Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Washington Post’ Category

The Roger Stone Tapes: The longtime Trump adviser working to overturn the 2020 election

leave a comment »

A remarkable article (gift link; no paywall) by Dalton Bennett and Jon Swaine in the Washington Post shows Roger Stone at work. The article begins:

As a mob ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s longest-serving political adviser, hurried to pack a suitcase inside his elegant suite on the fifth floor of the Willard hotel. He wrapped his tailored suits in trash bags, reversed his black face mask so its “Free Roger Stone” logo was hidden, then slipped out of town for a hastily arranged private flight from Dulles International Airport.

“I really want to get out of here,” Stone told an aide, as they were filmed at the hotel by a Danish camera crew for a documentary on the veteran Republican operative. Stone said he feared prosecution by the incoming attorney general, Merrick Garland. “He is not a friend,” Stone said.

Stone allowed the filmmakers to document his activities during extended periods over more than two years. In addition to interviews and moments when Stone spoke directly to the camera, they also captured fly-on-the-wall footage of his actions, candid off-camera conversations from a microphone he wore and views of his iPhone screen as he messaged associates on an encrypted app. Reporters from The Washington Post reviewed more than 20 hours of video filmed for the documentary, “A Storm Foretold,” which is expected to be released later this year.

The footage, along with other reporting by The Post, provides the most comprehensive account to date of Stone’s involvement in the former president’s effort to overturn the election and in the rallies in Washington that spilled over into violence on Jan. 6.

Stone privately coordinated post-election protests with prominent figures, and in January he communicated by text message with leaders of far-right groups that had been involved in the attack on the Capitol, the footage shows. The filmmakers did not capture conversations between Stone and Trump, but on several occasions, Stone told them or his associates that he remained in contact with the president.

[How Danish filmmakers made the documentary on Roger Stone.]

Stone has refused to give testimony and evidence to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment. Last week, he sued members of the panel to try to block them from using a subpoena to obtain his telephone records.

On the day of the attack, as he packed his bags, Stone told the filmmakers the riot was a mistake and would be “really bad” for the pro-Trump movement.

On the eve of the 2020 election, however, he seemed to welcome the prospect of clashes with left-wing activists. In a recorded conversation, as an aide spoke of driving trucks into crowds of racial justice protesters, Stone said: “Once there’s no more election, there’s no reason why we can’t mix it up. These people are going to get what they’ve been asking for.”

Stone declined requests for an interview. In response to questions, he said in an email that he had no involvement in the Jan. 6 riot. “Any claim, assertion or implication that I knew about, was involved in or condoned the illegal acts at the Capitol on Jan 6 is categorically false and there is no witness or document that proves otherwise,” he wrote.

Without providing specifics, Stone accused The Post of employing “a clever blend of ‘guilt by association,’ insinuations, half truths, anonymous claims, falsehoods and out of context trick questions.” He suggested that video clips of him reviewed for this article could be “deep fakes.”

“You attribute things to me I never said,” Stone wrote, without citing any examples.

Stone moved quickly after Trump’s defeat to help mobilize the protest movement that drew thousands to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021, The Post found. He privately strategized with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and rally organizer Ali Alexander, who visited Stone’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in late November 2020 for a dinner where Stone served pasta and martinis.

A few hours before the Jan. 6 attack, the video shows, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers group — who has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy — was in Stone’s suite at the Willard. Other rooms in the same hotel were used as a “command center” by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and other advisers involved in the fractious battle to overturn the election. Stone was not part of their effort, the footage indicates, and he said he feared that top organizers were trying to exclude him from the rally.

Stone used an encrypted messaging app later in January to communicate with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who is also charged with seditious conspiracy, and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, the footage shows. Prosecutors have said that Rhodes erased some messages from his phone before it was taken by the FBI.

A federal judge considering lawsuits filed against Trump by Democrats and Capitol Police officers over the Jan. 6 riot said in an order in February that Stone’s connection to Trump, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers may prove to be “an important one.”

Stone did not permit the filmmakers to record him for a 90-minute period covering the height of the violence on Jan. 6. A Stone aide blocked a cameraman from entering his hotel suite, claiming that Stone was napping, the cameraman said. When he eventually got inside, Stone was speaking on his phone.

After he left Washington, Stone lobbied for Trump to enact  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

It’s becoming increasingly clear that there was a group with a deliberate and serious intention to overturn the results of a valid election (none of the 60 or so lawsuits claiming election fraud held up in court) and take over the Presidency.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2022 at 5:54 am

An infuriating report on biased, hidebound, opaque management at the Washington Post

leave a comment »

I’m a Post subscriber, and Clio Chang’s article in New York, which describes the hypocrisy, insensitivity, and outright bias among senior managers of the Washington Post, is very disturbing — particularly in light of their motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” to which they offer merely lip-service when it is their own activities that are being questioned. The (lengthy) article begins:

In February 2020, the leadership of the Washington Post was in the midst of an internal crisis. Marty Baron, the revered executive editor credited with reviving the Post after it was nearly washed away by the tsunami of the internet, had launched a listening tour to address the staff’s concerns about the company’s social-media policy. Specifically, Baron and his lieutenants were being grilled on their recent decision to suspend the reporter Felicia Sonmez after she tweeted a 2016 Daily Beast story about rape allegations against Kobe Bryant shortly after his death in a tragic helicopter crash. The first of the meetings was packed. Staffers say that leadership seemed cagey and annoyed, refusing to even mention Sonmez by name. “Marty sat there, did not say a word, and stared down at the desk the whole time,” one former editor on the national desk told me. “Smoke was coming out of his ears.”

Sonmez had been a point of special focus for the Post’s top brass. Before joining the paper’s politics breaking-news team, she had accused a fellow reporter, former Los Angeles Times correspondent Jonathan Kaiman, of assaulting her in Beijing in 2017. Not long after she was hired in 2018, she was barred from covering stories related to sexual assault. According to a lawsuit Sonmez filed in July of this year against Baron and his inner circle, she was told that, by speaking up about her alleged assault, she had acted like an “activist” and had “taken a side on the issue,” which in their view meant her reporting on assault could open the paper up to accusations of bias.

