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Game over for the US? — U.S. Waged Secret Legal Battle to Obtain Emails of 4 Times Reporters

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Some governments fight strenuously against the truth and those who report it. The US is joining them. Charlie Savage and Katie Benner report in the NY Times:

In the last weeks of the Trump administration and continuing under President Biden [important point — the corruption runs deep. – LG] the Justice Department fought a secret legal battle to obtain the email logs of four New York Times reporters in a hunt for their sources, a top lawyer for the newspaper said Friday night.

While the Trump administration never informed The Times about the effort, the Biden administration continued waging the fight this year, telling a handful of top Times executives about it but imposing a gag order to shield it from public view [certainly don’t want the public to know what its government is doing – LG], said the lawyer, David McCraw, who called the move unprecedented.

The gag order prevented the executives from disclosing the government’s efforts to seize the records even to the executive editor, Dean Baquet, and other newsroom leaders.

Mr. McCraw said Friday that a federal court had lifted the order, which had been in effect since March 3, freeing him to reveal what had happened. The battle was over an ultimately unsuccessful effort by the Justice Department to seize email logs from Google, which operates The Times’s email system, and which had resisted the effort to obtain the information.

The disclosure came two days after the Biden Justice Department notified the four reporters that the Trump administration, hunting for their sources, had in 2020 secretly seized months of their phone records from early 2017. That notification followed similar disclosures in recent weeks about seizing communications records of reporters at The Washington Post and CNN.

Mr. Baquet condemned both the Trump and Biden administrations for their actions, portraying the effort as an assault on the First Amendment.

“Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this,” Mr. Baquet said. “The Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the final 15 days of the Trump administration. And the Biden administration continued to pursue it. As I said before, it profoundly undermines press freedom.”

There was no precedent, Mr. McCraw said, for the government to impose a gag order on New York Times personnel as part of a leak investigation. He also said the government had never before seized The Times’s phone records without advance notification of the effort.

A Google spokeswoman said that while it does not comment on specific cases, the company was “firmly committed to protecting our customers’ data and we have a long history of pushing to notify our customers about any legal requests.”

Anthony Coley, a Justice Department spokesman, noted that “on multiple occasions in recent months,” the Biden-era department had moved to delay enforcement of the order and it then “voluntarily moved to withdraw the order before any records were produced.”

He added: “The department strongly values a free and independent press, and is committed to upholding the First Amendment.”

Last month, Mr. Biden said he would not permit the Justice Department during his administration to seize communications logs that could reveal reporters’ sources, calling the practice “simply, simply wrong.” (Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department had gone after such data in several leak investigations.)

The letter this week disclosing the seizure of phone records involving the Times reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt — had hinted at the existence of the separate fight over data that would show whom they had been in contact with over email.

The letters said the government had also acquired a court order to seize logs of their emails, but “no records were obtained,” providing no further details. But with the lifting of the gag order, Mr. McCraw said he had been freed to explain what had happened.

Prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney in Washington had obtained a sealed court order from a magistrate judge on Jan. 5 requiring Google to secretly turn over the information. But Google resisted, apparently demanding that The Times be told, as its contract with the company requires.

The Justice Department continued to press the request after the Biden administration took over, but  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it stinks.

The reason such governments fight against the truth is the obvious one: the truth exposes them for what they are.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 8:47 pm

‘Centrism’: an insidious bias favoring an unjust status quo

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Rebecca Solnit writes in The Guardian:

The idea that all bias is some deviation from an unbiased center is itself a bias that prevents pundits, journalists, politicians and plenty of others from recognizing some of the most ugly and impactful prejudices and assumptions of our times. I think of this bias, which insists the center is not biased, not afflicted with agendas, prejudices and destructive misperceptions, as status-quo bias. Underlying it is the belief that things are pretty OK now, that the people in charge should be trusted because power confers legitimacy, that those who want sweeping change are too loud or demanding or unreasonable, and that we should just all get along without looking at the skeletons in the closet and the stuff swept under the rug. It’s mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not.

I saw a tweet the other day that said the Secret Service and US Capitol police must have been incompetent or complicit to be blindsided by the 6 January insurrection. The writer didn’t seem to grasp the third option: that the Secret Service was unable to see past the assumptions that middle-aged conservative white men don’t pose a threat to democracy and the rule of law, that elected officials in powerful places weren’t whipping up a riot or worse, that danger meant outsiders and others. A decade ago, when I went to northern Japan for the first anniversary of the Great Tohuko Earthquake and tsunami, I was told that the 100ft-high wave of black water was so inconceivable a sight that some people could not recognize it and the danger it posed. Others assumed this tsunami would be no bigger than those in recent memory and did not flee high enough. A lot of people died of not being able to see the unanticipated.

People fail to recognize things that do not fit into their worldview, which is why those in power have not adequately responded to decades of terrorism by white men – anti-reproductive-rights-driven killings, racial violence in churches, mosques, synagogues and elsewhere, homophobia and transphobia, the pandemic-scale misogynist violence behind a lot of mass shootings, attacks on environmentalists, and white supremacy in the ranks of the police and the military. Finally, this year the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, called this terrorism by its true name and identified it as “the most dangerous threat to our democracy”. The constant assumption has been that crime and trouble comes from outsiders, from “them”, not “us”, which is why last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were constantly portrayed by conservatives and sometimes the mainstream as far more violent and destructive than they were and the right has had such an easy time demonizing immigrants.

What violence and destruction did take place in or adjacent to Black Lives Matter protests was often the work of the right wing. That includes the murder of a guard at a federal court in Oakland, allegedly by an air force sergeant and Boogaloo Boy, while a BLM protest was going on nearby. It also reportedly includes some of the arson in Minneapolis shortly after George Floyd’s murder, as well as attacks on protesters. USA Today reported 104 such attacks by cars driven into crowds, many of them apparently politically motivated.

No one has ever loved the status quo more than the editorial board at the New York Times, which recently composed an editorial declaring it a misstep for “the city’s Pride organizers … to reduce the presence of law enforcement at the celebration, including a ban on uniformed police and corrections officers marching as groups until at least 2025”. They found a lesbian of color who is also a cop and focused on this individual feeling “devastated”, rather than the logic behind the decision. Pride celebrates the uprising against longtime police violence and criminalization of queerness at the Stonewall Bar in 1969.

Police officers are in no way banned from participating out of uniform, if they so desire, but that’s not enough for these “can’t we all get along” editorialists, who also wrote: “But barring LGBTQ officers from marching is a politicized response and is hardly worthy of the important pursuit of justice for those persecuted by the police.” You want to shout that the whole parade is political, because persecution and inequality have made being LGBTQ political, and the decision to include the police would be no less political than to exclude them. And who decides what’s worthy? The idea that there is some magically apolitical state all should aspire to is key to this bias and to why it refuses to recognize itself as a bias. It believes it speaks from neutral ground, which is why it forever describes a landscape of mountains and chasms as a level playing field.

The status-quo bias is something I’ve encountered over and over again as gender violence, particularly as the refusal or inability to recognize that a high-status man or boy, be he film mogul or high-school football player, can also be a vicious criminal. Those who cannot believe the charges, no matter how credible, often dismiss and blame the victim instead (or worse: reporting a rape too often leads to death threats and other forms of harassment and intimidation intended to make an uncomfortable truth go away). Society has a marked failure of imagination when it comes to grasping that such predators treat their low-status victims in secret differently than their high-status peers in public, and that failure of imagination denies the existence of such inequality even as it perpetrates it.

It’s a failure born out of undue respect for the powerful. (Here I think of all the idiots who kept discovering “the moment Trump became presidential” over and over again, unable to comprehend that his incompetence was as indelible as his corruption and malice, perhaps because their respect for the institution inexorably extended to the grifter who barged into it.) Centrist bias is institutional bias, and all our institutions historically perpetrated inequality. To recognize this is to delegitimize them; to deny it is to have it both ways – think yourself on the side of goodness while insisting no sweeping change is overdue. A far-right person might celebrate and perpetrate racism or police brutality or rape culture; a moderate might just play down its impact, past or present.

To recognize the pervasiveness of sexual abuse is to have to listen to children as well as adults, women as well as men, subordinates as well as bosses: it’s to upend the old hierarchies of who should be heard and trusted, to break the silences that protect the legitimacy of the status quo. More than 95,000 people filed claims in the sexual-abuse lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America, and what it took to keep all those children quiet while all those hundreds of thousands of assaults took place is a lot of unwillingness to listen and to shatter faith in an institution that was itself so much part of the status quo (and in many ways an indoctrination system for it).

Centrists in the antebellum era were apathetic or outright resistant to ending slavery in the US and then in the decades before 1920 to giving women the vote. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2021 at 9:25 am

The Real Problem With the AP’s Firing of Emily Wilder

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Janine Zacharia has a piece in Politico that’s worth reading. Who is she?

Janine Zacharia reported on the Middle East and foreign policy for close to two decades including stints as Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, State Department correspondent for Bloomberg News, Washington bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, and Jerusalem correspondent for Reuters. She is currently the Carlos Kelly McClatchy lecturer in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, where she teaches news reporting and writing fundamentals and foreign correspondence. She is the co-author ofHow to Responsibly Report on Hacks and Disinformation.

Here’s what she has to say:

In the aftermath of The Associated Press’ May 19 firing of Emily Wilder, a spirited discussion has broken out about social media policies and practices in newsrooms. Wilder, a 22-year-old news associate in Arizona with an online record of pro-Palestinian activism in college, was dismissed, according to the AP, for “some tweets” it said “violated AP’s News Values and Principles.” Which tweets? The organization didn’t say. But Wilder’s firing came on the heels of a campaign by the Stanford College Republicans and allies to portray her as an “anti-Israel agitator” and thus call the AP’s objectivity on the issue into question.

For me, the issues surrounding her firing are important for journalism, but they’re personal, too: She was my student at Stanford.

Since her dismissal, many journalists and commentators have focused on the dissatisfaction and disagreements in newsrooms over how reporters should behave online. It’s a cacophony that’s creating headaches for reporters and managers alike. Without consensus, McClatchy News, for example, says it’s OK to put #BlackLivesMatter in your Twitter handle, while Wilder’s AP editor told her to delete it from hers.

This all needs to be fixed. But unclear, opaque and inconsistently enforced social media policies aren’t the biggest problem here. For the AP and other news managers, the most urgent issue in Wilder’s dismissal is that a reporter was targeted by a disinformation campaign—in this case, by people who took issue with Wilder’s documented pro-Palestinian views—and rather than recognizing it as such, the organization essentially caved to it.

