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Why don’t they just walk out?

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Jay Rosen writes at Press Think:

Last week Maggie Haberman of the New York Times observed about Donald Trump’s daily briefings, “As long as he’s fighting with reporters, he can attempt to shift focus from where the government has lagged in its response.” 

Which raises the question, “why stick around for that?” As Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept put it

So why are the reporters, and the networks they work for, allowing him to do it? Being his punchbags on live TV *every single day*? Playing their role in his TV production? Why not ditch these ‘briefings’ and focus on the failed response? Relentlessly, forensically, passionately?

On social media people ask me this question a lot. Why don’t they just walk out?  There is no simple answer to that. I have no elegant explanation. What I have instead is a list of factors that might help you understand why the walk out doesn’t happen. But I want to be clear: I think it should happen. Here’s the way I have put it when people ask me what I would do: 

If I ran a newsroom I would not broadcast Trump’s Covid-19 briefings live. I would not send reporters so he can waste their time and use them as his hate objects. I would instruct them to watch it on CSPAN, and report any news that emerges. If he makes a factual claim it has to be verified or no go.

A few months ago this would have been an unthinkable stance for journalists who report on politics. But that is changing. Ron Fournier is a former White House reporter and Washington bureau chief for the AP. You cannot get more establishment than that:

So why do newsrooms keep sending their people to the briefings? Here is my list of factors, which, again, is a long way from an explanation. I’m not defending these propositions. But I am proposing that the answer to the question is some combination of items 1-13 here. 

1. What the president says is news. This was a wrong turn taken long ago in American journalism. It’s a kind of bug in the code for how to report on national politics. As a writer for the New York Times said in 1976, “Journalism has long been caught up in the particular tautology that runs, news is what the President says, so what the President says is news.” This never made a lot of sense. For one thing, it effectively hands over editorial control to the president. Another: what the president does is news, what the president says may or may not be. Third: journalists are always working with limited time or limited space. They cannot treat everything the president says as news. Nonetheless, the tautology remains. Trump has weaponized it. And if you think this way — what the president says is news — you’re going to want to be there when he says it. 

2. There is enormous prestige in being the president’s official interlocutor because it means you are effectively part of the presidency. This is not something journalists think to mention, but to me it is major. There is glamour in being at the White House every working day. It means you’re important. If you’re not in the actual room where history happens, you’re pretty damn close. That’s seductive. One occasion on which you can feel this is an official prime time press conference in the East Room of the White HouseQuitting that is hard if you want to feel important— and close to power. 

3. It’s part of our franchise, a thing we are able to do that others are not. This is a prestige factor, as well, but more for the executive suite. Having a seat in the briefing room means your brand has made it to the big time. You are now part of the national press. And if you have been big time forever, like CBS News, that’s not something you relinquish. It’s one of the advantages of media incumbency. 

4. We fought for this space in the White House, it’s valuable, we protect it, and we’re not going to give it up. This is how the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) thinks. Its agenda can be summed up in one word: access to the president and his aides. It’s not only about the briefing room, but work spaces in the White House and the ability to ask questions of the president’s communicatons staff, and perhaps develop valuable relationships. 

5. The American press tends to be a “herd of independent minds.” Meaning: it often moves as a pack, but each individual believes in his or her autonomous decision-making. Which means it . . .

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

He notes in concluding:

One last note: The New York Times does not send anyone to the coronavirus briefings. They walked out. 

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2020 at 10:21 am

Why does the NY Times so clearly despise Hillary Clinton?

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The NY Times incessant beating the drum about the Whitewater non-scandal was just the beginning. Kevin Drum has a brief post worth reading on how the NY Times still refuses to acknowledge their role in the 2016 election.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2019 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Election, NY Times

At the NY Times, a Resistance to Hyperlink

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Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Jason Koebler report at Motherboard:

There’s a joke in the journalism industry: It’s not news until the New York Times says it is. This is because the Times often reports stories that other outlets already have without any acknowledgment that they’re doing so.

Angry journalists regularly tweet (and sometimes write) about the bizarre practice, which comes up all the time. For instance, the Times recently wrote about how Kickstarter is unionizing. This was an important piece about an important topic; the main problem with it was that Slate’s April Glaser wrote an in-depth investigation breaking news about the exact same topic a month earlier, to which the Times didn’t bother linking until after Glaser publicly criticized them for not doing so.

This week it was Slate (and BuzzFeed); at other times it’s been the Guardian and Gawker; several times, it’s been VICE. It goes on and on, with the Times running stories that other people already have and not acknowledging them for seemingly no better reason than the paper’s institutional belief that a thing does not exist until the paper has deemed it noteworthy.

Probably not that many people in the real world care about how the Times’s linking and crediting practices affect the reputations and careers of journalists whose work is scooped up, without credit, by America’s most prestigious news operation. Those practices affect readers of the most important journalistic outlet in the U.S., though, for reasons perhaps best explained in a memo written by the paper’s standards editor, Phil Corbett, and shared with the newsroom in January. The memo, which was obtained by Motherboard from three Times employees and has seemingly been ignored all year, explains why the company’s journalists should always link and credit.

“Linking is the ultimate win-win-win situation. If a reader is interested in the topic of your story, it’s just common sense that she would value a signpost to others’ reporting on the same subject. (Don’t worry about sending readers elsewhere; if we’re consistently providing value, they’ll come back.),” Corbett wrote in the memo, which is still live on one of the company’s internal websites, according to sources at the Times.

“In most cases, though, it’s not a question of ethics or obligation—it’s just good journalism to link. If you’re asking whether we’re obligated to provide a link or other reference in a given story, you’re probably asking the wrong question. Linking should be the default,” he added. “It’s free and easy. Readers like it. It deepens our journalism and may increase our audience. Our journalistic colleagues appreciate it. Why wouldn’t we do it?”

(“I think that memo you mentioned pretty much covers my thoughts on this,” Corbett told Motherboard when asked for comment on this topic.)

As early as 2014, linking was considered a “work in progress” at the Times by then-public editor Margaret Sullivan, who noted several high-profile instances in which the publication didn’t link. For that article, Corbett told Sullivan that “a broader point that we’ve been emphasizing more and more with reporters is the importance and value of linking.” The Times has since eliminated the public editor position.

To be clear, the problem isn’t that the New York Times literally never links; it’s that it somehow manages to continually mess this up. This frustrates a lot of people who work for the paper, according to several current reporters and editors at the Times who spoke to Motherboard. (These people were granted anonymity to discuss newsroom practices.)

“I think that a big problem is that there are still editors who like…do not get the online etiquette of linking,” one employee said. “They didn’t come up in a world where it’s both incredibly easy and just considered the right and normal thing to do to credit early and often. But in my opinion the more insidious thing is the idea that it’s not a story until the Times does it. Not everyone thinks this but from my vantage that still emanates from higher-ups at this place.”

“It’s a disservice to readers to not credit work that other outlets have done,” said another Times employee.

. . .  A Times spokesperson, for their part, offered this explanation of all of this to Motherboard: “Our policy, as described in Phil’s memo, is to credit and link to other outlets on stories they break. The Times publishes around 250 stories a day, many on deadline. Sometimes we make mistakes such as not properly crediting other outlets. When that happens, our staff tries to correct the oversight as soon as they become aware of the issue.”

“Tries” is doing a lot of work here. VICE has had multiple experiences with the Times running stories that we’ve broken without acknowledging us, and mixed experiences with getting them to do so. For example, a Times reporter tweeted that he had published the “*definitive* account of the In-N-Out burger that appeared on a random street in Queens. You’re all very welcome for this act of public service.” But a day earlier, VICE’s Munchies cracked the mystery in a report that went viral.

In that case, the Times added a link after we asked. In others, its staff is much more combative.

Several months after we published an investigation about Facebook’s content moderation practices, the Times published its own article about the same topic, running some of the same internal Facebook documents we had already published, without acknowledging we had done so.

Digging in ground others have is fine—it’s how the internet and journalism work. Glaser’s Kickstarter story built on earlier articles by The VergeGizmodo, and others. Our Facebook story followed previous investigations by The Guardian. By not linking to Slate or the Verge or VICE or BuzzFeed or The Guardian, the Times makes it seem like its own reporting has emerged fully formed from the institution’s forehead. But of course it hasn’t done so, and the Times is essentially lying to readers by pretending it has—a terrible thing for the most important news operation in the U.S. to be doing.

One of the biggest bad-faith criticisms of the Times—and thus journalism as a whole—is that it’s nothing but an ivory tower that doesn’t understand how the world really works. This isn’t true in practice, but at a time when the powerful people of the world have more avenues to attack journalism than ever, the Times’s insistence that the world isn’t real until the Times says so is a legitimately destructive force within the journalism industry—not least because no one within the Times seems to be able to do anything about it, even if they’re willing to acknowledge the problem.

Max Fisher, the reporter who wrote the Times‘s Facebook article, told us in a DM at the time that he “definitely saw [our] story, which was great, no reason you should care about this but we plugged it pretty prominently in our bullshit email newsletter […] I read your story very carefully and learned a ton from it and was really careful to cover different ground in it, which I think I did.”

“I do know that the Times has a well-earned terrible reputation for this kind of thing,” he said, while declining to link to our story. “I’ve only been here 2.5 years and prior to that was on the wrong side of it many, many times.”

After that conversation, we asked the editor of that article for a link to our previous work, after the author of the article acknowledged that he had read our piece while researching his. We were told by the editor in an email that “it’s going to [take] a while to read 9,000 words,” referring to the length of our earlier investigation.

