Later On

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Where Journalism Fails

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Doc Searls blogged in July 2019:

“What’s the story?”

No question is asked more often by editors in newsrooms than that one. And for good reason: that’s what news is about: The Story.

Or, in the parlance of the moment, The Narrative. (Trend.)

I was just 22 when I wrote my first stories as a journalist, reporting for a daily newspaper in New Jersey. It was there that I first learned that all stories are built around three elements:

  1. Character
  2. Problem
  3. Movement toward resolution

Subtract one or more of those and all you’ll have is an item, or an incident. Not a story. Which won’t run. So let’s unpack those elements a bit.

The character can be a person, a group, a team, a cause—anything with a noun. Mainly the character needs to be worth caring about in some way. You can love the character, hate it (or him, or her or whatever). Mainly you have to care about the character enough to be interested.

The problem can be of any kind at all, so long as it causes conflict involving the character. All that matters is that the conflict keeps going, toward the possibility of resolution. If the conflict ends, the story is over. For example, if you’re at a sports event, and your team is up (or down) by forty points with five minutes left, the character you now care about is your own ass, and your problem is getting it out of the parking lot. If that struggle turns out to be interesting, it might be a story you tell later at a bar.)

Movement toward resolution is nothing more than that. Bear in mind that many stories never arrive at a conclusion. In fact, that may be part of the story itself. Soap operas work that way.

For a case-in-point of how this can go very wrong, we have the character now serving as President of the United States, creating problems and movement around them with nearly everything he says and does.

We have never seen Donald Trump’s like before, and may never again. His genius at working all three elements are without equal in our time—or perhaps any time. So please, if you can, set your politics aside and just look at the dude through the prism of Story.

Donald Trump spins up stories at least four ways:

  1. Through constant characterization of others, for example with nicknames (“Little Mario,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Failing New York Times”)
  2. By finding or creating problems, and characterizing those too: “witch hunt,” “fake news,” “illegal ballots,” “Dominion-izing the Vote.”
  3. By creating movement via the Roy Cohn and Roger Stone playbook: always attack or counter-attack, sue constantly, claim victory no matter what. (Roy Cohn was a lawyer Frank Rich felicitously called “The worst human being who ever lived … the most evil, twisted, vicious bastard ever to snort coke at Studio 54.” Talk about character: Cohn was absolutely interesting. As Politico puts it here, “Cohn imparted an M.O. that’s been on searing display throughout Trump’s ascent, his divisive, captivating campaign, and his fraught, unprecedented presidency. Deflect and distract, never give in, never admit fault, lie and attack, lie and attack, publicity no matter what, win no matter what, all underpinned by a deep, prove-me-wrong belief in the power of chaos and fear.”)
  4. By playing the ultimate alpha. That’s why he constantly calls himself the winner, no matter what.
  5. By de-legitimizing facts, truths, norms, and those who traffic in them. Key to this is accusing others of wrongs he commits himself. This is why he labels CNN and other news organizations “fake news” while turning the generation of it into an art form. Also why his accusations against others are a reliable tell of his own guilt for doing the same thing.
  6. As for movement, every new problem Trump creates or intensifies is meant to generate an emotional response, which is movement in itself.

Look closely: the news Trump makes is deliberate, theatrical and constant. All of it is staged and re-staged, so every unavoidably interesting thing he says or does pushes the last thing he said or did off the stage and into irrelevance, because whatever he’s saying or doing now demands full attention, no matter what he said or did yesterday.

There is true genius to this, and it requires understanding and respect—especially by those who report on it.

You can call this trolling, or earned media coverage, meaning the free kind. Both are true. So is comparing Trump to The Mule in Isaac Azimov’s Foundation and Empire. (The Mule was a mutant with exceptional influence over the emotions of whole populations. It was by noting this resemblance that I, along with Scott Adamsexpected Trump to win in 2016.)

Regardless of what one calls it, we do have two big fails for journalism here:

  1. Its appetite for stories proves a weakness when it’s fed by a genius at hogging the stage.
  2. It avoids reporting what doesn’t fit the story format. This includes most of reality.

My favorite priest says “some truths are so deep only stories can tell them,” and I’m sure this is true. But stories by themselves are also inadequate ways to present essential facts people need to know, because by design they exclude what doesn’t fit “the narrative,” which is the modern way to talk about story—and to spin journalists. (My hairs of suspicion stand on end every time I hear the word “narrative.”)

So here’s the paradox: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2021 at 6:09 pm

A Truth Reckoning: Forbes Will Hold Accountable Those Who Lied For Trump

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Randall Lane, chief content officer and editor of Forbes, writes:

Yesterday’s insurrection was rooted in lies. That a fair election was stolen. That a significant defeat was actually a landslide victory. That the world’s oldest democracy, ingeniously insulated via autonomous state voting regimens, is a rigged system. Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline.

That Donald Trump devolved from commander-in-chief to liar-in-chief didn’t surprise Forbes: As we’ve chronicled early and often, for all his billions and Barnum-like abilities, he’s been shamelessly exaggerating and prevaricating to our faces for almost four decades. More astonishing: the number of people willing to lend credence to that obvious mendacity on his behalf.

In this time of transition – and pain – reinvigorating democracy requires a reckoning. A truth reckoning. Starting with the people paid by the People to inform the People.

As someone in the business of facts, it’s been especially painful to watch President Trump’s press secretaries debase themselves. Yes, as with their political bosses, spins and omissions and exaggerations are part of the game. But ultimately in PR, core credibility is the coin of the realm.

From Day One at the Trump White House, up has been down, yes has been no, failure has been success. Sean Spicer set the tone with the inauguration crowd size – the worst kind of whopper, as it demanded that people disbelieve their own eyes. The next day, Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer’s lie with a new term, “alternative facts.” Spicer’s successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied at scale, from smearing those who accused Trump of sexual harassment to conjuring jobs statistics. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, over the course of a year, never even held a press conference, though the BS continued unabated across friendly outlets. And finally, Kayleigh McEnany, Harvard Law graduate, a propaganda prodigy at 32 who makes smiling falsehood an art form. All of this magnified by journalists too often following an old playbook ill-prepared for an Orwellian communication era.

As American democracy rebounds, we need to return to a standard of truth when it comes to how the government communicates with the governed. The easiest way to do that, from where I sit, is to create repercussions for those who don’t follow the civic norms. Trump’s lawyers lie gleefully to the press and public, but those lies, magically, almost never made it into briefs and arguments – contempt, perjury and disbarment keep the professional standards high.

So what’s the parallel in the dark arts of communication? Simple: Don’t . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 1:31 pm

Facebook fails Georgia

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

Over the last two weeks, Facebook has repeatedly allowed a top Republican Super PAC, American Crossroads, to run dishonest attacks against Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock — in violation of Facebook’s own misinformation rules. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Georgians have been exposed to misinformation about Warnock on Facebook in the critical days leading up to the January 5 run-off election.

Internal Facebook communications concerning the American Crossroads ads, obtained by Popular Information, reveal dysfunction and confusion about Facebook’s advertising policies, even among executives purportedly in charge of such matters.

Beginning on Election Day, November 3, Facebook banned all political ads on the platform. But it partially lifted the ban on December 16 to allow ads about the Georgia runoffs targeting Facebook users in Georgia. The announcement said that Facebook would activate its “Elections Operations Center” to “.fight…misinformation” about the Georgia runoffs in “real time.”