The ban sidelined Sonmez on a wide range of stories, including those involving former presidential candidate Herman Cain and former New York governor Andrew Cuomo. Though she was discouraged from speaking publicly about her experiences, the ban forced her to talk about her assault constantly in private since she had to regularly explain why she had to step away from assignments. As Sonmez told me in a statement through her lawyer, editors at the Post “retraumatized and humiliated me by forcing me to relive my assault at work, over and over, whenever news broke and a colleague would ask why I wasn’t allowed to cover the story.”

The broader newsroom knew few of these details at the time of Baron’s listening tour. Many staffers were unaware that the Post’s top editors had long believed that Sonmez was undermining its attempts to cover the news objectively and that her tweet about Bryant, which ran against the hagiographic coverage of his life and career, was for them a final straw. As the Post’s managing editor, Tracy Grant, explained to the press at the time, Sonmez’s tweet “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” Baron emailed Sonmez personally, saying, “Felicia, a real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.”

But for others on staff, it was her suspension that raised greater alarms in the newsroom. On one stop of the listening tour, the lawsuit states that someone asked Baron if murder and sexual assault could be seen as issues with “two sides.” Baron responded, “Murder is evil, okay? … It’s when you get to the point of advocacy of certain policies [that the line is crossed].”

Many in the newsroom already felt that the Post’s social-media policy was applied unevenly, disproportionately punishing women and reporters of color. The general guidelines, which date back to 2011, state that reporters must “refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything — including photographs or video — that could objectively be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism.” An additional social-media-policy document from 2017 instructs Post employees to avoid maligning subscribers, advertisers, and competitors.

In a memo sent by staffers in April 2020 in the wake of Sonmez’s suspension, solicited by editor Steven Ginsberg, they pointed out that it was common to receive emails from managers with “Your Tweet” in the subject line, in which they were instructed to delete a tweet but not always told why. One person told me that emails from Baron were sometimes referred to as “Marty-grams” — if they arrived at an odd hour, it almost certainly meant that a reporter was in trouble. Meanwhile, as one person put it in the memo, “People who are stars get away with murder.” Sonmez’s suspension was a turning point. While not everyone approved of her decision to tweet about Bryant, the newsroom broadly agreed that management had badly overreacted, particularly since Sonmez was receiving death threats at the time. Over 300 people, younger reporters and veterans alike, signed a Post Guild petition criticizing the “fundamental flaws” in the Post’s social-media policy and urging leadership to take immediate steps to protect Sonmez. Soon after, she was reinstated.

The controversy cast only a thin shadow on Baron’s otherwise glorious tenure. When he retired a year later, this past February, the air was thick with paeans to his brilliance. “He’s made every institution he touched better,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times. Sacha Pfeiffer, an investigative reporter who worked with Baron on the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (the inspiration for the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight), told the Times, “It’s well known that Marty is not warm and fuzzy. But he’s one of the best editors I’ve ever had, because he has an excellent moral compass, an uncanny instinct for what could make a good story, and he seems to be fearless. He knows how hard reporting can be.”

Sonmez’s suit revived the scandal this past summer, a direct challenge to Baron’s legacy. “Marty was held in very high regard in the newsroom, deservedly so,” Christopher Ingraham, a Post reporter who left the paper in June, told me. But, he added, “I think for a lot of folks, some of the shine came off Marty after what happened with Felicia.” The suit, which alleges discrimination based on her gender and protected status as a victim of sexual assault, details a level of persecution that is as cruel as it is baffling. It also reveals an internal culture that appears to be at odds with the paper’s motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” in which there is such a deep institutional discomfort with acknowledging the realities of sexual assault that they are relentlessly smothered.

How the Post got to this strange place, where its very highest editors bent over backward to punish a single reporter for talking publicly about being assaulted, is a story of generational differences and blind spots and changing journalistic standards. But it’s also a story about Marty Baron, who appears only rarely in the lawsuit itself but presided over a top-down management structure made in his image. “Everybody was trying to please Marty,” the former “National” editor told me, “and Marty expected his every word to be a command, all the way down.”

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013 and flooded it with money, a subsequent wave of hiring brought in younger, more diverse reporters. The schisms in the newsroom are not necessarily generational — older reporters supported Sonmez and are staunch union members — but there is a tension between a more experienced editorial guard that lives and breathes by the institution and a new, digitally fluent cohort that very much has its own ideas about the relationship between social justice and journalistic integrity. The Post’s traditions die hard: Grant famously hands out a copy of Katharine Graham’s memoir to new reporters.

The Post’s culture clash has played out most visibly in the debate over newsroom objectivity. The fear of running afoul of the objectivity standard has consistently led the Post to some odd places. There was the editor’s note added to a reporter’s story about a district-attorney candidate in San Francisco that pointed out the reporter had a “parent who was formerly incarcerated,” as if this was some indication of bias. (The note was lambasted online.) Or, a hairsplitting memo from Post leadership, widely ridiculed within the company, on what kind of events reporters were and weren’t allowed to attend: “A newsroom employee would not hold a protest sign at a parade or wear a hat supporting or opposing a political candidate or legislative policy, but might wear a rainbow cap, wave an American flag or wear a t-shirt celebrating their identity.”

Antonia Noori Farzan, a former staff writer on the Post’s foreign desk, said that during her orientation, Grant used an example of a reporter solely posting videos of Syrian atrocities on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Grant said the practice could raise questions about their objectivity on that issue and that they might be barred from covering it. “Obviously a super-weird comment — is there really a fear that we’re going to be overly biased against human-rights violations?” Farzan asked me.

Baron & Co. were at pains to avoid even an appearance of conflict, especially difficult during the Trump era, when right-wing hostility toward media outlets reached new heights. Ingraham recalled that he was disciplined for a tweet about Trump and “collusion” that he sent during the Robert Mueller investigation. Conservative media started attacking him, and he got a write-up on Breitbart. Ingraham was told by editors to delete his tweets and to fly to Washington to get a formal write-up and lecture from management.