The next day, he said, “We are looking at a way to link. Noting Motherboard explicitly—and I understand why [sic] would want this—is more complicated, however. Are we then obliged to note that The Guardian had some of the documents, too? If half a dozen other publications got a piece of the Facebook material, as well—for ‘internal’ documents, they do seem to get around—would we need note them, too? Where does it end?” The Times never added a link.

Seemingly everyone in journalism has stories like this; as far as anyone can tell, the only thing that does get the Times to link is a good public shaming. After Glaser’s tweet about not getting credited by the Times went viral in journalism circles, it added a link to her story, and links to other journalists in several others. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 11:17 am

Posted in Business, Media, NY Times

Bad headline, small changes at the New York Times

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Jay Rosen takes a sharp look at the weaknesses of the NY Times as a journalistic enterprise:

Knowing the characters involved — columnist Joan Walsh and the New York Times — this announcement last week caught my eye:

Separating from the Times was not a decision she took lightly, Walsh said. “I’ve put this off for almost 3 years. They are blowing their coverage of this crisis. I’m out.” 

I’m still in. I consider myself a Times loyalist. My loyalty is expressed through criticism and watchfulness, and by paying for a digital (plus print on weekends) subscription. I have no stake in the company, but in the institution of the Times, especially the ongoing journalism of it, I do feel a kind of stake, a public one. It’s not clear to me how I am supposed to protect it. So I write. 

What do you do? 

At this site ten months ago, I tried to explain why there was such tension between Times journalists and many of their core readers— like say, people who follow Joan Walsh! (Absorb that earlier post before this one if you really want my sense of the situation.) 

The core readers have more power now. They are a bigger part of the mix. How that power should be recognized, when it might be used, how to listen carefully to it without listening too much… no one really knows yet. The digital audience itself, the Times own interconnected public, does not know its own power. 

But how to achieve independence from the newest corrupting influence — the most attached part of the audience — is already a live concern among Times editors. These events lie in the background of Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism, which is not just a hastily abandoned headline but the name of a public episode now. 

The readers have more power:

They have more power because they have more choices. And because the internet, where most of the reading happens, is inherently two-way. Also because Times journalists are now exposed to opinion and reaction on social media. And especially because readers are paying more of the costs. Their direct payments are keeping the Times afloat. This will be increasingly so in the future, as the advertising business gets absorbed by the tech industry. The Times depends on its readers’ support more than it ever has.

1.) Depends on readers’ support more than it ever has. 2.) Got rid of the public editor. That’s an example of the kind of disconnect that has created tension. 

Meanwhile, pressures on the news system because an authoritarian got into office are exposing to public view parts of the Times that have never been strong. For example, filtering out the more lurid and unfounded criticisms to hear what concerned people are trying to tell you. The Times is not great at that. 

The Times is not great at learning from past mistakes when the fuller dimensions of that mistake come into view. Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia. Or at reframing the way they approach Trump’s racism, away from a long string of deplorable incidents to a structural, load-bearing and thus central feature of his campaign and presidency. 

Steven Greenhouse is a former reporter for the New York Times:  . . .

. . . In October, 2018 I made an easy prediction

In so many ways since the election, the Times has risen to the occasion and excelled. But it has a problem with its core supporters. Until it is put right, there will be blow-ups, resentments and a lot of misunderstanding.

The mixture I described came to a boil this week and last. Not a boil over. Just a boil. But contained movement is still movement. I will try to isolate for you some of the small changes. 

It started on August 5th. Public reaction to a majestically bad headline, Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism, was so strong that executive editor Dean Baquet had to do multiple interviews to explain what happenedand limit the damage. These pieces are still coming in. 

On Monday, August 12, Baquet called a staff meeting at the Times to air complaints. According to reports in the Daily Beast and Vanity Fair, journalists of color and younger generations of Times journalists often led the questioning. Inconsistency and lack of logic in calling things racist were said to be some of the items on the table. Though quickly corrected, the bad headline remained a flashpoint inside the paper and out. 

One of the editors on Baquet’s team explained it this way: 

“I think this is a really difficult story to cover, the story of Donald Trump and race and his character. We’re in a bit of uncharted territory. There is definitely some friction over, how does the paper position itself?

A Times newsroom in uncharted territory. Uncertainty over where to stand in the triangle formed by Trump, race and American politics. These were not the confident tones the editors had been striking before Monday’s meeting, or before the wildly discordant headline. Small change. 

That nameless Times editor (there are lots of them in this episode) asks a good question: how does the paper position itself toward the Trump movement, which incorporates the New York Times as a hate object and tries to disqualify Times journalism in the minds of Trump supporters before they have read it, even though Donald Trump lives and dies by what the New York Times says about him? 

What kind of public actor can readers, supporters and subscribers realistically expect the Times to be? And what kind of actions — what range of proper motion — can its own journalists expect from the institution they have joined? 

These are some of the problems that came to a boil this week. But as I said, only a mild boil. 

There is still no public editor to push the discussion along. But “why did we get rid of the public editor?” is now a question on the floor at staff meetings, the Daily Beast reported. It was asked of Dean Baquet in one of his sorry-for-that-bad-headline interviews. A decision announced in June 2017 is being publicly doubted two years later. It’s like the case against it has been re-opened. Small changes. 

According to Vanity Fair, an editor at the Times said this week: 

Reporters on the front lines, particularly reporters of color, are really attuned to something happening in the country that is, to a lot of them, deeply scary, both personally and politically, and there’s a hunger to have a conversation about it. If this rhetoric continues, how is the Times covering it? What are the rules of engagement for a president who traffics in this stuff? How do we, as a newsroom, grapple with that?

Does it sound like they know what to do next? Not so much, right? That too is movement. 

Check out this attitude among the editors, as reported by Vanity Fair. “There’s a clear feeling from the top that we’re not gonna be a part of the resistance, and how that gets translated day to day can frustrate people.” (My emphasis.) 

That clear feeling came through when Dean Baquet spoke to CNN this week. 

What Baquet is certain about is that The Times should not serve as a publication of the left. “Our role is not to be the leader of the resistance,” he said, adding that “one of the problems” that would come about if the paper took that role is that “inevitably the resistance in America wins.” Baquet further explained, “Inevitably the people outside power gain power again. And at that point, what are you? You’re just a chump of the people who won. Our role is to hold everybody who has power to account.”

As a Times loyalist, I kind of resent the implication: Come join our resistance, New York Times! As if that’s what we want from the journalism, to do our politics for us. We’re not gonna be part of the resistance says nothing about how to provide less assistance to Trump’s othering instincts. We’re not gonna be part of the resistance doesn’t tell you what to do if Trump breaks through all barriers and runs a specifically racist campaign from the pulpit of the presidency. 

I asked earlier what kind of public actor can readers, supporters and subscribers realistically expect the Times to be? We got an answer this week. The kind of actor that . . .

Continue reading.

I observed when Margaret Sullivan was Public Editor at the NY Times (and a very good public editor, unlike some who have been given that role) that the reporters and editors of the NY Times always dismissed criticism of what they wrote. Their typical response was to blame the reader for “misreading” their reports. Certainly, they responded (implicitly) they themselves were not to blame. So nothing changed except that inevitably the editors and journalists removed the burr under their saddle and ended the office of Public Editor.

Particularly read his update to his article. From that update:

Shortly after I posted this piece, Ashley Feinberg of Slate published a lightly edited transcript of the staff meeting between Baquet with his top editors and the rank and file. “The New York Times Unites vs. Twitter” was the headline Slate put on it. Feinberg wrote: 

The problem for the Times is not whether it can navigate social-media controversies or satisfy an appetite for #resistance-based outrage, both of which it can tell itself are not a newspaper’s job to do. It’s whether it has the tools to make sense of the world. On this point, Baquet was not reassuring or convincing.

Exactly! (My italics.) Here are some quotes from Times staffers that show what I meant above by a generational divide.  . . .

. . .  Meanwhile, David Roberts of Vox, who normally writes about climate change, put it this way in an exasperated thread reacting to this post: 

What frustrates people is not that they want to see the word “racist” in the paper. What frustrates them is that the country’s core institutions are under assault by a radical ethnonationalist minority and the sense of crisis is not being conveyed.

It has always struck me that while the people at the New York Times consider it the apex of journalism, the highest the ladder of excellence goes, they have not extended that reputation for quality to the acts of listening, receiving criticism, sorting signal from noise, and changing their work. It’s like they know they can’t do it well, so they don’t even try. And being the best in the world at listening and evolving isn’t even an aspiration there. “We are not the resistance” is a crappy read on what people are trying to tell you. But this is one area where mediocrity and worse — incompetence — is tolerated at the Times. Responsibility for that has to flow to Dean Baquet. There is no other place it can pool.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2019 at 9:34 am

Posted in Business, Media, NY Times

How PG&E Ignored California Fire Risks in Favor of Profits

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The opening graphic of this report is stunning, and the report itself shows the Achilles’ heel of capitalism: that the structure of the capitalistic endeavor works to focus a company’s attention and efforts totally on increasing profits, and any measures that take away from profits must be curtailed—including, for example, spending any money at all to make the workplace safer (cf. coal mines). That’s why the government and its agencies must closely monitor and regulate private corporations—for example, by having Congress pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and then by having the Executive branch see that companies act in accordance with the Act. And that effort must be stead and vigorous because companies are driven to increase profits and are willing to do anything to achieve that goal, including (as we have repeatedly see, in example after example) things that are immoral, unethical, and illegal. It helps that such crimes rarely lead to any company personnel being imprisoned. The typical punishment is a fine, and surprisingly often the fine is small compared to the profits realized. And the pressure to increase profits is always there. Naturally, then, companies start to view fines as a cost of doing business, and if the net effect is that profits increased, so what?