On December 17, American Crossroads, a Republican Super PAC run by Karl Rove and funded by Mitch McConnell’s political operation, began running an ad with a short snippet of Warnock saying, “God damn America.” The ad presents Warnock’s statement as an expression of his own views, saying his comments represented “anti-American hate.” This is blatantly dishonest. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2021 at 10:31 am

Propaganda, PSYOPS, and the End of Democracy

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David Troy blogs:

I wrote this piece in mid-2017 and declined to publish it at the time — I considered it to be perhaps too dark, or an overstatement of the situation. Now, over three years later, I think it was an accurate, if partial, assessment of where things stand. This week I plan to write more on this topic, and I think this is an appropriate time to revisit this piece.

We have all heard about “fake news” and most of us have some sense that there has been a concerted effort to manipulate online news media for political influence.

But for all the discussion, there has been relatively little analysis of the underlying strategy: how exactly does this work? What is the goal? And why does it seem so difficult to fight? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions as concisely as possible and is the product of a considerable amount of study of this topic.

Here is how and why propaganda and psyops techniques are being used by right-wing (and far left) political operators, specifically in the United States, but also in Europe and elsewhere.

How does modern propaganda work? There are three main tactics that define today’s efforts.

When we think about mass media, we think of television, radio, and newspapers, where a relatively small number of outlets and content producers can reach a very large audience. Historically, there has been a wariness of the power concentrated in these producers, as well as regulation that has aimed to ensure that these broadcasters do not have undue influence.

By contrast, contemporary propagandists aim to build up many smaller audiences. This is made possible by the internet, where a single blogger, YouTube star, or small website can garner audiences in the hundreds of thousands or low millions. That’s not a lot by mainstream media standards, but when taken together, an array of small audiences can reach many millions of people.

People only have so much time and attention. The more that people believe that mainstream media is biased — or worse, incorrect—the more they will distrust it and seek outlets that reinforce their own worldview. So the cultivation and growth of these smaller audiences is aided by the gradual chipping away at mainstream media.

Democracies place a high value on independent thinking and rational analysis, and having an “open mind” is a desirable quality. Those seeking to build small audiences for the purposes of propaganda can thus appeal to the ideal of an “open mind,” and prompt people to question both mainstream media and conventional wisdom, causing them to search for ‘alternative’ voices that comport with their own predispositions. This reinforces their self-image as an “independent thinker,” and accrues social capital with others who also question dominant narratives about reality.

By clawing away at consensus-reality, modern propaganda efforts aim to build a bloc of constituents composed of a wide range of small audiences. Because all of these audiences are built on opposition to consensus-reality, they can be relied upon to oppose it.

Now that we understand exactly what is being done, we can try to identify what it actually is. Today’s propaganda techniques borrow heavily from three other concepts: fascism, PSYOPS, and reflexive control.

The term fascism is widely used but broadly misunderstood. It is derived from the ancient Roman word fasces, which is a bundle of rods (or arrows) bound together with a strap, and an axe blade projecting from the bundle. This symbol was used to signify the power of a magistrate in Ancient Rome.

The modern idea of fascism came from Mussolini’s Italy, and was borrowed from the Sicilian concept of fasci, meaning “men organized for political purposes.”

Fascism is thus a literal bundling together of interest groups to wield political power and to achieve political ends. It is an aggregation of aggrieved audiences.

Contemporary right-wing propaganda is thus literally fascist in nature, inasmuch as it aims to build a voting bloc from many smaller audiences.

PSYOPS is a military term meaning “psychological operations.” It was developed as a technology rooted in modern behavioral science and psychology, and aims to exert control over a population to achieve military objectives.

For example, in managing the aftermath of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was desirable that the many factions present in those countries support US military operations, or at the very least, that any opposition be minimized and managed.

To do this, coalition military forces deployed PSYOPS techniques as a kind of weapon aimed at achieving its goals.

According to SCL Group, a leading practitioner of military PSYOPS techniques, here are the steps involved in planning an effective behavioral modification campaign:

  1. Identify the objective: what do you want people to do; how do you want them to behave, or not behave?
  2. Strategic Communication Planning: what messages do you want to convey to produce the desired behavior?
  3. Target Audience Analysis: what audiences exist, and what are their belief systems and goals that may affect whether you can get them to adopt the desired behavior?
  4. Campaign Intervention Strategy: how does your strategic communication need to be tailored to produce the desired behavior in each of your target audiences?

In PSYOPS, the goal is . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s important and urgent.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 4:17 pm

Backstory to Apple’s new M1 System on a Chip: How an obscure British PC maker invented ARM and changed the world

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Image by Jason Korchinsky

Jason Torchinsky has in Ars Technica a fascinating article that includes videos. His article begins:

Let’s be honest: 2020 sucks. So much of this year has been a relentless slog of bad news and miserable events that it’s been hard to keep up. Yet most of us have kept up, and the way most of us do so is with the small handheld computers we carry with us at all times. At least in America, we still call these by the hilariously reductive name “phones.”

We can all use a feel-good underdog story right now, and luckily our doomscrolling 2020 selves don’t have to look very far. That’s because those same phones, and so much of our digital existence, run on the same thing: the ARM family of CPUs. And with Apple’s release of a whole new line of Macs based on their new M1 CPU—an ARM-based processor—and with those machines getting fantastic reviews, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the strange and unlikely source these world-controlling chips came from.

If you were writing reality as a screenplay, and, for some baffling reason, you had to specify what the most common central processing unit used in most phones, game consoles, ATMs, and other innumerable devices was, you’d likely pick one from one of the major manufacturers, like Intel. That state of affairs would make sense and fit in with the world as people understand it; the market dominance of some industry stalwart would raise no eyebrows or any other bits of hair on anyone.

But what if, instead, you decided to make those CPUs all hail from a barely-known company from a country usually not the first to come to mind as a global leader in high-tech innovations (well, not since, say, the 1800s)? And what if that CPU owed its existence, at least indirectly, to an educational TV show? Chances are the producers would tell you to dial this script back a bit; come on, take this seriously, already.

And yet, somehow, that’s how reality actually is.

In the beginning, there was TV

The ARM processor, the bit of silicon that controls over 130 billion devices all over the world and without which modernity would effectively come to a crashing halt, has a really strange origin story. Its journey is peppered with bits of seemingly bad luck that ended up providing crucial opportunities, unexpected technical benefits that would prove absolutely pivotal, and a start in some devices that would be considered abject failures.

But everything truly did sort of get set in motion by a TV show—a 1982 BBC program called The Computer Programme. This was an attempt by the BBC to educate Britons about just what the hell all these new fancy machines that looked like crappy typewriters connected to your telly were all about.

The show was part of a larger Computer Literacy Project started by the British government and the BBC as a response to fears that the UK was deeply and alarmingly unprepared for the new revolution in personal computing that was happening in America. Unlike most TV shows, the BBC wanted to feature a computer on the show that would be used to explain fundamental computing concepts and teach a bit of BASIC programming. The concepts included graphics and sound, the ability to connect to teletext networks, speech synthesis, and even some rudimentary AI. As a result, the computer needed for the show would have to be pretty good—in fact, the producers’ demands were initially so high that nothing on the market really satisfied the BBC’s aspirations.

So, the BBC put out a call to the UK’s young computer industry, which was then dominated by Sinclair, a company that made its fortune in calculators and tiny televisions. Ultimately, it was a much smaller upstart company that ended up getting the lucrative contract: Acorn Computers.

