and daniel ek headshotother podcasters over Rogan’s show; the dispute has also resurfaced musicians’ longstanding complaints over low royalty payments.

Spotify responded by publishing its content policies and said that Rogan must abide by them. But Daniel Ek, right, the company’s chief executives, has resisted calls to drop Rogan, and also pushed back against arguments that Spotify acts as Rogan’s publisher, saying that Spotify is rather a “platform” that lacks any advance editorial control over Rogan’s show.

“We are still learning things the government covered up.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: I’m disgusted by Joe Rogan’s weak apology. My former colleague’s death at 47 makes it worse, Margaret margaret sullivan 2015 photoSullivan, Feb. 6, 2022. People are dying because of covid misinformation that Spotify packages as glib podcast fodder.

What I didn’t hear from Rogan was any remorse that he might have done harm when he held forth about his own bogus belief that healthy young people don’t need to get vaccinated, or when he failed to challenge a guest who promised that the drug ivermectin would extinguish the virus altogether or when he allowed another guest to spout theories about how Americans are essentially being hypnotized about covid by the media, and comparing the situation to Nazi Germany.

He didn’t address the 270 medical professionals whose powerful open letter warned, about one of Rogan’s episodes, that “mass-misinformation events of this scale have extraordinarily dangerous ramifications.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Fox News and Donald Trump Took Us, Jeremy W. Peters, right, Feb. 6, 2022 (print ed.). Roger Ailes understood the appeal jeremy petersMr. Trump had for Fox viewers. He didn’t foresee how together they would redefine the limits of political discourse.

When Roger Ailes ran CNBC in the mid-1990s, he gave himself a talk show called “Straight Forward.” It long ago vanished into the void of canceled cable programs and never received much attention after the network boss moved on to produce more provocative and polarizing content as chairman of Fox News. But “Straight Forward” was a fascinating window into what kind of people Mr. Ailes considered stars.

Donald Trump was one of them. In late 1995, Mr. Ailes invited Mr. Trump, then a 49-year-old developer of condos and casinos, on the show and sounded a bit star-struck as he asked his guest to explain how a Manhattan multimillionaire could be so popular with blue-collar Americans.

“The guy on the street, the cabdrivers, the guys working on the road crews go, ‘Hey, Donald! How’s it going?’” Mr. Ailes observed while the two fox news logo Smallmen sat in front of a wood-paneled set piece that gave the studio the appearance of an elegant den in an Upper East Side apartment. “It’s almost like they feel very comfortable with you, like you’re one of them. And I’ve never quite figured out how you bridge that.”

Mr. Trump answered by flipping his host’s assertion around. It was because of who hated him: other people with money. “The people that don’t like me are the rich people. It’s a funny thing. They can’t stand me,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “I sort of love it.”

jeremy peters insurgencyWhat Mr. Ailes sensed about Mr. Trump’s popularity with middle- and working-class Americans in the 1990s would stay with him, because he identified with it. “A lot of what we do at Fox is blue collar stuff,” he said in 2011.

His understanding of those dynamics helped shape the coverage he directed for decades and led to an embrace of grievance-oriented political rhetoric that the Republican Party, and a further fragmented right-wing media landscape, is grappling with as it looks toward elections this fall and the possibility of Mr. Trump returning to politics.

Mr. Ailes was eventually ousted from Fox after several women at the network came forward to say he had sexually harassed them. But before that, his intuition about what audiences wanted — and what advertisers would pay for — helped Fox News smash ratings records for cable news. He could rouse the viewer’s patriotic impulses, mine their darkest fears and confirm their wildest delusions. Its coverage of then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, often laced with baseless speculation about his past, helped propel the network in 2008 to the highest ratings it had ever recorded in its 12 years of existence. Mr. Ailes earned $19 million that year.

As he looked to assemble a dynamic cast of right-wing media stars to channel the rage and resentment of the budding Tea Party insurgency, Mr. Ailes’s instincts pushed Fox News ratings even higher.

Jeremy W. Peters, who covers politics and the media for The Times, is the author of “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted,” from which this article is adapted.

The photo above portrays a 2022 book burning by conservative zealots in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo by Tyler Salinas).

The photo above portrays a 2022 book burning by conservative zealots in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo by Tyler Salinas).

WMR's Hollywood, Film-Politics Commentary: Filmdom on book burning, Wayne Madsen, Feb. 5, 2022. With the current fascist Republican spate wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallof book burning and banning across the country, it is instructive to re-discover how Hollywood has treated the subject. The Nazi book burning in Germany in the 1930s and America's Victorian value system in dealing with controversial book titles has made a definite impact on the films produced over the years by the motion picture industry.

wayne madesen report logoThe 1966 film "Fahrenheit 451," based on Ray Bradbury's eponymously titled novel about a dystopian future where books are banned, co-stars Austrian-born actor Oskar Werner, who plays Guy Montag. Known as a "fireman," Montag has the duty to burn books, which auto-ignite at the temperature of 451 degrees. "Fahrenheit 451," the first color film by director François Truffaut, also starred Julie Christie and Cyril Cusack.

Both in real life and in movies, Werner dealt with Nazi totalitarian events.

Feb. 5

cyril wecht oswald jfk ny post composite

Dr. Cyril Wecht was the first non-governmental forensic pathologist to gain access to the National Archives to examine the assassination materials on JFK in 1972. He discovered that Kennedy's brain was missing as well as many shocking lapses in the official probe into his death. NY Post photo composite

New York Post, JFK assassination expert: Lee Harvey Oswald lone gunman theory is ‘bulls–t,’ Heather Robinson, Feb. 5, 2022. Dr. Cyril Wecht was the first non-governmental forensic pathologist to gain access to the National Archives to examine the assassination materials on JFK in 1972. He discovered that Kennedy’s brain was missing as well as many shocking lapses in the official probe into his death.

Dr. Cyril Wecht distrusts the US government. And he’s proud of it.

The forensic pathologist — who declared in 1978 that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in assassinating President John F. Kennedy — is now 90 and still sticking to his story.

Wecht’s latest book, The JFK Assassination Dissected (Exposit Books), summarizes his six decades of research into the subject, and pokes cyril wecht jfk assassination dissectedholes in the conclusion made by the seven-man Warren Commission that Oswald, without any help, shot and killed Kennedy when his motorcade drove past the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

“Young people are still being taught that the 35th president was murdered by a lone gunman, and that is simply bulls–t,” Wecht boomed during an interview at his modest office in downtown Pittsburgh last month.

Nearly 60 years ago, the commission concluded that Oswald killed Kennedy because he was a disaffected, profoundly maladjusted loner with communist sympathies. But Wecht still believes the shooter may have been a hired gun committing murder for the CIA.

Oswald “had almost certainly been a CIA agent of some kind,” says Wecht, but the directive to kill may have come from higher up. Allen Dulles, director of the CIA from 1953 to 1961, had overseen the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion to oust Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and had reason to be disgruntled. Dulles also ended up in prime position to participate in a coverup, Wecht conjectured.

“Kennedy had fired Allen Dulles because he was really pissed off about what the CIA was doing,” said Wecht. “Then who gets appointed to the Warren Commission? Dulles. It stinks to high heaven.”

Tanned, vigorous and dressed sharply in a black jacket and red necktie, Wecht said he wrote his book now for the sake of the truth — and his advancing age.

“I don’t intend to live forever, just for a long time,” said Wecht, who has a wife, Sigrid Wecht, and four children. “I felt I wanted to lay out all the things I’ve experienced and done and the people I’ve met, and it was time. I’ve been working on the book for six years.”

The former coroner of Allegheny County, Pa., Wecht is both a trained lawyer and doctor who has conducted more than 17,000 autopsies and also provided expert testimony on high-profile cases including the deaths of Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, JonBenet Ramsey and Laci Peterson.

The first non-governmental forensic pathologist to gain access to the National Archives to examine the assassination materials in 1972, Wecht discovered and exposed the ghastly fact that the 35th president’s brain had vanished.

“As we sit and talk today, the president’s brain remains missing. Unaccounted for,” he said.

Interest in the assassination — and speculation about a conspiracy — has simmered for decades, gaining steam after Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK” disputed the belief that Oswald acted alone. (Wecht consulted on Stone’s film and dedicated a chapter to his experience on the movie set. Stone, in turn, wrote the book’s foreword).

In 1992, after a public outcry, Congress passed the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act requiring release of all JFK assassination files by 2017. The deadline has come and gone with US presidents citing national security concerns Biden has scheduled release of the final documents for December 2022.

Wecht is dubious that all the relevant documents will be released but predicts that if they are, it could be revelatory.

“There might be something supporting more than one gunman, evidence of witness manipulation, or failure to call key witnesses,” he said.

In the decades since the assassination, most Americans have continued to believe that Oswald did not act alone. In 1976, one year after the public release of the Zapruder film, a 1963 home movie made by Dallas clothier Abraham Zapruder capturing the moment JFK was shot, 81 percent said they believed more than one gunman was involved.

By 2017, that figure was still high at 60 percent.

‘Young people are still being taught the 35th president was murdered by a lone gunman. That is simply bulls–t.’

Wecht’s book contains never-before published details of his meetings with Oswald’s widow, Marina, left, who, although unhappily married to marina oswald country styleOswald, validated her husband’s claim that he was “just a patsy,” as well as of Wecht’s meeting with George de Mohrenschildt, a shadowy CIA-connected figure who befriended the Oswalds prior to the assassination and, before committing suicide himself in 1977, corroborated Marina’s assessment of Oswald as a fall guy.

The book describes the defection of Oswald, a trained marksman, Marine, and fluent Russian speaker, to the USSR for two-and-a-half years, and his trouble-free return to the US with bride Marina, niece of a high-ranking KGB officer, at the height of the Cold War. (The implication is that Oswald had friends in high places).

After a 10-month investigation, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald fired three times. One shot missed, another hit Kennedy in the back, and the third hit him in the head. Rather than explain the sequence of the hits, the commission presented three slightly different scenarios, but each scenario ended with the conclusion that just one gunman killed the president.

In 1978, Wecht, as a member of the forensic pathology panel assembled by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), testified in favor of a second gunman. He was the lone dissenter.

“I really stood alone,” he said.

For one, the gunshot wound in Kennedy’s back — which the Warren Commission said had an upward trajectory — couldn’t have been caused by Oswald as the sole assassin firing from above, Wecht said.

“Under the single bullet theory, Oswald is the sole assassin, he’s firing from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository building, so the bullet is moving from up, downward, right? So how the hell could it go upward?”

Wecht believes an additional shot, from a second gunman, was “fired from the front, behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll” and that “two bullets hit Kennedy . . . one from the rear, one from the front.”

He also recounts that the chief medical examiner for the Dallas Coroner’s office, Dr. Earl Rose, whose office was located at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas where JFK received treatment and died, was manhandled by the Secret Service to prevent him from conducting the autopsy.

“The agent . . . put his arms under Rose’s armpits, lifted him into the air, and set him down gently against a wall. It wasn’t an action designed to hurt Dr. Rose but to show him who was boss,” Wecht writes.

“They swore, they put Dr. Rose up against the wall,” he added.

Instead, JFK’s corpse was flown to Washington, DC, where an autopsy was done by two physicians, neither of whom was board certified in forensic pathology, and neither of whom “had ever done a gunshot wound autopsy in their entire careers,” he said.

The autopsy materials, “including clothing, X-rays, bullet,” “amazingly, belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy,” who donated them to the National Archives in Washington, DC, with the proviso that nobody could see those effects for 75 years, except that after five years, a “recognized expert in the field of pathology with a serious historic purpose” could apply to examine them, Wecht said.