The tragedy of the wildfires caused by PG&E’s deliberate decisions not to do maintenance is a good example. Maintenance is expensive, and if the company discontinues it, profits will increase.

Ivan Penn, Peter Eavis, and James Glanz report for the NY Times:

Tower 27/222 looms almost 100 feet tall in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a hunk of steel that has endured through 18 United States presidents. The transmission lines that it supports keep electricity flowing to much of California.

On the morning of Nov. 8, a live wire broke free of its grip. A power failure occurred on the line, affecting a single customer. But 15 minutes later, a fire was observed nearby. Within hours, flames engulfed the region, ultimately killing 85 and destroying the town of Paradise.

The equipment belonged to the state’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric. To the company’s critics, the tower and its vulnerability reflect a broken safety culture.

Five of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked to PG&E’s electrical network. Regulators have found that in many fires, PG&E violated state law or could have done more to make its equipment safer.

Long before the failure suspected in the Paradise fire, a company email had noted that some of PG&E’s structures in the area, known for fierce winds, were at risk of collapse. It reported corrosion of one tower so severe that it endangered crews trying to repair the tower. The company’s own guidelines put Tower 27/222 a quarter-century beyond its useful life — but the tower remained.

In January, the company sought bankruptcy protection, saying it might face more than $30 billion in wildfire liabilities. Its financial straits could hamper its preparations for the next wildfire season, and those beyond, even as weather patterns increase the fire risk.

“There is a climate change component to this,” said Michael W. Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University and a member of a state commission examining the cost of wildfires. “But there’s also a failure of management and a failure of vision.”

Another major utility in the state, San Diego Gas & Electric, has added hundreds of weather stations, cameras and satellite technology in recent years to reduce fire risk. PG&E is now trying to catch up.

Beyond wildfires, PG&E has a broader history of safety problems. A 2010 explosion of a PG&E gas pipeline killed eight people and destroyed a suburban neighborhood, prompting state and federal officials to investigate PG&E’s safety practices. Regulators ultimately fined the utility $1.6 billion, and a federal jury convicted it of violating a pipeline safety law and obstructing an investigation. The company is still under court-supervised probation.

PG&E executives acknowledge that the company has made mistakes. “We have heard the calls for change and are committed to taking action by focusing our resources on reducing risk and improving safety throughout our system,” John Simon, PG&E’s interim chief executive, said in a recent statement.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom said the company’s record made it hard to take its promises seriously.

“They have simply been caught red-handed over and over again, lying, manipulating or misleading the public,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview. “They cannot be trusted.” . . .

Continue reading. There is much more.

Speaking of companies that absolutely cannot be trusted, I offer Facebook as a prime example. How many times more will Mark Zuckerberg apologize and promise to do better? Answer: As many times as needed. He’s not going to change, and Facebook is not going to change. Government intervention is required.

I do understand that government can also go bad, with regulatory agencies in effect taken over by the industries that they are supposed to regulate—just look at the Trump administration, or how the Obama administration refused to take any serious action to regulate Wall Street. (The Obama administration did create the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau—actually, Elizabeth Warren created it—but now that agency is defunct: Trump allowed the payroll lending industry to destroy it.)

Obviously, the government itself must be watched carefully, and that is the job of the free press and investigative journalism—like this report.

Later in the article:

. . . “Some people believe that you run equipment to failure,” Catherine Sandoval, a former California regulator who has been pushing for improved maintenance of electrical poles and towers. “They believe ‘run to failure’ to save money. This is the danger of run to failure.”

In December 2012, five other aging towers on the same stretch, the Caribou-Palermo line, collapsed in a storm. In July 2013, Brian Cherry, PG&E’s vice president for regulatory affairs at the time, notified state regulators that the company would replace the five fallen towers and one more, but not 27/222.

A 2014 company email that has come to light in the bankruptcy proceedings said that “the likelihood of failed structures happening is high.” But PG&E determined that if the structures failed, the cause would probably be heavy rain, precluding a wildfire risk. PG&E said this week that the structures in question were temporary wooden poles that had since been replaced.

In April 2016, PG&E made another request to regulators: to install fresh wires on the Caribou-Palermo line. But the company said it would not replace any of the line’s remaining nearly century-old towers.

That October, during painting work on a lattice tower on the line, a piece of hardware called a J hook broke when a contract worker grabbed it while repositioning himself. A PG&E report said workers had determined that corrosion — the reason for the painting — was enough of a problem that “crews working on these towers need to use caution.”

The company said that tower had a different design from Tower 27/222’s. But it would not comment on why it didn’t replace 27/222 given its age. It said it considered many factors when making decisions on maintenance and repairs. . .

It makes my blood boil. The executives who made these cost-cutting decisions should face very long prison terms. Here’s why:

. . . The deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, a San Francisco suburb, was PG&E’s second in a two-year period. The ensuing investigations and litigation produced an alarming picture of the company’s practices and priorities.

In court depositions, employees said supervisors routinely ignored their concerns about the company’s use of faulty analysis and outdated equipment. The state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, concluded that the company was more concerned with profit than with safety.

The commission’s safety and enforcement division found in 2012 that PG&E’s gas and transmission revenues exceeded what it was authorized to collect by $224 million in the decade leading up to the explosion. But capital spending fell $93 million short of its authorized budget between 1997 and 2000. PG&E also spent millions less on operations and maintenance than it was supposed to.

“There was very much a focus on the bottom line over everything: ‘What are the earnings we can report this quarter?’” said Mike Florio, a utilities commissioner from 2011 through 2016. “And things really got squeezed on the maintenance side.”

Five years after the explosion, a PG&E line started the Butte Fire, which scorched more than 70,000 acres, killing two people and destroying nearly a thousand homes and other buildings.

State investigators said workers should have known that when they had cleared a stand of trees for PG&E, they had exposed a gray pine weak enough to be blown into a power line. On Sept. 9, 2015, strong winds knocked that tree into the line, igniting the fire.

State officials also blamed PG&E equipment for starting 17 of 21 major fires in 2017 that ripped through Northern California, including wine-growing Napa and Sonoma Counties.

2017 report commissioned by state regulators determined that PG&E often made improvements only after a disaster. The report, which was produced by NorthStar Consulting, also found that the transmission and distribution side of the company had less robust safety policies than its gas and power generation divisions. . .

As soon as safety reduces profit, safety is sacrificed. Companies can do good—from later in the article:

. . . State officials say there is a good template elsewhere in California for what PG&E should be aiming for: the practices of San Diego Gas & Electric.

The San Diego utility keeps data on every utility pole and transmission tower in its service territory, which is smaller than PG&E’s but has a higher proportion of overhead lines in areas at high fire risk. It uses nearly 177 stations to monitor temperature, humidity and wind speeds in an area roughly the size of Connecticut and records video from 100 high-definition cameras. It uses satellites to track how green or dry the grass is and employs the state’s largest water-dropping helicopter to douse fires quickly. When data indicates a high wildfire threat, the utility cuts off power to some areas.

San Diego Gas & Electric upgraded its fire-prevention efforts after residents sued it for causing a devastating wildfire in 2007. In recent years, it has been responsible for far fewer fires than PG&E. “We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate ignition,” said Scott Drury, the utility’s president. . .

They can, but the systemic pressures to increase profit means that more often they will do anything to grow profit.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2019 at 3:59 pm

Was There a Connection Between a Russian Bank and the Trump Campaign?

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A very interesting report, and I have to say the NY Times doesn’t look so good in this. Dexter Filkins writes in the New Yorker:

In June, 2016, after news broke that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, a group of prominent computer scientists went on alert. Reports said that the infiltrators were probably Russian, which suggested to most members of the group that one of the country’s intelligence agencies had been involved. They speculated that if the Russians were hacking the Democrats they must be hacking the Republicans, too. “We thought there was no way in the world the Russians would just attack the Democrats,” one of the computer scientists, who asked to be identified only as Max, told me.

The group was small—a handful of scientists, scattered across the country—and politically diverse. (Max described himself as “a John McCain Republican.”) Its members sometimes worked with law enforcement or for private clients, but mostly they acted as self-appointed guardians of the Internet, trying to thwart hackers and to keep the system clean of malware—software that hackers use to control a computer remotely, or to extract data. “People think the Internet runs on its own,” Max told me. “It doesn’t. We do this to keep the Internet safe.” The hack of the D.N.C. seemed like a pernicious attack on the integrity of the Web, as well as on the American political system. The scientists decided to investigate whether any Republicans had been hacked, too. “We were trying to protect them,” Max said.

Max’s group began combing the Domain Name System, a worldwide network that acts as a sort of phone book for the Internet, translating easy-to-remember domain names into I.P. addresses, the strings of numbers that computers use to identify one another. Whenever someone goes online—to send an e-mail, to visit a Web site—her device contacts the Domain Name System to locate the computer that it is trying to connect with. Each query, known as a D.N.S. lookup, can be logged, leaving records in a constellation of servers that extends through private companies, public institutions, and universities. Max and his group are part of a community that has unusual access to these records, which are especially useful to cybersecurity experts who work to protect clients from attacks.