“They were dumb tweets, sent in the heat of the moment,” Ingraham acknowledged. “But the incident was reflective of how social-media policy actually worked at the Post: Management effectively let the policy be dictated by the worst elements of the far right. A surefire way to get a Post reporter in trouble at work was to get a critical mass of conservatives mad at that reporter on Twitter.”

The fraught atmosphere of the Trump era formed the backdrop for a clash between unlikely opponents. Baron is an imposing figure, a bear of a man in wire-rimmed glasses. By all accounts, he can be stern, brusque, and, at times, inaccessible. Those who have worked with Baron agree that Liev Schreiber’s taciturn portrayal of him in Spotlight is spot on. (Baron declined a request for an interview.) As Baron has said about himself, “People don’t have to like me, but I hope that they’ll respect me.” Sonmez, who also declined to speak to me directly, cuts a different figure, according to colleagues, who described her as warm, inclusive, and reliable, a team player quick to share sources. The suit Sonmez filed remains an open wound at the company; she still works there, as do the five other editors named in the suit.

They include Grant, Ginsberg, and Lori Montgomery as well as Cameron Barr and Peter Wallsten. Between them, they have decades of reporting and editing experience. Montgomery, now the business editor, started at the Post over 20 years ago. Ginsberg moved his way up to national editor over the course of nearly three decades at the paper after starting as a copy aide. Wallsten, who covered politics in Florida early in his career, is the politics editor. Grant, who is often lauded as the second woman to rise to the managing-editor position at the Post, was, according to her bio, the “arbiter of the newsroom’s standards and ethics policies” at the time Sonmez’s lawsuit landed. Barr started as a reporter on the metro desk and was acting executive editor upon Baron’s retirement. These editors are, needless to say, on the older side, and they are all white. At least a few of them were in the running to replace Baron, but their handling of the Sonmez situation may have hurt their chances. Instead, the Post named Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of the Associated Press, as Baron’s successor in May.

According to the suit, Sonmez came forward publicly with her allegations against Kaiman in 2018 — the second woman to do so — just as she was interviewing for a job at the Post. Soon after Sonmez started the gig, the Los Angeles Times announced that, following an investigation into his conduct, Kaiman would resign.

In September 2018, three months after Sonmez was hired, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And WaPo management looks very bad indeed. For example:

The editors also questioned Sonmez’s own actions related to the assault, according to the suit. Montgomery and Wallsten allegedly asked Sonmez why she did not go to the police in Beijing, while Montgomery told Sonmez that “she was always taught that a woman should ‘just say no’ if a man tries to assault her.”

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2021 at 7:18 pm

Billions Beyond Reach: How the wealthy and powerful hide their money and evade taxation

leave a comment »

The Washington Post is starting a series on the Panama Papers — files released that reveal much about the secretive finances of the wealthy.  Greg Miller, Debbie Cenziper, and Peter Whoriskey report. (They fixed the gift link, so that link avoids the paywall.)

A massive trove of private financial records shared with The Washington Post exposes vast reaches of the secretive offshore system used to hide billions of dollars from tax authorities, creditors, criminal investigators and — in 14 cases involving current country leaders — citizens around the world.

The revelations include more than $100 million spent by King Abdullah II of Jordan on luxury homes in Malibu, Calif., and other locations; millions of dollars in property and cash secretly owned by the leaders of the Czech Republic, Kenya, Ecuador and other countries; and a waterfront home in Monaco acquired by a Russian woman who gained considerable wealth after she reportedly had a child with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Other disclosures hit closer to home for U.S. officials and other Western leaders who frequently condemn smaller countries whose permissive banking systems have been exploited for decades by looters of assets and launderers of dirty money.

The files provide substantial new evidence, for example, that South Dakota now rivals notoriously opaque jurisdictions in Europe and the Caribbean in financial secrecy. Tens of millions of dollars from outside the United States are now sheltered by trust companies in Sioux Falls, some of it tied to people and companies accused of human rights abuses and other wrongdoing.

The details are contained in more than 11.9 million financial records that were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and examined by The Post and other partner news organizations. The files include private emails, secret spreadsheets, clandestine contracts and other records that unlock otherwise impenetrable financial schemes and identify the individuals behind them.

The trove, dubbed the Pandora Papers, exceeds the dimensions of the leak that was at the center of the Panama Papers investigation five years ago. That data was drawn from a single law firm, but the new material encompasses records from 14 separate financial-services entities operating in countries and territories including Switzerland, Singapore, Cyprus, Belize and the British Virgin Islands.

The files detail more than 29,000 offshore accounts, more than double the number identified in the Panama Papers. Among the account owners are more than 130 people listed as billionaires by Forbes magazine and more than 330 public officials in more than 90 countries and territories, twice the number found in the Panama documents.

As a result, the Pandora Papers allow for the most comprehensive accounting to date of a parallel financial universe whose corrosive effects can span generations — draining significant sums from government treasuries, worsening wealth disparities, and shielding the riches of those who cheat and steal while impeding authorities and victims in their efforts to find or recover hidden assets.

“The offshore financial system is a problem that should concern every law-abiding person around the world,” said Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI officer who served as lead agent on dozens of financial-crimes cases.

Ebadi pointed to the role that offshore accounts and asset-shielding trusts play in drug trafficking, ransomware attacks, arms trading and other crimes. “These systems don’t just allow tax cheats to avoid paying their fair share. They undermine the fabric of a good society,” said Ebadi, now an associate managing director at Kroll, a corporate investigations and consulting firm. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And the link bypasses the paywall — it’s a gift link.