Wecht fought to fill that slot and was given permission to conduct the probe in 1972. That’s when he discovered that JFK’s brain, despite being listed in the inventory of assassination materials, was “no longer available.”

“If they had dissected the brain, they would’ve seen there were two bullets that hit Kennedy in the brain, one from the rear, and one from the front,” said Wecht. His theory that the president was hit in the head twice is “based on witness testimony, the Zapruder film, and medical evidence.”

Critics argue that professionals like Wecht questioning the Warren Commission’s findings have contributed to a general erosion of trust in authority and spawned an industry of conspiracy-theorizing, prompting potentially harmful doubts about everything from vaccines to elections.

But Wecht doesn’t mind the term “conspiracy theorist.”

“I am amused by the audacity and hypocrisy of people calling me a conspiratorialist,” he said. “I have always had a majority of Americans on my side. How many things are there that maintain a majority consensus?

“Go back and talk with older people, before Watergate and Vietnam,” he says. “Pretty much what the government said, that was it, you did not question.

“Go back and talk with older people, before Watergate and Vietnam,” he says. “Pretty much what the government said, that was it, you did not question.

“We are still learning things the government covered up.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Fox News and Donald Trump Took Us, Jeremy W. Peters, Feb. 5, 2022. Roger Ailes understood the appeal Mr. Trump had for Fox viewers. He didn’t foresee how together they would redefine the limits of political discourse.

When Roger Ailes ran CNBC in the mid-1990s, he gave himself a talk show called “Straight Forward.” It long ago vanished into the void of canceled cable programs and never received much attention after the network boss moved on to produce more provocative and polarizing content as chairman of Fox News. But “Straight Forward” was a fascinating window into what kind of people Mr. Ailes considered stars.

Donald Trump was one of them. In late 1995, Mr. Ailes invited Mr. Trump, then a 49-year-old developer of condos and casinos, on the show and sounded a bit star-struck as he asked his guest to explain how a Manhattan multimillionaire could be so popular with blue-collar Americans.

fox news logo Small“The guy on the street, the cabdrivers, the guys working on the road crews go, ‘Hey, Donald! How’s it going?’” Mr. Ailes observed while the two men sat in front of a wood-paneled set piece that gave the studio the appearance of an elegant den in an Upper East Side apartment. “It’s almost like they feel very comfortable with you, like you’re one of them. And I’ve never quite figured out how you bridge that.”

Mr. Trump answered by flipping his host’s assertion around. It was because of who hated him: other people with money. “The people that don’t like me are the rich people. It’s a funny thing. They can’t stand me,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “I sort of love it.”

What Mr. Ailes sensed about Mr. Trump’s popularity with middle- and working-class Americans in the 1990s would stay with him, because he identified with it. “A lot of what we do at Fox is blue collar stuff,” he said in 2011.

His understanding of those dynamics helped shape the coverage he directed for decades and led to an embrace of grievance-oriented political rhetoric that the Republican Party, and a further fragmented right-wing media landscape, is grappling with as it looks toward elections this fall and the possibility of Mr. Trump returning to politics.

Mr. Ailes was eventually ousted from Fox after several women at the network came forward to say he had sexually harassed them. But before that, his intuition about what audiences wanted — and what advertisers would pay for — helped Fox News smash ratings records for cable news. He could rouse the viewer’s patriotic impulses, mine their darkest fears and confirm their wildest delusions. Its coverage of then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, often laced with baseless speculation about his past, helped propel the network in 2008 to the highest ratings it had ever recorded in its 12 years of existence. Mr. Ailes earned $19 million that year.

As he looked to assemble a dynamic cast of right-wing media stars to channel the rage and resentment of the budding Tea Party insurgency, Mr. Ailes’s instincts pushed Fox News ratings even higher.

Jeremy W. Peters, who covers politics and the media for The Times, is the author of “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted,” from which this article is adapted.

jeff zucker cnn

ny times logoNew York Times, Guest Essay: The Jeff Zucker Mess Isn’t Some Mere Office Romance, Joanne Lipman and Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, Feb. 5, 2022 (print ed.). Ms. Lipman is the author of “That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together.” Mr. Sonnenfeld is a professor at the Yale School of Management.

The headlines about the resignation of CNN’s president, Jeff Zucker, above, over his romantic relationship with a colleague, are electrifying CNN’s defenders and antagonists alike, and fueling endless speculation about possible corporate power plays behind the scenes. For those, like us, who have been writing for years about men, women and the workplace, this unfolding scandal also points out how difficult it is to regulate office romance and how unevenly corporate policies around consensual relationships are enforced.

Mr. Zucker’s relationship with Allison Gollust, CNN’s head of marketing, was, by many accounts, an open secret in the media world. It was also an explosive secret. Under WarnerMedia’s ownership of CNN, Ms. Gollust reported to Mr. Zucker in her marketing role but not as head of communications. As Mr. Zucker acknowledged in a memo to his colleagues, “I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t.”

What’s so baffling is, why not disclose it? Both are divorced and the relationship is consensual. Had they been transparent, it’s possible that Mr. Zucker, CNN and its parent company could have dealt with this without precipitating a crisis. What’s more, if rumors were swirling internally that Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were violating company policy, why didn’t the bosses at WarnerMedia investigate earlier? This is an unforced error by CNN, causing confusion and anger among some staff members.

There is some speculation that Mr. Zucker’s office-romance resignation is simply a cover story to allow the company to get rid of him before WarnerMedia’s planned merger with Discovery later this year. CNN is facing likely litigation surrounding its firing of Chris Cuomo for aiding his brother, the embattled former New York governor. Meanwhile, John Malone, the chair of a firm that owns a major stake in Discovery, has publicly criticized CNN’s programming under Mr. Zucker’s leadership.

Whatever the boardroom drama, this is yet another chapter in the tortured history of companies’ bungled attempts at dealing with office romance. The rules are all over the place. Enforcement is inconsistent. This isn’t just an issue for chief executives. A 2021 survey for the Society for Human Resource Management found that more than a third of Americans have had or currently have a workplace relationship, and the majority of them did not disclose it to their superiors. Offices romances have turned into enduring partnerships for prominent figures from Michelle and Barack Obama to Tina Brown and Harry Evans and on a less happy note, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates.

Yet companies still haven’t figured out how to navigate these waters. The #MeToo movement shined a light on the egregious cases of male bosses preying on subordinate women, leading to the firings or resignations of dozens of prominent men. Other men in power have been forced out for consensual relationships that they concealed, including McDonald’s former chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, in 2019 and Intel’s former chief executive, Brian Krzanich, in 2018.

There is no consensus in corporate America, however, about what is considered acceptable.

Feb. 4

 

 capitol peter stager

In one scene from the Capitol riot, an Arkansas man, Peter Francis Stager (shown at center in a screengrab, the man with a beard and holding a flag), was arrested last week on charges of beating a Capitol Hill policeman being stomped by the mob.

 

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and former President Trump (file photos).

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and former President Trump (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, G.O.P. Declares Jan. 6 Attack ‘Legitimate Political Discourse,’ Jonathan Weisman and Reid J. Epstein, Feb. 4, 2022. The moves were an extraordinary statement about the attack, in which Trump supporters stormed the complex, brutalized officers and sent lawmakers into hiding.

The Republican Party on Friday officially declared the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and events that led to it “legitimate political discourse,” and rebuked two lawmakers in the party who have been most outspoken in condemning the deadly riot and the role of Donald J. Trump in spreading the election lies that fueled it.

rnc logoThe Republican National Committee’s voice vote to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois at its winter meeting in Salt Lake City culminated more than a year of vacillation, which started with party leaders condemning the Capitol attack and Mr. Trump’s conduct, then shifted to downplaying and denying it.

On Friday, the party went further in a resolution slamming Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger for taking part in the House investigation of the assault, saying they were participating in “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

After the vote, party leaders rushed to clarify that language, saying it was never meant to apply to rioters who violently stormed the Capitol in Mr. Trump’s name.

“Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger crossed a line,” Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, said in a statement. “They chose to join Nancy Pelosi in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol.”

But the censure, which was carefully negotiated in private among party members, made no such distinction. It was the latest and most forceful effort by the Republican Party to minimize what happened and the broader attempt by Mr. Trump and his allies to invalidate the results of the 2020 election. In approving it and opting to punish two of its own, Republicans seemed to embrace a position that many of them have only hinted at: that the assault and the actions that preceded it were acceptable.

It came days after Mr. Trump suggested that, if re-elected in 2024, he would consider pardons for those convicted in the Jan. 6 attack and for the first time described his goal as aiming to “overturn” the election results.

The day’s events, which were supposed to be about unity, only served to divide Republicans as their leaders try to focus attention on what they call the failings of the Biden administration.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Jeff Zucker’s legacy is defined by his promotion of Donald Trump, Margaret Sullivan, right, Feb. 4, 2022 (print ed.). After his margaret sullivan 2015 photoshocking exit from CNN, the TV executive's legacy will come into focus. And his most fateful decision will be the attention given to Donald Trump and its lasting fallout.

Many questions still swirl around Wednesday’s startling announcement that, after nine years, Jeff Zucker’s reign as CNN president was over.

Was his ouster really all about his failure to disclose to his corporate bosses a consensual relationship with another top network executive? How much of a factor was the continuing mess over former host Chris Cuomo’s firing in December? To what extent were the network’s flagging ratings part of the calculation?

CNNIt will all eventually be revealed — teams of reporters are racing to dig into one of the biggest media stories in recent memory. But we already know one thing: When the dust settles, Zucker’s relationship with Donald Trump will define his legacy.

Zucker, as much as any other person in the world, created and burnished the Trump persona — first as a reality-TV star who morphed into a worldwide celebrity, then as a candidate for president who was given large amounts of free publicity.

The through line? Nothing nobler than TV ratings, which always were Zucker’s guiding light, his be-all and end-all and, ultimately, his fatal flaw.

Two decades ago, as an NBC executive searching for a way to goose the floundering network’s popularity, he gave the green light to a reality show, “The Apprentice,” featuring a flashy mogul whose soon-to-be-famous tagline was “You’re fired.” Trump had a checkered history of bankruptcies, racism and failed real estate projects, but his confident bluster made him a natural on television.

“The show was built as a virtually nonstop advertisement for the Trump empire and lifestyle,” Washington Post journalists Marc Fisher and Michael Kranish wrote in their 2016 book, “Trump Revealed.” The stunning rise of Donald Trump had begun.

Zucker created Trump the TV sensation, which was the necessary foundation for Trump the candidate. Years later, after moving from NBC to CNN, Zucker recollected very well that Trump was a self-proclaimed “ratings machine” — a rare instance of Trumpian truth-telling.

washington post logoWashington Post, After Zucker’s ouster, CNN staffers raise questions about a Cuomo connection, Jeremy Barr, Feb. 4, 2022 (print ed.). News stars loyal to the CNN president are frustrated that his resignation was triggered by a looming legal showdown with the scandal-plagued former anchor.

Jeff Zucker’s surprise ouster Wednesday left CNN with a leadership void and an irresistible mystery: How did a personnel investigation into Chris Cuomo, the network’s scandal-plagued former prime-time host, also end up toppling its president?

CNNIn staff meetings Wednesday night and Thursday, employees pelted CNN’s remaining leadership with questions, many openly skeptical of the bare-bones account the company has so far given: that Zucker resigned after his romantic relationship with another top executive, Allison Gollust — a longtime open secret at CNN — was uncovered by lawyers originally hired to investigate Cuomo.