Max and the other computer scientists asked me to withhold their names, out of concern for their privacy and their security. I met with Max and his lawyer repeatedly, and interviewed other prominent computer experts. (Among them were Jean Camp, of Indiana University; Steven Bellovin, of Columbia University; Daniel Kahn Gillmor, of the A.C.L.U.; Richard Clayton, of the University of Cambridge; Matt Blaze, of the University of Pennsylvania; and Paul Vixie, of Farsight Security.) Several of them independently reviewed the records that Max’s group had discovered and confirmed that they would be difficult to fake. A senior aide on Capitol Hill, who works in national security, said that Max’s research is widely respected among experts in computer science and cybersecurity.

As Max and his colleagues searched D.N.S. logs for domains associated with Republican candidates, they were perplexed by what they encountered. “We went looking for fingerprints similar to what was on the D.N.C. computers, but we didn’t find what we were looking for,” Max told me. “We found something totally different—something unique.” In the small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, a domain linked to the Trump Organization (mail1.trump-email.com) seemed to be behaving in a peculiar way. The server that housed the domain belonged to a company called Listrak, which mostly helped deliver mass-marketing e-mails: blasts of messages advertising spa treatments, Las Vegas weekends, and other enticements. Some Trump Organization domains sent mass e-mail blasts, but the one that Max and his colleagues spotted appeared not to be sending anything. At the same time, though, a very small group of companies seemed to be trying to communicate with it.

Examining records for the Trump domain, Max’s group discovered D.N.S. lookups from a pair of servers owned by Alfa Bank, one of the largest banks in Russia. Alfa Bank’s computers were looking up the address of the Trump server nearly every day. There were dozens of lookups on some days and far fewer on others, but the total number was notable: between May and September, Alfa Bank looked up the Trump Organization’s domain more than two thousand times. “We were watching this happen in real time—it was like watching an airplane fly by,” Max said. “And we thought, Why the hell is a Russian bank communicating with a server that belongs to the Trump Organization, and at such a rate?”

Only one other entity seemed to be reaching out to the Trump Organization’s domain with any frequency: Spectrum Health, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spectrum Health is closely linked to the DeVos family; Richard DeVos, Jr., is the chairman of the board, and one of its hospitals is named after his mother. His wife, Betsy DeVos, was appointed Secretary of Education by Donald Trump. Her brother, Erik Prince, is a Trump associate who has attracted the scrutiny of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. Mueller has been looking into Prince’s meeting, following the election, with a Russian official in the Seychelles, at which he reportedly discussed setting up a back channel between Trump and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. (Prince maintains that the meeting was “incidental.”) In the summer of 2016, Max and the others weren’t aware of any of this. “We didn’t know who DeVos was,” Max said.

The D.N.S. records raised vexing questions. Why was the Trump Organization’s domain, set up to send mass-marketing e-mails, conducting such meagre activity? And why were computers at Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health trying to reach a server that didn’t seem to be doing anything? After analyzing the data, Max said, “We decided this was a covert communication channel.”

The Trump Organization, Alfa Bank, and Spectrum Health have repeatedly denied any contact. But the question of whether Max’s conclusion was correct remains enormously consequential. Was this evidence of an illicit connection between Russia and the Trump campaign? Or was it merely a coincidence, cyber trash, that fed suspicions in a dark time?

In August, 2016, Max decided to reveal the data that he and his colleagues had assembled. “If the covert communications were real, this potential threat to our country needed to be known before the election,” he said. After some discussion, he and his lawyer decided to hand over the findings to Eric Lichtblau, of the Times. Lichtblau met with Max, and began to look at the data.

Lichtblau had done breakthrough reporting on National Security Agency surveillance, and he knew that Max’s findings would require sophisticated analysis. D.N.S. lookups are metadata—records that indicate computer interactions but don’t necessarily demonstrate human communication. Lichtblau shared the data with three leading computer scientists, and, like Max, they were struck by the unusual traffic on the server. As Lichtblau talked to experts, he became increasingly convinced that the data suggested a substantive connection. “Not only is there clearly something there but there’s clearly something that someone has gone to great lengths to conceal,” he told me. Jean Camp, of Indiana University, had also vetted some of the data. “These people who should not be communicating are clearly communicating,” she said. In order to encourage discussion among analysts, Camp posted a portion of the raw data on her Web site.

As Lichtblau wrote a draft of an article for the Times, Max’s lawyer contacted the F.B.I. to alert agents that a story about Trump would be running in a national publication, and to pass along the data. A few days later, an F.B.I. official called Lichtblau and asked him to come to the Bureau’s headquarters, in Washington, D.C.

At the meeting, in late September, 2016, a roomful of officials told Lichtblau that they were looking into potential Russian interference in the election. According to a source who was briefed on the investigation, the Bureau had intelligence from informants suggesting a possible connection between the Trump Organization and Russian banks, but no data. The information from Max’s group could be a significant advance. “The F.B.I. was looking for people in the United States who were helping Russia to influence the election,” the source said. “It was very important to the Bureau. It was urgent.”

The F.B.I. officials asked Lichtblau to delay publishing his story, saying that releasing the news could jeopardize their investigation. As the story sat, Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor, decided that it would not suffice to report the existence of computer contacts without knowing their purpose. Lichtblau disagreed, arguing that his story contained important news: that the F.B.I. had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russian contacts with Trump’s aides. “It was a really tense debate,” Baquet told me. “If I were the reporter, I would have wanted to run it, too. It felt like there was something there.” But, with the election looming, Baquet thought that he could not publish the story without being more confident in its conclusions.

Over time, the F.B.I.’s interest in the possibility of an Alfa Bank connection seemed to wane. An agency official told Lichtblau that there could be an innocuous explanation for the computer traffic. Then, on October 30th, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., charging that the Bureau was withholding information about “close ties and coordination” between the Trump campaign and Russia. “We had a window,” Lichtblau said. His story about Alfa Bank ran the next day. But it bore only a modest resemblance to what he had filed. The headline— “investigating donald trump, f.b.i. sees no clear link to russia”—seemed to exonerate the Trump campaign. And, though the article mentioned the server, it omitted any reference to the computer scientists who had told Lichtblau that the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank might have been communicating. “We were saying that the investigation was basically over—and it was just beginning,” Lichtblau told me.

That same day, Slate ran a story, by Franklin Foer, that made a detailed case for the possibility of a covert link between Alfa Bank and Trump. Foer’s report was based largely on information from a colleague of Max’s who called himself Tea Leaves. Foer quoted several outside experts; most said that there appeared to be no other plausible explanation for the data.

One remarkable aspect of Foer’s story involved the way that the Trump domain had stopped working. On September 21st, he wrote, the Times had delivered potential evidence of communications to B.G.R., a Washington lobbying firm that worked for Alfa Bank. Two days later, the Trump domain vanished from the Internet. (Technically, its “A record,” which translates the domain name to an I.P. address, was deleted. If the D.N.S. is a phone book, the domain name was effectively decoupled from its number.) For four days, the servers at Alfa Bank kept trying to look up the Trump domain. Then, ten minutes after the last attempt, one of them looked up another domain, which had been configured to lead to the same Trump Organization server.

Max’s group was surprised. The Trump domain had been shut down after the Timescontacted Alfa Bank’s representatives—but before the newspaper contacted Trump. “That shows a human interaction,” Max concluded. “Certain actions leave fingerprints.” He reasoned that someone representing Alfa Bank had alerted the Trump Organization, which shut down the domain, set up another one, and then informed Alfa Bank of the new address.

A week after the Times story appeared, Trump won the election. On Inauguration Day, Liz Spayd, the Times’ ombudsman, published a column criticizing the paper’s handling of stories related to Trump and Russia, including the Alfa Bank connection. “The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had,” she wrote. Spayd’s article did not sit well with Baquet. “It was a bad column,” he told the Washington Post. Spayd argued that Slate had acted correctly by publishing a more aggressive story, which Baquet dismissed as a “fairly ridiculous conclusion.” That June, Spayd’s job was eliminated, as the paper’s publisher said that the position of ombudsman had become outdated in the digital age. When I talked to Baquet recently, he still felt that he had been right to resist discussing the server in greater depth, but he acknowledged that the Times had been too quick to disclaim the possibility of Trump’s connections to Russia. “The story was written too knowingly,” he said. “The headline was flawed. We didn’t know then what we know now.”

In April, 2017, Lichtblau left the Times, after fifteen years—in part, he said, because of the way that the Alfa Bank story was handled. He went to work for CNN, but resigned less than two months later, amid controversy over another story that he had worked on, about the Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci. This April, Lichtblau returned to the Times newsroom for a celebration: he had been part of a team of Times reporters that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its work on other aspects of the Trump campaign. “It was quite a year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Trump-Alfa Bank story seemed to fade. The Trump campaign dismissed any connection, saying, “The only covert server is the one Hillary Clinton recklessly established in her basement.” Bloggers and tech journalists assailed the Slate piece online. The cybersecurity researcher Robert Graham called the analysis “nonsense,” and complained, “This is why we can’t have nice things on the Internet.” He pointed out several problems. For instance, Foer’s sources had found that the Trump domain was blocking incoming e-mail, and argued that this was evidence that Trump and Alfa Bank were maintaining a private communications network; in fact, Listrak routinely configured its marketing servers to send e-mail but not to receive it. Graham also noted that the domain was administered not by Trump but by Cendyn, a company in Boca Raton that handled his company’s marketing e-mail.