Disinformation campaigns against journalists are a growing problem in our age of information overload, and it’s essential that news outlets in particular are able to distinguish between organic outpourings of outrage or grievance online and targeted campaigns that seek to undermine the legitimacy of news organizations and obscure the facts around conflicts.

As someone who spent many years reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including posts in Jerusalem for Reuters and the Washington Post, I am more sensitive than most to the kind of scrutiny newsrooms face over their coverage of this issue.

But I am perhaps even more sensitive to disinformation campaigns. I also spent two years recently as part of a Stanford working group studying the way actors use information warfare for political purposes.

And during those discussions, my colleague Andrew Grotto, a former senior director for cybersecurity at the White House, and I concluded journalists were themselves vulnerable to propaganda campaigns by foreign and domestic actors who want to harm our democracy. We realized that newsrooms could benefit from a straightforward protocol for situations involving various forms of propaganda. The first news outlet we consulted as we were developing our guidelines was the AP.

“Remember that journalists are a targeted adversary and see yourself this way when digesting disinformation,” we wrote in our playbook. “Familiarize everyone in your newsroom with this minefield so they are aware of the risks.”

The campaign against Wilder is an excellent case study of these risks. On May 17, the Stanford College Republicans posted a Twitter thread of old social media posts and articles from her undergraduate years and described her as an “anti-Israel agitator.”

Soon, conservative commentators and news outlets were circulating the tweets to increasingly wider audiences.

These attacks on Wilder came at a particularly useful time for defenders of Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Israeli forces had recently destroyed the building where the AP was located in Gaza City, alleging Hamas operated out of it, too, a claim for which Israel has not yet given evidence. But the confusion over the strike was fertile ground for those who allege pro-Palestinian bias in the media.

The disinformation in this case was that Wilder’s college advocacy for Palestinian rights would “fuel concerns about the AP’s objectivity amid revelations that the news outlet shared an office building with Hamas military intelligence in Gaza,” as the Washington Free Beacon wrote, echoing a theory about possible cooperation between Hamas and the AP made by prominent Republicans, including Senator Tom Cotton.

Within hours of a story on Fox News’ website May 19, Wilder was fired. The Stanford College Republicans responded. “Emily Wilder is not a journalist, she is an unhinged, Marxist, anti-Israeli agitator. We are proud that our efforts directly led to this outcome—the leftist media must be held accountable, and that happened in this case,” the group gloated. They thanked those who amplified their original Twitter attack, including former Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro and Cotton.

It bore all the classic marks of a disinformation campaign. Pushing the Wilder story refocused attention from Israel’s bombing of the AP bureau to a junior news associate who had just started in Arizona. As Grotto and I warned in our guidance: “Beware of campaigns to redirect your attention from one newsworthy event to another.”

This disinformation technique was not dissimilar from the redirect used by Russia in 2016. When the Washington Post published the audio from an old Access Hollywood recording, which featured a famously lewd comment by Donald Trump, WikiLeaks followed less than 60 minutes later with the release of Russian-hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Journalists need to be on high alert for stories intended to shift the news cycle.

Several disinformation experts saw parallels in the Wilder case. “Influence Ops are not just the domain of foreign gov’ts, and journalists are definitely targets,” Nathaniel Gleicher head of security at Facebook, said in a tweet of Wilder’s case. Disinformation expert Kate Starbird at the University of Washington explained how Wilder’s firing was an “example of a coordinated active measures campaign meant to do its damage through the reaction of the target (in this case the AP).”

When drafting our recommendations on how to report on disinformation, I was eager to have the AP adopt them because they are indeed the news organization that customarily leads. When the AP decided to capitalize Black last summer, for instance, most organizations quickly followed.

Perhaps most important, Grotto and I recommended news outlets focus on the “why” something was leaked as opposed to the “what.” In this case, AP managers scrutinized Wilder’s few social media posts since being hired that included one opining on the meaning of objectivity in language chosen to describe the conflict, her retweets of stories about the devastation in Gaza and the digital record of her college activism as opposed to why the College Republicans may have dug up all this stuff in the first place—to go after a former classmate whose views they loathed and to perpetuate a false perception that the AP is biased in its reporting on the conflict.

The AP’s firing of Wilder demonstrates that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 May 2021 at 11:31 am

What’s the healthiest news diet?

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Joshua Benton writes at NiemanLab:

What sorts of media diets actually make you more knowledgeable about politics?

Is it one packed full of newspaper fiber? High-sugar clickbait? A day full of smartphone snacking, or three square meals? Can cable news really be part of a complete breakfast? Er…any idea what keto news consumption would be in this over-extended metaphor? (Vice, maybe?)

new study in The International Journal of Press/Politics, looking at news usage in 17 European countries, finds that good ol’ traditional media is probably best for your political IQ — including high-quality public media, if you can find it. A vigorous online news regimen can also be good for knowledge, mostly. But ironically, gorging on all the news you can find might leave you less informed than someone who’s more selective.

The list of researchers is a veritable Schengen area of academics — 18 in all, led here by Laia Castro of the University of Zurich.1 (They make up NEPOCS, the Network of European Political Communication Scholars.)2 Here’s the abstract, emphases mine.

The transition from low- to high-choice media environments has had far-reaching implications for citizens’ media use and its relationship with political knowledge. However, there is still a lack of comparative research on how citizens combine the usage of different media and how that is related to political knowledge.

To fill this void, we use a unique cross-national survey about the online and offline media use habits of more than 28,000 individuals in 17 European countries. Our aim is to (i) profile different types of news consumers and (ii) understand how each user profile is linked to political knowledge acquisition.

Our results show that five user profiles — news minimalists, social media news users, traditionalists, online news seekers, and hyper news consumers — can be identified, although the prevalence of these profiles varies across countries. Findings further show that both traditional and online-based news diets are correlated with higher political knowledge. However, online-based news use is more widespread in Southern Europe, where it is associated with lower levels of political knowledge than in Northern Europe.

By focusing on news audiences, this study provides a comprehensive and fine-grained analysis of how contemporary European political information environments perform and contribute to an informed citizenry.

The research is based on an online survey of 28,317 Europeans, with per-country samples of around 1,700 each. (The samples are “fairly representative” of the broader populations, though a little more female, a little more educated, and a little younger.) Subjects were asked about how frequently they used different kinds of news media — TV, radio, newspaper, public service broadcasters, social media, online news sites, alternative media, and “infotainment” (political talk shows, comedy news shows, etc.). Researchers also asked about how often they actively try to avoid the news, how often their friends share news stories on social platforms, and how often they bump into political news without specifically seeking it.

They used the responses to all of those questions to categorize people into five “news user profiles”: news minimalistssocial media news userstraditionalistsonline news seekers, and hyper news consumers.

  • News minimalists: 17%. “Those who seldom consume news and use very few media outlets or platforms, if any…they are also the least politically interested, do not perceive they will be well-informed regardless of their actively following the news…and are older and slightly more educated than the average news user.”
  • Social media news users: 22%. They “mainly inform themselves through social media and consume little information beyond that…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

Media bias delegitimizes Black-rights protesters

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Systemic racism is endemic in the US (and other countries, though the focus of this study is the US, though they are many (who coincidentally are overwhelmingly white) who deny the problem exists (see the previous post for an example). Danielle Kilgo writes in Nature on the workings of media bias:

The protests following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police a year ago built on those that came before — in response to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and far too many others. The global reckoning was a result of decades of work by advocates who prepared the public to engage with race and racism. One reason their message had taken so long to become mainstream lies in how the press typically covers protests.

I study media representation, marginalized communities and social movements. I have quantified narratives in news coverage of Black civil rights since the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, comparing it with coverage of protests for and against former US president Donald Trump, women’s rights, gun control, environmental protection and more. My colleagues and I use computational methods to find linguistic patterns, rhetoric and sentiment in texts, together with human coding for overarching themes including ‘violence’, ‘combativeness’ and ‘racial justice’, as well as for contextual cues, such as the passive voice in headlines, for example “peaceful protesters teargassed”, which neglect to say who took the action.

Linguistic analysis can show what narratives are being presented to and adopted by the public. Such work — examining which groups are privileged at the expense of others — can help many enterprises, including the scientific system, to repair damage from stigmatizing narratives.

Civil-rights protesters are the least likely to have their concerns and demands presented substantively. Less space is given to protesters’ quotes; more space to official sources. Although my work captures amazing individual pieces of journalism that explore themes such as civil rights, protesters’ motivations and communities’ grief, the dominant narrative accentuates trivial, disruptive and combative actions. My early analyses hint that practices improved during the wake-up call that was 2020, but not by much.

In 2017, more than half the coverage of immigration, health and science demonstrations included protesters’ grievances. Less than one-quarter of Black civil-rights protest coverage did so. After a police officer shot Michael Brown in 2014 in Missouri, one-third of articles emphasized disruption and confrontation. Fewer than 10% described protesters’ demands for reform, and then did so shallowly. Our sample found broad consistency across the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and top newspapers such as The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalUSA TODAY and The Washington Post. The pattern persists over national and local papers and broadcast coverage, as well as around the world.

Activists’ work here in Minneapolis, where Floyd died, extends well before and after the events of May 2020, and is often done by people carrying the trauma of their own losses. Many are veterans of demonstrations that followed the deaths of dozens of Black people, including those of two other young Minnesotan men, Philando Castile and Jamar Clark. What I learnt from being on the ground is just how much mainstream media does not cover. Namely, how organized, civil, inspiring and restorative many protest efforts are — from setting up food drives to holding public vigils.

In our preliminary analysis of cable news and Associated Press coverage from May to December 2020, there’s a small rise (12% of coverage) in mentions of police violence during protests from years past. Otherwise, there is little change. Headlines such as “Police violence is just the tip of the issue”, and “Lawmakers use protest momentum to push state racial reforms”, made up only about 69 of 690 articles. Headlines focusing on protester violence and disruption were about four times more common. There were days when some protesters were violent or used radical tactics, but there were solid weeks of peaceful demonstrations. Descriptions of the latter appear in only 4.9% of articles.

Consistently under-represented from the eight years’ worth of coverage my team has worked on — from newspapers, websites and TV — are discussions about how racism intersects with other issues. For example, the connection between police shooting Black people and gun violence is rarely made. Stories about police violence against Black and trans women are often pushed to the margins.