“For a lot of us, the feeling is the punishment didn’t fit the crime,” chief political correspondent Dana Bash told corporate executives during a heated newsroom meeting in D.C. on Wednesday night, according to a recording of the session obtained by The Washington Post.

For many, the confusion seemed to lie with the dawning awareness that Zucker’s departure was triggered by a looming legal showdown with Cuomo, the star anchor and erstwhile friend he fired in December over Cuomo’s involvement in the crisis-management activities of his politician brother. An investigation into Cuomo’s tenure had pivoted into a broader review of CNN’s handling of the matter, during which Zucker and Gollust were asked about and acknowledged their relationship. Cuomo’s legal team, meanwhile, had signaled an interest in seeing some of the couple’s email correspondence as they sought a more generous financial settlement for the deposed anchor.

In the CNN staff meetings, some colleagues seemed to view Zucker’s downfall as an act of revenge.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sarah Palin’s libel case against New York Times opens, a culture clash with lasting legal potential, Sarah Ellison, Feb. 4, 2022 (print ed.). The former Alaska governor (shown in a portrait at right by David Shankbone) claims the paper defamed her with a 2017 editorial that was later corrected, in a case that tests long-standing protections for publishers.

sarah palin david shankbone wA century ago, the publisher of the New York Times scolded an attorney for the newspaper who had just settled a libel lawsuit that had looked as though it would be hard for the paper to win.

“I would never settle a libel lawsuit to save a little money,” Adolph Ochs wrote in a letter to the lawyer. “If we have damaged a person we are prepared to pay all he can get the final court to award.”

That sensibility has guided the newspaper ever since, with the Times generally refusing to settle libel lawsuits for money in this country. Yet it’s also rare for one of these cases to go to trial because of the broad legal protections afforded publishers in the United States.

ny times logoBut the trial that opened on Thursday morning, pitting the Times against former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in a high-stakes showdown over First Amendment principles, could put those protections to the test.

“What am I trying to accomplish? Justice, for people who expect the truth in the media,” Palin told reporters as she entered the Manhattan federal courthouse for the trial over a 2017 editorial she claims defamed her.

But in his opening statements to the jury, an attorney for the New York Times tried to turn down the temperature of the debate, casting the matter as a simple error in presentation that the paper’s editors moved “as quickly as possible” to correct.

Though several editors had reviewed the essay, “no one saw the way some readers would interpret two sentences in that editorial,” said David Axelrod, the Times’s attorney (not to be confused with the same-named adviser to former president Barack Obama).

The case — promising a voyeuristic look inside one of the world’s most powerful news organizations — is a legal tinderbox with the potential to alter more than a half a century of legal precedent granting broad protections to news organizations writing about public figures. But inside the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff, it is also part culture war and media spectacle as the firebrand former Alaska governor claims the largest platform she has enjoyed since she accepted the nomination for vice president at the 2008 Republican convention.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sixteen Penn swimmers say transgender teammate Lia Thomas should not be allowed to compete, Matt Bonesteel, Feb. 4, 2022 (print ed.). Sixteen members of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming team sent a letter to school and Ivy League officials Thursday asking that they not take legal action challenging the NCAA’s recently updated transgender policy. That updated directive has the potential to prevent Penn swimmer Lia Thomas from competing at next month’s NCAA championships, and the letter indicates the 16 other swimmers believe their teammate should be sidelined.

Thomas, a transgender woman who swims for the Quakers women’s team, competed for the Penn men’s team for three seasons. After undergoing more than two years of hormone replacement therapy as part of her transition, she has posted the fastest times of any female college swimmer in two events this season. The letter from Thomas’s teammates raised the question of fairness and said she was taking “competitive opportunities” away from them — namely spots in the Ivy League championship meet, where schools can only send about half of their rosters to compete.

ncaa logo“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically,” the letter read. “However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female. If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”

A transgender college swimmer is shattering records, sparking a debate over fairness

Thomas’s teammates did not identify themselves in the letter. It was sent by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic swimming gold medalist, lawyer and chief executive of Champion Women, a women’s sports advocacy organization. She said in a telephone interview that she sent the letter on the swimmers’ behalf so they could avoid retaliation; in the letter, the swimmers claim they were told “we would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer” if they spoke out against Thomas’s inclusion in women’s competition.

washington post logoWashington Post, Gov. Noem signs transgender athlete ban into law in South Dakota, John Wagner, Feb. 4, 2022. South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), right, signed legislation Thursday that bans transgender girls and college-age women from playing on female sports teams, calling it “an act to protect fairness in women’s sports.”

kristi noemWith Noem’s signature, South Dakota became the 10th state nationwide to enact such a ban, some of which are now facing legal challenges. She was the first governor this year to sign one into law.

“This bill has been an important priority for a lot of the people behind me,” Noem said during a signing ceremony at the state Capitol in Pierre, where she was flanked by bill advocates, “and I appreciate all of their hard work in making sure that girls will always have the opportunity to play in girls sports in South Dakota and have an opportunity for a level playing field, for fairness, that gives them the chance to experience success.”

Opponents have derided such legislation as discriminatory and harmful to the development of transgender children.

“The governor’s eagerness to pass a bill attacking transgender kids reveals that her national political aspirations override any sense of responsibility she has to fulfill her oath to protect South Dakotans,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Gov. Noem and South Dakota legislators need to stop playing games with vulnerable children. Transgender children are children. They deserve the ability to play with their friends.”

Feb. 3

washington post logoWashington Post, Facebook loses users for the first time in its history, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Will Oremus and Rachel Lerman, Feb. 3, 2022. Facebook parent Meta’s quarterly earnings report on Wednesday revealed a startling statistic: For the first time ever, the company’s growth is stagnating around the world.

facebook logoFacebook lost daily users for the first time in its 18-year history — falling by about half a million users in the last three months of 2021, to 1.93 billion logging in each day. The loss was greatest in Africa and Latin America, suggesting that the company’s product is saturated globally — and that its long quest to add as many users as possible has peaked.

Meta’s stock price plummeted more than 20 percent in after-hours trading following the news, dropping to about $249 per share and threatening to wipe about $200 billion off its market value. The company is facing challenges on multiple fronts, as competitor TikTok booms, federal and international regulators scrutinize its business practices, and it begins a lofty transition to focus on the “metaverse.”

mark zuckerberg G8 summit deauville wFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, made the announcement at Connect, the company’s annual hardware event where it talks about products like the Portal video devices and Oculus headsets.

The rebranding — pegged to a virtual world and hardware known as the “metaverse” — comes amid a broader effort to shift attention away from revelations that it knew its platform was causing a litany of social harms. The Facebook social network is not changing its name.

“From now on, we’re going to be the metaverse first. Not Facebook first,” Zuckerberg said in his keynote. “Right now, our brand is so tightly linked to one product that it can’t possibly represent everything we are doing.”

ny times logoNew York Times, A Change by Apple Is Tormenting Internet Companies, Especially Meta, Kate Conger and Brian X. Chen, Feb. 3, 2022. Meta’s stock prices plunged after the company reported that Apple’s privacy features would cost it billions this year. It’s not the only tech giant to take a hit.

apple logo rainbowApple’s vision of a more private web is not necessarily a more profitable one for internet companies that depend on advertising revenue.

That lesson was clear on Wednesday in an earnings report from Meta, the company that Mark Zuckerberg, right, founded as Facebook. Meta said that privacy features introduced by Apple last year could cost Mr. Zuckerberg’s company $10 billion in lost sales this year.

facebook logoThe news, along with increased spending as Meta tries to focus on the new idea of a metaverse, dropped Meta’s stock price more than 26 percent on Thursday morning. Mr. Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Apple’s changes and new privacy regulations in Europe represented “a clear trend where less data is available to deliver personalized ads.”

Meta’s warning and its cratering stock price were reminders that even among tech giants, Apple holds extraordinary sway because of its control of the iPhone. And the tech industry received a clear notice that a long-planned shift in how people’s information may be used online was having a dramatic impact on Madison Avenue and internet companies that have spent years building businesses around selling ads.

“People can’t really be targeted the way they were before,” said Eric Seufert, a media strategist and author of Mobile Dev Memo, a blog about mobile advertising. “That breaks the model. It’s not just an inconvenience that can be fixed with a couple of tweaks. It requires rebuilding the foundation of the business.”

Other internet companies that depend on ads felt the tremors, too. But smaller outfits appear to have been more nimble than Meta in their response to Apple’s changes.

Apple’s changes have far-reaching repercussions that may hurt consumers’ wallets, Mr. Seufert said, though consumers are overwhelmingly choosing not to be tracked.

Apple made significant changes to the privacy settings of its mobile operating system last year, allowing iPhone users to choose whether advertisers could track them. Since Apple introduced the feature, a vast majority of iPhone users have opted to block tracking.

Only 24 percent of iPhone users around the world have consented to being tracked by advertisers, according to data published in December by the analytics company Flurry. That means that a broad swath of iPhone users are evading the personal tracking preferred by advertisers.

It has been a dismaying shift for advertisers, which have for years tracked people online in order to determine how many sales their clients were making. Advertisers also rely on tracking to resurface products that consumers have viewed but not yet purchased, reminding them that it might be time to buy. But for privacy activists, the change is a welcome check against google logo customsurveillance that puts power back into the hands of everyday technology users.

Google has also made moves that disrupt the advertising industry. Last month, it announced a proposal for how Chrome, the world’s most widely used web browser, might eventually eliminate traditional tracking mechanisms for serving ads. It introduced a new system, Topics, which would inform advertisers of a user’s areas of interest — such as “fitness” or “autos and vehicles” — based on the last three weeks of the user’s web browsing history.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Lawsuit alleges D.C. police leaders flagged FOIA requests from journalists and activists, Radley radley balko catoBalko, right, author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, shown below, Feb. 3, 2022. In March 2019, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department held a public hearing for officer Sean Lojocano, who was accused of performing unneeded and unnecessarily invasive genital searches of city residents.

Among the attendees was Amy Phillips, an MPD critic and public defender in the District. Three days later, Phillips filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a transcript of the hearing. Within less than 90 minutes, the department denied her request, arguing that releasing the transcript would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

That seemed odd to Phillips. The hearing was public, so the transcript should have been public, too. She appealed the denial to the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, which directed the department to produce the transcript, but allowed some redactions. Almost three years after the public hearing, the department still hasn’t provided an unredacted transcript.

radley balko warrior coverIn the police department’s actions, Phillips had noticed a pattern: The police had stonewalled or denied her other FOIA requests, too — and the denials were usually quick. In 2020, she learned why, courtesy of a whistleblower: Vendette Parker, the department’s head FOIA officer from October 2017 until her retirement in January 2020.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in D.C. federal district court, Phillips — citing a sworn declaration from Parker — alleges that then-D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham instructed the department’s FOIA compliance officers to inform him of all incoming requests, and to flag any requests that could embarrass Newsham or the department. The chief and other senior officials would then meet with the FOIA officers to discuss strategies on how to delay, deny or otherwise frustrate those requests. (Disclosure: Phillips is a friend. She also says her lawsuit is not related to her job with the D.C. Public Defender Service.)

According to her declaration, Parker says that on her first day as a FOIA officer, she was told to flag any requests from reporters who had written or aired negative stories about the police department, any people or groups engaged in litigation against the department, any requests for the personal emails of Newsham or D.C. Police Chief Operating Officer Leeann Turner, and any other requests that could reflect poorly on the department or its leadership.