An Acorn blooms

Acorn was a Cambridge-based firm that started in 1979 after developing computer systems originally designed to run fruit machines—we call them slot machines—then turning them into small hobbyist computer systems based on 6502 processors. That was the same CPU family used in the Apple II, Atari 2600, and Commodore 64 computers, among many others. This CPU’s design will become important later, so, you know, don’t forget about it.

Acorn had developed a home computer called the Atom, and when the BBC opportunity arose, they started plans for the Atom’s successor to be developed into what would become the BBC Micro.

The BBC’s demanding list of features ensured the resulting machine would be quite powerful for the era, though not quite as powerful as Acorn’s original Atom-successor design. That Atom successor would have featured two CPUs, a tried-and-true 6502 and an as-yet undecided 16-bit CPU.

Acorn later dropped that CPU but kept an interface system, called the Tube, that would allow for additional CPUs to be connected to the machine. (This too will become more important later.)

The engineering of the BBC Micro really pushed Acorn’s limits, as it was a pretty state-of-the-art machine for the era. This resulted in some fascinatingly half-ass but workable engineering decisions, like having to replicate the placement of an engineer’s finger on the motherboard with a resistor pack in order to get the machine to work.

Nobody ever really figured out why the machine only worked when a finger was placed on a certain point on the motherboard, but once they were able to emulate the finger touch with resistors, they were just satisfied it worked, and moved on.

Here, listen to one of the key engineers tell you himself: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s fascinating (to me, at any rate).

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2020 at 1:16 pm

Russian Media Mourn as Putin Acknowledges Biden’s Win—But Say Trump ‘Burned’ U.S. on His Way Out

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The attitude — possessive and grateful — Russian media have for Donald Trump is remarkable. Julia Davis reports in The Daily Beast:

On Tuesday, the Kremlin finally acknowledged that U.S. President Donald J. Trump has been defeated by President-elect Joe Biden, by sending an official congratulatory message to the incoming American president. Russian state media immediately noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin was the last leader of the G20 to recognize Biden’s indisputable victory.

Russian state TV hosts, pundits and lawmakers were also quick to point out the unusually dry language of Putin’s greetings, noting that—unlike his prior telegrams to Trump and Obama—Putin didn’t express any hope that U.S.-Russia relations might improve in the near future. “There are no hopes expressed in Putin’s letter to Biden, none whatsoever,” noted Olga Skabeeva, the co-host of Russia’s state TV program 60 Minutes. She added: “We’re disappointed in Americans.”

Describing American president as “our candidate Trump,” “our friend Donald,” “our Grandpa” and “poor, poor Trump,” Kremlin-controlled state TV shows conceded that Trump’s days in the Oval Office are numbered. While the doom and gloom in Russian state media inevitably surrounded most discussions acknowledging Trump’s electoral defeat, pundits and experts celebrated the bright side of their favored candidate’s four-year reign. “Mission accomplished,” rejoiced Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and an ever-present pundit on Russian state TV news talk shows. Appearing on state TV program The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, Shakhnazarov opined that Trump’s mission was to destroy the political system of the United States, and he successfully did exactly that.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2020 at 11:33 am

Murder in Malta

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The 21 December issue of the New Yorker has a long and absorbing article by Ben Taub. The article’s blurb reads: “After a journalist was assassinated, her sons found clues in her unfinished work that cracked the case and brought down the government.” The government involved was the government of Malta, and it was astonishingly corrupt, up to and including murder. The detailed and gripping account begins:

Daphne’s sons worried about her. She was fifty-three and lived in an old stone farmhouse on the edge of Bidnija, a hilltop hamlet on the island of Malta. From the dining-room table, where Daphne wrote, she could see the morning sunlight glisten on the Mediterranean. But she hadn’t been to the beach in four years. When she left the house, people spat at her, followed her, photographed her, and hurled insults and abuse. Once, when she was taking an afternoon walk in a nearby village, a former mayor gathered a mob and began chasing her. She took refuge in a monastery, where the villagers pounded on the heavy wooden doors. All over the island, there were people who were certain that they hated her but had never read a word she had written. They simply knew her as is-sahhara tal-Bidnija—the witch of Bidnija.

Beyond “this little rock,” as Daphne referred to Malta, she was known for her reporting, which exposed malfeasance and hypocrisy within the governing class. She had come to think of the country as fractured by time, with all the worst elements of globalization grafted onto a population that was otherwise stuck in the past. “Malta is 17 miles by nine and flooded with cocaine, corruption, and filthy money,” she wrote. Her blog, Running Commentary, laced deep investigations with withering taunts, and had an online readership as large as all of Malta’s newspapers combined. In late 2016, Politico Europe included Daphne—along with George Soros, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Sadiq Khan—on its list of “people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe.” She was “the blogging fury,” the list read, “a one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption in Malta, an island nation famous for both.”

But her subjects were her neighbors—the Prime Minister lived just down the hill. In recent years, he and his Cabinet had sought to smother her with libel lawsuits. People in his office used their work computers to post cruel gossip about her, accompanied by unflattering photographs. There was little serious effort to refute Daphne’s reports—only to disdain her as an élitist, partisan fraud. (Her surname, Caruana Galizia, had become redundant—everyone knew her as Daphne.) “The greatest difficulties I encounter come from the fact that they have made me into what in effect is a national scapegoat,” she once said.

On the afternoon of October 16, 2017, Daphne prepared a plate of tomatoes and mozzarella for Matthew, her eldest son. He was thirty-one, a computer scientist and a journalist himself. An expert on shell companies, he had shared a Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers leak. He sometimes got so caught up in his work that he forgot to eat.

Daphne set down the plate and put on her shoes to go to the bank. Her husband, Peter, a lawyer, had left her a stack of blank checks with his signature. She could not access her own accounts: after she claimed that Malta’s economy minister had visited a brothel while on an official mission to Germany, he persuaded a court to freeze her assets.

Across the valley, a man peered at the house. He watched Daphne climb into her car, and called his brother, who was waiting on a boat just offshore. When she was partway down the hill, the man on the boat sent a text message: “REL 1 = ON.”

A local farmer heard a pop and a scream, and watched Daphne yank the emergency brake. Then the gas tank exploded, launching her car into a field. The boom resonated throughout Bidnija valley.

Matthew ran down the hill, barefoot, squinting in the afternoon sun. When he reached the fireball, he thought for a few seconds that the twisted chassis couldn’t be that of his mother’s car, because it was burning white, and hers was charcoal gray. But then Matthew saw the beginning of the license plate—QQZ—and circled the car, helpless, screaming, searching for his mother’s silhouette, his skin as hot as he could stand it.

“I don’t think she made it,” Matthew told Paul, his youngest brother, an academic in London, in a phone call later that afternoon. Andrew, the middle brother, who was a Maltese diplomat, walked out of the foreign-ministry building and never returned. Paul took the first flight home. During the descent, he could frame the entire island within the window. Somewhere in that vista were the men who had ordered the hit. For the first time in a decade, all three brothers slept in their childhood bedrooms.

Supporters of the government posted memes with images of champagne flutes and witches burning at the stake, and made explosion sounds when they saw Daphne’s family in public. “This isn’t like the troll factory in St. Petersburg,” Paul told me. “These are real people. These were her neighbors.”

Daphne’s sons carried her coffin, then left the island to regroup. They suspected that their mother’s murder had been arranged by someone who believed that, in Malta, it was less dangerous to assassinate a reporter than to let her complete her work. To kill to protect a secret—it was a crime as old as any. Somewhere in their mother’s files, they thought, there must be a series of clues.