Before 2020, journalists’ reaction to my research was usually indifference. As newsrooms around the country made efforts to reckon with their racist pasts, they were more willing to engage in initiatives, training courses and workshops. This shift makes reanalysis essential. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 11:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

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The headline fight: New jobs vs. GOP craziness

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today President Joe Biden traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, to sell his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan. Visiting Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, he tested an electric version of the classic F-150 pickup and urged Americans to use the race to dominate the market in electric vehicles as a way to create jobs. The American Jobs Plan provides $174 billion to switch the nation’s car industry away from fossil fuels and toward renewables, and Ford’s electric F-150 could help sell the idea.

Union leaders support the idea of constructing the nation’s new electric fleet despite their concern that the new vehicles need less human labor than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. (Ford says that building the new electric truck—the Lightning—will add jobs.) But Republican lawmakers, especially those whose states produce oil, remain skeptical.

Biden is quietly and deliberately trying to rebuild the American economy, which has been gutted in the years since 1981. Yesterday, he announced that the Treasury would deposit the benefits of the child tax credit, expanded in the American Rescue Plan Congress passed in March shortly after Biden took office, directly into people’s bank accounts on the 15th of every month, beginning in July. The child tax credit will amount to at least $250 per child every month, up to an annual amount of up to a maximum of $3600 per child. About 90% of all families with kids—about 39 million of them—will receive the money; the program is expected to cut child poverty in half. It is a tax cut, but one that benefits ordinary Americans.

Biden appears to be gambling that restoring the economy and rebuilding the middle class will weaken Trump’s hold on the dispossessed voters who cling to his racist nationalism out of anger at being left behind in today’s economy. He gives the impression of a president who is above the fray, simply trying to do what’s best for the nation.

But it seems hard for him to get media attention as the Republicans continue to make more dramatic news.

Today’s headlines were dominated by the fight in Congress over a commission to investigate the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection. Last week, Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and John Katko (R-NY), the top Republican on the committee, hammered out a deal to create an independent commission patterned on the one that investigated the 9/11 attack. Katko was one of the ten Republican representatives who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 insurrection.

According to Politico, McCarthy authorized Katko to negotiate and gave him a list of demands, including equal representation for Republicans and Democrats on the committee, power for both parties to subpoena witnesses, and a final report before the end of the year so it wouldn’t still be active before the 2022 election.

Thompson conceded these three big points to the Republicans. And then, this morning, McCarthy came out against the deal. “Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” he said.

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) has repeatedly called for McCarthy to be subpoenaed to testify about his contact with Trump around the time of the insurrection, and Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) says that McCarthy dismissed him when Kinzinger warned before January 6 that the party’s rhetoric would cause violence.

“McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said. “He made three requests—every single one was granted by Democrats, yet he still says no.” A senior Republican House aide told Politico: “I think Kevin was hoping that the Democrats would never agree to our requests—that way the commission would be partisan and we can all vote no and say it’s a sham operation…. Because he knows Trump is going to lose his mind” over the commission.

Indeed Trump later weighed in, saying the deal was a “Democrat trap.” This afternoon, in yet another illustration of how determined House leadership is to protect the former president, it began “whipping” House Republicans—that is, trying to get them to hold the party line— to oppose the creation of the commission. Nonetheless, Politico reported tonight that dozens of Republicans are considering supporting the commission despite how much it would infuriate Trump, because it would provide them political cover in 2022.

The measure will come to the floor of the House on Wednesday and should pass. The real question will be how it fares in the Senate, where seven Republican senators voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection in January. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), who voted to acquit the former president, told Sahil Kapur of NPR News that he wanted a bipartisan commission that would focus on January 6. “We clearly had an insurrection on that particular day, and I don’t want it to be swept under any rug,” he said.

While Republicans try to avoid a reckoning over January 6, there are signs that the hold of Trump loyalists is weakening. Yesterday, the Maricopa County, Arizona, Board of Supervisors sent a spectacular letter to Karen Fann, the president of the Arizona Senate that authorized the “audit” of the ballots cast in Maricopa County by the private company Cyber Ninjas. The 14-page letter tore apart the entire project, pointing out that the Cyber Ninjas are utterly ignorant of election procedures.

It is a devastating take down, saying, for example: “You have rented . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 10:04 am

Fox News, Republicans, and the Destruction of Democracy

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That is from this post by Kevin Drum, which is worth reading. The post concludes with:

Correlation is not causation blah blah blah. By itself, this isn’t proof of the baneful effects of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. However, there’s plenty of other evidence and this is one more straw on the camel’s back. Fox News is responsible more than any other single entity for the destruction of American politics over the past two decades.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2021 at 3:24 pm

Speaking of cultural memes and their workings: Sinead O’Connor Remembers Things Differently

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For those over a certain age, Sinead O’Connor’s ripping apart the photograph of the Pope is an indelible memory — but from a temporal distance it looks different from how it seemed at the time. Amanda Hess writes in the NY Times:

Sinead O’Connor is alone, which is how she prefers to be. She has been riding out the pandemic in a tiny village on an Irish mountaintop, watching murder shows, buying fairy-garden trinkets online and mainlining American news on CNN. On a recent overcast afternoon, she had a navy hijab arranged over her shaved head and a cigarette permanently installed between her fingertips, and when she leaned over an iPad inside her all-glass conservatory, she looked as if she had been hermetically sealed into her own little world.

“I’m lucky,” she said, “because I enjoy my own company.”

Her cottage was appointed in bright, saturated colors that leapt out from the monotonous backdrop of the Irish sky with the surreal quality of a pop-up book. Bubble-gum roses lined the windows, and the Hindu goddess Durga stretched her eight arms across a blanket on a cozy cherry couch. When O’Connor, 54, gave me a little iPad tour during our video interview, the place seemed to fold in on itself: The flowers were fake ones she bought on Amazon.com, and her pair of handsome velvet chairs weren’t made for sitting.

“Deliberately, I bought uncomfortable chairs, because I don’t like people staying long,” she said. “I like being on my own.” But she disclosed this with such an impish giggle that it sounded almost like an invitation.

O’Connor is, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, irresistible. She exudes a tender familiarity, thanks to her cherubic smile, her loose tongue and the fact that she happens to possess one of the most iconic heads in pop culture memory. In the early ’90s, O’Connor became so famous that the very dimensions of her skull seemed inscribed in the public consciousness. If you remember two things about her, it’s that she vaulted to fame with that enduring close-up in the video for her version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” — and then, that she stared down a “Saturday Night Live” camera, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and killed her career.

But O’Connor doesn’t see it that way. In fact, the opposite feels true. Now she has written a memoir, “Rememberings,” that recasts the story from her perspective. “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career,” she writes, “and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.”

O’Connor saw herself as a protest-singing punk. When she ascended to the top of the pop charts, she was trapped. “The media was making me out to be crazy because I wasn’t acting like a pop star was supposed to act,” she told me. “It seems to me that being a pop star is almost like being in a type of prison. You have to be a good girl.” And that’s just not Sinead O’Connor.

“CRAZY” IS A word that does some dirty cultural work. It is a flip way of referencing mental illness, yes. But it’s also a slippery label that has little to do with how a person’s brain works and everything to do with how she is culturally received. Calling someone crazy is the ultimate silencing technique. It robs a person of her very subjectivity.

By the time O’Connor appeared on “S.N.L.,” in October 1992, she had already been branded as insane — for boycotting the Grammy Awards where she was up for record of the year (they recognized only “material gain,” she said) and refusing to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before her concerts (because national anthems “have nothing to do with music in general”). But now her reputation felt at permanent risk.

“I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” she said of her protest against abuse in the Catholic Church. “But it was very traumatizing,” she added. “It was open season on treating me like a crazy bitch.”

Soon after the show, O’Connor appeared at a Bob Dylan tribute concert, and when the crowd booed, she was so taken aback she thought, at first, that they were making fun of her outfit. Joe Pesci threatened to smack her in an “S.N.L.” monologue, and later, on that same stage, Madonna mocked her in a gently condescending fashion, play-scowling and ripping up a photograph of the tabloid-star sex offender Joey Buttafuoco. O’Connor was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League and a group called the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, which hired a steamroller to crush hundreds of her albums outside of her record company’s headquarters. The Washington Times named her “the face of pure hatred” and Frank Sinatra called her “one stupid broad.”

Now O’Connor’s memoir arrives at a time when the culture seems eager to reassess these old judgments. The top comment on a YouTube rip of O’Connor’s “Behind the Music” episode is: “Can we all just say she was right!” Few cultural castaways have been more vindicated by the passage of time: child sexual abuse, and its cover-up within the Catholic Church, is no longer an open secret. John Paul II finally acknowledged the church’s role in 2001, nearly a decade after O’Connor’s act of defiance.

But the overreaction to O’Connor was not just about whether she was right or wrong; it was about the kinds of provocations we accept from women in music. “Not because I was famous or anything, but because I was a human being, I had a right to put my hand up and say what I felt,” O’Connor said. Some artists are skilled at shocking in a way designed to sell more records, and others at tempering their political rage into palatable music, but “Sinead is not the tempering type,” her friend Bob Geldof, the musician and activist, told me. “In that, she is very much an Irish woman.”

To understand why O’Connor may have seen her cultural blacklisting as liberating, you have to understand just how deeply she was misapprehended throughout her career. She was still a teenager when she started work on her fierce, ethereal first record, “The Lion and the Cobra,” when an executive — “a square unto high heaven” — called her to lunch and told her to dress more femininely and grow out her close-cropped hair. So she marched to a barber and shaved it all off. “I looked like an alien,” she writes in the book, which was a kind of escape hatch from looking like a human woman. When O’Connor became pregnant in the midst of recording, she writes that the executive called a doctor and tried to coerce her into having an abortion, which she refused. Her first son, Jake, arrived just before the album did.

Later, when “Nothing Compares 2 U” made her a star, O’Connor said the song’s writer, Prince, terrorized her. She had pledged to reveal the details “when I’m an old lady and I write my book,” and now she has: She writes that Prince summoned her to his macabre Hollywood mansion, chastised her for swearing in interviews, harangued his butler to serve her soup though she repeatedly refused it, and sweetly suggested a pillow fight, only to thump her with something hard he’d slipped into his pillowcase. When she escaped on foot in the middle of the night, she writes, he stalked her with his car, leapt out and chased her around the highway.

Prince is the type of artist who is hailed as crazy-in-a-good-way, as in, “You’ve got to be crazy to be a musician,” O’Connor said, “but there’s a difference between being crazy and being a violent abuser of women.” Still, the fact that her best-known song was written by this person does not faze her at all. “As far as I’m concerned,” she said, “it’s my song.”