Parker’s declaration provides examples of people and groups whose requests received added scrutiny, including Phillips, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Anti-Defamation League, and reporters with the city’s CBS and Fox affiliates. Parker alleges she was also told to flag any requests for information related to stop-and-frisk policies, disciplinary hearings and the city’s controversial Gun Recovery Unit.

According to Parker, Turner told her not only to flag such requests, but to also write up possible responses that would justify the department denying or obstructing those requests. In other instances, she was asked to just delay potentially damaging requests until D.C. police officials could formulate a response. She claims she was also told to bring her proposed responses in hard copy form so there would be no record of them.

“While we haven’t been formally served with the suit, MPD will not discuss specific allegations due to the pending litigation,” said Officer Hugh Carew, a police spokesman. “We do acknowledge the serious nature of the claims. Transparency with our community partners is necessary to maintaining trust and agency accountability. A thorough review of the assertions will be completed and appropriately acted upon.”

 

jeff zucker cnn

ny times logoNew York Times, Jeff Zucker Exits CNN After Relationship With Senior Executive, Michael M. Grynbaum, Feb. 3, 2022 (print ed.). The relationship came up during the network’s investigation into the former anchor Chris Cuomo. “I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t,” Mr. Zucker wrote in a memo to colleagues.

Jeff Zucker resigned on Wednesday as the president of CNN and the chairman of WarnerMedia’s news and sports division, writing in a memo that he had failed to disclose to the company a romantic relationship with another senior executive at CNN.

CNNMr. Zucker, 56, is among the most powerful leaders in the American media and television industries. The abrupt end of his nine-year tenure immediately throws into flux the direction of CNN and its parent company, WarnerMedia, which is expected to be acquired later this year by Discovery Inc. in one of the nation’s largest media mergers.

In a memo to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Zucker wrote that his relationship came up during a network investigation into the conduct of Chris Cuomo, the CNN anchor who was fired in December over his involvement in the political affairs of his brother, former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

“As part of the investigation into Chris Cuomo’s tenure at CNN, I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years,” Mr. Zucker wrote. “I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong.”

“As a result, I am resigning today,” he wrote.

Allison GollustMr. Zucker was referring to Allison Gollust, right, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer and one of the highest-ranking leaders of the network, who is closely involved in major business and communications decisions.
Daily business updates The latest coverage of business, markets and the economy, sent by email each weekday. Get it sent to your inbox.

Ms. Gollust said in a statement on Wednesday that she was remaining in her role at CNN.

“Jeff and I have been close friends and professional partners for over 20 years,” she wrote. “Recently, our relationship changed during Covid. I regret that we didn’t disclose it at the right time. I’m incredibly proud of my time at CNN and look forward to continuing the great work we do everyday.”

Both Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust are divorced.

In a memo to WarnerMedia employees, Jason Kilar, the company’s chief executive, acknowledged that he had accepted Mr. Zucker’s resignation, adding, “We will be announcing an interim leadership plan shortly.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Four men arrested in connection with overdose death of Michael K. Williams, Justice Department says, Sonia Rao, Feb. 3, 2022 (print ed.). Four men were arrested this week in connection with the actor Michael K. Williams’s fatal drug overdose, New York authorities announced Wednesday. Williams, best known for his critically acclaimed turn as Omar Little in HBO’s “The Wire,” died in September at age 54.

The men were part of a drug trafficking group based in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, according to a Department of Justice news release. All four were charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and heroin, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 40. The man seen handing Williams the fentanyl-laced heroin in surveillance footage was also charged with causing his death, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum life sentence.

Justice Department log circular“This is a public health crisis. And it has to stop,” Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “Deadly opioids like fentanyl and heroin don’t care about who you are or what you’ve accomplished. They just feed addiction and lead to tragedy. The Southern District of New York and our law enforcement partners will not give up. We will bring every tool to bear.”

Williams, also lauded for his roles in shows such as “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country,” was found dead Sept. 6 in his Brooklyn apartment. The New York City chief medical examiner’s office ruled his death accidental later that month.

“The Wire” co-creators David Simon and Ed Burns hadn’t intended for Omar to figure into the Baltimore-set show for as long as he did, but kept him on because of Williams’s powerful performance. Simon wrote in an essay published after Williams’s death that he “gave us an astounding gift — an act of faith from a magnificent actor who could have played his hand very differently.”

ny times logoNew York Times, NBC Opens Olympics With ‘Worst Hand Imaginable,’ John Koblin, Feb. 3, 2022. Last year, NBC Sports executives olympics 2022 beijing winter logocalled the Tokyo Olympics their most challenging undertaking ever.

Now that experience is starting to look like a cakewalk.

nbc logoFor this month's Winter Games in Beijing, NBC confronts an even trickier mix of challenges, threatening to diminish one of the network’s signature products and one of the last major draws to broadcast television.

The list of headaches is long: an event nearly free of spectators, draining excitement from the arena and ski slopes; the threat of star athletes testing positive for Covid, potentially dashing their Olympic dreams; and the vast majority of its announcers, including Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, offering color commentary from a network compound in Stamford, Conn., instead of China.

The rising political tensions between the United States and China, including over China’s human rights abuses, add a troubling cloud to a typically feel-good spectacle.

Feb. 2

 Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, ANTIFA Week: Day Three -- Turning America into a massive Bebelplatz, Wayne wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallMadsen, left, author of 21 books, including the recent The Rise of the Fascist Fourth Reich: The Era of Trumpism and the Far Right (shown below) and former Navy intelligence officer, Feb. 2, 2022. No visit to Berlin is complete unless a visit is paid to the Night of Shame Memorial on the Bebelplatz, formerly called Opera Square.

On May 13, 1933, university students, who were coaxed by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, burned some 25,000 books that were considered to be "un-German." To the accompaniment of bands playing Nazi martial music, the book burners wayne madesen report logohad succumbed to the raving and ranting of Goebbels and his Nazi cohorts.

The plaque at the Night of Shame Memorial bears a mindful warning: "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." ("That was only a prelude; where they burn wayne madsen fourth reich coverbooks, they will in the end also burn people)." The prophetic words were written by German poet and writer Heinrich Heine in 1820.

The few surviving veterans of America's and the civilized world's battle against the forces of fascism in World War II would have ever believed that Nazi-style book burning -- along with book banning, which the Nazis also practiced -- would ever occur in the United States. However, this very core principle of fascist ideology has been unleashed by America's inheritor of Adolf Hitler's demagoguery and fanaticism -- Donald Trump.

The state of Tennessee has become a mini-Bebelplatz for fascist book burners and banners.

The book banners and burners have been incentivized by Republican racist and fascist governors like Greg Abbott of Texas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, and others who have decided that by attacking public schools, colleges, and universities they can further their standing with the pro-Trump political ranks.

If Trump, like Goebbels and Hitler, gives the word that he wants certain books banned or burned, expect nighttime bonfires to spread across the nation and the world. The fascist and Nazi threat is now so much of a clear and present danger, the testament on the plaque on the Bebelplatz now has as much meaning as it did on May 13, 1933.

HuffPost, Rudy Giuliani Revealed As Masked Singer Contestant: Reports, Lydia O'Connor, Feb. 2, 2022. Horrified judges Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke reportedly walked off in protest.

Rudy Giuliani, the man who tried to help Donald Trump overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election, has taken on a new gig as a contestant on Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” Deadline and TMZ reported Wednesday.

During last week’s taping for the upcoming season, Giuliani ― concealed in a costume that could be anything from a giant taco with a tomato for a head to some glittering, disembodied lips ― reportedly took off his disguise and revealed himself to the judges, who weren’t all pleased to see the former Trump adviser involved in the production.

Judges Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke walked off the stage in protest before eventually returning, Deadline reported, but the two other judges, Jenny McCarthy and Nicole Scherzinger, remained and “bantered” with Giuliani, who was recently subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Giuliani was one the speakers at Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally contesting the 2020 election results that Congress was getting ready to certify. The former New York City mayor told the crowd that voting machines were rigged and that the matter needed to be settled with “trial by combat.”

If Giuliani appears as reported ― singing and dancing before a panel of celebrities attempting to guess his identity ― he’ll be following in the footsteps of the GOP’s former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who competed in the show in 2020 as a pink and purple tie-dye bear.

Does Giuliani even sing? Does he dance? There aren’t many examples of either, but he was spotted swinging a napkin around in the air while a Major Lazer song played at a restaurant in Israel in 2018.

Feb. 1

 

nso group logo

washington post logoWashington Post, NSO offered ‘bags of cash’ for access to U.S. cell networks, whistleblower claims, Craig Timberg, Feb. 1, 2022. 
Rep. Ted Lieu asks the Justice Department to investigate after hearing the account of what he called ‘fishy’ behavior.

The surveillance company NSO Group offered to give representatives of an American mobile-security firm “bags of cash” in exchange for access to global cellular networks, according to a whistleblower who has described the encounter in confidential disclosures to the Justice Department that have been reviewed by The Washington Post.

The mobile-phone security expert Gary Miller alleges that the offer came during a conference call in August 2017 between NSO Group officials and representatives of his employer at the time, Mobileum, a California-based company that provides security services to cellular companies worldwide. The NSO officials specifically were seeking access to what is called the SS7 network, which helps cellular companies route calls and services as their users roam the world, according to Miller.

Surveillance companies try to access cellular communication networks to geolocate targets and provide other spying services. Cellular companies seek to prevent such intrusions by restricting access to the SS7 network and using firewalls to block computer queries that seek personal information on their customers.

Miller’s allegations are becoming public at a time when the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into NSO over allegations that its clients have illegally hacked phones and misused computer networks with the company’s technology, according to four people familiar with the probe who described elements of it on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not authorized for public disclosure. These people did not know what role, if any, Miller’s allegation is playing in that investigation or whether charges ultimately will be filed against NSO, which is based in Israel.

washington post logoWashington Post, The New York Times buys Wordle, the ultra-popular online word game, Elahe Izadi, Feb. 1, 2022 (print ed.). The New York Times announced Monday it has bought Wordle, the free once-a-day online word game that exploded in popularity in recent months.

The Times spent an undisclosed figure on the game, but described it in the “low-seven figures.” The company said in a statement that “at the time it moves to The New York Times, Wordle will be free to play for new and existing players, and no changes will be made to its gameplay.” The migration will happen “very shortly,” a spokesman said.

It’s a notable acquisition for the news organization, which has a goal of reaching 10 million digital subscribers by 2025 and has singled out the games and cooking parts of its business as “a key part” of its strategy. As of December 2021, New York Times Games and Cooking had 1 million subscribers each.

Software engineer Josh Wardle created the game in January 2021 for his partner Palak Shah, who loved word puzzles, particularly the Times’s “Spelling Bee” and daily crossword.

The Wrap, Fox News Notches 20 Straight Years as Top-Rated Cable News Network, Lindsey Ellefson, Feb. 1, 2022. January ratings are in and, per Nielsen Media Research data, Fox News just set a big record: The network officially capped off 20 straight years as the top-rated cable news channel.

Notably, “The Five” continued its ratings success, ending the month as the most-viewed show in cable news, which is a unique feat for a non-primetime program. Tucker Carlson’s 8 p.m. ET juggernaut led the way in the advertiser-coveted age demographic of 25 to 54.

fox news logo SmallFox News ended January as the top cable news channel in both total day viewers and primetime viewers. It has been the most-watched cable news network by both metrics since 2002. “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy told TheWrap in October of last year that when he started with the network at its inception 25 years ago, “it didn’t look good” and the team thought “market leader” CNN was tough competition. Five years later, the channel took the lead and never let it go.