When Daphne was growing up in Malta, there was only one brand of chocolate, one brand of toothpaste, one brand of bluejeans. After attaining independence from the United Kingdom, in September, 1964—a month after she was born—the island suffered a post-colonial hangover, dominated by a repressive socialist Labour Party. For thousands of years, the island’s language, culture, and architecture had been shaped by invasions from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Now, as the Maltese government distanced itself from the most recent colonial empire, it aligned with China, the Soviet Union, Libya, and North Korea. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2020 at 1:59 pm

The End of the Facebook Crime Spree

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

The Government Asks to Break Up Facebook

Today, 48 state attorneys general, plus Trump’s Federal Trade Commission, filed antitrust suits against Facebook.

There are two complaints, one from the states and one from the FTC. The state AG complaint is stronger, but both tell the same story. Facebook bought Instagram and WhatsApp to stop nascent competitors from challenging its monopoly power in social networking. It also used a variety of other tactics to foreclose competitors it could not buy from entering the market and challenging its dominance. Then, after it became a monopoly, it increased prices or downgraded user experiences to profit from the conspiracy it had arranged.

The narrative comes from legal scholar and former ad executive Dina Srinivasan’s remarkable 2019 paper on Facebook. In her analysis, Srinivasan showed that Facebook actually beat out MySpace by offering users a product differentiated with better privacy guarantees. But after monopolizing the market and killing its competitors, Facebook immediately started degrading the quality of the product with intrusive surveillance of its users, contra their wishes.

The complaints from enforcers mirror her argument. They claim Facebook’s anti-competitive tactics made the product worse, not just by spying on people when they wanted a product that protected their privacy, but also by increasing the number of ads people had to wade through to get to content they sought. Advertisers were harmed as well, not just with higher prices but also because Facebook putting their ads next to offensive content.

“It is better to buy than compete.”

The enforcers proved their case with internal emails showing that the company deliberately and routinely engaged in acquisitions to eliminate competition, and then eroded user privacy when users had nowhere else to go. The FTC starts off its case with one email in 2008 from Zuckerberg in which he writes, “it is better to buy than compete.”

And it’s true. These mergers were harmful to competition, intended to fortify Facebook’s control of the social media market. Here’s another example, but again, the complaints are chock full of these (as is the Antitrust Subcommittee report):

In January 2012, just three months before Facebook acquired Instagram, Facebook’s Business Development Manager Amin Zoufonoun told his colleagues that gaining better functionality in photos was “one of the most important ways we can make 15 switching costs very high for users – if we are where all users’ photos reside because the uploading (mobile and web), editing, organizing, and sharing features are best in class, will be very tough for a user to switch if they can’t take those photos and associated data/comments with them.”

Facebook was locking in its users.

And the corporation understood the value of locking in its customers, even going so far as to stop forms of intrusive surveillance when users could flee to a different product (as indeed they had fled to Facebook from MySpace). One Facebook official warned that the company should not violate user privacy while under competitive threat from Google Plus. “IF ever there was a time to AVOID controversy, it would be when the world is comparing our offerings to G+.” He then recommended that Facebook save any controversial changes “until the direct competitive comparisons begin to die down.”

The goal, in other words, was to stop users from switching by locking them into Facebook products by eliminating competitors and raising switching costs. Then, the company would show them more ads and spy on them more, in the process making the user experience worse, reducing investment and innovation in social media, and raising prices on advertisers. That’s illegal. And fortunately for the FTC and 48 state AGs, Zuckerberg and company helpfully wrote it all down in email.

Facebook’s main defense is that the government allowed these mergers in the first place. That’s true and certainly embarrassing to the enforcers who let the mergers through, though it is irrelevant to whether the mergers were illegal. (The company was also gracious enough to thank the two FTC Commissioners, Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, who voted against bringing the case. That will become important, but I won’t go into why in this issue.)

The important part of this case is that it’s a statement by policymakers that what Facebook did was illegal. The Sherman Act is a criminal statute as well as a civil statute, and while this case is civil, monopolization is criminal behavior. It’s a form of theft, of economic violence. And Facebook makes a lot of money from engaging in crimes of various forms, monopolization being only one of them.

Scams are rampant on its properties, with fake military romances being a tragic and routine route for con artists to prey on lonely people. I noted how the shoe company Rothy’s is routinely robbed by counterfeiters who pay money to Facebook for the privilege of stealing. Tens of thousands of journalists have been laid off because Facebook and Google redirected ad revenue to themselves, through monopolization or just fraud. Here’s one satisfied customer making the point:

[And click that link at the date shown and read the thread. It’s stunning. – LG]

And yet, despite this harm, for years, policymakers and a small guild of technocratic antitrust ‘experts’ refused to take any monopolization law seriously. The cases against Facebook filed today are an indictment of that guild, which staffed the FTC when it approved these mergers. This antitrust bar and antitrust economists endorsed and lobbied for lawlessness and corruption, and the result of this lawlessness was, among other things, a massive collapse in the financing for news-gathering, as well as social dysfunction, violent ethnic conflict, and political manipulation all over the world.

So what changed?. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s interesting.

See also this Wired article about the smoking gun in the case: Facebook emails.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2020 at 3:24 pm

The GOP Is a Propaganda Party: Media parasites have taken control of the host.

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A clownfish with a Cymothoa exigua parasite functioning as its tongue. (Christian Gloor / Flickr [CC BY 2.0:])

Amanda Carpenter makes some insightful observations in The Bulwark:

Cymothoa exigua is a terrifying creature.

The parasite enters a fish through its gills, attaches to its tongue, consumes the tongue, and then becomes a sort of new tongue. For the rest of the fish’s life, it swims around with the “tongue-eating louse,” as the isopod is known, operating its mouth.

At first, seeing a photo of it made me recoil. Then, I realized it seemed oddly familiar: It reminds me of the relationship between what’s loosely defined as “conservative media” and the GOP.

For a long time, most influential right-leaning media figures were content to swim alongside the GOP, flowing along in the same general direction. Until Donald Trump came along. Then they saw an opportunity to burrow deep inside the GOP and wield real power.

It worked. So well that the GOP, as an institution, no longer controls its tongue and its craven media parasites are the only thing keeping it alive.

Ask yourself, “Who are the actual leaders of the GOP?” Who truly influences Republican voters?

It’s not whoever the Republican National Committee will nominate as its next chairman. It’s not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for God’s sake. It’s the Fox News primetime lineup, the large galaxy of radio and digital outlets clamoring to place their personalities and stories on Fox News, and their vast array of fringy lower-tier knockoffs.

All day, every day, these talkers, writers, producers, and editors set the party agenda. They act as the Republican party’s “war room.” They give favored politicians airtime to solicit donations from their viewers. They go negative on their political enemies. Their stars even headline campaign events to rev up the base and get out the vote.

The ones who are good at it get paid far more by the likes of the Murdoch and the Mercer families to carry out the political agenda than any mere senator or congressman. These talkers, not the elected officials stuck grubbing around shaking hands and campaigning in the streets, are the party’s real leaders.

Donald Trump is almost an afterthought in this context. After all, where is Trump without the glow of the TV camera and his Twitter handle? Nowhere. Long before he announced his candidacy in 2015, Fox primed the GOP base for a candidate like him; the network gave him more airtime than other candidates, including a longstanding call-in segment on Fox & Friends; no one blinked an eye when Fox head Roger Ailes, who had a quarter-century friendship with Trump, began advising the Trump campaign soon after Ailes’s ouster from the network. And beyond and before Fox, the media—news, talk, and entertainment—always have been and always will be Trump’s source of political strength. That will only become more true after he leaves office. He will continue to seek out ratings, somewhere, as sustenance for relevance and survival.