O’CONNOR’S STATEMENT ON “S.N.L.” was more personal than most knew. In the book, she details how her mother physically abused her throughout her childhood. “I won the prize in kindergarten for being able to curl up into the smallest ball, but my teacher never knew why I could do it so well,” she writes. There is a reason, in the “Nothing Compares 2 U” video, she begins to cry when she hits the line about her mama’s flowers. O’Connor was 18 when her mother died, and on that day, she took down the one photograph on her mom’s bedroom wall: the image of the pope. O’Connor carefully saved the photo, waiting for the right moment to destroy it.

“Child abuse is an identity crisis and fame is an identity crisis, so I went straight from one identity crisis into another,” she said. And when she tried to call attention to child abuse through her fame, she was vilified. “People would say that she’s fragile,” Geldof said. “No, no, no. Many people would have collapsed under the weight of being Sinead O’Connor, had it not been Sinead.”

Instead, O’Connor felt freed. “I could just be me. Do what I love. Be imperfect. Be mad, even,” she writes in the book. “I’m not a pop star. I’m just a troubled soul who needs to scream into mikes now and then.” She sees the backlash as having pushed her away from the wrong life, in mainstream pop, and forced her to make a living performing live, which is where she feels most comfortable as an artist.

“Rememberings” is a document of a difficult life, but it is also deliciously funny, starting with the title. (“As I’ve said, I can’t remember many details because I was constantly stoned,” she writes.) It is loaded with charming stories from the height of her fame. She rejects the Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis’s claim that they had a thing (“Only in his mind”) but confirms a fling with Peter Gabriel (to discover the profane term she assigns to their affair, you’ll have to read it.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

And the report linked above is worth reading as well. It is by Jon Pareles and appeared in the November 1, 1992, issue of the NY Times. That report begins:

You think it’s easy to get booed at Madison Square Garden? Maybe it is for a visiting hockey team, but at a rock concert, drawing boos qualifies as a perverse kind of achievement. Sinead O’Connor, who was booed (as well as cheered) at the Bob Dylan tribute on Oct. 16, once again showed that she has a gift that’s increasingly rare.: the ability to stir full-fledged outrage. She has stumbled onto the new 1990’s taboo: taking on an authority figure.

O’Connor was booed because, 13 days earlier, she had torn up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” saying, “Fight the real enemy.” Compounding her impropriety, she dropped her scheduled Dylan song and reprised “War,” the anti-racism song by Bob Marley and Haile Selassie. Her expression was timorous, defiant, martyred, and she made all the late-edition newspapers and television news.

Meanwhile, the tabloids happily reported, Madonna (no stranger to recontextualized Christian symbols) told The Irish Times: “I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people.” She added, “If she is against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it.”

She did: last week, O’Connor released an open letter, linking her being abused as a child to “the history of my people” and charging, “The Catholic church has controlled us by controlling education, through their teachings on sexuality, marriage, birth control and abortion, and most spectacularly through the lies they taught us with their history books.” The letter concluded, “My story is the story of countless millions of children whose families and nations were torn apart for money in the name of Jesus Christ.” Proselytizing as imperialism as child abuse — quite a leap.

Madonna’s reaction may have been professional jealousy. After Madonna had herself gowned, harnessed, strapped down and fully stripped to promote her album “Erotica” and her book “Sex,” O’Connor stole the spotlight with one photograph of a fully-clothed man. But the other vilification that descended on O’Connor showed she had struck a nerve.

Sex, which used to be a guaranteed shocker, has become a popular entertainment, with triple-X tapes on home VCR’s and lubricious innuendo in every sitcom. Visual and telephone sex, sex as commercial spectacle, may have moved in where fear of AIDS has made physical sex far less casual. Looking is safe; touching is not.

But as public standards of viewable sexual behavior have changed, a new kind of taboo is gaining force: challenging authority and its religious version, blasphemy. (Another button-pusher, sexual harassment, has more to do with power and authority than with titillation.) In an American culture that used to prize the loner, the wiseguy, the maverick, defense of authority is on the rise, whether it’s a backlash against permissiveness or fear of impending anarchy.

Anti-authority sentiments raise hackles highest when the challenge comes from insubordinate blacks (like Ice-T with “Cop Killer”) or women, like O’Connor. If a heavy-metal band took a picture of the Pope, hung it on an upside-down cross and burned it, the act would likely be greeted with yawns — that old bit again? But waifish female 25-year-olds like O’Connor don’t have the same prerogative. While bullies like Axl Rose are lionized as rock-and-roll rebels simply for lashing out at the press — like so many losing political candidates — O’Connor draws real outrage because she doesn’t know her place.

Not that O’Connor isn’t a loose cannon. She has a penchant for the impassioned but mis-targeted gesture: boycotting the Grammy Awards, refusing to perform on a “Saturday Night Live” show featuring Andrew Dice Clay, refusing to let “The Star-Spangled Banner” be played before a concert, singing a Bob Marley song at a Bob Dylan tribute. Tearing up the Pope’s photograph may have been the best way she could envision to condemn Catholicism, but she surely would have thought twice about tearing up a photograph of Louis Farrakhan or the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

She baffles the likes of Madonna by making her gestures without game plans or tie-ins. “War” doesn’t appear on her new album, “Am I Not Your Girl?” — a collection of standards accompanied by orchestra and sung in the voice of a terrified child who believes every unhappy word.

Yet for all O’Connor’s sincerity . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2021 at 12:24 pm

Apostles of Bad News: Just 12 People Are Behind Most Vaccine Hoaxes On Social Media, Research Shows

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Shannon Bond reports on wellsprings of misinformation and lies:

Researchers have found just 12 people are responsible for the bulk of the misleading claims and outright lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“The ‘Disinformation Dozen’ produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which identified the accounts.

Now that the vaccine rollout is reaching a critical stage in which most adults who want the vaccine have gotten it, but many others are holding out, these 12 influential social media users stand to have an outsize impact on the outcome.

These figures are well-known to both researchers and the social networks. Some of them run multiple accounts across the different platforms. They often promote “natural health.” Some even sell supplements and books.

Many of the messages about the COVID-19 vaccines being widely spread online mirror what’s been said in the past about other vaccines by peddlers of health misinformation.

“It’s almost like conspiracy theory Mad Libs. They just inserted the new claims,” said John Gregory, deputy health editor at NewsGuard, which rates the credibility of news sites and has done its own tracking of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation “superspreaders.”

The claims from the “Disinformation Dozen” range from “denying that COVID exists, claiming that false cures are in fact the way to solve COVID and not vaccination, decrying vaccines and decrying doctors as being in some way venal or motivated by other factors when they recommend vaccines,” Ahmed said.

Many of the 12, he said, have been spreading scientifically disproven medical claims and conspiracies for years.

Which provokes the question: Why have social media platforms only recently begun cracking down on their falsehoods?

Both members of Congress and state attorneys general have urged Facebook and Twitter to ban the “Disinformation Dozen.”

“Getting Americans vaccinated is critical to putting this pandemic behind us. Vaccine disinformation spread online has deadly consequences, which is why I have called on social media platforms to take action against the accounts propagating the majority of these lies,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told NPR.

Social networks crack down on COVID-19 vaccine claims

The companies have stopped short of taking all 12 figures offline entirely, but they have stepped up their fight: They’ve labeled misleading posts. They’ve removed falsehoods. In some cases, they’ve banned people who repeatedly share debunked claims.

Facebook said it’s taken  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Here are the 12 blackguards listed in the Center’s report (which is worth reading):

1 Joseph Mercola
2 Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
3 Ty & Charlene Bollinger
4 Sherri Tenpenny
5 Rizza Islam
6 Rashid Buttar
7 Erin Elizabeth
8 Sayer Ji
9 Kelly Brogan
10 Christiane Northrup
11 Ben Tapper
12 Kevin Jenkins

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 12:25 pm

A GOP Civil War? Don’t Bet On It.

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Jeff Greenfield, five-time Emmy-winning network television analyst and author, has a piece in Politico that is somewhat depressing because it seems valid. It begins:

If you’ve been reading the coverage lately, or listened to gloating Democrats, it’s easy to believe the Republican Party is eating itself alive.

The former Republican president literally campaigns against incumbents of his own party. NBC calls it a “GOP power struggle”; The Hill describes “deep rifts”; and the Democratic National Committee exults over “a GOP civil war.” After losing the White House, the House and the Senate, its congressional leadership is now in open conflict; Wednesday, the minority leader is expected to oust his No. 3.

Among Democrats painfully aware of their tiny or non-existent margins in the House and Senate, the prospect of a divided Republican Party offers hope that this “civil war” will redound to Democrats’ advantage in 2022.

They shouldn’t be so sure.

First, beyond a few spats that make headlines, it’s getting harder to detect any serious division among rank-and-file Republicans. In Congress, and at the grassroots, the dominance of Donald Trump over the party is more or less total. The small handful who denounced the former president for his massive lies about the election and his seeding of an insurrectionist riot are now either silent, or have embraced a mealy-mouthed argument for “election integrity.” The same state officials who pushed back against Trump’s attempt to overturn November’s results have embraced a series of restrictive voting measures ostensibly designed to combat non-existent “fraud,” all aimed at hobbling voters inclined to vote for Democrats. Mitch McConnell, who denounced Trump’s behavior in high-minded tones in the aftermath of the riot, also—on the exact same day—voted to exonerate him of wrongdoing.

Second, and more significant, history is littered with times that critics on the left, and in the pundit class, were positive the Republican Party was setting itself up for defeat by embracing its extremes … only to watch the party comfortably surge into power. This time there are structural advantages as well: Given the Republican advantages in the House (through gerrymandering, and the statistically “wasted” votes in landslide Democratic districts), in the Senate, in state legislatures and in the Electoral College, a Trump-dominated Republican Party is a strong contender to take the White House next time around. And, contrarian as it may seem, the lockstep devotion to the former president may actually enhance, rather than lessen, its chances. What we’re seeing isn’t a civil war. It’s a purge, and there’s every reason to believe it will work.

This is not the conclusion you’ll reach if you follow much of the mainstream press. A New York Times story on Saturday about Trump’s hold on the GOP quoted former Rep. Barbara Comstock, former Sen. Jeff Flake, GOP consultant Sarah Longwell and Republican strategist Scott Reed, all warning of the political danger of a Trumpcentric party. These are estimable public figures, none of whom remotely speaks for the Republican base. For the past few weeks, much media attention was focused on Michael Wood, the 34-year-old veteran running for a Texas seat with a message that the Republican Party had to move away from Trump. He wound up finishing ninth, with 3 percent of the vote.