Alfa Bank hired two cybersecurity firms, Mandiant and Stroz Friedberg, to review the data. Both firms reported that they had found no evidence of communications with the Trump Organization. The bank also began trying to uncover the anonymous sources in the Slate piece. Attorneys representing Alfa contacted Jean Camp, telling her that they were considering legal action and asking her to identify the researchers who had assembled the data. She declined to reveal their names. “This is what tenure is for,” she told me.

Alfa Bank was founded by Mikhail Fridman, in the last years of the Soviet Union. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2018 at 3:36 pm

Wow. Trump’s latest rage-tweets about Mueller and border wall reveal GOP weakness

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Greg Sargent of the Washington Post (and judge from content, not from source, please) writes:

Over the weekend, President Trump escalated his rage-tweets about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, threatened a government shutdown to get his great wall on the southern border, and blasted the news media for selling out the country, while basically shrugging at the idea that egging on his supporters’ hatred of the press might be placing independent journalists in greater danger. It’s a reminder that Trump’s authoritarianism and bigotry will be front and center in this fall’s midterm elections.
An important new analysis of the House map by Nate Cohn of the New York Times may help explain Trump’s escalations on all those fronts — or if not, it certainly provides crucial context for understanding how those escalations might shape the battle for control of the lower chamber.
Cohn’s central finding is that the House map is turning out to be a lot broader than we expected. The districts that are in play aren’t merely suburban ones in which Hillary Clinton did well in 2016; they also include many working-class and rural districts that voted for Trump. Cohn analyzed the 60 GOP-held House seats that are rated competitively (Lean Republican, Toss Up, and Lean/Likely Democratic) by the Cook Political Report. Here are the key conclusions about the aggregate electorate in those districts:

  • The electorate in those 60 districts is 78 percent white, whereas the United States is 70 percent white overall.
  • The electorate in those 60 districts is 65 percent suburban, whereas the United States overall is 55 percent suburban.
  • The electorate in those 60 districts boasts about 31 percent college graduates, whereas the United States overall is 28 percent college graduates.
  • Forty-nine percent of the electorate in those 60 districts voted for Trump in 2016, while 46 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. (Nationally, of course, Clinton actually won the popular vote by over two points.)

In short, the House battleground is only a bit more suburban and educated than the United States overall, and crucially, it’s whiter and more pro-Trump. The data is complicated by the need to use different voter pools to break out different demographic categories, but that’s the overall picture. The bottom line: The fact that this electorate shows Democrats with so many pickup opportunities suggests, as Cohn says, both that Democrats have recruited strong candidates in tough areas and that the national political environment may be “more favorable to Democrats than the generic ballot polls imply.” What’s more, Cohn notes that in special elections, Democratic candidates have already been running further ahead of Clinton in Trump districts than in Clinton-friendly ones.
In that context, Republican hopes of holding the House may turn on energizing core supporters and Trump voters.  If the map were narrower, and largely focused on suburban pro-Clinton districts, Republicans might have a better shot running on the GOP tax cut and the good economy, which could win back more affluent, better-educated, GOP-leaning whites who might be willing to overlook Trump’s ongoing lunacy on that basis.
But Republican incumbents are campaigning much less than expected on the tax cut, and the broader map may help explain why: Working-class whites (and, of course, minorities) are not the tax cut’s beneficiaries. Indeed, a new Politico analysis finds that some of the “biggest winners” from the tax cut are “corporate executives who have reaped gains as their companies buy back a record amount of stock, a practice that rewards shareholders by boosting the value of existing shares,” even as it is producing “less clear long-term benefits for workers.” Not exactly a potent message in fabled Trump country.
Enter Trump’s weekend rage-tweets. Trump went further than ever before in casting Mueller as corrupt (blasting unspecified “conflicts of interest“) and his investigation as illegitimate (an “illegal Scam“). Trump claimed he is “willing” to shut down the government if Democrats don’t support his wall. After New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger privately informed Trumpthat his anti-press rhetoric could lead to more violence against journalists, Trump only escalated his assaults on the media, claiming its “anti-Trump haters” are selling out the country.
It is not clear whether Trump deliberately intends these escalations to juice the base in advance of the midterms. But some Republican candidates have already been embracing Trump’s race-baiting immigration rhetoric and policies. And as the Mueller probe advances — and the news media fills in new details about possible Trump obstruction and collusion — Trump’s public rage will intensify, and GOP candidates will likely amplify his attacks on the investigation and on the press, to keep pro-Trump voters sufficiently energized behind them, an imperative on this broadening House map.
Trump’s latest rage-tweets, then, signal that an election that Republicans hoped would be about how their awesome tax cuts are supercharging the Trump economy may end up being shaped to no small degree by Trump’s bigoted and authoritarian appeals.
* REPUBLICANS AREN’T CAMPAIGNING ON TAX CUT: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 4:30 pm

Do all Republicans make specious arguments (as does Robert Samuelson)?

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David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson did not like my latest column, “The Democrats Are the Party of Fiscal Responsibility.” He called it “a real hash” that came to “a partisan conclusion based on meager and selective evidence.” If you’re interested in the subject, I encourage you to read his piece and decide for yourself.

Here’s what I consider to be the tell in his argument: In his rebuttal points, the most recent presidencies that he mentions are from the 1960s. (He chides John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson for increasing the deficit.)

That means Samuelson neglects to mention all of the major pieces of federal policy passed in the last 50 years. One such law was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which increased the deficit. Two others were George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cut and 2003 Medicare drug plan — both of which increased the deficit. President Trump’s recent tax cut, of course, increased it too.

Among the most significant Democratic laws of the last 50 years: Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget bill, which had deficit reduction as its central goal — and which passed without a single Republican vote. More recently, there was Obamacare. Like Bush’s Medicare expansion, it spent a lot of money to increase access to medical care. Unlike Bush’s plan, Obamacare included enough tax increases and spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

These aren’t a random selection of laws. They are the top legislative priorities of recent presidents. And the pattern is pretty obvious: Republican presidents have pursued policies that increased the deficit. Democrats have emphasized deficit reduction, sometimes to the disappointment of their own base.

Obviously, the complete story of the federal deficit has nuances. It involves decisions made by both parties and forces beyond their control, like economic downturns and foreign affairs. But to say that the story is nuanced is quite different than insisting on the unlikely conclusion that the parties are equally culpable. There is now a half-century’s worth of evidence to the contrary.

Related: The budget expert and deficit hawk Ben Ritz did a more detailed analysis of the deficit that also took into account congressional control. His conclusion was that “Democrats have generally been the more fiscally responsible party since the Carter administration.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2018 at 11:16 am

The NY Times Posted a Lott of Crap

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The Reality-Based Community has a good post:

So John Lott is promoting guns again, this time in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times. But this time he’s taking a different tack. Some years ago Lott maintained that a survey he conducted on defensive gun use showed its benefits. However, no one could check it; he said that he lost the data in a hard drive crash – but he couldn’t even provide evidence that he hired and paid interviewers to perform the survey.

He also used published crime statistics to promote his idea that relaxed gun laws prevented homicide. He subsequently was found to have misused the statistics in, shall we say, “innovative” ways, to “prove” that more guns leads to less crime.

Abandoning data and surveys to promote guns, this time he uses a couple of anecdotes relating to individuals. That is, one person who was improperly denied a concealed carry license is more salient to him than the deaths of dozens of schoolchildren across the country.

I first encountered Lott when he began to use crime data improperly and wrote to him explaining the issues. When he did nothing about it, I wrote an article criticizing his research. To counteract my criticism, a woman named Mary Rosh started appearing on the web, who vilified me and who praised Lott as one of the best teachers she ever had. Then it turned out that Mary Rosh was a fiction, a persona created by Lott to debunk his critics. [He even implicated his four children: he admitted that the name “Mary Rosh” was cobbled together using the first two letters of his kids’ names.] In other words, he hid behind the skirts of a woman he created out of whole cloth, just to promote himself and his pro-gun ideology. Here is my take on his actions in 2003.

At the time Lott was a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, an organization with which he is no longer affiliated – which makes me look more kindly on AEI. Now he hangs his at the Crime Prevention Research Center, where he is president. I have no idea who funds this center, but I can guess. Those who want to learn more about the organization and Lott should read this article.

I realize that the New York Times is trying . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2018 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Guns, NY Times

Don’t blame the election on fake news. Blame it on the media.

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Duncan Watts and David Rothschild have a thought-provoking article in the Columbia Journalism Review:

SINCE THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, an increasingly familiar narrative has emerged concerning the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Fake news, much of it produced by Russian sources, was amplified on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, generating millions of views among a segment of the electorate eager to hear stories about Hillary Clinton’s untrustworthiness, unlikeability, and possibly even criminality. “Alt-right” news sites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller supplemented the outright manufactured information with highly slanted and misleading coverage of their own. The continuing fragmentation of the media and the increasing ability of Americans to self-select into like-minded “filter bubbles” exacerbated both phenomena, generating a toxic brew of political polarization and skepticism toward traditional sources of authority.

Alarmed by these threats to their legitimacy, and energized by the election of a president hostile to their very existence, the mainstream media has vigorously shouldered the mantle of truth-tellers. The Washington Post changed its motto to “Democracy Dies in Darkness” one month into the Trump presidency, and The New York Times launched a major ad campaign reflecting the nuanced and multifaceted nature of truth during the Oscars broadcast in February. Headline writers now explicitly spell out falsehoods rather than leaving it to the ensuing text. And journalists are quick to call out false equivalence, as when President Trump compared Antifa protesters to Nazis and heavily armed white supremacists following the violence in Charlottesville.