The only question is what channel and whether he appears on the network, owns it, or licenses his name.

Knowing this dynamic within the GOP, it’s no wonder that (to name just one ambitious pol) Sen. Ted Cruz has adopted the posture of an online Twitter troll instead of the constitutional scholar-turned-statesman of the most Republican of the big states. One doesn’t amass a rabid grassroots following by passing bipartisan legislation, delivering on constituent services, or even acting to protect the homeland during a pandemic. The demands of leading and governing in the public interest have never meshed well with the demands of winning and keeping office, but they have never before been so contradictory.

Propaganda Party rules dictate that “owning the libz” and generating likes, retweets, and reactions online are the key to success. In the absence of any policy platform, a new party operating philosophy has emerged among politicians and media figures alike: present Trump-friendly figures in the best light possible and depict anyone who stands in their way as some variation of a socialist, child-eating, Satan worshipper.

Plenty of deep-pocketed investors are down for it; they’re looking to fund more media that will do exactly this. In a piece published last nightNew York Times media reporter Ben Smith found a healthy appetite among media investors eager to “convert Mr. Trump’s political profile into cash”:

“There are a lot of well-capitalized people circling,” said Michael Clemente, a former executive at ABC News and Fox News and former chief executive of Newsmax, who has been part of conversations as a potential leader of a new venture. . . . The noisiest effort is led by  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2020 at 10:48 am

Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway

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Rebecca Solnit writes at Lit Hub:

When Trump won the 2016 election—while losing the popular vote—the New York Times seemed obsessed with running features about what Trump voters were feeling and thinking. These pieces treated them as both an exotic species and people it was our job to understand, understand being that word that means both to comprehend and to grant some sort of indulgence to. Now that Trump has lost the 2020 election, the Los Angeles Times has given their editorial page over to letters from Trump voters, who had exactly the sort of predictable things to say we have been hearing for far more than four years, thanks to the New York Times and what came to seem like about 11,000 other news outlets hanging on the every word of every white supremacist they could convince to go on the record.

The letters editor headed this section with, “In my decade editing this page, there has never been a period when quarreling readers have seemed so implacably at odds with each other, as if they get their facts and values from different universes. As one small attempt to bridge the divide, we are providing today a page full of letters from Trump supporters.” The implication is the usual one: we—urban multiethnic liberal-to-radical only-partly-Christian America—need to spend more time understanding MAGA America. The demands do not go the other way. Fox and Ted Cruz and the Federalist have not chastised their audiences, I feel pretty confident, with urgings to enter into discourse with, say, Black Lives Matter activists, rabbis, imams, abortion providers, undocumented valedictorians, or tenured lesbians. When only half the divide is being tasked with making the peace, there is no peace to be made, but there is a unilateral surrender on offer. We are told to consider this bipartisanship, but the very word means both sides abandon their partisanship, and Mitch McConnell and company have absolutely no interest in doing that.

Paul Waldman wrote a valuable column in the Washington Post a few years ago, in which he pointed out that this discord is valuable fuel to right-wing operatives: “The assumption is that if Democrats simply choose to deploy this powerful tool of respect, then minds will be changed and votes will follow. This belief, widespread though it may be, is stunningly naive.” He notes that the sense of being disrespected “doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.”

There’s also often a devil’s bargain buried in all this, that you flatter and, yeah, respect these white people who think this country is theirs by throwing other people under the bus—by disrespecting immigrants and queer people and feminists and their rights and views. And you reinforce that constituency’s sense that they matter more than other people when you pander like this, and pretty much all the problems we’ve faced over the past four years, to say nothing of the last five hundred, come from this sense of white people being more important than nonwhites, Christians than non-Christians, native-born than immigrant, male than female, straight than queer, cis-gender than trans.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naïve version of centrism, of the idea that if  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

She concludes:

. . . Some of us don’t know how to win. Others can’t believe they ever lost or will lose or should, and their intransigence constitutes a kind of threat. That’s why the victors of the recent election are being told in countless ways to go grovel before the losers. This unilateral surrender is how misogyny and racism are baked into a lot of liberal and centrist as well as right-wing positions, this idea that some people need to be flattered and buffered even when they are harming the people who are supposed to do the flattering and buffering, even when they are the minority, even when they’re breaking the law or lost the election. Lakoff didn’t quite get to the point of saying that this nation lives in a household full of what domestic abuse advocates call coercive control, in which one partner’s threats, intimidations, devaluations, and general shouting down control the other.

This is what marriages were before feminism, with the abused wife urged to placate and soothe the furious husband. Feminism is good for everything, and it’s a good model for seeing that this is both outrageous and a recipe for failure. It didn’t work in marriages, and it never was the abused partner’s job to prevent the abuse by surrendering ground and rights and voice. It is not working as national policy either. Now is an excellent time to stand on principle and defend what we value, and I believe it’s a winning strategy too, or at least brings us closer to winning than surrender does. Also, it’s worth repeating, we won, and being gracious in victory is still being victorious.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2020 at 1:20 pm

“I Lived Through A Stupid Coup. America Is Having One Now”

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Indi Samarajiva writes in Medium:

1 | You’re being couped

As a recovering coup victim to another, let me tell you this. The first step is simply accepting that you’ve been coup’d. This is hard and your media or Wikipedia may never figure this out (WTF does constitutional crisis mean? Is murder a legal crisis?), but it’s nonetheless true. The US system is weird, but people voted for a change of power. One person is refusing to accept the people’s will. He’s taking power that doesn’t belong to him. That’s a coup.

Americans are so caught up with the idea that this can’t be happening to them that they’re missing the very obvious fact that it is.

What else do you call Donald Trump refusing to leave, consolidating control of the military, and spreading lies across the media? That, my friends, is just a coup. You take the power, you take the guns, and you lie about it. American commentators say “we’re like the third world now” as if our very existence is a pejorative. Ha ha, you assholes, stop calling us that. You’re no better than us. The third world from the Sun is Earth. You live here too.

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2020 at 10:56 am

The tide on the Right begins to turn, with Tucker Carlson as the bellwether

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The bellwether is the lead sheep in a flock of sheep, and certainly the Right has shown a sheep-like (if not sheepish) willingness to follow Trump wherever he leads them. But now the cliff’s edge is being reached, with Joseph Biden’s clear victory being certified, county by county and state by state.

So what can Trump do? “Send in the clowns” seems to be his answer (in addition to unleashing an on-going string of hysterical tweets). Reed Richardson offers a clip of Tucker Carlson breaking ranks to head in a new direction in a Mediaite article that is very much worth watching.

The article begins:

Fox News host Tucker Carlson laid out in great detail the incredible allegations about massive, nationwide election fraud put forward by Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell — and then patiently explained how she was unable to provide any evidence to back up her claims, despite numerous, polite requests from his show.

During his Thursday evening show, Carlson began by reviewing the latest in President Donald Trump’s increasingly desperate attempts to reverse his 2020 election loss.

Just hours earlier, at a bizarre press briefing, Powell had trotted out on Trump’s behalf a byzantine election fraud conspiracy theory, one that roped in a large cast of conservative boogeymen, including the Communist Party, Antifa, George Soros, the deceased Hugo Chavez, and, for good measure, the Clinton Foundation. Powell was joined by the similarly bonkers spectacle of Rudy Giuliani re-enacting a courtroom scene from My Cousin Vinnyleaking what looked to be hair coloring product down both cheeks, and lashing out at reporters who dared to ask to see the evidence to back up his claims.