For a broader measure of just how one-sided the “civil war” is, you don’t need to stop at the behavior of House Republicans, who are poised to defenestrate Liz Cheney from her leadership post, and who overwhelmingly voted in January to block the certification of electors. A far better picture emerges when . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2021 at 12:12 pm

The conscious self constructed of memes one adopts: what happens when one’s basic meme set is not consistent?

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Panjo in the New Yorker reviews a biography of Edward Said. From that review:

. . . Multiple and clashing selves were Said’s inheritance from the moment of his birth, in 1935, in West Jerusalem, where a midwife chanted over him in both Arabic and Hebrew. The family was Episcopalian and wealthy, and his father, who had spent years in America and prided himself on having light skin, named him after the Prince of Wales. Said always loathed his name, especially when shortened to Ed. Sent as a teen-ager to an American boarding school, Said found the experience “shattering and disorienting.” Trained at Princeton and Harvard as a literary scholar in a Euro-American humanist tradition, he became an enthusiast of French theory, a partisan of Michel Foucault. In “Orientalism,” published two decades into a conventional academic career, Said unexpectedly described himself as an “Oriental subject” and implicated almost the entire Western canon, from Dante to Marx, in the systematic degradation of the Orient.

“Orientalism” proved to be perhaps the most influential scholarly book of the late twentieth century; its arguments helped expand the fields of anti-colonial and post-colonial studies. Said, however, evidently came to feel that “theory” was “dangerous” to students, and derided the “jaw-shattering jargonistic postmodernisms” of scholars like Jacques Derrida, whom he considered “a dandy fooling around.” Toward the end of his life, the alleged professor of terror collaborated with the conductor Daniel Barenboim to set up an orchestra of Arab and Israeli musicians, angering many Palestinians, including members of Said’s family, who supported a campaign of boycott and sanctions against Israel. While his handsome face appeared on the T-shirts and posters of left-wing street protesters worldwide, Said maintained a taste for Rolex watches, Burberry suits, and Jermyn Street shoes right up to his death, from leukemia, in 2003.

“To be a Levantine is to live in two or more worlds at once without belonging to either,” Said once wrote, quoting the historian Albert Hourani. “It reveals itself in lostness, pretentiousness, cynicism and despair.” His melancholy memoir of loss and deracination, “Out of Place” (1999), invited future biographers to probe the connection between their subject’s cerebral and emotional lives. Timothy Brennan, a friend and graduate student of Said’s, now warily picks up the gauntlet, in an authorized biography, “Places of Mind” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Scanting Said’s private life, including his marriages and other romantic liaisons, Brennan concerns himself with tracing an intellectual and political trajectory. One of the half-concealed revelations in the book is how close Said came, with his Levantine wealth and Ivy League education, to being a somewhat refined playboy, chasing women around the Eastern Seaboard in his Alfa Romeo. In Jerusalem, Said went to St. George’s, a boys’ school for the region’s ruling castes. In Cairo—where his family moved in 1947, shortly before Jewish militias occupied West Jerusalem—he attended the British-run Victoria College. There he was chiefly known for his mediocre marks and insubordinate ways; his classmates included the future King Hussein of Jordan and the actor Omar Sharif.

Cairo was then the principal metropolis of a rapidly decolonizing and politically assertive Arab world. The creation of the state of Israel—following a U.N. resolution, on Palestinian land—and the refugee crisis and wars that ensued were on everyone’s mind. Yet Said inhabited a bubble of affluent cosmopolitans, speaking English and French better than Arabic, and attending the local opera. When he was six years old, he started playing the family piano, a Blüthner baby grand from Leipzig, and he later received private lessons from Ignace Tiegerman, a Polish Jew famous for his interpretations of Brahms and Chopin. Said’s father, who ran a successful office-supply business, was socially ambitious, and his time in America had given him a lasting admiration for the West. At one point, he considered moving his entire family to the United States. Instead, in 1951, he contented himself with dispatching his son to Northfield Mount Hermon School, in rural Massachusetts.

Brennan shows how much Said initially was, as he once confessed, a “creature of an American and even a kind of upper-class wasp education,” distanced from the “uniquely punishing destiny” of an Arab Palestinian in the West. Glenn Gould recitals in Boston appear to have registered more with him than the earthquakes of the post-colonial world, such as the Great Leap Forward or the anti-French insurgency in Algeria. The Egyptian Revolution erupted soon after Said left for the U.S., and a mob of protesters burned down his father’s stationery shop. Within a decade, the family had moved to Lebanon. Yet these events seem to have had less influence on Said than the political currents of his new country did. Brennan writes, “Entering the United States at the height of the Cold War would color Said’s feelings about the country for the rest of his life.” Alfred Kazin, writing in his journals in 1955, already worried that intellectuals had found in America a new “orthodoxy”—the idea of the country as “world-spirit and world hope.” This consensus was bolstered by a professionalization of intellectual life. Jobs in universities, media, publishing, and think tanks offered former bohemians and penurious toilers money and social status. Said began his career at precisely this moment, when many upwardly mobile American intellectuals became, in his later, unforgiving analysis, “champions of the strong.”

Nonetheless, his own early impulse, born of an immigrant’s insecurity, was, as he later put it, to make himself over “into something the system required.” His earliest intellectual mentors were such iconic figures of American literary culture as R. P. Blackmur and Lionel Trilling. He wrote a prize-winning dissertation on Conrad; he read Sartre and Lukács. In his early writings, he faithfully absorbed all the trends then dominant in English departments, from existentialism to structuralism. Devoted to Chopin and Schumann, he seems to have been as indifferent to blues and jazz as he was to Arabic music. He adored Hollywood movies, but there is no evidence that, in this period, he engaged with the work of James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, or had much interest in the civil-rights movement. When students protesting the war in Vietnam disrupted a class of his, he called campus security.

Brennan detects a hint of what was to come in a remark of Said’s about the dual selves of Conrad: one “the waiting and willing polite transcriber who wished to please, the other an uncooperative demon.” Much impotent anger seems to have long simmered in Said as he witnessed “the web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim.” In a conversation filmed for Britain’s Channel 4, Said claimed that many of his cultural heroes, such as Isaiah Berlin and Reinhold Niebuhr, were prejudiced against Arabs. “All I could do,” he said, “was note it.” He watched aghast, too, the critical acclaim for “The Arab Mind,” a 1973 book by the Hungarian Jewish academic Raphael Patai, which described Arabs as a fundamentally unstable people.

It’s not hard to see how Said, upholding the “great books” courses at Columbia, would have come to feel intensely the frustrations that writers and intellectuals from countries subjugated by Europe and America had long experienced: so many of the canonical figures of Western liberalism and democracy, from John Stuart Mill to Winston Churchill, were contemptuous of nonwhite peoples. Among aspiring intellectuals who came to the U.S. and Europe from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, a sense of bitterness ran especially deep. Having struggled to emulate the cultural élite of the West by acquiring a knowledge of its literature and philosophy, they realized that their role models remained largely ignorant of the worlds they had come from. Moreover, the steep price of that ignorance was paid, often in blood, by the people back home.

It was the Six-Day War, in 1967, and the exultant American media coverage of Israel’s crushing victory over Arab countries, that killed Said’s desire to please his white mentors. He began reaching out to other Arabs and methodically studying Western writings about the Middle East. In 1970, he met Arafat, initiating a long and troubled relationship in which Said undertook two equally futile tasks: advising the stubbly, pistol-toting radical on how to make friends and influence people in the West, and dispelling Arafat’s impression that he, Said, was a representative of the United States. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2021 at 6:09 pm

Is Facebook Buying Off The New York Times?

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Dan Froomkin writes in the Washington Monthly:

Over the past two decades, as Big Tech has boomed, news organizations have been going bust. Between 2004 and 2019, one in every four U.S. newspapers shut down, and almost all the rest cut staff, for a total of 36,000 jobs lost between 2008 and 2019 alone. Local newspapers have been particularly devastated, making it ever more difficult for people to know what is happening in their communities.

Many factors contributed to this economic collapse, but none more so than the cornering of the digital advertising market by the duopoly of Facebook and Google. Facebook’s threat to a free press—and, by extension, to democracy—is especially pernicious. The social media company is financially asphyxiating the news industry even as it gives oxygen to conspiracy theories and lies. As a result of its many roles in degrading our democracy, it faces mounting scrutiny by politicians and regulators.

Facebook has responded to the negative attention by creating a highly sophisticated public relations effort, which includes becoming the number one corporate spender on federal lobbying and engaging in a massive advertising blitz aimed at the D.C. policy audience. Less well known, and potentially far more dangerous, is a secretive, multimillion-dollar-a-year payout scheme aimed at the most influential news outlets in America. Under the cover of launching a feature called Facebook News, Facebook has been funneling money to The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Bloomberg, and other select paid partners since late 2019.

Participating in Facebook News doesn’t appear to deliver many new readers to outlets; the feature is very difficult to find, and it is not integrated into individuals’ newsfeeds. What Facebook News does deliver—though to only a handful of high-profile news organizations of its choosing—is serious amounts of cash. The exact terms of these deals remain secret, because Facebook insisted on nondisclosure and the news organizations agreed. The Wall Street Journal reported that the agreements were worth as much as $3 million a year, and a Facebook spokesperson told me that number is “not too far off at all.” But in at least one instance, the numbers are evidently much larger. In an interview last month, former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said the Times is getting “far, far more” than $3 million a year—“very much so.”

For The New York Times, whose net income was $100 million in 2020, getting “far, far more” than $3 million a year with essentially no associated cost is significant. And once news outlets take any amount of money from Facebook, it becomes difficult for them to let it go, notes Mathew Ingram, chief digital writer for the Columbia Journalism Review. “It creates a hole in your balance sheet. You’re kind of beholden to them.” It’s not exactly payola, Ingram told me, searching for the right metaphor. Nor is it a protection racket. “It’s like you’re a kept person,” he said. “You’re Facebook’s mistress.”

There’s no evidence that the deal directly affects coverage in either the news or editorial departments. Before the Facebook News deal, the Times famously published an op-ed titled “It’s Time to Break Up Facebook,” by Chris Hughes, a cofounder of Facebook turned critic. And since the deal, columns from Tim Wu and Kara Swisher, among others, have been similarly critical. In December, the editorial board welcomed a lawsuit calling for Facebook to be broken up.