ICYMI: What Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Thrush all have in common

At the same time, journalists have stepped up their already vigorous critiques of technology companiesFacebook in particular, but also Google and Twitter—highlighting the potential ways in which algorithms and social sharing have merged to spread misinformation. Many of the mainstream media’s worst fears were reinforced by a widely cited BuzzFeed article reporting that the 20 most-shared fake news articles on Facebook during the final three months of the campaign outperformed the 20 most-shared “real news” articles published over the same period. Numerous stories have reported on the manipulation of Facebook’s ad system by Russian-affiliated groups. Lawmakers such as Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, have been prominently profiled on account of their outspoken criticism of the tech industry, and even Facebook’s own employees have reportedly expressed anxiety over their company’s role in the election. 

We agree that fake news and misinformation are real problems that deserve serious attention. We also agree that social media and other online technologies have contributed to deep-seated problems in democratic discourse such as increasing polarization and erosion of support for traditional sources of authority. Nonetheless, we believe that the volume of reporting around fake news, and the role of tech companies in disseminating those falsehoods, is both disproportionate to its likely influence in the outcome of the election and diverts attention from the culpability of the mainstream media itself.

To begin with, the breathlessly repeated numbers on fake news are not as large as they have been made to seem when comparedto the volume of information to which online users are exposed. For example, a New York Times story reported that Facebook identified more than 3,000 ads purchased by fake accounts traced to Russian sources, which generated over $100,000 in advertising revenue. But Facebook’s advertising revenue in the fourth quarterof 2016 was $8.8 billion, or $96 million per day. All together, the fake ads accounted for roughly 0.1 percent of Facebook’s dailyadvertising revenue. The 2016 BuzzFeed report that received so much attention claimed that the top 20 fake news stories on Facebook “generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments” between August 1 and Election Day. Again, this sounds like a large number until it’s put into perspective: Facebook had well over 1.5 billion active monthly users in 2016. If each user took only a single action per day on average (likely an underestimate), then throughout those 100 days prior to the election, the 20 stories in BuzzFeed’s study would have accounted for only 0.006 percent of user actions.

Even recent claims that the “real” numbers were much higher than initially reported do not change the basic imbalance. For example, an October 3 New York Times story reported that “Russian agents…disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million users on Facebook, published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter and uploaded over 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service.” Big numbers indeed, but several paragraphs later the authors concede that over the same period Facebook users were exposed to 11 trillion posts—roughly 87,000 for every fake exposure—while on Twitter the Russian-linked election tweets represented less than 0.75 percent of all election-related tweets. On YouTube, meanwhile, the total number of views of fake Russian videos was around 309,000—compared to the five billion YouTube videos that are watched every day.

ICYMI: NYTimes editor apologizes after article sparks outrage 

In addition, given what is known about the impact of online information on opinions, even the high-end estimates of fake news penetration would be unlikely to have had a meaningful impact on voter behavior. For example, a recent study by two economists, Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow, estimates that “the average US adult read and remembered on the order of one or perhaps several fake news articles during the election period, with higher exposure to pro-Trump articles than pro-Clinton articles.” In turn, they estimate that “if one fake news article were about as persuasive as one TV campaign ad, the fake news in our database would have changed vote shares by an amount on the order of hundredths of a percentage point.” As the authors acknowledge, fake news stories could have been more influential than this back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests for a number of reasons (e.g., they only considered a subset of all such stories; the fake stories may have been concentrated on specific segments of the population, who in turn could have had a disproportionate impact on the election outcome; fake news stories could have exerted more influence over readers’ opinions than campaign ads). Nevertheless, their influence would have had to be much larger—roughly 30 times as large—to account for Trump’s margin of victory in the key states on which the election outcome depended.

Finally, the sheer outrageousness of the most popular fake stories—Pope Francis endorsing Trump; Democrats planning to impose Islamic law in Florida; Trump supporters chanting “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks;” and so on—made them especially unlikely to have altered voters’ pre-existing opinions of the candidates. Notwithstanding polls that show almost 50 percent of Trump supporters believed rumors that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophilia sex ring out of a Washington, DC pizzeria, such stories were most likely consumed by readers who already agreed with their overall sentiment and shared them either to signal their “tribal allegiance” or simply for entertainment value, not because they had been persuaded by the stories themselves.

As troubling as the spread of fake news on social media may be, it was unlikely to have had much impact either on the election outcome or on the more general state of politics in 2016. A potentially more serious threat is what a team of Harvard and MIT researchers refer to as “a network of mutually reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called ‘the paranoid style in American politics,’ combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world.” Unlike the fake news numbers highlighted in much of the post-election coverage, engagement with sites like Breitbart News, InfoWars, and The Daily Caller are substantial—especially in the realm of social media.

Nevertheless, a longer and more detailed report by the same researchers shows that by any reasonable metric—including Facebook or Twitter shares, but also referrals from other media sites, number of published stories, etc.—the media ecosystem remains dominated by conventional (and mostly left-of-center) sources such as The Washington PostThe New York Times, HuffPost, CNN, and Politico.

Given the attention these very same news outlets have lavished, post-election, on fake news shared via social media, it may come as a surprise that they themselves dominated social media traffic. While it may have been the case that the 20 most-shared fake news stories narrowly outperformed the 20 most-shared “real news” stories, the overall volume of stories produced by major newsrooms vastly outnumbers fake news. According to the same report, “The Washington Post produced more than 50,000 stories over the 18-month period, while The New York Times, CNN, and Huffington Post each published more than 30,000 stories.” Presumably not all of these stories were about the election, but each such story was also likely reported by many news outlets simultaneously. A rough estimate of thousands of election-related stories published by the mainstream media is therefore not unreasonable.

What did all these stories talk about? The research team investigated this question, counting sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classifying each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues. In particular, they classified each sentence as describing either a scandal (e.g., Clinton’s emails, Trump’s taxes) or a policy issue (Clinton and jobs, Trump and immigration). They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal. Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings. Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.

To reiterate, these 65,000 sentences were written not by Russian hackers, but overwhelmingly by professional journalists employed at mainstream news organizations, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. To the extent that voters mistrusted Hillary Clinton, or considered her conduct as secretary of state to have been negligent or even potentially criminal, or were generally unaware of what her policies contained or how they may have differed from Donald Trump’s, these numbers suggest their views were influenced more by mainstream news sources than by fake news. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. It’s a massive failure of institutional responsibility by the press. Example, from later in the article:

The problem is this: As has become clear since the election, there were profound differences between the two candidates’ policies, and these differences are already proving enormously consequential to the American people. Under President Trump, the Affordable Care Act is being actively dismantled, environmental and consumer protections are being rolled back, international alliances and treaties are being threatened, and immigration policy has been thrown into turmoil, among other dramatic changes. In light of the stark policy choices facing voters in the 2016 election, it seems incredible that only five out of 150 front-page articles that The New York Times ran over the last, most critical months of the election, attempted to compare the candidate’s policies, while only 10 described the policies of either candidate in any detail.

And also:

In this context, 10 is an interesting figure because it is also the number of front-page stories the Times ran on the Hillary Clinton email scandal in just six days, from October 29 (the day after FBI Director James Comey announced his decision to reopen his investigation of possible wrongdoing by Clinton) through November 3, just five days before the election. When compared with the Times’s overall coverage of the campaign, the intensity of focus on this one issue is extraordinary. To reiterate, in just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election (and that does not include the three additional articles on October 18, and November 6 and 7, or the two articles on the emails taken from John Podesta). This intense focus on the email scandal cannot be written off as inconsequential: The Comey incident and its subsequent impact on Clinton’s approval rating among undecided voters could very well have tipped the election.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 December 2017 at 10:42 am

Yet another: NYTimes White House correspondent Glenn Thrush’s history of bad judgment around young women journalists

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I think there will be a lot more names to come. Some men are probably getting nervous. Laura McGann reports in Vox:

Sexual harassment claims against yet another powerful man in media inspired New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush to post an impassioned note on his Facebook page in October, calling on his fellow journalists to stand by women entering the field.

In the post, which linked to an article about the latest accusations against political journalist Mark Halperin, Thrush wrote, “Young people who come into a newsroom deserve to be taught our trade, given our support and enlisted in our calling — not betrayed by little men who believe they are bigger than the mission.”

It was a noble statement — but some Washington journalists I spoke to say it rings hollow, given Thrush’s own behavior with young women in the industry.

“He kept saying he’s an advocate for women and women journalists,” a 23-year-old woman told me, recounting an incident with Thrush from this past June. “That’s how he presented himself to me. He tried to make himself seem like an ally and a mentor.”

She paused. “Kind of ironic now.”

Thrush, 50, is one of the New York Times’s star White House reporters whose chronicles of the Trump administration recently earned him and his frequent writing partner Maggie Haberman a major book deal.

Thrush and the young woman met at her colleague’s going-away party at a bar near the Politico newsroom, she told me, and shared a few rounds of drinks in a booth. The night, she said, ended on a Washington street corner, where Thrush left her in tears after she resisted his advances.

The encounter was troubling enough to the woman that her friend Bianca Padró Ocasio, also 23 and a journalist, confronted Thrush about his behavior via text message the next day.

“I want to make sure you don’t lure young women aspiring journalists into those situations ever again,” she texted. “So help me out here. How can I do that?”

Thrush was apologetic but defensive.