Written by Leisureguy

3 October 2021 at 10:59 am

The Afghanistan Debacle: How Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden Bamboozled the American Public

leave a comment »

David Corn’s newsletter The Land is available three times a week through a paid subscription, but the current issue — on the very interesting topic of how the public was betrayed by a succession of Presidents — is available free. It begins:

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the calamitous collapse of Kabul are the result of years of American failure to understand that nation and that war—an immense failure that was covered up by the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

It was Bush and Dick Cheney who led the United States into what would be the longest-running quagmire in American history. And they did so with little strategic thought about what to do after chasing Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan and running the al-Qaeda-friendly Taliban out of power. Most notoriously, before figuring out how to proceed in Afghanistan after the initial attack, they launched the even more misguided war in Iraq on the basis of lies and, in similar fashion, without a clear plan for what would come after the fall of Saddam Hussein. As a result, over 4,400 American soldiers would perish there, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians would die in the years of post-invasion fighting. Meanwhile, nearly 6,300 American GIs and contractors would lose their lives in Afghanistan. The arrogance and ineptitude of Bush, Cheney, and their henchmen have led to the horrible images and tales we have seen reported from Afghanistan in the past few days—which themselves are the continuation of many years of horrible images and tales from the double-debacle of these two wars.

But the Obama and Trump administrations were complicit in the Afghanistan catastrophe, particularly for perpetuating the national security establishment’s delusions—and lies—about the war. In 2019, the Washington Post obtained access to a trove of confidential US government documents about the Afghanistan war that were produced as part of an inspector general’s project that investigated the root failures of the war by conducting interviews with 400 insiders involved with the effort, including generals, White House officials, diplomats, and Afghan officials. The findings were damning. As the Post put it, “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

That was a helluva secret to keep from the public. A sharp indictment came from Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who was the White House Afghan war czar for Bush and Obama. In 2015, he told the project’s interviewers, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan­—we didn’t know what we were doing.” The guy in charge of Afghanistan remarkably added, “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” Lute also observed, “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction.” Yes, imagine if we did—though the vast corruption that undermined the massive US rebuilding endeavor was well reported repeatedly over the years. As were the continuous failures within the war itself. Yet Congress, the media, and the citizenry paid insufficient attention to this never-ending, going-nowhere conflict.

Several officials interviewed noted the US government—military HQ in Kabul and the White House—consistently hoodwinked the public to make it seem the US was winning in Afghanistan when it was not. Remember the steady stream of assurances the Afghan military was becoming more capable of beating back the Taliban? That was BS. A senior National Security Council official said there was pressure from the Obama White House and the Pentagon to concoct stats showing the American troop surge was succeeding: “It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory, and none of it painted an accurate picture. The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

John Sopko, who headed the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which ran the project, bottom-lined this for the Post: “The American people have constantly been lied to.”

Think about that. Americans have paid about $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. Thousands have given their lives; many more have suffered tremendous injuries. And the public was not told the truth about this venture. It was bamboozled by successive administrations. The Post had to twice sue SIGAR to force the release of these papers under the Freedom of Information Act. The Trump administration preferred to keep this material under wraps.

These documents were somewhat akin to the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page long history of the Vietnam War that was leaked to the media by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 and showed that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had routinely deceived the public about supposed progress in that war. (The Afghanistan papers, unlike the Vietnam study, were not classified.) Yet the Post’s big get did not detonate a major controversy, as the Pentagon Papers did. This holy-shit scoop was duly noted, and then, as is often the case, we all moved on. The Afghanistan war had long since become a non-story, relegated to p. A15, if covered at all.

Now we are worried, perhaps angered, by the fall of Kabul, and we fear for the Afghans—especially the women and girls, the human rights activists, and those who aided US forces and Western journalists—who are about to become inhabitants of the Taliban’s fundamentalist hellscape. But however we reached this point—and whether or not President Joe Biden committed a grave error with the US troop withdrawal and its management—one thing is clear: US presidents, military officials, and policymakers were not straight with the American public about Afghanistan. We never had an honest debate about what was being done there and what could—and couldn’t—be accomplished. (For a snapshot of the absurdity of the Afghanistan war, see this recent thread from Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.)

As Afghans in Kabul, including President Ashraf Ghani, fled the incoming Taliban this past weekend, the blame game kicked in. Who lost Afghanistan? Well, it wasn’t ours to lose in the first place. But everyone is to blame, for everyone lied or got it wrong: Bush and Cheney, Obama and Biden, Trump and Pence, and now Biden and Harris. When Trump in February 2020 signed a “peace deal” with the Taliban obligating the US troop withdrawal that has just occurred, he told Americans that he expected the Taliban would act responsibly. He claimed the Taliban was “tired of war.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called it a “hopeful moment.” Months later, there was intensified fighting. In July, President Joe Biden, who had the choice of abiding by this deal or confronting an anticipated expansion in Taliban attacks, presented a false impression of what to expect with the troop pullout Trump had negotiated: “The jury is still out, but the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Ending the US military involvement in Afghanistan is a noble goal. But while it was too easy for the United States, in the wake of 9/11, to launch a forever war in the land that previously defied the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and other outsiders, extrication was never going to be smooth and cost-free. History doesn’t lie. And with no honest dialogue about the war, this brutal finish is even more shocking.

The American public has been conned about Afghanistan for two decades by successive administrations. Did any of those lies do the Afghan people any good? . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Is Facebook Buying Off The New York Times?

leave a comment »

Dan Froomkin writes in the Washington Monthly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But these three points are beyond dispute.

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

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

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

Finally, these agreements undermine  . . .

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

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2021 at 11:00 am

Trump’s Retribution Against the Washington Post Owner Is His Gravest Abuse of Power

leave a comment »

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

The saga of President Trump’s reprisals against Amazon has lurked on the margin of the news, largely overshadowed by the Ukraine scandal. Late Thursday night, Amazon revealed it had filed a protest in federal court of a Pentagon decision to deny it a $10 billion cloud-computing contract, the most recent piecemeal iteration of a saga that attracted precious little media attention even before the Ukraine scandal obscured it.

Yet the story here is almost certainly a massive scandal, probably more significant than the Ukraine scandal that spurred impeachment proceedings. Trump improperly used government policy to punish the owner of an independent newspaper as retribution for critical coverage. It resembles the Ukraine scandal because it is a flagrant abuse of power, and has been hiding in plain sight for months (as the Ukraine scandal did, until a whistle-blower report leaked in September). The scale of the abuse, though, is far more serious, because it is a concrete manifestation of Trump’s authoritarian ambitions.