And Facebook and Google money is, admittedly, all over journalism already. Virtually every major media nonprofit receives direct or indirect funding from Silicon Valley, including this one. When the Monthly gets grants from do-good organizations like NewsMatch, some of the funds originate with Facebook.

But these three points are beyond dispute.

First, the deals are a serious breach of traditional ethics. In the pre-internet days, independent newspapers wouldn’t have considered accepting gifts or sweetheart deals from entities they covered, under any circumstance. The Washington Post under the editor Leonard Downie Jr., for instance, wouldn’t even accept grants from nonprofits to underwrite reporting projects, for fear of losing the appearance of independence. Facebook, which took in $86 billion in revenue last year, is a hugely controversial behemoth having profound, highly newsworthy, and negative effects on society. Accepting money from them creates a conflict of interest.

Even for trusted news organizations whose audiences believe they can’t be bought outright, “it might come across as hypocrisy to heavily criticize an industry while also collaborating with them,” says Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Agreeing to keep the terms of the deal confidential is also a mistake, Nielsen told me. “This sort of opacity I don’t think builds trust.”

Second, these deals help Facebook maintain the public appearance of legitimacy. Journalists, critics, and congressional investigators have amply documented how Facebook has become a vector of disinformation and hate speech that routinely invades our privacy and undermines our democracy. For The New York Times and other pillars of American journalism to effectively partner with Facebook creates the impression that Facebook is a normal, legitimate business rather than a monopolistic rogue corporation.

Finally, these agreements undermine  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s worth readingg.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2021 at 11:00 am

As Cuomo Sought $4 Million Book Deal, Aides Hid Damaging Death Toll

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Jesse McKinley, Danny Hakim, and Alexandra Alter report in the NY Times:

As the coronavirus subsided in New York last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had begun pitching a book proposal that would center on his image as a hero of the pandemic. But by early last summer, both his book and image had hit a critical juncture.

Mr. Cuomo leaned on his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, for assistance. She attended video meetings with publishers, and helped him edit early drafts of the book. But there was also another, more pressing edit underway at the same time.

An impending Health Department report threatened to disclose a far higher number of nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus than the Cuomo administration had previously made public. Ms. DeRosa and other top aides expressed concern about the higher death toll, and, after their intervention, the number — which had appeared in the second sentence of the report — was removed from the final version.

The revisions occurred as the governor was on the brink of a huge payoff: a book deal that ended with a high offer of more than $4 million, according to people with knowledge of the book’s bidding process.

A New York Times examination of the development of Mr. Cuomo’s lucrative book deal revealed how it overlapped with the move by his most senior aides to reshape a report about nursing home deaths in a way that insulated the governor from criticism and burnished his image.

Mr. Cuomo also utilized the resources of his office — from his inner circle to far more junior personnel — to help with the manuscript. In late June and early July, for example, a top aide to the governor, Stephanie Benton, twice asked assistants to print portions of the draft of the book, and deliver them to Mr. Cuomo at the Executive Mansion in Albany, where he lives.

One of Ms. Benton’s directives came on June 27, the same day that Ms. DeRosa convened an impromptu teleconference with several other top advisers to discuss the Health Department draft report.

On Wednesday, Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, rejected any link between Mr. Cuomo’s book and the Health Department report.

“There is no connection between the report and this outside project, period,” Mr. Azzopardi said. “And any suggestion otherwise is just wrong.”

The book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” was a dramatic retelling of the battle against the virus in a state where nearly 50,000 people have died. It would garner Mr. Cuomo a fleeting spot on the best-seller list.

Emails and an early draft of Mr. Cuomo’s book obtained by The New York Times indicate that the governor was writing it as early as mid-June, relying on a cadre of trusted aides and junior staffers for everything from full-scale edits to minor clerical work, potentially running afoul of state laws prohibiting use of public resources for personal gain. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. MUCH more, and in damning detail: names, dates, actions. This is from the inside, and probably (given Cuomo’s management style) multiple sources.

To take a few paragraphs at random from a long sequence of such paragraphs:

Ms. DeRosa, the highest nonelected official in Mr. Cuomo’s office, was particularly involved with the development of the book, and was present during some online pitch meetings with Mr. Cuomo. The July 5 request, in fact, was to print a 224-page draft entitled “MDR edits” — a reference to Ms. DeRosa, who had sent the draft to Ms. Benton on July 4, according to the emails. The staffers communicated via personal Gmail accounts, not official governmental email addresses.

Mr. Azzopardi said that Ms. DeRosa and Ms. Benton had “volunteered on this project” during their free time, something he added was “permissible and consistent with ethical requirements” of the state.

As for the junior aides’ participation in tasks related to the book, he said, “Every effort was made to ensure that no state resources were used in connection with this project.”

“To the extent an aide printed out a document,” he said, “it appears incidental.”

Ms. DeRosa also had significant input on the July 6 report issued by the Department of Health, which basically cleared Mr. Cuomo’s administration of fault in its handling of nursing homes — discounting the impact of a March 2020 state memo that had asked such facilities to take in or readmit residents who had tested positive for the disease.

Critical changes had been made to the final version of the Health Department report, after concerns were raised about the data by Ms. DeRosa and a second Cuomo aide, Linda Lacewell, according to interviews and documents.

In two earlier drafts of the report, which were both reviewed by The Times, the second sentence said that “from March 1, 2020, through June 10, 2020, there were 9,844 fatalities among NYS nursing home residents with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.”

The earlier drafts were written by . . .

And it goes on, naming names. Cuomo is looking at criminal charges.

Later:

Mr. Cuomo, 63, has declined to confirm exactly how much he was paid for “American Crisis,” which was published by Crown Publishing Group in mid-October, just as a second wave of the coronavirus began to swell in New York.

Crown declined to comment on the sale price or confirm that it slightly exceeded $4 million, a large sum for an author whose previous memoir, “All Things Possible,” from 2014, sold fewer than 4,000 hardcover copies.

The governor’s office said he would donate a “significant portion” of the book’s proceeds to a Covid-related charity, though he has not indicated how much; on Wednesday, Mr. Azzopardi reiterated that the governor’s book payment and charitable contributions would be released with his tax returns and state-mandated financial disclosures, both of which are due in mid-May.

Since the book’s publication, . . .

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2021 at 9:44 pm

Three groundbreaking journalists saw the Vietnam War differently. It’s no coincidence they were women.

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Cambodian Prime Minister Long Boret, center, meets with war correspondent Elizabeth Becker in Cambodia in 1974. (Elizabeth Becker)

Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post:

Frances FitzGerald paid her own way into Vietnam. She was an “on spec” reporter with no editor to guide her, no office to support her, and no promise that anyone would publish what she wrote about the war.

She knocked out her first article on a blue Olivetti portable typewriter she had carried from New York and mailed it the cheap and slow way from a post office in the heart of Saigon’s French quarter to the Village Voice, nearly 9,000 miles away.

It arrived, and on April 21, 1966, the Voice published FitzGerald’s indictment of the chaotic U.S. war policy.

“The result was a highly original piece written in the style of an outsider, someone who asked different questions and admitted when she didn’t have answers,” wrote Elizabeth Becker in her new book, “You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War,” which celebrates the work of FitzGerald, Kate Webb and Catherine Leroy.

Becker, a former war correspondent in Cambodia toward the end of the decades-long conflict, wrote about these women in part because she had experienced much of what they did — just a little later, and with appreciation for the paths they’d broken.

“I went through it at the tail end, and they were my role models,” Becker told me last week. She admired them because they had broken gender barriers, endured sexual harassment and been belittled by journalistic peers who thought women had no place near a war zone.

But “I wanted to write more than a ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ book,” said Becker, who has broken a few of her own: It’s likely that, as a stringer in Cambodia in the early 1970s, she was the first woman to regularly report from a war zone for The Washington Post. Later, she became the senior foreign editor at NPR and a New York Times correspondent.

What struck Becker about her subjects went far beyond gender. It was the women’s approach to their work. They were more interested in people than in battlefields, quicker to see the terrible cost of violence to the Vietnamese as well as to Westerners, less likely than many of their male colleagues to swallow the government’s party line.

“They brought this common humanity and an originality to their work,” Becker said.

Remarkably early, FitzGerald clearly described what American officials didn’t want the public to see: the chaos, the lack of sensible purpose.

“For the Embassy here the problem has not been how to deal with the crisis — there is no way to deal with it under U.S. Standard Operating Procedures — but rather how to explain what is happening in any coherent terms,” she wrote in that 1966 article for the Voice. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2021 at 6:22 pm

To quell misinformation, use rewards as well as punishments

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Tali Sharot writes in Nature:

In 2020 alone, social-media shares, likes and similar interactions with misleading online news doubled to 17% of all engagements. This staggering growth has consequences: polarization, violent extremism, racism and resistance to climate action and vaccines. Social-media companies have taken some steps to combat misinformation by using warnings and ‘sticks’, such as removing a few virulent spreaders of falsities and flagging misleading content. Facebook and Instagram users can report concerning posts, and Twitter prompts users to read articles before retweeting them.

How social-media companies should revamp their recommendation algorithms to quell misinformation is being discussed, but something is missing from the conversation: how to improve what users want to post and spread. Right now, users lack clear, quick incentives for reliability. Social-media platforms need to offer ‘carrots’ for truth.

As a neuroscientist who studies motivation and decision making, I have seen how even trivial rewards strongly influence behaviour. Most readers have felt an ego boost when their post received ‘likes’. Such engagement also results in followers, which can help people secure lucrative deals.

Thus, if a certain type of content generates high engagement, people will post more content like it. Here is the conundrum: fake news generates more retweets and likes than do reliable posts, spreading 6–20 times faster. This is largely because such content captures attention and confirms existing beliefs. What’s more, people share information even when they do not trust it. In one experiment (G. Pennycook et al. Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03344-2; 2021), 40% of users who were shown fake news articles congruent with their political affiliation would consider sharing them, even though only 20% thought they were accurate.

At the moment, users are rewarded when their post appeals to the masses — even if it’s of poor quality. What would happen if users were rewarded for reliability and accuracy? A system that explicitly provides visible rewards for reliability has never, to my knowledge, been introduced by any major social-media platform. Such a system would work with the natural human tendency to select actions that lead to the greatest reward. It could thus both reinforce user behaviour that generates trustworthy material and signal to others that the post is dependable.

Reward systems have been successfully implemented before. In Sweden, drivers were offered prizes for obeying the speed limit, and average speed was reduced by 22%. In South Africa, a health-insurance company offered clients points whenever they purchased fruits and vegetables in the supermarket, visited the gym or attended a medical screening. Points could be exchanged for items, and were made visible to participants and their social circles. Participants’ behaviour changed enough to reduce hospital visits.