Calling the Powell claims a “bombshell,” Carlson explained that she is accusing “international leftists” of changing seven million votes across the country via Dominion election software — a claim that has already been debunked by numerous news sources, and even pooh-poohed by Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy.

“Sidney Powell has been saying similar things for days, on Sunday night, we texted her after watching one of her segments. What Powell was describing what amount to the single greatest crime in American history,” Carlson noted. “Millions of votes stolen in the day. Democracy destroyed, the end of our centuries-old system of self-government, not a small thing.”

The Fox host went to say he did not dismiss Powell’s claims out of hand, despite their elaborate and hard-to-believe nature. . .

Continue reading. And do watch the clip.

The comments to the article are also interesting. Here are two:

“Rat-tucker leaves the sinking Trumptanic.”

“I am no longer impressed that Sacha Baron Cohen tricked Rudy Giuliani.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2020 at 10:09 am

The loss of so much local journalism leaves us in the dark

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Kyle Pope writes at the Columbia Journalism Review:

THE FINAL VOTE TALLIES still aren’t known, but the media verdict of this presidential election is in: it’s 2016 all over again. Four years ago, in the hours after Donald Trump declared victory on the strength of 306 Electoral College votes and the ballots of nearly sixty-three million Americans, I wrote a column about the failures of the press throughout that campaign, and declared that “journalism’s moment of reckoning” had arrived. “Reporters’ eagerness first to ridicule Trump and his supporters, then to dismiss them, and finally to actively lobby and argue for their defeat have led us to a moment when the entire journalistic enterprise needs to be rethought and rebuilt,” I wrote then. 

It is astonishing, today, how little we seem to have learned since. Once again, opinion polls were overhyped and under-scrutinized. Some of them were also wildly off—and, though that’s different from 2016, when the polls were largely accurate but widely misunderstood, it doesn’t let media organizations off the hook for their treatment of the numbers. Newsrooms leaned too heavily on polls as a substitute for on-the-ground reporting, and they were led astray. Journalists spent too much time talking to each other on Twitter, inhabiting an alternate algorithmic reality that bore little resemblance to the life of the country. And major media institutions made it all but impossible to envision that, despite the wealth of reporting on the president’s lies and his racism and his circus—nearly half the country remains beholden to the man and his beliefs. “We can’t go back to assuming, just because we think Donald Trump is an outlier, that he is not connecting to a lot of American people in ways that, frankly, a lot of us cannot understand,” Claire McCaskill, a former Missouri senator, said Wednesday morning on MSNBC. The feeling of déjà vu, and of lost journalistic opportunity, is inescapable.

This, then, will be the media debate as we move forward: How much of the election outcome is about Americans and what they think, and how much is it about the proto-authoritarian who occupies the Oval Office, who used party machinery and the most powerful propaganda networks in history to mislead the electorate? Both factors matter, of course. But it is certain that much less journalistic firepower has gone into probing the country than into pointing out the infinite faults of the man who, at the moment, leads it. (Remember the post-2016 pledges to “go out into the country”? We seem to have forgotten.)

It would be unfair not to note what many reporters got right in this cycle. They predicted that early voting would favor Biden, and that turnout in big cities would be huge. They advised the electorate of entirely legitimate delays in vote counting, and warned that Trump would likely declare premature victory. They chastised Republican legislatures for engineering an electoral process that would leave Trump a legal opening. They counseled patience, which is never a reporter’s instinct. They knew that, the closer we came to the election, the darker and more threatening Trump would become.

Still, we’ve kept too big of a distance from too much of America, nearly half of which has voted for an administration that downplayed a deadly pandemic; exacerbated the climate crisis; emboldened racism, xenophobia, and gender-based violence; and embraced an authoritarian’s handbook on misinformation. In 2016, the press determined that our inability to grasp Trump’s rise ranked as one of our deepest failures. To repeat that mistake—as it appears we have—is somehow worse. Our task now is to report on the fact, ugly as it is, that Trump won more than sixty-seven million votes. That story is only partly about the president’s odious tweets and lies. Voters who support him know about most, if not all, of his flaws—thanks in no small part to some great journalism—and yet pulled the lever for him anyway. Now is our time to focus on the America he has laid bare.

We are hindered in our efforts by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2020 at 9:55 am

A statement from the person who wrote the anonymous NY Times op-ed about President Trump’s incompetence

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Miles Taylor, who worked at Department of Homeland Security, writes at Medium:

Why I’m no longer “Anonymous”

More than two years ago, I published an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times about Donald Trump’s perilous presidency, while I was serving under him. He responded with a short but telling tweet: “TREASON?”

Trump sees personal criticism as subversive.

I take a different view. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.”

We do not owe the President our silence. We owe him and the American people the truth.

Make no mistake: I am a Republican, and I wanted this President to succeed. That’s why I came into the Administration with John Kelly, and it’s why I stayed on as Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security. But too often in times of crisis, I saw Donald Trump prove he is a man without character, and his personal defects have resulted in leadership failures so significant that they can be measured in lost American lives. I witnessed Trump’s inability to do his job over the course of two-and-a-half years. Everyone saw it, though most were hesitant to speak up for fear of reprisals.

So when I left the Administration I wrote A Warninga character study of the current Commander in Chief and a caution to voters that it wasn’t as bad as it looked inside the Trump Administration — it was worse. While I claim sole authorship of the work, the sentiments expressed within it were widely held among officials at the highest levels of the federal government. In other words, Trump’s own lieutenants were alarmed by his instability.

Much has been made of the fact that these writings were published anonymously. The decision wasn’t easy, I wrestled with it, and I understand why some people consider it questionable to levy such serious charges against a sitting President under the cover of anonymity. But my reasoning was straightforward, and I stand by it. Issuing my critiques without attribution forced the President to answer them directly on their merits or not at all, rather than creating distractions through petty insults and name-calling. I wanted the attention to be on the arguments themselves. At the time I asked, “What will he do when there is no person to attack, only an idea?” We got the answer. He became unhinged. And the ideas stood on their own two feet.

To be clear, writing those works was not about eminence (they were published without attribution), not about money (I declined a hefty monetary advance and pledged to donate the bulk of the proceeds), and not about crafting a score-settling “tell all” (my focus was on the President himself and his character, not denigrating former colleagues).

Nevertheless, I made clear I wasn’t afraid to criticize the President under my name. In fact, I pledged to do so. That is why I’ve already been vocal throughout the general election. I’ve tried to convey as best I can — based on my own experience — how Donald Trump has made America less safe, less certain of its identity and destiny, and less united. He has responded predictably, with personal attacks meant to obscure the underlying message that he is unfit for the office he holds.

Yet Trump has failed to bury the truth.

Why? Because since the op-ed was published, I’ve been joined by an unprecedented number of former colleagues who’ve chosen to speak out against the man they once served. Donald Trump’s character and record have now been challenged in myriad ways by his own former Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor, Communications Director, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others he personally appointed.

History will also record the names of those souls who had everything to lose but stood up anyway, including Trump officials Fiona Hill, Michael McKinley, John Mitnick, Elizabeth Neumann, Bob Shanks, Olivia Troye, Josh Venable, Alexander Vindman, and many more. I applaud their courage. These are not “Deep Staters” who conspired to thwart their boss. Many of them were Trump supporters, and all of them are patriots who accepted great personal risks to speak candidly about a man they’ve seen retaliate and even incite violence against his opponents. (I’ve likewise experienced the cost of condemning the President, as doing so has taken a considerable toll on my job, daily life, marriage, finances, and personal safety.)