Coverage of this story has implicitly extended Trump the benefit of the doubt by treating his hatred of Amazon’s owner and the Defense Department’s decision to spurn Amazon as presumably disconnected. There is not yet any smoking gun proof that Trump interfered improperly. It is possible, however unlikely, that the Pentagon acted completely at arm’s length from any political consideration, and the result just happened to comport with Trump’s desire to punish Jeff Bezos.

But even the appearance of impropriety ought to amount to a far larger scandal than it has been treated so far. The external evidence alone is incredibly damning, sufficient on its own to constitute an impeachable offense.

Starting in 2015, Trump raged at critical coverage in the Washington Post, and immediately connected it to the economic interests of its owner.

By 2016 Trump had gone from implicitly threatening to harm Amazon’s interests to threatening this explicitly. “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems,” he warned, presciently, in February 2016. A few months later, Sean Hannity asked about critical reporting in the Post. Trump’s response was telling. He weaved back and forth between denouncing the Post and denouncing Amazon, treating the two as interchangeable:

It’s interesting that you say that, because every hour we’re getting calls from reporters from the Washington Post asking ridiculous questions. And I will tell you. This is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon. Amazon is getting away with murder, tax-wise. He’s using the Washington Post for power. So that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed. He’s getting absolutely away — he’s worried about me, and I think he said that to somebody … it was in some article, where he thinks I would go after him for antitrust. Because he’s got a huge antitrust problem because he’s controlling so much. Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing.

And what they’ve done is he bought this paper for practically nothing. And he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people. And I’ll tell you what: We can’t let him get away with it. So he’s got about 20, 25 — I just heard they’re taking these really bad stories — I mean, they, you know, wrong, I wouldn’t even say bad. They’re wrong. And in many cases they have no proper information.

And they’re putting them together, they’re slopping them together. And they’re gonna do a book. And the book is gonna be all false stuff because the stories are so wrong. And the reporters — I mean, one after another — so what they’re doing is he’s using that as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust, which he thinks I believe he’s antitrust, in other words, what he’s got is a monopoly. And he wants to make sure I don’t get in. So, it’s one of those things.

But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. What he’s doing’s wrong. And the people are being — the whole system is rigged. You see a case like that. The whole system is rigged. Whether it’s Hillary or whether it’s Bezos.

What’s revealing is the ease and frequency with which Trump weaves back and forth. If you are charting his rant, it goes Washington Post-Amazon-Washington Post-Amazon-Washington Post-Amazon-Washington Post-Amazon. In Trump’s mind, they are the same.

As president, Trump has continued denouncing the Post and its owner, and publicly floating policies to exact his revenge. Sometimes he has claimed Amazon is getting away with avoiding “internet taxes”:

Other times he has framed the issue as generous postal rates:

The former complaint is totally false, the latter only exaggerated. But neither is made in anything resembling good faith. Both clearly showed Trump casting about for a policy rationale to justify the motive he had already revealed.

In March of 2018, five sources who have discussed the issue with Trump described him as “obsessed with Amazon,” according to a report by Jonathan Swan. Another report the next month by Gabriel Sherman provided more detail about Trump’s thinking. Four sources close to the White House told Sherman not only that Trump is obsessed with punishing Bezos and Amazon (“He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” one source said. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”), but floated for the first time using the Pentagon as the vehicle to do this. “Advisers are also encouraging Trump to cancel Amazon’s pending multibillion contract with the Pentagon to provide cloud-computing services,” Sherman’s sources reported.

Guy Snodgrass, a former speechwriter to Defense Secretary James Matthis, writes in his new book that in the summer of 2018, Trump ordered Mattis to “screw Amazon” by denying it the contract. Snodgrass records that Mattis pushed back on this request. And it is common for Trump or his advisers to consider wild, dangerous, or criminal schemes they ultimately don’t follow through on. Yet the fact is that the Pentagon did deny Amazon the cloud-computing contract after what the New York Times called a “highly unusual, last-minute intervention by President Trump.” And that denial came as a shock to analysts, who considered Amazon the prohibitive favorite to win the bid. The firm is the country’s largest cloud provider and had already built a cloud for the CIA.

On their face, the publicly reported facts of this case lay out a gigantic scandal. The president intervened to deny a federal contract to a firm he publicly and privately vowed to punish because its owner also owns a newspaper whose coverage angered him. The most generous possible interpretation of these facts is that Trump somehow came to believe some merit-based reason to deny Amazon the contract. But this scenario would presuppose that Trump is able to ignore his intense personal animus toward a principal figure in the dispute and form a judgment abstracted from his political interests — the kind of thinking even Trump’s defenders would largely concede he is almost incapable of.

And even this virtually-unimaginable scenario would still amount to a massive abuse of power. After all, Trump has vowed retribution against Bezos over the Post’s coverage, and then delivered a punishing blow to his firm. His actions made the threat credible.  . .

Continue reading.

The US is rushing toward tyranny, and the Republican Party is doing all it can to protect Trump and speed the process.

The column concludes:

Amazon’s suit may or may not expose the process that led the Pentagon to its decision. Trump is reasonably good at hiding evidence, banishing note-takers from his presence, using code words and funneling his shadiest orders through intermediaries.

Whatever the outcome, though, Trump has already taken his largest step toward the kind of democratic backsliding engineered by Orban in Hungary and Erdogan in Turkey (two strongmen he admires). He has turned the power of the state into a weapon of intimidation against the free press. Clever conservatives have defended Trump’s abuses for years by insisting he is too incompetent to be an effective authoritarian. They have used a version of that defense in the Ukraine scandal — he attempted to use American diplomatic might for his political gain, but failed. Here, though, Trump set out to abuse his powers of office to intimidate the media, and succeeded. What are we going to do about it?

Written by Leisureguy

23 November 2019 at 5:53 pm

How the Washington Post caved

leave a comment »

The good-old-boy network combined with cowardice seems to have been at work. Irin Carmon tells the story in New York of how the Washington Post lost courage.