“I don’t lure anybody ever,” he wrote, according to screenshots provided by Padró Ocasio. “I got drunk because I got some shitty health news. And I am acutely aware of the hurdles that young women face in this business and have spent the better part of 20 years advocating for women journalists.”

If Thrush is acutely aware of what young women face in the business of political journalism, he should also know it’s because he himself is one of the problems women face. Five years ago, when Thrush and I were colleagues at Politico, I was in the same bar as Padró Ocasio’s friend — perhaps the same booth — when he caught me off guard, put his hand on my thigh, and suddenly started kissing me. Thrush says that he recalls the incident differently.

Three young women I interviewed, including the young woman who met Thrush in June, described to me a range of similar experiences, from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol. Each woman described feeling differently about these experiences: scared, violated, ashamed, weirded out. I was — and am — angry.

Details of their stories suggest a pattern. All of the women were in their 20s at the time. They were relatively early in their careers compared to Thrush, who was the kind of seasoned journalist who would be good to know. At an event with alcohol, he made advances. Afterward, they (as I did) thought it best to stay on good terms with Thrush, whatever their feelings.

“I apologize to any woman who felt uncomfortable in my presence, and for any situation where I behaved inappropriately. Any behavior that makes a woman feel disrespected or uncomfortable is unacceptable,” Thrush said in a statement emailed to me on November 19.

In interviews with about 40 people in and around media who know Thrush, I got a picture of a reporter whose title doesn’t capture his power and stature. People who’ve worked with him say he can get a writer’s name in front of the right editor, if he wants. Newsroom leaders care what he thinks. Some reporters said Thrush had used his connections to help them land jobs or develop new sources.

The downfall of Hollywood titan Weinstein has been a catalyst for a movement to stamp out workplace harassment, particularly the variety to pits powerful men against much less powerful women. They are facing consequences for their behavior like never before, including men in media. Halperin lost a coveted book deal. NPR news chief Michael Oreskes resigned. Leon Wieseltier lost funding for his new magazine. And Lockhart Steele, the editorial director of Vox Media, Vox’s parent company, was fired for misconduct.

Thrush wasn’t my boss at Politico. He was a reporter and I was an editor. We were on different teams and hardly crossed each other’s paths. But he was an incredibly influential person in the newsroom and in political journalism, a world I was still trying to break into in a meaningful way at the time.

It wasn’t that Thrush was offering young women a quid pro quo deal, such as sex in exchange for mentorship. Thrush, just by his stature, put women in a position of feeling they had to suck up and move on from an uncomfortable encounter.

On that night five years ago,  . . .

Continue reading.

Update: NY Times suspends Glenn Thrush.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2017 at 9:04 am

Why Hillary Clinton’s Book Is Actually Worth Reading

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James Fallows has a very interesting column on Hillary Clinton and her book. It begins:

Most books by politicians are bad. They’re bad because they are cautious, or pious, or boring, or some even-worse combination of all three.

They’re cautious because over the years politicians learn they have more to lose than gain by taking “interesting” or edgy stands. (Something I learned when working as a campaign and White House speechwriter: In “normal” writing, your goal is to make your meaning as clear as possible, ideally in a memorable way. For a politician, the goal is to make the meaning just clear enough that most people will still agree with you. Clearer than that, and you’re in trouble.)

They’re pious because in one way or another the “revealing” stories about the authors are really campaign ads—for future elections by politicians with a big race still ahead of them, or for history’s esteem by senior figures looking back. Thus  politicians’ biographies fall into the general categories of humble-brag (most of them) or braggy-brag (Trump’s).

And they’re boring because they’re necessarily often about policy. That’s hard enough to make interesting in the hands of very skillful writers, from Rachel Carson and Jane Jacobs to John Hersey and Michael Lewis. If politicians turning out books on “Our Schools: A New Blueprint!” were comparably skilled as writers, they’d be making their livings without having to bother with PACs and polls.

Of course there are exceptions. Some autobiographical books manage to be interesting because they’re written early enough not to be swathed in campaign caution (Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father), or come from a quirky-enough sensibility to avoid normal constraints (Jimmy Carter’s Why Not the Best?), or are from performers talented enough to work subversively within the constraints (Al Franken’s Giant of the Senate, which is the kind of book Will Rogers might have written if he had made it into the Senate). And of course some all-out manifestos with an edge can shape the evolution of politics. Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative didn’t get him into the White House, but it competed with the works of Ayn Rand on many conservatives’ bookshelves and lastingly shaped a movement.

I don’t know whether Hillary Clinton’s previous books were good or bad. I didn’t read them, because I assumed they were normal politician-books. But What Happened is not a standard work in this oeuvre. It’s interesting; it’s worth reading; and it sets out questions that the press, in particular, has not done enough to face.

* * *

On the overall interesting-ness of the book, I refer you to Megan Garber’s extensive analysis of the different personas Hillary Clinton has presented through her now very-long public career, and the much less-guarded one that comes through in What Happened. By the previously mentioned depressing standards of most political books, this one isn’t cautious (because the author  convincingly claims she’s not running for anything any more), it’s not (very) pious (because she favors an acid-humor tone), and most of it is not boring (because most of it is not directly about policy).

As an example of why it’s interesting, consider the opening scene, about how Clinton dealt with the inauguration ceremony in which she might have expected to be sworn in herself, but instead sat there watching Donald Trump take the oath. She’d wondered whether she had to show up at all, and talked with former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, each of whom had called her right after the news of her loss sank in: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 10:09 am

Email to NY Times Public Editor, subject line: “I STRONGLY advise you to read a post”

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Body of email:

And I’m a NY Times subscriber, FWIW.

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/05/new-york-times-has-imported-ethics-wall-street-journal

I think this requires both a correction and a comment and a warning to Bret that the next time he pulls a stunt like this, he’ll be fired. And I mean that. This is NOT up to NY Times standards. It is purely deceptive.

Isn’t the NY Times above this sort of thing? I had thought so, but I seem to have been wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2017 at 7:44 pm

Posted in NY Times

Preet Bharara: New York Times Promotes a False Narrative

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I had read that Preet Bharara, though strong against public corruption, was curiously gentle to, and incurious about, Wall Street. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

The narrative of Preet Bharara as a crusading crime fighter has gotten a big boost from the Editorial Board of the New York Times in a glowing editorial in today’s print edition. Bharara was, until this past weekend, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Wall Street’s stomping ground. Bharara Tweeted on Saturday that he had been “fired” by the Trump administration.

The Times’ editorial headline in its digital edition has to be bringing howls this morning from Wall Street veterans and corporate crime watchers. The Times is asking its readers to believe that Bharara was a “Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain a Swamp.” That’s fake news at its finest. Despite Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, presiding over an unprecedented series of frauds upon the investing public at their banks, these men remain firmly entrenched as overpaid titans in the impenetrable toxic muck of the Wall Street Swamp.

We’ll get back shortly to Bharara’s tenure in the financial crime capitol of the world, but first some necessary background on the New York Times itself.

The Times has a new advertising slogan. It goes like this:Truth. It’s hard to find. But easier with 1000+ journalists looking. Subscribe to The Times.” Unfortunately, when it comes to New York’s biggest and richest hometown industry known as Wall Street, those 1,000 journalists regularly have dull pencils and fogged lenses. (See related articles below.) Even worse, the Editorial Board at the Times has repeatedly served as a propagandist for the serial Wall Street ruses to fleece the public.

It was the Editorial Board of the Times that played the role of Head Majorette when Sandy Weill needed support for his self-serving plan to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, allowing Wall Street investments banks to merge with commercial banks holding federally-insured deposits in order to make wild gambles for the house while putting taxpayers on the hook for the losses. John Reed, Weill’s partner in the plan, explained to Bill Moyers’in 2012 the real motivation behind the scheme: “Sandy Weill. I mean, his whole life was to accumulate money. And he said, ‘John, we could be so rich.’ Being rich never crossed my mind as an objective value. I almost was embarrassed that somebody would say out loud. It might be happening but you wouldn’t want to say it.”

The New York Times Editorial Board bought into Weill’s outlandish narrative, writing on April 8, 1998: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2017 at 11:11 am

Congress targets a California law that aims to give low-income workers retirement security

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Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:

ambitious California law intended to help create retirement security for low-income workers is in the crosshairs of the Trump-era Congress, which is moving to block the state and others from launching programs to automatically enroll millions of people in IRA-type savings plans.

The push is one of the most direct confrontations yet with California and other liberal states by a GOP-led Congress emboldened by President Trump’s election.

And it is intensifying the debate about whether conservatives who now control Washington will honor their pledge to respect states’ rights, even when states pursue policies out of step with the Republican agenda.

By targeting the novel “auto IRA”-style programs, congressional Republicans are also provoking one of California’s most visible leaders, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the Democrat who championed the policy in California and nationwide and is leading a movement in the Legislature to resist the Trump White House.

The 2016 law being targeted requires employers to enroll 6.8 million California workers who currently have no access to a retirement savings account at work in a state-sponsored plan. Millions more in seven other states that have passed laws similar to California’s would also be enrolled in those states. Many more states are now weighing joining a movement that has been years in the making.

California first took steps toward creating its program in 2012. Other states, including Illinois, have been slowly implementing their own laws, which have been complicated by federal Labor Department rules governing such investment pools.

In its final months, the Obama administration gave states the green light to pursue their vision.

The state laws generally require employers with no retirement plans to automatically invest a small percentage of each worker’s pay in a state-sponsored retirement account. Employers are not required to contribute anything and workers can opt out of the program if they choose.