A challenge to implementing such a system on social media is how to

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2021 at 5:01 pm

In the US it’s okay to kill journalism if you can make money from it.

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An email from The Intercept:

The journalism industry just received another body blow, and this one is devastating.

A vulture hedge fund that’s been called the “grim reaper of American newspapers” just bought Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, and six other major U.S. dailies.

Everyone knows what’s coming next. When Alden Global Capital bought the Denver Post in 2018, they canned one-third of the newsroom on day one. Regional newspapers in Northern California saw 850 out of 1,000 reporting jobs eliminated. As Vanity Fair put it, the “hedge fund vampire that bleeds newspapers dry now has the Chicago Tribune by the throat.”

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2021 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

Sheryl Sandberg and Top Facebook Execs Silenced an Enemy of Turkey to Prevent a Hit to the Company’s Business

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Facebook upper management are a morally corrupt loot, Sandberg perhaps especially. Jack Gillum and Justin Elliott report in ProPublica:

As Turkey launched a military offensive against Kurdish minorities in neighboring Syria in early 2018, Facebook’s top executives faced a political dilemma.

Turkey was demanding the social media giant block Facebook posts from the People’s Protection Units, a mostly Kurdish militia group the Turkish government had targeted. Should Facebook ignore the request, as it has done elsewhere, and risk losing access to tens of millions of users in Turkey? Or should it silence the group, known as the YPG, even if doing so added to the perception that the company too often bends to the wishes of authoritarian governments?

It wasn’t a particularly close call for the company’s leadership, newly disclosed emails show.

“I am fine with this,” wrote Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s No. 2 executive, in a one-sentence message to a team that reviewed the page. Three years later, YPG’s photos and updates about the Turkish military’s brutal attacks on the Kurdish minority in Syria still can’t be viewed by Facebook users inside Turkey.

The conversations, among other internal emails obtained by ProPublica, provide an unusually direct look into how tech giants like Facebook handle censorship requests made by governments that routinely limit what can be said publicly. When the Turkish government attacked the Kurds in the Afrin District of northern Syria, Turkey also arrested hundreds of its own residents for criticizing the operation.

Publicly, Facebook has underscored that it cherishes free speech: “We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and we work hard to protect and defend these values around the world,” the company wrote in a blog post last month about a new Turkish law requiring that social media firms have a legal presence in the country. “More than half of the people in Turkey rely on Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and family, to express their opinions and grow their businesses.”

But behind the scenes in 2018, amid Turkey’s military campaign, Facebook ultimately sided with the government’s demands. Deliberations, the emails show, were centered on keeping the platform operational, not on human rights. “The page caused us a few PR fires in the past,” one Facebook manager warned of the YPG material.

The Turkish government’s lobbying on Afrin-related content included a call from the chairman of the BTK, Turkey’s telecommunications regulator. He reminded Facebook “to be cautious about the material being posted, especially photos of wounded people,” wrote Mark Smith, a U.K.-based policy manager, to Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy. “He also highlighted that the government may ask us to block entire pages and profiles if they become a focal point for sharing illegal content.” (Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization, although neither the U.S. nor Facebook do.)

The company’s eventual solution was to “geo-block,” or selectively ban users in a geographic area from viewing certain content, should the threats from Turkish officials escalate. Facebook had previously avoided the practice, even though it has become increasingly popular among governments that want to hide posts from within their borders.

Facebook confirmed to ProPublica that it made the decision to restrict the page in Turkey following a legal order from the Turkish government — and after it became clear that failing to do so would have led to its services in the country being completely shut down. The company said it had been blocked before in Turkey, including a half-dozen times in 2016.

The content that Turkey deemed offensive, according to internal emails, included photos on Facebook-owned Instagram of “wounded YPG fighters, Turkish soldiers and possibly civilians.” At the time, the YPG slammed what it understood to be Facebook’s censorship of such material. “Silencing the voice of democracy: In light of the Afrin invasion, YPG experience severe cyberattacks.” The group has published graphic images, including photos of mortally wounded fighters; “this is the way NATO ally Turkey secures its borders,” YPG wrote in one post.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone provided a written statement in response to questions from ProPublica. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2021 at 2:49 pm

“Mark Changed The Rules”: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures

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It’s difficult not to see Facebook as a serious problem whose root cause is Mark Zuckerberg’s shallowness and immaturity coupled with arrogance and power. Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman report in Buzzfeed News:

In April 2019, Facebook was preparing to ban one of the internet’s most notorious spreaders of misinformation and hate, Infowars founder Alex Jones. Then CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally intervened.

Jones had gained infamy for claiming that the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre was a “giant hoax,” and that the teenage survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting were “crisis actors.” But Facebook had found that he was also relentlessly spreading hate against various groups, including Muslims and trans people. That behavior qualified him for expulsion from the social network under the company’s policies for “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which required Facebook to also remove any content that expressed “praise or support” for them.

But Zuckerberg didn’t consider the Infowars founder to be a hate figure, according to a person familiar with the decision, so he overruled his own internal experts and opened a gaping loophole: Facebook would permanently ban Jones and his company — but would not touch posts of praise and support for them from other Facebook users. This meant that Jones’ legions of followers could continue to share his lies across the world’s largest social network.

“Mark personally didn’t like the punishment, so he changed the rules,” a former policy employee told BuzzFeed News, noting that the original rule had already been in use and represented the product of untold hours of work between multiple teams and experts.

“That was the first time I experienced having to create a new category of policy to fit what Zuckerberg wanted. It’s somewhat demoralizing when we have established a policy and it’s gone through rigorous cycles. Like, what the fuck is that for?” said a second former policy employee who, like the first, asked not to be named so they could speak about internal matters.

“Mark called for a more nuanced policy and enforcement strategy,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said of the Alex Jones decision, which also affected the bans of other extremist figures.

Zuckerberg’s “more nuanced policy” set off a cascading effect, the two former employees said, which delayed the company’s efforts to remove right wing militant organizations such as the Oath Keepers, which were involved the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. It is also a case study in Facebook’s willingness to change its rules to placate America’s right wing and avoid political backlash.

Internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 14 current and former employees show how the company’s policy team — guided by Joel Kaplan, the vice president of global public policy, and Zuckerberg’s whims — has exerted outsize influence while obstructing content moderation decisions, stymieing product rollouts, and intervening on behalf of popular conservative figures who have violated Facebook’s rules.

In December, a former core data scientist wrote a memo titled, “Political Influences on Content Policy.” Seen by BuzzFeed News, the memo stated that Kaplan’s policy team “regularly protects powerful constituencies” and listed several examples, including: removing penalties for misinformation from right-wing pages, blunting attempts to improve content quality in News Feed, and briefly blocking a proposal to stop recommending political groups ahead of the US election.

Since the November vote, at least six Facebook employees have resigned with farewell posts that have called out leadership’s failures to heed its own experts on misinformation and hate speech. Four departing employees explicitly cited the policy organization as an impediment to their work and called for a reorganization so that the public policy team, which oversees lobbying and government relations, and the content policy team, which sets and enforces the platform’s rules, would not both report to Kaplan.

Facebook declined to make Kaplan or other executives available for an interview. Stone, the company spokesperson, dismissed concerns about the vice president’s influence.

“Recycling the same warmed over conspiracy theories about the influence of one person at Facebook doesn’t make them true,” he said. “The reality is big decisions at Facebook are made with input from people across different teams who have different perspectives and expertise in different areas. To suggest otherwise is absurd.”

An integrity researcher who worked on Facebook’s efforts to protect the democratic process and rein in radicalization said the company caused direct harm to users by rejecting product changes due to concerns of political backlash.

“Out of fears over potential public and policy stakeholder responses, we are knowingly exposing users to risks of integrity,” they wrote in an internal note seen by BuzzFeed News. They quit in August.

Those most affected by Jones’ rhetoric have taken notice, too. Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, called the revelation that Zuckerberg weakened penalties facing the Infowars founder “disheartening, but not surprising.” He said the company had made a promise to do better in dealing with hate and hoaxes following a 2018 letter from HONR Network, his organization for survivors of mass casualty events. Yet Facebook continues to fail to remove harmful content.

“At some point,” Pozner told BuzzFeed News, “Zuckerberg has to be held responsible for his role in allowing his platform to be weaponized and for ensuring that the ludicrous and the dangerous are given equal importance as the factual.”

“Different Views On Different Things”

Kaplan’s close relationship with Zuckerberg has led the CEO to weigh politics more heavily when making high-profile content policy enforcement decisions, current and former employees said. Kaplan’s efforts to court the Trump White House over the past four years — from his widely publicized support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to his interventions on behalf of right-wing influencers in Facebook policy decisions — have also made him a target for civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers.

In June 2020, three Democratic senators asked in a letter what role Kaplan played “in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren called him out for overseeing a lobbying effort that spends millions of dollars to influence politicians. With a new presidential administration in place and a spate of ongoing antitrust lawsuits, Zuckerberg must now grapple with the fact that his top political adviser may no longer be a Washington, DC asset but a potential liability.

“I think that everybody in DC hates Facebook. They have burned every bridge,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project and a former member of Joe Biden’s presidential transition team. Democrats are incensed with the platform’s tolerance of hate speech and misinformation, while “pulling Trump off the platform” has brought new life to Republican gripes with the company, she said.

“Facebook has fires to put out all across the political spectrum,” Miller added. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s damning

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2021 at 12:55 pm

Facecrook: Dealing with a Global Menace

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Matt Stoller has a very interesting post in BIG. The blurb:

Facebook is engaged in a giant crime spree to steal ad money. A battle over speech in Australia shows what top executives really think of the rule of law.

The post begins:

On Wednesday of this week, Facebook blocked the nation of Australia from sharing news on its dominant platform, censoring an entire content. The corporation is reacting to a law mandating dominant digital platforms negotiate terms with publishers over news distribution. On Thursday, unsealed court California documents revealing that the firm has been defrauding advertisers, with the knowledge and participation of Sheryl Sandberg.

Today I’ll explain how these events are connected. I’ll describe what’s in the controversial Australian law and how it works, and why Biden’s Department of Justice should probably be investigating Sheryl Sandberg for fraud.

In other words, what happens when Facebook’s crime spree meets the rule of law?