These public servants were not intimidated. And you shouldn’t be either. As descendants of revolutionaries, honest dissent is part of our American character, and we must reject the culture of political intimidation that’s been cultivated by this President. That’s why I’m writing this note — to urge you to speak out if you haven’t. While I hope a few more Trump officials will quickly find their consciences, your words are now more important than theirs. It’s time to come forward and shine a light on the discord that’s infected our public discourse. You can speak loudest with your vote and persuade others with your voice. Don’t be afraid of open debate. As I’ve said before, there is no better screen test for truth than to see it audition next to delusion.

This election is a two-part referendum: first,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2020 at 1:04 pm

Facebook approves Trump ads that violate its pre-election rules

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Facebook is a problem. It has power without accountability and no sense of responsibility beyond increasing profit. Zuckerberg is philosophically incompetent and seems to have little sense of community morality. Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

In September, Facebook announced that it would stop accepting new political ads starting October 27. From October 27 through Election Day on November 3, political groups are permitted to run, subject to limitations, Facebook ads approved and running before October 27.

In October, Facebook announced that after the polls close, it would ban all political ads indefinitely. The purpose of that policy is to prevent a campaign from declaring victory prematurely.

Both policies were part of a high-profile effort to convince the public that the company was taking election integrity seriously.

But on the first day of the moratorium, Facebook approved numerous Trump ads that appeared to violate its pre-election policies. At the same time, Facebook rejected scores of ads, many from groups aligned with Democrats, that do not violate its rules.

Popular Information contacted Facebook regarding Trump’s ads early Tuesday afternoon. Several hours later, Facebook told Popular Information that some of the ads did violate its policies and hundreds of Trump’s ads were taken down.

Election Day is not today

The Trump campaign produced a number of ads that said “Election Day is Today.” . . .

Continue reading. There is much more, and screenshots to document the offenses Facebook allowed against its own policies.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2020 at 11:44 am

The media never held Trump responsible for a mass atrocity

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Jennifer Rubin is a Republican opinion columnist for the Washington Post. She writes:

The mainstream media have fallen short in covering President Trump in many respects — from playing along as if he were sane and coherent, to perpetuating false moral equivalences between Trump and his opponents, to refusing to call his lies “lies.” That’s how we get coverage of the final presidential debate that praises Trump for not interrupting rather than making clear that Trump showed indifference to the deaths of more than 222,000 Americans because of covid-19. Somehow that accurate, verifiable statement is verboten in straight news coverage.

The most extraordinary failure in presidential history — the attempt to disguise and downplay the deaths of more Americans than all the U.S. military deaths from World War I, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined — has not been laid at Trump’s feet. Put aside criminal law for now; this is a moral crime of unimaginable dimensions that should never be erased from the records of Trump and his enablers. What’s more, it is still going on.

Trump’s refusal to tell the American people that the novel coronavirus was a deadly airborne virus far worse than the flu, as he told The Post’s Bob Woodward, followed by his effort to goad governors into opening their states’ economies early, his disdain for masks and social distancing, and his recklessness in holding rallies and unmasked events needlessly exposed Americans to death and illness.

In the closing days of his campaign, Trump is still holding mass rallies that have left a trail of infection. We now learn a coverup was underway to conceal the extent of an outbreak among Vice President Pence’s staff. The New York Times reports, “Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, portrayed an outbreak among Vice President Mike Pence’s close advisers as a matter of medical privacy that White House officials were right to try to keep from the public.” Meadows’s excuse that Pence was engaged in “essential” work and therefore exempt from health guidelines is false:

The C.D.C. guidelines allow “critical infrastructure workers” to continue working after a coronavirus exposure as long as they are asymptomatic. Campaigning, however, is not essential work. The guidelines also state clearly that a critical worker who has been exposed to the virus should “wear a face mask at all times,” among other precautions.

Mr. Pence appeared without a mask at a rally in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday, and some in the crowd were also maskless. Mr. Trump’s supporters also rarely wear masks at his rallies.

The mentality remains: Ignore the science, cover up the danger and risk others’ lives. The Post reports, “With the election a little over a week away, the new White House outbreak spotlighted the administration’s failure to contain the pandemic as hospitalizations surge across much of the United States and daily new cases hit all-time highs.” In short, “The outbreak around Pence, who chairs the White House’s coronavirus task force, undermines the argument Trump has been making to voters that the country is ‘rounding the turn,’ as the president put it at a rally Sunday in New Hampshire.”

Even more damning, we now hear a confession straight from the lips of the president’s chief of staff: The administration is not even trying to control the pandemic and reduce infections and deaths. “We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

She concludes the column with this:

In the bizarre effort to maintain “balance,” the mainstream media have failed to press the question to Trump: “Aren’t you responsible for possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths because you never wanted to admit failure?”

Furthermore, soft-peddling the direct consequence of Trump’s pandemic denial gives cover to Republican politicians and pundits who still defend his presidency and even back his reelection. The question for them is: “How are tax cuts or Supreme Court justices worth the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives?” That is a question that should haunt them forever.

We talk about presidential blunders that lead to unnecessary wars, holding them politically and morally account for massive loss of life. Yet in peacetime, we do not apply that same exacting judgment to Trump. You would think the death of thousands upon thousands of Americans would top every story and be addressed in every interview with an administration figure and fellow Republicans. The failure to hold Trump accountable for one of the worst civilian mass death in U.S. history stands among the greatest failures of American media.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2020 at 11:33 am

Facebook Manipulated the News You See to Appease Republicans, Insiders Say

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Facebook is out of control.

For quick confirmation read this post by Kevin Drum. For more details: Monia Bauerlein and Clara Jeffrey report in Mother Jones:

Near the close of the first year of the Trump presidency, executives at Facebook were briefed on some major changes to its News Feed—the code that determines which of the zillions of posts on the platform any one of us is shown when we look at Facebook. The story the company has publicly told is that it was working to “bring people closer together” by showing us more posts from friends and family, and to prioritize “trusted” and “informative” sources of news. The changes would also reduce how much news most people see, and therefore decrease revenue for many publishers.

What wasn’t publicly known until now is that Facebook actually ran experiments to see how the changes would affect publishers—and when it found that some of them would have a dramatic impact on the reach of right-wing “junk sites,” as a former employee with knowledge of the conversations puts it, the engineers were sent back to lessen those impacts. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, they came back in January 2018 with a second iteration that dialed up the harm to progressive-leaning news organizations instead.

In fact, we have now learned that executives were even shown a slide presentation that highlighted the impact of the second iteration on about a dozen specific publishers—and Mother Jones was singled out as one that would suffer, while the conservative site the Daily Wire was identified as one that would benefit. These changes were pushed by Republican operatives working in Facebook’s Washington office under Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan (who later made headlines for demonstratively supporting his friend Brett Kavanaugh during confirmation hearings).

Asked for comment, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone would only say, “We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers. We only made updates after they were reviewed by many different teams across many disciplines to ensure the rationale was clear and consistent and could be explained to all publishers.”

Glossed over in that non-answer answer is the fact that the changes were made with at least the knowledge of the disparate impact they would have on specific publishers. And that those changes appear to have been based, at least in part, on internal partisan concerns.