Here’s how the numbers for January break down, per Nielsen: Fox News nabbed 1.414 million total-day viewers, on average, with 226,000 of those in the key demo. MSNBC took second place in total average viewers, pulling in 656,000, but took third place in the demo with 74,000. CNN was in last place in total viewers, averaging 493,000, but in second place in the demo with 101,000.

In primetime, Fox News brought in 2.242 million average total viewers, with 338,000 in the demo. Again, MSNBC took second place in total average primetime viewers, pulling in 1.15 million, but last place in the demo, securing 130,000. CNN nabbed 633,000 total average viewers between 8 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. ET, of whom 140,000 were between 25 and 54.

The top five cable news programs in total viewership and demo viewership all belonged to Fox News. In total average viewers, “The Five” led the way with 3.573 million, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” averaged 3.414 million, “Hannity” took in 2.862 million, “Special Report with Bret Baier” nabbed 2.616 million and the 7 p.m. ET hour brought in 2.385 million, on average. “Jesse Watters Primetime” premiered in the 7 p.m. hour during the final week of January. Prior to Watters’ ascension to his own pre-primetime solo gig, the hour was helmed by rotating hosts. Watters’ program nabbed 3.3 million average viewers and 490,000 demo viewers, on average, in its first week.

The top five programs in the demo for the month were “Tucker Carlson Tonight” with an average of 560,000 viewers between 25 and 54, “The Five” with 504,000, “Hannity” with 433,000, the 7 p.m. ET hour with 388,000 and “Special Report with Bret Baier” with 387,000. Watters’ first week hosting “Primetime” drew 490,000 viewers in the demo, on average.

 

January 2022 Update

Jan. 31

BBC News, Fact Check on Joe Rogan: Four claims from his Spotify podcast fact-checked, Reality Check team, Jan. 31, 2022. The Joe bbc news logo2Rogan Experience is Spotify's most popular podcast.

Joe Rogan has been criticised for helping spread misinformation on his podcast. Spotify reportedly paid $100m (£75m) in 2020 for rights to The Joe Rogan Experience, which is the streaming service's top podcast. It is reportedly downloaded almost 200 million times a month.

joe rogan logoOn the show, the US broadcaster hosts a wide variety of guests who discuss their views on a range of topics - but some episodes have featured false and misleading claims.

Here are four of them fact-checked.

Claim: A vaccine can alter your genes

Mr Rogan said: "This is not a vaccine, this is essentially a gene therapy." But this is not true. None of the Covid vaccines change your genetic material or DNA - essentially the recipe book containing the instructions of how to build your body.

Claim: Ivermectin can cure Covid

This claim was made on an episode last year featuring Bret Weinstein, an American author and professor of biology, who said: "Ivermectin alone is capable of driving this pathogen to extinction."

spotify logoBBC Reality Check looked at a series of research papers claiming to show the effectiveness of this drug in treating Covid. Many were very low quality, and in some cases the data had been clearly manipulated. If you look only at rigorously carried out studies, there is no evidence of the drug's effectiveness.

Campaigners often cherry-pick positive examples and ignore the fact that many countries which relied heavily on ivermectin, like Brazil and Peru, had some of the worst death tolls from the virus.

The world-leading experts on reviewing medical evidence, Cochrane, concluded based on just these reliable trials that there was "insufficient evidence" to recommend the drug.

Claim: If you get vaccinated after having had Covid, you're at greater risk of harmful side effects

One of Mr Rogan's most controversial guests has been the virologist Robert Malone. Mr Malone was banned from Twitter in December last year for violating its Covid misinformation policies. He appeared on Mr Rogan's podcast shortly afterwards.

Among the misleading claims made in this podcast episode was one suggesting people who are vaccinated after having Covid-19 are at greater risk of adverse side effects. Following his appearance, more than 270 doctors and healthcare professionals signed a letter to Spotify, calling for Covid misinformation to be addressed.

Robust studies so far have shown that a very small number of conditions -- blood clots, heart inflammation -- are slightly more likely after certain vaccines, although are still very rare. In one UK study, researchers found that vaccine after effects were more common in those who already had Covid.

However, this study only looked at mild after effects, such as fatigue, chills and headaches.

Claim: For young people, the health risks from the vaccine are greater than from Covid

Mr Rogan said: "I don't think it's true there's an increased risk of myocarditis from people catching Covid-19 that are young, versus the risk from the vaccine."

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that has been raised as a rare side effect of vaccination.

However, research has shown that this condition, which can lead to shortness of breath, chest pain and in very rare cases to heart failure, is considerably more common after a Covid infection than after vaccination -- as is also the case with blood clots.

It also appears that cases of myocarditis post-vaccination are generally milder and shorter-lasting.

Mr Rogan later corrected himself, but has made several other comments suggesting young people shouldn't be vaccinated as they are at low risk from Covid-19.

It's certainly the case that younger people are at much lower risk of serious illness from Covid, but they are not at zero risk of developing complications. Covid itself has been found to be a bigger risk than the vaccines in every age group for which they have been approved. The vaccines, particularly after a booster, can also reduce your chances of catching the virus and therefore passing it on to others.

ny times logoNew York Times, Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S., Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter, Jan. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Challenges to books about sexual and racial identity are nothing new in American schools, but the tactics and politicization are.

In Wyoming, a county prosecutor’s office considered charges against library employees for stocking books like “Sex Is a Funny Word” and “This Book Is Gay.”

In Oklahoma, a bill was introduced in the State Senate that would prohibit public school libraries from keeping books on hand that focus on sexual activity, sexual identity or gender identity.

In Tennessee, the McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth-grade module on the Holocaust because of nudity and curse words.

Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an “unprecedented” 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books, last fall.

“It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, even if efforts to press charges have so far failed.

Such challenges have long been a staple of school board meetings, but it isn’t just their frequency that has changed, according to educators, librarians and free-speech advocates — it is also the tactics behind them and the venues where they play out. Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are now pushing the challenges into statehouses, law enforcement and political races.

“The politicalization of the topic is what's different than what I’ve seen in the past,” said Britten Follett, the chief executive of content at Follett School Solutions, one of the country’s largest providers of books to K-12 schools. “It’s being driven by legislation, it’s being driven by politicians aligning with one side or the other. And in the end, the librarian, teacher or educator is getting caught in the middle.”

Among the most frequent targets are books about race, gender and sexuality, like George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

National Catholic Reporter, 2 Catholic school teachers fired over student journalist's pro-choice essay, Brian Fraga, Jan 31, 2022. The Dec. 16, 2021, issue of the student magazine Elevate had just published when Maria Lynch, a faculty journalism adviser at Regis Jesuit High School received an email from Principal Jimmy Tricco.

"Provocative piece for sure, which makes for good conversation," Tricco wrote in reference to "The Battle for [Our] Bodies," an opinion essay that a female student at the Catholic school in Aurora, Colorado, had written in favor of abortion rights.

In that email, a copy of which Lynch provided to NCR, Tricco twice thanked her and Nicole Arduini, the other faculty journalism adviser, for their work in publishing the latest issue of Elevate. Tricco also said he appreciated the student sharing her thoughts and added that he would reach out to her after the winter break to get her take on the Catholic approach to life issues and the school's mission.

Less than a week later, Tricco and the school's human resources director notified Lynch in an email that she was being fired for "poor judgment" and "personal misconduct" that they said had brought scandal to the school and "seriously damaged" its reputation. They also accused her of "not supporting the Mission and faith dimensions of Regis Jesuit High School."

"It's surprising," Lynch told NCR about the termination notice she received six days after Tricco's original email. Arduini was also fired amid complaints lodged with the school and the Archdiocese of Denver. Regis' administration "retracted in full" Elevate's Dec. 16 issue and is overhauling the school's journalism program.

"I think appropriate corrective action would have been to work with us to edit the editorial policies rather than to fire two teachers who had just started in the position this year," Lynch said.

The editorial policies — which have since been removed from Regis Jesuit's website — stated that faculty advisers could not censor student-written stories and editorials with the exception of content relating to crimes and legal matters, obituaries and termination of school employees. Lynch provided NCR a copy of those policies.

Lynch, who told NCR that she is pro-life and that she "frequently and fearlessly" shared those beliefs with her students and colleagues, said she followed the school's editorial policies.

Jan. 30

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Trump declared war on the media. Now proxy battles are being waged in American courts, Margaret Sullivan, right, Jan. 30, margaret sullivan 2015 photo2022. But none of these landmark cases are as potentially consequential as Sarah Palin’s suit against the New York Times.

From the start of his presidential bid, Donald Trump took full advantage of the public’s growing mistrust of the mainstream press. The journalists tirelessly chronicling the near-daily scandals erupting from his White House were “scum,” he taunted. They were dishonest, he insisted. They were “the enemy of the people.”

HIs adviser Stephen K. Bannon memorably called the media “the opposition party.” Plenty of Americans agreed: These days, even local TV reporters are likely to be blasted as “fake news” as they try to cover school board meetings.

Now, more than a year after Trump’s presidential term ended, three volatile lawsuits forged in the culture-war fire he stoked are making their way through the legal system.

All are defamation suits, and the mere names involved suggest just how hot those flames may get: Sarah Palin, the right-wing lightning rod who gleefully slammed the “lamestream media”; Project Veritas, the hidden-camera “sting” outfit that targets journalists and liberals; Fox News, the conservative cable network that morphed into the Trump White House’s propaganda office; and the New York Times, the pillar of elite journalism that became the object of some of Trump’s most scalding attacks — and is now the defendant in two of the cases.

washington post logoWashington Post, Spotify responds after Joni Mitchell and others join Neil Young and demand the platform remove their content, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 30, 2022. Spotify broke its silence on Sunday and announced slight changes to its policies around content concerning covid-19, after facing a week of criticism for allowing its creators — particularly podcaster Joe Rogan — to spread misinformation about the pandemic.

“You’ve had a lot of questions over the last few days about our platform policies and the lines we have drawn between what is acceptable and what is spotify logonot,” Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, right, wrote in a news release. “We have had rules in place for daniel ek headshotmany years but admittedly, we haven’t been transparent around the policies that guide our content more broadly.”

The new changes include publicly publishing the company’s internal rules for what is allowed on the platform, “testing ways to highlight” those rules to its creators and “working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about COVID-19.”

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” Ek wrote. “In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

The controversy began last week, when rocker Neil Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his music be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on the platform. He singled out Rogan, who hosts “The Joe Rogan joe rogan logoExperience” podcast, as part of his issue with Spotify, writing: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, Spotify began the process of pulling Young’s music, saying in a statement that they “regret” Young’s decision “but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Days later, others began joining Young. Others, including Howard Stern and “The View” host Joy Behar, have argued that while they don’t agree with Rogan, they don’t think the platform should remove his podcast, equating such a move to censorship.

The resulting fallout, according to Variety, found Spotify’s market share falling more than $2 billion last week.

Spotify’s newly published platform rules shed light on why Rogan — who has suggested healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated; praised ivermectin, a medicine used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has no proven anti-covid benefits; and invited prominent conspiracy theorists onto his show — has not been heavily penalized.

The rules include disallowing “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health,” such as asserting that covid-19 is a hoax or “promoting or suggesting that vaccines approved by local health authorities are designed to cause death.”

Rogan doesn’t quite do any of that. He often argues that he’s merely asking questions and has insisted that he’s “not anti-vax.” And he’s particularly skilled at insulating himself from criticism by arguing that he knows nothing, so he can’t tell anyone anything. “I’m not a respected source of information, even for me,” he said.