The afternoon of March 7, 2018, was go time, or so we believed. Inside a glass huddle room at the Washington Post, its walls covered with headlines from journalistic coups of the past, we began dialing numbers on a speakerphone and pressing send on carefully drafted, bullet-pointed emails. For nearly four months, investigative reporter Amy Brittain and I, then a freelancer, had been working on a follow-up to our November front-page story about sexual-harassment allegations against Charlie Rose. In the wake of our story, Rose had been fired from his gigs as a CBS This Morninganchor and 60 Minutes correspondent, and his PBS show had been canceled.

This new article had 27 additional allegations against Rose and three instances in which CBS management had been warned about him, but it went further. Our editor, Peter Wallsten, had encouraged us to ask who had known about Rose’s conduct and protected him, and whether he’d been enabled by a culture — assuming we had the reporting to back it up, of course. Answering that question had led to the then–60 Minutes boss and former network chairman Jeff Fager, who had repeatedly championed Rose at the network. That was awkward because 60 Minutes had been the Post’s partner for a just-wrapped yearlong investigation of the roots of the opioid crisis.

The Post had nonetheless kept both Amy and me on the story and, to ensure the integrity of the process, reassigned us to editors on the national desk who had never worked with Fager. So the isolation of the huddle room wasn’t just to bar distraction. It was a firewall — between us and the reporters and editors who’d just spent months in the trenches with the very men we had found ourselves investigating.

By that day in March, our draft had passed muster with layers of editors all the way up to the Post’s legendary executive editor Marty Baron and his deputy, Cameron Barr, as well as the paper’s lawyers. Now it was time for Amy and me to find out what Fager and other CBS brass had to say about the fruits of our reporting.

Amy took a deep breath and pushed send on the email to Fager. “A longtime employee of CBS has told the Post that you approached her from behind at a company party and said, ‘Grab my dick. I’m hung like a horse.’ ” We told him we’d spoken to an eyewitness who’d confirmed it happened when Fager was the chairman of CBS News. We asked him about an allegation that he’d groped an employee at a holiday party, that he’d retaliated against a producer named Habiba Nosheen for filing a federal complaint calling 60 Minutes a hostile work environment for women, that many 60 Minutesstaffers we’d interviewed “said the workplace culture there was a difficult place for women, including being subjected to groping and demeaning comments.”

That afternoon, only one person from CBS got on the phone with us. We’d heard that 60 Minutes producer Ira Rosen had for weeks been calling Postreporters he’d previously worked with, demanding to know what we were doing. Amy told him now that three former junior producers had told us he made them uncomfortable by suggesting they flirt with sources and dangle sex for information or to twirl in front of him. One was Nosheen, whose complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had led to an inconclusive result that gave her the right to sue.

Rosen seemed unnerved by Amy, whose southern politesse can quickly give way to relentlessness. “You sound like you’re ready to argue with me, but you’re not ready to listen to me,” he said. He offered to show us emails and documents that Amy told him we’d already seen. Frustrated, he hung up — and called Marty Baron.

Within a couple of hours, Wallsten showed up in the huddle room and told us to come with him to Baron’s office. “Don’t be defensive,” he told Amy just before we went in. She had no time to ask him what he meant. Behind us, Barr raced to join the meeting.

I’d first met Baron when he showed up at the investigative editor’s office to edit our first story. I’d been struck by the thoughtfulness of his comments and how well Liev Schreiber had nailed his mannerisms in Spotlight. It had been thrilling for me to spend time inside the Post, revitalized by Baron’s ambition and Jeff Bezos’s money. I still felt like I had sneaked in through the back door, even though no one ever treated me that way. Indeed, when I’d come to them with information for the first Charlie Rose story, they’d paired me with Amy to investigate. I remained awed that mainstream news organizations wanted to devote resources to these stories.

Now Baron was furious: about the 24-hour deadline we’d given our subjects, about Rosen telling him, falsely, that Amy had refused to look at documents. I looked helplessly at Wallsten and Barr, who’d authorized the 24-hour deadline, but in Baron’s presence they hunched and murmured that, indeed, they shouldn’t have authorized us to ask our subjects to respond so quickly.

Rosen had told Baron that Nosheen was a disgruntled “crazy person” (though the evidence he offered quickly fell apart) and that he should be “paranoid” about our story — and to our shock, it seemed to have worked. We’d been carefully reporting for weeks and had spent hours vetting each claim and hours more working on our draft with a series of editors. Rosen was a mere footnote to our story, and even on that day I wondered whether it was a proxy war for a bigger fight to come over Fager, a far more powerful figure.

Later, Wallsten would apologize to us for not preparing us, and, pressed by Amy, for the fact that we were the only women in the room in a contentious conversation about reporting on sexual harassment. Unprompted, he would go to Baron to request that female editors be involved in our story. Baron agreed but added that all decisions about the story would be made strictly on the basis of journalism. (I’m not sure what else he expected the decisions to be made on.)

I’d believed, in the fevered months of #MeToo, that journalism could swoop in where other institutions had failed to hold big-league abusers accountable. But what would unspool that spring was a lesson beyond any one story or media organization. It was about the limits, despite undeniable progress, of journalistic institutions to tell these stories of sexual misconduct.

But all of this was to come. For now, as we left Baron’s office dejectedly, it dawned on us that we were nowhere near done with our story. . .

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

Written by Leisureguy

5 April 2019 at 8:27 pm

Why the National Enquirer’s Attempt to Extort Jeff Bezos Backfired

leave a comment »

John Cassidy has a very interesting column in the New Yorker:

Memo to the honchos at the National Enquirer: if you are going to threaten one of the richest men in the world by saying that you have sexually explicit selfies of him and his girlfriend, don’t have your lawyer and top editor put the threats in writing. The rich guy might decide he can ride out a stolen dick pic or two, especially if he’s already announced that he’s getting divorced.