Also…

  • A reader shares a story of how Logitech monopolized universal remotes with its Harmony line, and is now going to shut down the entire industry because it doesn’t feel like competing with voice assistants.
  • Another reader who does live jazz music recordings got blocked from sharing them on Spotify’s podcast service with the note from the audio giant: “Our podcast service is not intended to be a music distribution tool.” Hmmm…
  • What does hyper-aggressive semiconductor monopolist Nvidia want?
  • Odds and ends on private equity, supermarket consolidation, and airline regulation.

The Latest Facebook Crime

On Thursday night, a judge allowed the unsealing of legal documents showing that Facebook has been engaged in fraud against advertisers. The firm told advertisers that its ads reach many more people than they actually do, inducing ad buyers to spend more money on the platform than they otherwise would have. The documents revealed that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg directly oversaw the alleged fraud for years.

The scheme was simple. Facebook deceived advertisers by pretending that fake accounts represented real people, because ad buyers choose to spend on ad campaigns based on where they think their customers are. Former employees noted, that the corporation didn’t care about the accuracy of numbers as long as the ad money was coming in. Facebook, they said, “did not give a shit.”

The inflated statistics sometimes led to outlandish results. For instance, Facebook told advertisers that its services had a potential reach of 100 million 18 to 34-year-olds in the United States, even though there are only 76 million people in that demographic. After employees proposed a fix to make the numbers honest, the corporation rejected the idea, noting that “the “revenue impact” for Facebook would be “significant.” One Facebook employee wrote, “My question lately is: how long can we get away with the reach overestimation?”

According to these documents, Sandberg aggressively managed public communications over how to talk to advertisers about the inflated statistics, and Facebook is now fighting against her being interviewed by lawyers in a class action lawsuit alleging fraud.

Facebook’s Decade of Crime

Antitrust law can be complex, but these actions aren’t. It’s just stealing. Facebook wants people to see this suit as just some disgruntled media outlets or advertisers, and some frustrated ex-employees angry at a successful business. The problem, for Facebook, is that this isn’t a one-off. It is the THIRD time Facebook has been caught for lying to advertisers in order to steal their money.

The first time was the famous ‘pivot to video’ moment when Facebook lied to advertisers and media outlets about video metrics, causing media outlets to rearrange their business models and then lay off journalists. Facebook eventually paid off some advertiser to go away after they sued, but the scandal also came up in the House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing, when Congressman Jerry Nadler confronted Mark Zuckerberg with it. Then, late last year, Facebook told advertisers in November it had been over-estimating the performance of their ad campaigns. It had known about the lie for two months before telling the defrauded parties, and, chalking it up to a technical glitch, gave advertisers not money back but coupons for Facebook services.

There’s more bad behavior. In 2018, there was the Cambridge Analytica Federal Trade Commission settlement where Facebook paid a $5 billion fine for mishandling customer data, which was itself a response to a 2011 consent decree over Facebook mishandling customer data. And guess what? Facebook has likely violated the 2018 decree already! The New York Department of Financial Services just criticized the firm for “collecting unauthorized data about people’s medical conditions, religious practices and finances” and then using this data to engage in targeted advertising. So that’s a violation of a consent decree over data fraud that was reached as a result of an earlier consent decree reached over data fraud.

I’ve been saying for awhile that big tech executives need to face handcuffs, not just civil penalties. And this attitude is becoming mainstream. After the lax response to the financial crisis under Obama, anger over corporate repeat criminality has become increasingly widespread among Democrats. For example, FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra in 2018 noted in an internal memo to the enforcement agency that corporations who repeatedly break the law should be restructured and their executives held personally accountable, with the famous line “FTC orders are not suggestions.”

This latest fraud is a good example. Facebook commits crime after crime after crime, often overseen by top officials concerned about revenue impacts. After the first couple of times, it’s reasonable to criticize Facebook. But now, the question is simply, where are the cops? If no one will stop firms from committing crimes, then the result is the rise of corporate warlords like Facebook, who just bludgeon and steal without consequence. These firms will in turn finance public relations specialists who make arguments about how all of this theft is the result of technology, that the ‘internet killed media,’ as if lying to advertisers so you can steal their money is magic sorcery.

There’s one other dynamic here in the public debate. The reason Facebook’s arguments have currency is because its victims – seeing no action from law enforcers against this crime spree – are afraid of fighting back. Facebook and Google are dominant providers of services, revenue, and ad inventory to publishers, ad buyers, and advertising agencies. Their power is immense; Facebook uses 400 law firms, simply to ensure that every firm is conflicted out of representing any opponents who might sue them. Google and Facebook can withhold services or revenue and pretty much destroy anyone in publishing or ad buying at this point, and then hire corrupt economists to explain to credulous enforcers that blackmail is efficient.

Digiday reported on fear in the publishing industry over the behavior of Google and Facebook, reporting that few will go on the record critical of the monopolists for fear they will be downgraded in search results or lose ad deals. “Google and Facebook have such power that I’m afraid of repercussions, so we play nice with them,” said one anonymous publishing executive. As a result, the armies of Facebook PR people, often laundered through fancy schools and prestigious media outlets, have little public opposition from those industries most immediately affected by the firm.

The rising anti-monopoly movement, inchoate but increasingly influential, is a cultural response to this lawlessness. And this movement isn’t just U.S. based, it is global. And it is getting results. Finally, this week, a big tech oligarch finally met the rule of law.

Which brings me to Australia.

An Unstoppable Force Meets an Australian Object

Facebook stopped allowing the sharing of news in Australia, after the government put forward a law requiring the firm to negotiate with news publishers over the terms of content distribution. The firm also stopped letting Australian publishers be shared anywhere in the world on Facebook. Facebook also did their usual ‘move fast and break things,’ accidentally censoring much of the South Pacific, but the result is that when you try to post Australian news, this is the message you get.

There’s much more. Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2021 at 2:40 pm

The backstory to the Texas power catastrophic failure

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Heather Cox Richardson in her column today provides some good historical perspective on what led to Texas’s failure to ensure that its people have power and drinking water: it was not simply a failure, but a deliberately chosen high-risk approach. She writes:

The crisis in Texas continues, with almost 2 million people still without power in frigid temperatures. Pipes are bursting in homes, pulling down ceilings and flooding living spaces, while 7 million Texans are under a water boil advisory.

Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, put on Facebook: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic],” he said.

After an outcry, Boyd resigned.

Boyd’s post was a fitting tribute to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who passed today from lung cancer at age 70. It was Limbaugh who popularized the idea that hardworking white men were under attack in America. According to him, minorities and feminists were too lazy to work, and instead expected a handout from the government, paid for by tax dollars levied from hardworking white men. This, he explained, was “socialism,” and it was destroying America.

Limbaugh didn’t invent this theory; it was the driving principle behind Movement Conservatism, which rose in the 1950s to combat the New Deal government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure. But Movement Conservatives’ efforts to get voters to reject the system that they credited for creating widespread prosperity had little success.

In 1971, Lewis Powell, an attorney for the tobacco industry, wrote a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlining how business interests could overturn the New Deal and retake control of America. Powell focused on putting like-minded scholars and speakers on college campuses, rewriting textbooks, stacking the courts, and pressuring politicians. He also called for “reaching the public generally” through television, newspapers, and radio. “[E]very available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks,” he wrote, “as well as to present the affirmative case through this media.”

Pressing the Movement Conservative case faced headwinds, however, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a policy that, in the interests of serving the community, required any outlet that held a federal broadcast license to present issues honestly, equitably, and with balance. This “Fairness Doctrine” meant that Movement Conservatives had trouble gaining traction, since voters rejected their ideas when they were stacked up against the ideas of Democrats and traditional Republicans, who agreed that the government had a role to play in the economy (even though they squabbled about the extent of that role).

In 1985, under a chair appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the FCC stated that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest. Two years later, under another Reagan-appointed chair, the FCC abolished the rule.

With the Fairness Doctrine gone, Rush Limbaugh stepped into the role of promoting the Movement Conservative narrative. He gave it the concrete examples, color, and passion it needed to jump from think tanks and businessmen to ordinary voters who could help make it the driving force behind national policy. While politicians talked with veiled language about “welfare queens” and same-sex bathrooms, and “makers” and “takers,” Limbaugh played “Barack the Magic Negro,” talked of “femiNazis,” and said “Liberals” were “socialists,” redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving.

Constantly, he hammered on the idea that the federal government threatened the freedom of white men, and he did so in a style that his listeners found entertaining and liberating.

By the end of the 1980s, Limbaugh’s show was carried on more than 650 radio stations, and in 1992, he briefly branched out into television with a show produced by Roger Ailes, who had packaged Richard Nixon in 1968 and would go on to become the head of the Fox News Channel. Before the 1994 midterm elections, Limbaugh was so effective in pushing the Republicans’ “Contract With America” that when the party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, the Republican revolutionaries made him an honorary member of their group.

Limbaugh told them that, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans must “begin an emergency dismantling of the welfare system, which is shredding the social fabric,” bankrupting the country, and “gutting the work ethic, educational performance, and moral discipline of the poor.” Next, Congress should cut capital gains taxes, which would drive economic growth, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and generate billions in federal revenue.

Limbaugh kept staff in Washington to make sure Republican positions got through to voters. At the same time, every congressman knew that taking a stand against Limbaugh would earn instant condemnation on radio channels across the country, and they acted accordingly.

Limbaugh saw politics as entertainment that pays well for the people who can rile up their base with compelling stories—Limbaugh’s net worth when he died was estimated at $600 million—but he sold the Movement Conservative narrative well. He laid the groundwork for the political career of Donald Trump, who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a made-for-tv moment at Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address. His influence runs deep in the current party: former Mayor Boyd, an elected official, began his diatribe with: “Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!”

Like Boyd, other Texas politicians are also falling back on the Movement Conservative narrative to explain the disaster in their state. The crisis was caused by a lack of maintenance on Texas’s unregulated energy grid, which meant that instruments at coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants froze, at the same time that supplies of natural gas fell short. Nonetheless, Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry went after “liberal” ideas. They blamed the crisis on the frozen wind turbines and solar plants which account for about 13% of Texas’s winter power. Abbott told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Tucker Carlson told his viewers that Texas was “totally reliant on windmills.” [Wind turbines work fine in cold weather if they have been winterized. The Antarctic research station uses wind turbines just fine, as do northern states like Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, and others. It’s simply that Texas regulations do not require power plants to be winterized so the plant operators and owners protected profits (if not their customers) by skipping that. – LG]

The former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, Rick Perry, wrote on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s website to warn against regulation of Texas’s energy system: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” he said. The website warned that “Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste.” . . .

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2021 at 1:10 pm

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