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real problem with Joe Rogan and Spotify, Lorraine Evanoff, Jan. 30, 2022. American Rock Hall of Fame legend Neil Young has had enough of COVID misinformation. This week Young challenged Spotify to choose between his music, or the podcast of the mendacious Joe Rogan. Spotify opted to keep The Joe Rogan Experience podcast (JRE), causing a public backlash. So many users unsubscribed, Spotify had to freeze cancellations because their system was overwhelmed. Also, Spotify stock is down 10-25%, depending on when you mark the price.

bill palmer report logo headerThe fallout continues, with Spotify drawing unwanted attention to its refusal to create a policy banning misinformation. JRE, the most popular podcast in the world, has been condemned for having several anti-vax guests, including discredited doctor Robert Malone, who was banned from Twitter for promoting Covid-19 misinformation. Rogan and his guests use their notoriety and academic backgrounds to give the appearance of credibility to manipulate listeners into thinking they are being informed, when, in fact, they are being dangerously misinformed. Note that 90% of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID are the unvaccinated.

joe rogan logoThis incident has also refocused attention on social media regulation. The Internet is protected under Section 230 of Title 47 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which gives social media platforms immunity from contributors’ content, “even when they encourage illegal action, deliberately keep up manifestly harmful content, or take a cut of users’ illegal activities,” according to legal experts Citron & Franks.

The extreme right has already highjacked cable television and radio allowing Fox News and other rightwing programmers to skirt FCC regulations. The rightwing extremists have now used Section 230 to highjack the Internet. But they may have gone too far and reform is on the table. According to The Atlantic, Fox News, JRE, and other rightwing influencers promoting dangerous anti-vaccine campaigns to “save the economy,” no longer can use that argument under the booming Biden economy.

Portals such as Wikipedia, who post unsubstantiated claims about public figures, in what normally would be considered “unfair representation” generally actionable in all other media formats, may no longer be considered an ‘interactive computer service’ protected under Section 230 against defamation, when published on an Internet platform. The 1st Amendment states that Congress can make no laws hindering freedom of speech. But Congress and the courts can use current laws to protect U.S. citizens.

 Jan. 29

joni mitchell world cover

washington post logoWashington Post, Joni Mitchell pulls music from Spotify, saying she stands with Neil Young in protesting misinformation, Adela Suliman, Jan. 29, 2022. Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has become the latest artist to demand that her work be removed from music streaming service Spotify, in protest over coronavirus misinformation she said was being featured there.

spotify logoShe said she stood in solidarity with fellow artist Neil Young, who made headlines this week when he posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue of songs be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on joni mitchell clouds coverthe platform.

“I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify,” Mitchell, shown above and at right on two of her major albums, wrote in a brief statement on her website on Friday. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

The singer, who last year celebrated the 50 year anniversary of her album “Blue,” also linked to an open letter signed by medical and scientific professionals calling on Spotify to “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

 

joe exotic tiger king

ny times logoNew York Times, Joe Exotic Is Resentenced to 21 Years for ‘Tiger King’ Murder-for-Hire Plot, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jan. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Last year, a federal appeals court vacated the initial sentence for the plot, which was featured in the Netflix series “Tiger King.” Petitions for pardons from two presidents have also failed.

Joe Exotic, shown above, the former Oklahoma zoo owner who was the central figure in the 2020 Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” was resentenced to 21 years in prison on Friday for the failed murder-for-hire plot targeting Carole Baskin, a self-proclaimed animal-rights activist who had criticized his zoo’s treatment of animals, his lawyers said.

The new sentence reduces his punishment by one year. The original sentence, for 22 years in prison, was vacated as improper by a federal appeals court last summer.

John M. Phillips, a lawyer for Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, said in a statement, “We are unsatisfied with the court’s decision and will appeal.” At a news conference, he said that Mr. Maldonado-Passage was disappointed.

In court documents on Friday, Mr. Maldonado-Passage said, “Please don’t make me deal with cancer in prison waiting on an appeal.”

Jan. 28

Press Run, Commentary on Media: 3 Covid stories the press is getting wrong right now, Eric Boehlert, right, Jan. 28, 2022. Pandemic of the unvaccinated. We eric.boehlertknew there would be organized and partisan vaccine skeptics. But key portions of the Republican Party, as well as Fox News’ entire primetime lineup, urging people not to get vaccinated; warning them the shots might kill them?

The press never anticipated that type of mass, delusional behavior, and today it’s still not sure how the cover the surreal phenomena that continues to unfold.

Nervous about offending Republicans and Fox News by depicting anti-science conservatives as flat-earth deniers who would rather risk the welfare of themselves and families than get a vaccine (developed under Trump!), the press tiptoes around the obvious insanity.

If Covid is a uniquely American problem today, it’s only because one of the two political parties wants it to be.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How Can We Publish Good Science Quickly and Keep Bad Science in Check? Peter Coy, right, Jan. 28, 2022. peter coyPeer review is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the scientific research system. It filters out bad work and makes good work better. But it can also slow down the dispersal of new ideas, which is a big problem when it comes to tackling fast-changing challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic.

And, of course, peer review can fail. Retraction Watch, a website, maintains a list of more than 100 Covid-19 research papers that were peer reviewed, published and then had to be retracted.

On the whole the scientific community has done a good job of managing the peer review challenge. Most research today is released originally in the form of preprints, which are articles that are made widely available even though they haven’t been peer-reviewed. The major scholarly journals, which used to insist on exclusivity, have agreed not to deem a preprint as having been published, which means they will consider it for publication. That way the work gets out quickly and still has a chance to appear in a journal, which entails closer scrutiny (through peer review) and earns the authors a measure of academic repute.

But dissemination of scientific knowledge could be done better. “The limitation is that any idiot can publish any idiotic stuff on a platform that doesn’t have pre-publication peer review,” says Robert West, an emeritus professor of behavioral science and health at University College London and a past editor in chief of Addiction, a scholarly journal. The trick is to develop a system that keeps the speed while reducing the risk that bogus ideas such as treating Covid-19 with ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine will slip through.

In an early stab at collecting and publicizing early-stage work, the National Institutes of Health created a registry for preprints of biology research, but discontinued it in 1967 after the scholarly journals in the field refused (at the time) to consider submissions that had previously posted as preprints, according to a 2020 article in JAMA.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Spotify chose Joe Rogan over Neil Young because it’s not a music company, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 28, 2022. In one corner was Joe Rogan, the stand-up comedian and former “Fear Factor” host turned provocative podcaster.

In the other stood Neil Young, the multi-Grammy-winning rock legend with a lifelong passion for progressive causes.

The battle lasted two days, and Rogan won without making a peep.

neil young spotifyYoung started the scuffle when he posted a letter to his website Monday, addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label, demanding that his music catalogue be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines.”

Specifically, Young cited Joe Rogan — who hosts “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast — and has suggested healthy, young people shouldn’t get vaccinated. After catching the coronavirus, Rogan also praised ivermectin, a medicine used to kill parasites in animals and humans that has no proven anti-viral benefits. “I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he wrote. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, without a word from Rogan, Spotify began the process of removing the famed rocker’s music, including his best-known hits such as “Heart of Gold,” “Harvest Moon” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

spotify logo

The speed of Spotify’s decision to sideline Young was jarring. So why did the company do it?

The answer is simple: This isn’t really a story about Rogan or Young. It’s a story about Spotify. And, despite public perception, Spotify isn’t a music company. It’s a tech company looking to maximize profits.

The company hasn’t been shy about its desire — in 2019, Spotify announced it was planning to spend up to $500 million to acquire companies “in the emerging podcast marketplace.”

That year it purchased Gimlet Media, home of podcasts such as “Reply All,” “Homecoming” and “Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel,” for an estimated $230 million. It also spent more than $100 million on Anchor, a platform that lets users create and share their own podcasts.

The next year, Spotify spent nearly $200 million to acquire the Ringer and its suite of popular podcasts, such as “Binge Mode,” “The Press Box” and its founder’s “The Bill Simmons Podcast.” And, of course, it reportedly spent more than $100 million to acquire exclusive rights to a single show: the extremely popular, rabble-rousing “Joe Rogan Experience.”

“I think it comes down to, just frankly, business,” said John Simson, the program director for the business and entertainment program at American University. “In the music side of things, [Spotify is] paying out roughly 70 percent of all the revenue that comes in. It goes right back out as royalties. They’re looking for other places where the revenue split isn’t that dramatic. … Podcasts were certainly their go-to.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Salt Lake Tribune alerts police to threats to staffers after covid-19 editorial, Erik Wemple, Jan. 28, 2022. The Salt Lake Tribune alerted police to threats that the newspaper received after publishing a Jan. 15 editorial that ripped state leaders for their response to covid-19, according to an email from executive editor Lauren Gustus to subscribers. “Sean Hannity and FoxNews — in addition elected leaders in Utah — talked about the editorial, and we received dozens of threats. Some went to every journalist at The Tribune,” Gustus wrote.

The editorial — “Utah leaders have surrendered to COVID pandemic” — criticized Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen for their handling of a test shortage. “We’re recommending people who have symptoms, they really should stay home, act as if they have covid and not necessarily need to go get tested,” Nolen said at a Jan. 14 news conference.

Although the Tribune praised Cox and other leaders for urging citizens to get vaccinated, it wrote that they “have so proudly stood against the kind of vaccine mandates that civilized society has used for generations to effectively wipe out everything from polio to diphtheria to the measles.”

To all that, the editorial attached a nutty idea: “Were Utah a truly civilized place, the governor’s next move would be to find a way to mandate the kind of mass vaccination campaign we should have launched a year ago, going as far as to deploy the National Guard to ensure that people without proof of vaccination would not be allowed, well, anywhere,” reads the editorial. Governors have used the National Guard to enforce curfews and otherwise patrol areas where unrest has taken root; the National Guard deployed for months in D.C. after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

There’s a difference, however, between securing the Capitol perimeter and restricting freedom of movement across a state measuring nearly 85,000 square miles. How would the plan even work?

“Wow. That’s tyranny, authoritarianism, you name it, and downright terrifying,” Hannity said on his Jan. 18 program.

Dwight Stirling, chief executive of the Center for Law and Military Policy, tells the Erik Wemple Blog via email that no governor could deploy the National Guard to restrict the movement of unvaccinated people. “This would constitute an extraordinary imposition of martial law, one of the most extreme in American history (if not the most extreme),” Stirling writes. “There is nothing in federal or state law that allows National Guard personnel to restrict civilians’ freedom of movement outside of a major civil disturbance.”

According to Gustus, the majority of the threats received by Tribune reporters were not local. Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson tweeted about the piece, and that’s when “it took off,” says Gustus, referring to the backlash. A couple of the threats were severe enough that the paper sent them to the Salt Lake City police department. A spokesperson with the department told the Erik Wemple Blog that she would get back to us if there’s anything to report. The newspaper also brought “abusive followers” to the attention of Twitter.

At a Jan. 6 protest at the Utah Capitol, Salt Lake Tribune photographer Rick Egan was pepper-sprayed by a protester, who had taunted him by saying, “Look at you in your f---ing mask, you p---y.” Gustus wrote, “Rick has worked for The Tribune for more than 36 years. He’s the photographer who shows up at an event on his day off because he believes so deeply in what he does.”

The Tribune has devoted more time and funds to security precautions in recent months, according to Gustus. One of her concerns is that staffers’ addresses and other personal information might linger on the Internet, so the newspaper has advised them to engage services that scrub that material from public view and expense the cost to the newspaper. She has also had conversations with some reporters about enhancing security at their homes.