Stone would not comment on the slide deck. But according to someone who has seen it, it contained bar graphs indicating how much reach various news organizations would gain or lose under the revamped algorithm. One chart showed the Daily Wire, a site headed by conservative pundit Ben Shapiro that routinely shares false claims and malignant ideas (being transgender is a “delusion,” abortion providers are “assassins,” US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., is not “loyal to America”). Another graph showed Mother Jones, whose rigorously fact-checked investigative work has garnered many of journalism’s highest awards, including—just months before that Facebook presentation—being honored as Magazine of the Year at our industry’s version of the Academy Awards.

Allow us to pause briefly while we scream out of the window. This kind of false equivalence is enraging enough when lazy pundits do it. But when the most powerful media company in the world uses it as the basis for deciding what information users should see or not see, it’s more than that. It’s an attack on your ability to stay informed. It’s an attack on democracy.

To be perfectly clear: Facebook used its monopolistic power to boost and suppress specific publishers’ content—the essence of every Big Brother fear about the platforms, and something Facebook and other companies have been strenuously denying for years.

It’s also, ironically, what conservatives have consistently accused Facebook of doing to them, with the perverse but entirely intended effect of causing it to bend over backward for them instead. This past Thursday the Daily Wire’s Shapiro inveighed against Twitter and Facebook suppressing a widely discredited New York Post story on Hunter Biden: “Social media companies are . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and IMO it’s alarming.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2020 at 4:57 pm

Why New Zealand rejected populist ideas other nations have embraced

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Charlotte Graham-McKay from Wellington writes in the Guardian:

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Labour prime minister who was returned to power for a second term with a commanding majority, has often been hailed internationally as a foil to global surges in right-wing movements and the rise of strongmen such as Donald Trump and Brazil’s leader, Jair Bolsonaro.

But the historic victory of Ardern’s centre-left party on polling day – its best result in five decades, winning 64 of parliament’s 120 seats – was not the only measure by which New Zealand bucked global trends in its vote. The public also rejected some political hopefuls’ rallying cries to populism, conspiracy theories and scepticism about Covid-19.

The lack of traction gained by fringe or populist movements was due to the majority of New Zealanders’ long-term contentment with the direction the country was headed – which had persisted for more than 20 years, through both centre-right and centre-left governments, and prevented populist sentiment from taking root, analysts said.

“When you look at the numbers, New Zealanders have essentially been satisfied with their government since 1999,” said Stephen Mills, the head of UMR, Labour’s polling firm. That period had spanned two Labour and two centre-right National prime ministers – including Ardern – all of whom had led fairly moderate governments.

‘Basically positive’

Since 1991, UMR has asked poll respondents whether they felt the country was on the right track, with the response staying “basically positive” for the past 21 years, even during the global financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, which has prompted the deepest recession in decades.

“People were deeply satisfied with the government,” during the peak of New Zealand’s coronavirus response, said Mills (Ardern has won global accolades for her decisions during the crisis, with New Zealand recording one of the world’s lowest death tolls).

“Records were set during Covid with that number in our polls, which is so weird when you think about it, during a pandemic,” Mills said.

David Farrar, the founder of Curia Market Research, National’s polling firm, also asks the “right or wrong direction” question and has recorded a “strong net positive” result since 2008 – meaning people mostly thought the country was traveling the right way.

“We have a functioning political system, we have one house of parliament and a neutral public service,” Farrar said.

In contrast, he said, the US had seen “net negative” results for most of the past 40 years, meaning people felt the country was headed in the wrong direction.

“That’s corrosive; 40 years of negative feeling,” Farrar said of the United States.

Murdoch-owned press

In Australia – where news outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch have been decried for driving confrontational politics and elevating populist sentiment – “right direction” polls were often negative too.

“A huge reason that our politics is not so extremely polarised and so far out there is because we no longer have Murdoch-owned press in New Zealand, and it’s never taken a foothold,” said David Cormack, the co-founder of a public relations firm and a former head of policy and communications for the left-leaning Green party.

. . . Advance NZ, a new party in the 2020 election that made its name by campaigning against Ardern’s Covid-19 restrictions, vaccinations, the United Nations, and 5G technology, won just 0.9% of the vote, attracting 21,000 ballots from the 2.4 million New Zealanders who cast them. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2020 at 2:17 pm

A NY Times column that casts strong doubt on a NY Times report (and NY Times reporter)

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Ben Smith reports in the NY Times about the NY Times — and critically. He writes:

Derek Henry Flood wasn’t looking for work in March of 2018, when he sent a direct message to a New York Times reporter he admired, Rukmini Callimachi, to congratulate her on the announcement of her big new podcast about the terror group known as the Islamic State.

By that time, major American news outlets had mostly stopped hiring freelancers like Mr. Flood in Syria, scared off by a wave of kidnappings and murders.

But when Mr. Flood mentioned that he was in the northern city of Manbij, Ms. Callimachi wrote back urgently, and quickly hired him for a curious assignment. She sent him to the local market to ask about a Canadian Islamic State fighter called Abu Huzayfah.

The assignment, Mr. Flood recalled thinking, was both hopeless and quite strange in its specificity, since the extremist group had been forced out of Manbij two years earlier. But he was getting $250 a day, and so he gamely roamed the bazaar, reporting on all he saw and heard. Ms. Callimachi was singularly focused. “She only wanted things that very narrowly supported this kid in Canada’s wild stories,” he told me in a phone interview.

Mr. Flood didn’t know it at the time, but he was part of a frantic effort at The New York Times to salvage the high-profile project the paper had just announced. Days earlier, producers had sent draft scripts of the series, called Caliphate, to the international editor, Michael Slackman, for his input. But Mr. Slackman instead called the podcast team into the office of another top Times editor, Matt Purdy, a deputy managing editor who often signs off on investigative projects. The editors warned that the whole story seemed to depend on the credibility of a single character, the Canadian, whose vivid stories of executing men while warm blood “sprayed everywhere” were as lurid as they were uncorroborated. (This scene and others were described to me in interviews with more than two dozen people at The Times, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive internal politics.)

The Times was looking for one thing: evidence that the Canadian’s story was true. In Manbij, Mr. Flood wandered the marketplace until a gold merchant warned him that his questions were attracting dangerous attention, prompting him to quickly board a bus out of town. Across the Middle East, other Times reporters were also asked to find confirmation of the source’s ties to ISIS, and communicated in WhatsApp channels with names like “Brilliant Seekers” and “New emir search.” But instead of finding Abu Huzayfah’s emir, they found that ISIS defectors had never heard of him.

In New York, Malachy Browne, a senior producer of visual investigations at The Times, managed to confirm that an image from Abu Huzayfah’s phone had been taken in Syria — but not that he had traveled there.

Still more Times reporters in Washington tried to find confirmation. And one of them, Eric Schmitt, pulled a thread that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Bottom line: the NY Times messed up big time, and a reporter there should put her CV in order.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2020 at 12:43 pm

Facebook caves quickly

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Yesterday I blogged a column from Popular Information about how Facebook gave carte blanche to Breitbart to post propaganda. This morning I read in my Popular Information newsletter:

Tuesday’s newsletter detailed how Facebook gave Breitbart, a far-right outlet, a pass for publishing dangerous misinformation on COVID-19. Prior to publication, Facebook declined to comment on the record. But after the piece published — and was shared by thousands of people online — a Facebook spokesperson suddenly had plenty to say.

Facebook attacked Popular Information’s reporting as “a conspiracy in search of facts.” Pressed on what facts were inaccurate, the spokesperson was unable to cite an example.

Corporate accountability journalism matters because corporations behave better when they know people are paying attention. And Facebook, a $700 billion corporation, is paying attention to this newsletter.

I’m now a subscriber. You can check out the newsletter here.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2020 at 9:58 am

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