The first such program was expected to launch this year in Oregon. California and other states were hoping to begin next year.

Now at the urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of Wall Street investment firms long opposed to government-sponsored retirement programs that could compete with their own offerings, key Republicans are moving to revoke the federal approval.

“Our nation faces difficult retirement challenges, but more government isn’t the solution,” said a statement from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of a House subcommittee on retirement issues who is taking a lead in the repeal effort.

Walberg and his colleagues are invoking an obscure parliamentary tool that gives Congress a small window to repeal new regulations. It has rarely been used in recent years because any repeal effort would have faced certain veto by President Obama. But under Trump, it is now a potent tool for Republicans to swiftly unwind Obama-era regulations.

“The results of the November election give us an opportunity to go back and correct this,” Aliya Wong, executive director of retirement policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of its effort to block California and other states from moving ahead with their programs.

No hearings are required before the full House votes on the repeal of the federal approval, which could happen as soon as next week. . .

Continue reading.

It’s really out in the open now, isn’t it? The next step will be fistfights.

And contract reporter? Shouldn’t he be on staff?

In that connection, note the GoFundMe of Pizza for the Newsroom: contribute toward buying pizza for the staff of the NY Times and the Washington Post. I have digital subscriptions to both, and they are fully worth it. And I bought a pizza, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 7:40 pm

NSA can now share surveillance data on individuals

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The new rule allows the sharing of “raw” data—data with no privacy protection. You are totally identifiable. Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

n its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions. . .

Continue reading.

Trump will obviously have access anyway. Wonder how he will use it. He’s a vindictive man who lashes out, and this should give him some good ammunition. Is he such a person as would likely do it? Sure seems so to me.

Later:

Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

The ACLU is fighting to protect your rights. Support them. (I make a monthly donation.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2017 at 7:58 pm

How the NY Times prepared for Castro’s death

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Jason Kottke has a great post on the trials and tribulations of the obit department.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2016 at 4:07 pm

Posted in NY Times

Maggie Haberman is the Judith Miller of the left

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Just read this article in The Intercept by Zaid Jilani. The Democratic establishment does not want actual Democrats running the party—that is, those who express traditional progressive Democratic values. They want the Clintons and the Wall Street Democrats. (I wonder whether Haberman has apologized to Ellison for laughing at him. I would bet she never does. The arrogance of NY Times reporters and editors means that they never admit error, and thus they seldom learn from their mistakes: they ignore, minimize, downplay, and conceal mistakes.)

The report begins:

The NY Times on Tuesday published an article portraying the Obama White House as skeptical of Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s ability to lead the Democratic National Committee. Ellison, who endorsed Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary and is viewed by many as a sort of Sanders proxy, declared his candidacy earlier this month, emphasizing a need to prioritize grassroots organizing.

The Times article signaled that the establishment of the Democratic Party is opposed to Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, and laid out an argument questioning the congressman’s ability to lead the party.

One of the article’s two authors, Maggie Haberman, was on an ABC News panel with Ellison in July 2015 when he suggested that Donald Trump might end up “leading the Republican ticket” and that there was a real possibility of his capturing the presidency. Haberman burst out laughing: . . .

Read the whole thing. And watch the 30-second video.

Of course the NY Times repeatedly says that it will avoid using anonymous sources—the exception seems to be for anonymous sources who say things the NY Times wants to print.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2016 at 5:22 pm

The New York Times Has a Fatal Wall Street Bias

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

A few years back, when William D. Cohan was writing for Bloomberg News, one could reliably count on him to hold Wall Street’s feet to the fire. Now Cohan is writing for the New York Times and it feels like the Times sent him for an in-house lobotomy or at least a crash course in reoriented thinking.

Consider Cohan’s article from yesterday in the Times, titled Why Washington Needs Wall Street. First Cohan piles on to the recent bashing of Senator Elizabeth Warren by Roger Lowenstein in the pages of the Times. Warren has led a meaningful, multi-year charge to expose the failed reforms and lapdog regulators overseeing Wall Street, which is hands-down the most corrupt industry in America and located in the same home town as the New York Times.  (If you can’t clean up your own home town, what good are you?)

Cohan calls Warren a demagogue, writing that “she goes overboard and seems like she is receiving way too much gratification getting headlines and television time for her stern and condescending lectures.” (If the business model of your industry is fraud – as Senator Bernie Sanders has correctly stated and the serial charges of crimes further attest – can anything said about you be condescending?)

But here’s where Cohan really flips wildly from his former personality. Cohan writes that there’s a “drumbeating” coming from the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders, Warren and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich to prevent anyone with a Wall Street background from filling cabinet or subcabinet posts if Clinton becomes the next President. Cohan now sees this as a bad thing, writing:

The fact is that many jobs in Washington could be filled by someone with a Wall Street background to the benefit of the American people. What better way to improve the inner workings of the capital markets than by having someone with the authority to regulate them who knows precisely how they work, or how they are manipulated.

Now consider the tune Cohan was whistling just a little over three years ago at Bloomberg News. Cohan wrote:

…we get stuck again and again with people whose ties to Wall Street run deep. Indeed, the ‘revolving door’ between Wall Street and Washington seems to have been spinning faster than ever during the first five years of Barack Obama’s administration, contrary to what candidate Obama led us to expect. Is it just a coincidence that the president’s most important economic advisers — Jack Lew, the Treasury secretary; Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his choice to head the Office of Management and Budget; Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council; and Michael Froman, a senior White House economic adviser — are all acolytes of Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and longtime Wall Street honcho at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc.?

Thanks to WikiLeaks, the American people no longer have to guess why President Obama promised meaningful change and then stuffed his administration with Wall Street cronies. Emails released by WikiLeaks show that in the months leading up to Obama’s 2008 election win, Michael Froman, an executive at Citigroup, was emailing Obama and his advisers with the recommended personnel that he and his cronies wanted to see in the new administration. (See our coverage here and here.) Almost without exception, Wall Street got its way.

The outrage of Michael Froman submitting his personnel rosters to the future President in the Fall of 2008, using his official Citigroup email address, is that at that very moment Citigroup was an insolvent bank in the process of unraveling and on life support from the taxpayer. When the dust finally settled, Citigroup would receive the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history: $45 billion in equity infusions; over $300 billion in asset guarantees; and more than $2.5 trillion in secret below market-rate loans from the Federal Reserve.

Let that sink in for a moment. Citigroup’s business model of fraud had collapsed the bank and in the midst of that collapse one of its executives is in charge of staffing the next President’s administration. The man sitting at the helm of the New York Fed, Tim Geithner, who was funneling all of those secret loans to Citigroup, became Obama’s first Treasury Secretary. The Citigroup executive who received a $940,000 bonus while Citigroup was insolvent, Jack Lew, became Obama’s second Treasury Secretary with enhanced supervisory powers as head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC).

The New York Times is the one paper in America that should be viewed with particular skepticism when it comes to Wall Street. It was a cheerleader for years on its editorial page, promoting the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. As its editorial page editors acknowledged in 2012: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2016 at 4:23 pm

Strange charge of anti-Semitism leveled against Donald Trump because he criticized banks

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

One would have had to have been in a coma for the past eight years not to realize there has been an ongoing Wall Street banking conspiracy in the United States. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) tallied it up and found it amounted to $16 trillion in secret loans from the Federal Reserve – an unfathomable bailout never approved by Congress. On May 20 of last year the U.S. Justice Department documented a vast conspiracy by global banks in the foreign currency markets with the banks admitting to the felony charges. The former heads of Federal regulatory agencies have written books about the conspiracy. Frontline and Sixty Minutes have produced documentaries on it. Banking whistleblowers have organized to fight it in an effort to save the country. A major motion picture, The Big Short, was released this year which put one aspect of the conspiracy into layman’s language and was based on a book by Wall Street veteran, Michael Lewis. Wall Street On Parade has chronicled the ongoing banking conspiracy for the past decade.

But yesterday, after Donald Trump made a reference to a banking conspiracy in his speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, a writer at the New York Times quickly pointed the anti-Semite finger at Trump, quoting Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and others. The Times wrote:

The remarks drew criticism from some who said they resembled prejudicial language used by anti-Semites. ‘Whether intentionally or not, Donald Trump is evoking classic anti-Semitic themes that have historically been used against Jews and still reverberate today,’ Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights discrimination, said in a statement.

The full transcript of Trump’s speech was made available by Time Magazine. There is only one reference to the words “bank” or “banking.” Trump said the following:

The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure. We’ve seen this first hand in the WikiLeaks documents, in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.

Most Americans believe, for good reason, that global banks, including those on Wall Street, are actively engaged in a concerted wealth transfer system from the 99 percent to the 1 percent. That America now has the greatest wealth and income inequality since the 1920s further buttresses the wealth transfer reality.

After the financial crash in 2008, the Federal Reserve fought for years in court to avoid providing details of the money it funneled to the global banks during the years of the crisis. When the Fed finally lost the court battle, the Government Accountability Office tallied up the secret Fed loans, all of which had been made at super low, below-market interest rates without any public disclosure. The final tally came to $16.1 trillion in cumulative loans. Yes, we said “trillion.” (See chart below from the GAO report.) . . .

Continue reading.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton (for whom I shall vote) will vigorously support and push banking reform. She has said that the best way to regulate banks is to put bankers in charge of regulation, a strategy followed by President Obama that really has not worked all that well.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2016 at 9:24 am

Posted in Business, Election, GOP, NY Times

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