The Tribune in 2019 switched to nonprofit status after finding itself in a “precarious” financial position. Last November, Gustus declared the paper “sustainable” and noted that the newsroom was 23 percent bigger than a year before. In her letter to subscribers, Gustus included a donation appeal. “And so despite the death threats, we will continue to serve as a check against those in power. Every day. Our resolve is stronger than ever,” she wrote.

“Misinformation is seeping down into the cracks of our daily lives because of what’s happened over the past two years,” Gustus told the Erik Wemple Blog, “and we’ve got to be stronger than ever in our resolve to do local journalism.”

MSNBC, TikTokers spam Virginia GOP governor's tip line for snitching on teachers, Ja'han Jones, Jan. 28, 2022. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin clearly msnbc logo Customthought a tip line (read: snitch line) that would allow conservative parents to rat out educators accused of teaching critical race theory would go over well. In light of recent news, I have to agree.

glenn youngkinAfter Youngkin, right, on Monday announced a new email address for parents to send in their complaints, zealous Gen Zers on TikTok banded together with a plot to flood the inbox with trolling emails. The result was glorious. The advocacy group Gen-Z for Change created a website that allows users — in just a few clicks — to send prewritten emails containing song lyrics to Youngkin’s tip line.

tiktok logo square Custom“I’m indescribably angry with right-wing pundits trying to stoke nonexistent division while the U.S. is actively being labeled a backsliding democracy,” Sofia Ongele, the creator of the website, told Insider. “Seeing that Glenn Youngkin was trying to vilify educators, I thought I would do everyone a favor and take that tip line down.”

Youngkin ran a campaign that sought support from white parents in Virginia by playing to their outrage over school lesson plans about inequality. But many Gen Zers don’t share that warped view of the world, and Youngkin is quickly learning they have a variety of ways to make that known.

washington post logoWashington Post, Conspiracy theorists, banned on major social networks, spread message on newsletters, podcasts, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Jan. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Newsletter company Substack is making millions off anti-vaccine content, according to estimates.

Joseph Mercola, right, a leading anti-vaccine advocate whose screeds have been restricted by YouTube and Facebook, this month warned that the joseph mercolaunvaccinated might soon be imprisoned in government-run camps. The week before, he circulated a study purporting to use government data to prove that more children had died from covid shots than from the coronavirus itself.

Shut down by major social media platforms, Mercola has found a new way to spread these debunked claims: on Substack, the subscription-based newsletter platform that is increasingly a hub for controversial and often misleading perspectives about the coronavirus.

Substack, which researchers from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate say makes millions of dollars off anti-vaccine misinformation, on Wednesday defended its tolerance for publishing “writers with whom we strongly disagree.”

Prominent figures known for spreading misinformation, such as Mercola, have flocked to Substack, podcasting platforms and a growing number of right-wing social media networks over the past year after getting kicked off or restricted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Now these alternative platforms are beginning to face some of the scrutiny that has imperiled social media services. But there’s a fundamental difference in the architecture of newsletters and podcasts when compared to that of social media companies. Social networks use algorithms to spread content — sometimes misinformation — to users who don’t want to see it. Newsletters and podcasts don’t.

These newer platforms cater to subscribers who seek out specific content that accommodates their viewpoints — potentially making the services less responsible for spreading harmful views, some misinformation experts say. At the same time, the platforms are exposing tens of thousands of people to misinformation each month — content that can potentially lead people to engage in behaviors that endanger themselves and others.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Current weather: Snowflakes in the red states, Dana Milbank, right, Jan. 28, 2022. If we see any more snowflakes appear in red dana milbank neweststates, the National Weather Service is going to have to issue a blizzard warning.

Tennessee made news this week when it was reported that rural McMinn County took the initiative of banning from classrooms the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman, which teaches children about the Holocaust by portraying Jews as mice and Nazis as cats.

So the state once celebrated for Davy Crockett’s bravery now fears a cartoon mouse exposing teens to indecorous language. Can’t get more snowflakey than that.

Spiegelman joins the good company of Nobel-laureate Toni Morrison (whose debut novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was banned in Wentzville, Mo., on Jan. 20), “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah (whose memoir survived a ban attempt in Osseo, Minn., last month) and Margaret Atwood (whose “The Handmaid’s Tale” was targeted in Goddard, Kan., in November) — as well as scores of other books, the vast majority of which have protagonists who are Black, or LGBTQ, or perceived as being anti-police.

McMinn County’s banning of Spiegelman’s mice comes almost a century after Tennessee tried to ban Darwin’s monkeys in the Scopes trial. The Volunteer State, apparently, is not evolving. And the political right, it seems, has undergone reverse evolution. Its new theory: survival of the fussiest.

The American Library Association tells me that there were 330 “challenges” in the three months between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1, 2021, with December still to be tallied. That compares with just 156 in all of 2020, and 377 in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. This means book bannings are happening at roughly quadruple the previous pace.

Jan. 27

 

tucker carlson fox horizontal

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Republican Rift on Ukraine Could Undercut U.S. Appeals to Allies, Jonathan Weisman, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). G.O.P. leaders are attacking President Biden for what they call a weak response to Russian aggression, but their far-right flank is questioning U.S. involvement, and even its alliance with Kyiv.

As President Biden tries to forge a united allied response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, unity on the home front is strained by a Republican Party torn between traditional hawks in the leadership and a wing still loyal to Donald J. Trump’s isolationist instincts and pro-Russian sentiment.

Republican leaders, by and large, have struck an aggressive posture, encouraging Mr. Biden to get tougher on Russia, through immediate sanctions on Russian energy exports and more lethal aid to Ukraine’s military. But that message has been undermined by the party’s far right, which has questioned why the United States would side with Ukraine at all, and has obliquely suggested with no evidence that the president is bolstering his son Hunter Biden’s business interests.

Driven by a steady diet of pro-Russian or anti-interventionist rhetoric from the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the Republican right has become increasingly vocal in undercutting not only U.S. foreign policy but also the positions of the party’s leaders.

The Republican representatives Matt Rosendale of Montana, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; the Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance; and Donald Trump Jr. have weighed in to oppose confronting Russia or to suggest nefarious intentions on Mr. Biden’s part. Mr. Trump told the conservative podcast host Lou Dobbs that Mr. Biden’s reported plan to send as many as 50,000 troops to bolster Europe’s defenses was “crazy.”

Representative Michael R. Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, went on Fox News to confront Mr. Carlson.

“Why would we take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side?” Mr. Carlson pushed. “It’s a sincere question.”

Mr. Turner responded: “Ukraine is a democracy. Russia is an authoritarian regime that is seeking to impose its will upon a validly elected democracy in Ukraine, and we’re on the side of democracy.”

Such confrontations have muddied the Republican response, but more concerning are worries that the right could prompt U.S. allies to question Washington’s resolve. On a conference call on Wednesday with Ukrainian Americans, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, expressed alarm about “the rhetoric of the far right.”

“Our allies are watching closely for signs of division here,” he said in an interview after the call. “The good news is, I detect no real traction of those messages from my Republican colleagues.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Mexico offers bodyguards and bulletproof vests to vulnerable journalists. It hasn’t been enough, Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul and Kevin Sieff, Jan. 27, 2022. Veteran news reporter María de Lourdes Maldonado López knew there were people who wanted her dead, so she applied for the only protection she knew: an unusual Mexican government program that promised to defend vulnerable journalists with state-funded bodyguards, bulletproof vests and other protection.

Maldonado López seemed certain to qualify. She was a well-known broadcast journalist in Tijuana, where for years she had received threats, including two attacks on her car and multiple promises to hunt her down.

More than 140 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, making it one of the deadliest countries in the world for members of the news media. A decade ago, authorities attempted a solution: the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, a government-funded private security service for reporters, photographers and activists under threat.

At least 467 journalists are registered in the $23 million-a-year program, which offers a range of safeguards: full-time bodyguards, antiballistic gear, at-home panic buttons and surveillance cameras. In some cases, the government relocates journalists to different parts of the country, a kind of witness protection program for reporters.

Maldonado López applied for protection through the state of Baja California. Her colleague Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, a freelance photographer in Tijuana who had become the target of a Facebook smear campaign, was in the process of applying.

Both knew the dangers of reporting in Tijuana. Sometimes the threats came from organized crime. Sometimes they came from government officials. Applying for protection from the state was not ideal, but it was the only affordable protection they could find.

 

neil young spotify

washington post logoWashington Post, Spotify pulls Neil Young’s music after his ultimatum against Joe Rogan and vaccine misinformation, Travis M. Andrews, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Spotify is in the process of removing Neil Young’s music two days after Young posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue be removed in response to the “fake information about vaccines” on the platform.

neil young album cover“We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators,” a Spotify spokesman told The Washington Post in a statement. “We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to covid-19 since the spotify logostart of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

Young’s letter, which has since been deleted, was addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label and cited Joe Rogan by name as part of his issue with Spotify. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” he wrote in the letter, according to Rolling Stone. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” the letter continued. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

washington post logoWashington Post, YouTube permanently bans Fox News host Dan Bongino for posting covid misinformation, Gerrit De Vynck, Jan. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The conservative media figure already has a bigger following on video streaming platform Rumble. Google-owned YouTube said it had permanently banned prominent conservative media figure Don Bongino from its site after he repeatedly broke its rules on posting coronavirus misinformation.

dan bonginoBongino, right, who hosts a show on Fox News in addition to talk radio shows and online broadcasts, had been given a strike and a week-long suspension from YouTube earlier in January for saying in one of his videos that masks were useless. He uploaded another video later in the month that also broke the platform’s rules on coronavirus misinformation. When he tried to upload a third video, the company banned him permanently.

Pro-Trump influencers flocked to alternative social networks. Their follower counts stalled soon after.

youtube logo CustomYouTube has had rules against posting false or misleading information about the coronavirus and vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic, although critics have said the company enforces its rules unevenly. In September, it took down the accounts of several anti-vaccine influencers after years of research from misinformation researchers suggesting the platform played a role in the growth of vaccine hesitancy.

Bongino did not respond to a request for comment, but a Twitter account associated with one of his shows posted a tweet saying, “Good riddance to YouTube.” Bongino had around 870,000 subscribers on YouTube but has over 2 million on Rumble, a video platform popular with right-wing figures who say Big Tech is censoring them. He had threatened to leave YouTube before the ban.

Dan Bongino threatened to quit his radio show over a vaccine mandate. So, why hasn’t he?

Bongino is one of a small handful of conservative figures who have been handed permanent suspensions from the big social media companies. President Donald Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Twitter also permanently banned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) this month after she also repeatedly posted false information about the coronavirus, though she is still able to use her official congressional Twitter account. For the most part, the social media companies have instead opted for short-term suspensions. Trump is also banned from Facebook and YouTube, but the companies have both left the door open to letting him return.

Bongino and other conservative media figures have used the bans and suspensions to promote alternative social media networks that purport to have fewer rules about what can and can’t be said, such as Gettr, Gab, Telegram and Rumble. A Washington Post analysis of audience data for 47 right-wing influencers showed that when they moved to one of the alternative networks, their follower counts jumped but then quickly stagnated and stopped growing at the same speed as they had on the more mainstream networks.

Jan. 26

 

steve bannon exlarge

washington post logoWashington Post, Bannon was deplatformed. Now an obscure media mogul keeps him on air, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). ‘War Room’ is at the center of a fledgling network monetizing what some employees saw as ‘Trump propaganda.’