“Something unusual happened to me yesterday,” Jeff Bezos, the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon, writes in a piece that appeared on Medium on Thursday evening. “I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Or at least that’s what the top people at the National Enquirer thought.” Evidently, Bezos thought different. “Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here,” he writes, referring to American Media, Inc., which is the National Enquirer’s parent company. “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”

At some length, his article relates the recent dealings that his representatives have had with the National Enquirer, which in early January published intimate text messages that he had exchanged with his girlfriend, Lauren Sánchez, a former television anchor. Bezos also published three threatening e-mails sent, on Wednesday, by the supermarket tabloid’s top editor, Dylan Howard, and by Jon Fine, the deputy general counsel of A.M.I.

In Howard’s e-mail, he describes in graphic terms some of the “photos obtained during our newsgathering,” which he says include “a below the belt selfie” and a shot of “Ms. Sanchez wearing a plunging red neckline dress revealing her cleavage and a glimpse of her nether region.” He concludes, “It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.” One of Fine’s e-mails lays out the National Enquirer’s “proposed terms” for reaching an agreement between the two sides, which included Bezos publicly acknowledging that he and his representatives didn’t have any basis for their suggestion that the original story about him was politically motivated. In a statement released on Friday morning, the company said, “American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. . . . Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims.”

All credit to Bezos for refusing to submit to these intimidation tactics. He’s a ruthless plutocrat whose online behemoth crushes retailers big and small. He has run his company with all the transparency of the Politburo. And he has exploited his great riches to buy one of the most important and influential newspapers in the country, the Washington Post. But he’s just as entitled as the next person to a private life—and he has just performed an important public service, or maybe two.

Bezos has made transparent the bullying tactics employed by the National Enquirer and raised the question of how often they are directed at targets who are less well able to defend themselves. “On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake,” Bezos writes. In addition, he has raised the intriguing question of how and why the tabloid went after him in the first place.

“Simply put, this was and is a news story,” Fine, the A.M.I. attorney, says in one of the e-mails. But there are grounds for wondering whether that was really all there was to it. As practically everybody now knows, David Pecker, the chief executive of A.M.I., is an old friend of Donald Trump. Late last year, A.M.I. entered a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, in which the company admitted that, in 2016, it bought and suppressed the story of Karen McDougal, an ex-Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump, “so as to prevent it from influencing the election.” At first glance, the Bezos story doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Trump, but first glances can sometimes be deceiving.

On January 9th, two days after the National Enquirer informed him it had obtained intimate text messages he had exchanged with Sánchez, Bezos announced that he and his wife of twenty-five years, MacKenzie, were divorcing. After the National Enquirer published some of the texts, Bezos writes, “I engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by the Enquirer.” The principal investigator he hired was Gavin de Becker, a well-known security expert who runs his own consulting firm. “I asked him to prioritize protecting my time since I have other things I prefer to work on and to proceed with whatever budget he needed to pursue the facts in this matter,” Bezos adds.

According to a Washington Post story that was published on Tuesday, de Becker and his team “concluded that the billionaire was not hacked. Rather, de Becker said in an interview, the Enquirer’s scoop . . . began with a ‘politically motivated’ leak meant to embarrass the owner of The Post—an effort potentially involving several important figures in Trump’s 2016 campaign.” More specifically, de Becker came to focus his attention on Sánchez’s brother, Michael, a Hollywood talent agent who has ties to Roger Stone and Carter Page, two Trump associates who have been caught up in the Russia investigation. “Michael Sanchez has been among the people we’ve been speaking with and looking at,” de Becker told the Daily Beast.

Michael Sánchez is vigorously denying any involvement. In e-mails and texts that the Post obtained, he made the extraordinary claim to de Becker that he suspected the texts between Bezos and his sister may have been obtained by the National Security Agency, British intelligence, or the Mossad. The Post also reported that Michael Sánchez issued a statement in which he “said he believed de Becker, Bezos’s security chief for two decades, was involved in the leaks to the Enquirer ’to sabotage Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez’s love affair.’ ” . . .

Continue reading.

It seems obvious that Stone, at least, got the material from Michael Sanchez—it’s typical of his “ratfucking,” as he calls it. And Stone and Trump are very close—no one was fooled by the very very public parting of ways while continuing their private friendship and dealings. And Trump hates the Post because it repeatedly reports exactly what he says and does, including publishing leaked information that Trump spends 80% of his time watching cable TV, tweeting, and talking to friends. That must have made his blood boil, particularly if it were true, and I totally believe it is: look at Trump’s reaction, for starters.

And this kind of mean, cowardly, arm’s-length aggression seems totally Trump-like, just as a salacious leak seems very Stone-like.

And take careful note: Republicans go along with it. They enable it and support it and defend it and stay silent about it. But They Do Not Speak Out. They stand by, fearful, and watch institutions crumble.


First, see next post on Dingell’s deathbed letter to the US public.

Second, Max Boot has a very interesting column in the Washington Post. From the column:

. . . Much remains mysterious about the Enquirer’s actions, and in particular its connections, if any, with President Trump and the government of Saudi Arabia — a possibility that Bezos alluded to in his blog post. Both the Saudis and Trump are aggrieved at The Post, and Trump wrongly blames Bezos for the newspaper’s accurate but unflattering coverage of him. When the Enquirer’s initial article about Bezos’s extramarital relationship was published, the president gloated in a tweet: “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!”

The president would obviously love to see a sale of The Post to a friendlier owner — perhaps Trump pal David Pecker, the chairman and chief executive of AMI. (One is reminded of autocrats such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have benefited from bullying media organizations into submission in their own countries.) The Enquirer was threatening Bezos in order to get him to affirm that its coverage was not “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” Might the Enquirer have, at a minimum, pursued the story to curry favor with Trump?

This is the second significant revelation in the past two months concerning the National Enquirer. In December, AMI struck a deal with federal prosecutors, acknowledging that it had circumvented campaign finance laws by paying $150,000 to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Trump. The aim was to keep McDougal’s story secret. “Catch and kill” appears to be a long-standing practice at the Enquirer, but it is only coming to light because of the tabloid’s close association with Trump, whom it relentlessly boosted during the 2016 presidential campaign. In turn, Pecker was able to take a close adviser of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to meet Trump at the White House, thereby facilitating AMI’s attempts to seek deals with Saudi investors. AMI subsequently published and distributed a glossy propaganda magazine featuring the crown prince on its cover. These are the kinds of dubious practices that people such as Trump and Pecker have long engaged in behind closed doors. Now their doings are out in the open.