Two years after being cast out of the White House, Stephen K. Bannon (shown above in a file photo) spoke from a steep, dusty hill outside El Paso, asking for donations. The former investment banker and Hollywood producer wanted cash in 2019 for his latest quest, to privately build President Donald Trump’s stalled border wall.

Not many news outlets were paying attention — except for one focusing on his every word.

fox news logo SmallIt wasn’t Fox News or Newsmax. It wasn’t even Breitbart News, the far-right website Bannon once led, using it to help remake the GOP and elect Trump.

The coverage came from an upstart network run by a little-known media mogul in Colorado, a felon with a record of unpaid taxes and a robert sigg headshotfamily history marked by tragedy and violence. The mogul, Robert J. Sigg, left, and shown below right in a mug shot, found news value in Bannon’s mission to the desert, which ultimately resulted in fraud charges.

When Bannon launched his own talk show in the fall of 2019, calling it “War Room,” he quickly handed over its distribution to Sigg.

More than two years later, the arrangement has paid off for both men. Sigg used “War Room” as a springboard for an expanded network of conservative hosts — bringing him the commercial opportunity he sought.

robert sigg mug shotsThe network, Real America’s Voice, helped sustain Bannon despite his removal from YouTube, Spotify and other mainstream platforms. It brings his show into as many as 8 million homes hooked up to Dish satellite television, many in rural, conservative areas without reliable cable coverage.

The rise of Real America’s Voice, built around Bannon and distant from the traditional power structures of cable television and talk radio, reveals how the country’s fractured media landscape has empowered unconventional actors following market incentives toward more and more extreme content.

“We were told fairly regularly we were Trump propaganda,” said a former Real America’s Voice producer, who, like about a dozen other current and former employees of Sigg’s business, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. “That is what our role was. That was the spotify logomessage from the top: ‘We’re a Trump propaganda network.’ That’s where the money was.”

That market was left open when Fox News and Newsmax pulled back from topics most motivating to Trump’s base, said Bannon, such as resistance to vaccines, cries of voter fraud and unproven ideas about federal agents provoking the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

“War Room” focuses on those topics. Its influence comes not just from the number of people watching, which is difficult to measure across platforms, but also from the audience’s willingness to take political action, whether marching against vaccine mandates or running for local office. The show, broadcast live six days a week from Bannon’s Capitol Hill townhouse, is the gathering point for the pro-Trump movement — with Bannon embracing the role of a wartime general leading followers into 2022, or what he calls the “valley of decision.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Neil Young Posts and Removes a Letter Demanding Spotify Remove His Music, Jenny Gross, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). A letter briefly appeared on Monday on Neil Young’s website that asked to remove his music from Spotify, according to Rolling Stone, in protest of the platform’s streaming of the podcaster Joe Rogan, who has been dismissive of the coronavirus vaccine.

neil young album cover“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them,” Mr. Young wrote, according to Rolling Stone. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”

He wrote: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

The letter was addressed to his manager and an executive at his record label, Rolling Stone reported. It no longer appeared on the website on Tuesday morning.

spotify logoSpotify did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Frank Gironda, Mr. Young’s manager, told The Daily Beast that Mr. Young published the letter on Monday. “It’s something that’s really important to Neil,” Mr. Gironda told The Daily Beast. “He’s very upset about this disinformation.”

Mr. Young’s letter appeared to add to the pressure on Spotify to take a stronger stance on vaccine misinformation. This month, hundreds of scientists, professors and public health professionals asked Spotify, which is based in Stockholm, to develop a policy to handle misinformation about Covid-19 on its platform.

In a letter published online, the experts wrote about a Dec. 31 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” that featured Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious-disease researcher who they said promoted “several falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccines.”

joe rogan logo“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the letter said.

It also said Spotify should “immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

The company, which says its podcast platform has more than 299 million monthly listeners, has previously said in a written statement that it prohibits dangerous, false or deceptive material about Covid-19 and that it has removed content that violate its policies. But episodes that appear to violate those terms still appear on the platform.

ny times logoNew York Times, Can CNN’s Hiring Spree Get People to Pay for Streaming News? John Koblin and Michael M. Grynbaum, Jan. 26, 2022. The network’s boss, Jeff Zucker, has tried to make up for lost time by signing Chris Wallace, Audie Cornish and Eva Longoria.

CNNA couple of months ago, CNN’s forthcoming streaming channel was perceived as little more than a curiosity in the television news business: just another cable dinosaur trying to make the uneasy transition into the digital future.

In fact, the plan to start CNN+, which is expected to go live by late March, amounted to a late arrival to the subscription-based streaming party, more than three years after Fox News launched Fox Nation.

Then the hirings began.

washington post logoWashington Post, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologizes for saying the unvaccinated have less freedom than Anne Frank did, Andrew Jeong, Jan. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Robert F. Kennedy Jr. apologized Tuesday for invoking Anne Frank to imply Jews had more freedoms during the Holocaust than unvaccinated Americans do today — remarks that drew a public backlash and criticism from Kennedy’s wife.

Kennedy had referenced Frank, a child who died in a Nazi concentration camp, while speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday at an anti-rfk jr gage skidmore Customvaccine rally. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” said Kennedy, a longtime opponent of vaccines who has spread unsupported claims about shots shown to protect against covid-19.

On Tuesday, after intense criticism, he tweeted that to “the extent my remarks caused hurt, I am truly and deeply sorry.”

“I apologize for my reference to Anne Frank, especially to families that suffered the Holocaust horrors,” wrote Kennedy, right,the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and nephew of President John F. Kennedy. “My intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control.”

Even before the pandemic, Kennedy’s statements on vaccines and support for conspiracy theories put him at odds with family members, health professionals and historians. Some social media platforms have banned him. But his speech Sunday drew especially strong condemnation.

The Auschwitz Memorial expressed anger at his comments in a tweet without naming him. “Exploiting … the tragedy of people who suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany — including children like Anne Frank — in a debate about vaccines & limitations during global pandemic is a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a similar statement.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that the statements were “deeply inaccurate, deeply offensive and deeply troubling.”

cheryl hines rfk jrKennedy’s wife, actress Cheryl Hines (shown with him at left), also distanced herself from his remarks. “My husband’s opinions are not a reflection of my own,” she tweeted. “While we love each other, we differ on many current issues.”

In a statement sent Monday to the Associated Press by a spokeswoman for Kennedy, he said he “compared no one to the Nazis or Adolf Hitler.”

“I referred to Anne Frank’s terrible two year ordeal only by way of showing that modern surveillance capacity would make her courageous feat virtually impossible today,” Kennedy said.

It was not the first time Kennedy has invoked the Holocaust in reference to vaccines. In 2015, he said of vaccinations: “They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone. This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.”

For years, Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and author, has publicly supported the claim that vaccines cause autism. They do not.

In 2005, Kennedy incorrectly wrote in an article published in Rolling Stone and Salon that an ingredient in some new vaccines, thimerosal, was dangerous and that the government was hiding its links to autism. Rolling Stone issued several corrections. Salon retracted the story from its website. Kennedy expanded the article into a book published in 2014.

Such views have invited rebukes from other family members, including one from niece Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, an internal medicine resident physician. In an opinion piece for the New York Times in December 2020, when coronavirus vaccines were first being rolled out, Meltzer said she loved her uncle. “But when it comes to vaccines, he is wrong,” she wrote.

In a 2019 opinion piece for Politico Magazine, Kennedy’s siblings and a different niece noted how President Kennedy had signed the 1962 Vaccination Assistance Act, to highlight that his nephew’s inaccurate statements on vaccines were worsening a measles outbreak in the country at the time.

Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and a Kennedy family scholar, said she suspected Robert Kennedy Jr.’s opposition to vaccine mandates came from his work as an environmentalist.

He has campaigned against pollutants, such as mercury, that contaminate food sources, Perry said in an interview. “Clearly he doesn’t want people poisoned in the environment by pollutants,” she said. “In his mind, I guess, it’s a pretty easy step to [think] not poisoning the body through vaccination.”

Jan. 25

washington post logoWashington Post, Severe chip shortage could force companies to shut factories if deliveries are disrupted, Commerce Dept. says, Jeanne Whalen, Jan. 25, 2022. Wafer-thin inventories leave factories vulnerable to shutdowns if their chip deliveries are interrupted by weather events or covid-19 Manufacturers and other buyers of computer chips had less than five days’ supply of some chips on hand late last year, leaving them vulnerable to any disruptions in deliveries, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday as it pushed Congress to endorse federal aid for chipmakers.

The report highlighted the severity of a global shortage that has hobbled manufacturing and fueled inflation for more than a year, and that defies easy solutions.

Manufacturers’ median chip inventory levels have plummeted from about 40 days’ supply in 2019 to less than five days, according to a survey of 150 companies worldwide that the Commerce Department conducted in September 2021.

“This means a disruption overseas, which might shut down a semiconductor plant for 2-3 weeks, has the potential to disable a manufacturing facility and furlough workers in the United States if that facility only has 3-5 days of inventory,” the Commerce Department concluded in a six-page summary of its findings.

Digital Music News, Spotify Stock (SPOT) Has Lost Nearly 25% of Its Value In 2022 and 45% Over the Past Year — What’s Going On? Dylan Smith, Jan. 25, 2022. Spotify stock (NYSE: SPOT) dipped by nearly five percent during Tuesday’s trading hours and has parted with almost one-quarter of its value since the start of 2022. All of which is prompting Wall Street — and previously high-flying stakeholders — to discuss the downturn’s potential causes.

Having finished at $193.52 per share on Monday, Spotify stock was worth $184.04 per share when the market closed on Tuesday – a 4.92 percent decrease on the day, a 13.59 percent decline across the last five days, and a full 23.50 percent falloff over the past six months.

spotify logoFurthermore, as mentioned at the outset, SPOT’s present value represents a 24.62 percent slip since 2022’s beginning, when the stock was worth north of $244 per share.

The broader slide is stunning: back in late January of 2021, SPOT was hovering around $337 a share. Since that point, SPOT has witnessed a $152 plunge, which translates into a 45% drop in just one year. Tuesday’s price represents a modest 24.42 percent gain from the Stockholm-based company’s 2018 public offering.

Of course, it’s impossible to pinpoint the precise factors that are dragging SPOT down, but the movement arrives amid broader market corrections and a shift away from unprofitable and/or tech stocks.

The S&P 500 is down about 9.2 percent on the year.

Bringing the focus back to recent developments concerning Spotify specifically, a number of issues are emerging. After years of surging subscriber growth, the numbers are plateauing in wealthier nations like the US. Diversifications into arenas like podcasting also remain speculative: just recently, Spotify shut down its pioneering podcast studio – and laid off some of the division’s 10 to 15 employees. Though the move appears inconsequential in the context of Spotify’s multibillion-dollar bet on podcasts, it doesn’t seem to spell confidence in the format.

Jan. 24

 

 https://www.salon.com/2022/01/24/insurrection-by-other-means-the-far-right-is-using-anti-vaxx-sentiment-to-radicalize/

Demonstrators protesting mask and Covid-19 vaccination mandates participated in a "Defeat the Mandates" march on Sunday, Jan. 23 in Washington, DC (Photo by Stefani Reynolds via AFP and Getty Images).

Salon, Commentary: Insurrection by other means: The far right is using anti-vaxx sentiment to radicalize Republicans, Amanda Marcotte, Jan. 24, 2022.
The weekend's anti-vaccine rally in D.C. was heavy on violence-inspiring rhetoric and fascist recruitment.

The "Defeat the Mandates" rally on Sunday in Washington D.C. was not exactly the blockbuster event, size-wise, organizers had hoped to turn out. The event's planners had predicted 20,000 pe