I suspect David Pecker will rue the day that his friend Donald Trump became president — if he does not already. And he is not alone. Paul Manafort had a flourishing business as an international influence-peddler before he became Trump’s campaign chairman. He now faces a long stretch in prison after having been convicted of felony financial charges. . .

Read the whole thing. Great column.

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2019 at 1:07 pm

The Khashoggi killing had roots in a cutthroat Saudi family feud

leave a comment »

David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post:

Behind the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi lies a power struggle within the Saudi royal family that helped feed the paranoia and recklessness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Eventually, this rage in the royal court led to the death and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist.

The opening scenes of this family feud took place in January 2015 in a VIP hospital suite in Riyadh, as King Abdullah lay on his deathbed. According to a Saudi who was at the hospital at the time, Abdullah’s sons and courtiers briefly delayed informing his successor, King Salman, that the monarch had passed — perhaps hoping to control the court’s stash of money and sustain powerful positions for Abdullah’s wing of the family.

The cutthroat scheming within the House of Saud over the following years matches anything in the fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” The fallout extended to the United States, China, Switzerland and other countries, as the two most powerful clans of the royal family jockeyed for power. As the tension increased, the royal court around Mohammed bin Salman, the new king’s favorite son, even dared to try to kidnap a member of the Abdullah faction in Beijing in a brazen operation in August 2016 that reads like a chapter in a spy thriller.

MBS, as Salman’s son is known, became increasingly anxious and aggressive toward those he considered enemies. Starting in the spring of 2017, a team of Saudi intelligence operatives, under the control of the royal court, began organizing kidnappings of dissidents abroad and at home, according to U.S. and Saudi experts. Detainees were held at covert sites. The Saudis used harsh enhanced interrogation techniques, a euphemism for torture, to make the captives talk. They were forced to sign oaths that if they disclosed any of what happened, they would pay a severe price.

This real-life drama was described to me in a series of interviews by prominent Saudis and U.S. and European experts, in the United States and abroad, in the weeks since Khashoggi’s death. These sources had firsthand knowledge of events but asked not to be identified because they involve sensitive international matters. The information was checked with knowledgeable U.S. sources to confirm its accuracy. It helps explain the vortex of rage and lawlessness that ultimately sucked in Khashoggi, a Post Global Opinions columnist, when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Here’s the bottom line, for U.S. and Saudi experts who have reviewed the intelligence findings: Khashoggi was murdered by a team sent from the royal court in Riyadh, which was part of the rapid-action capability that had been organized 18 months before. Khashoggi’s provocative journalism and his ties to Qatar and Turkey had offended the increasingly autocratic crown prince, who issued a “bring him back” order in July 2018, one that wasn’t understood by U.S. intelligence until three months later, after Khashoggi’s disappearance in Istanbul.

The United States has closely observed this internecine war. Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, became a close counselor to MBS. Kushner visited MBS in late October 2017 on a private trip; neither has disclosed details about the conversations, but it is possible they discussed the royal family’s machinations. A week after Kushner’s visit, that Nov. 4, MBS staged what amounted to an internal coup, arresting more than 200 Saudi princes and business leaders and holding them at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Plans for these arrests were made carefully by MBS’s closest confidants in the royal court.

Topping MBS’s enemies list in the Ritz-Carlton putsch was Prince Turki bin Abdullah, an ambitious son of the late king, who had earlier conveyed to American and Chinese contacts his worries about MBS’s erratic decisions. Turki remains in captivity, and his top military aide, Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, died in custody after being held at the Ritz-Carlton last year.

Succession struggle

The palace intrigue began swirling in early January 2015, when King Abdullah, who according to news reports had been diagnosed the previous year with lung cancer, faced a worsening medical situation. He was rushed by helicopter from his desert retreat at Rawdat Khuraim to the VIP wing of the Saudi National Guard hospital in Riyadh, surrounded by his sons and palace aides. As the king slipped into a coma, the royal court tried to keep his mortal illness quiet as they speculated about succession possibilities, including the chance that Abdullah’s son Mutaib, head of the National Guard, could become king.

When Salman, then crown prince, came to the hospital on Jan. 23 and demanded, “Where is my brother?” he was informed by Khaled al-Tuwaijri, the chief of the royal court and guardian of family funds, that Abdullah was “resting.” In fact, according to a Saudi who was present at the hospital at the time but requested anonymity, Abdullah was already dead. When Salman learned the truth, he was furious. Echoing down the hospital corridor came the sound of loud blows, as the new king slapped the now-deposed chief of the royal court. Tuwaijri was arrested and taken to the Ritz-Carlton in November 2017; he’s now under what’s described as house arrest, after repaying the bulk of the money he had improperly pocketed during Abdullah’s reign, Saudi sources said.

“Khaled al-Tuwaijri was very damaging to the sons of King Abdullah,” says Tarek Obaid, a Saudi business executive who advised the Abdullah clan.

Members of the royal family had already been spying on one another, as the succession struggle loomed. One of Abdullah’s sons described bugging the phones of many senior princes. The Abdullah camp also purchased a Chinese-made device that could secretly detect the identification numbers of phones within a 100-yard radius without accessing the phones directly. Surveillance devices hidden in ashtrays and other items were scattered around palaces in Riyadh to pick up political plots and gossip.

An avid courtier who helped King Salman and his son MBS consolidate power in those early months was Saud al-Qahtani, a lawyer and former Air Force member with a penchant for hacking and social media. The Salman camp had initially been suspicious of Qahtani because he had worked as one of Tuwaijri’s assistants in the royal court since the early 2000s. Qahtani was interrogated and beaten in the first days after Salman’s accession, says one palace insider. But he soon proved his loyalty to MBS, with a vengeance.

As director of the court’s Center for Studies and Media Affairs, Qahtani fed MBS’s suspicion about potential rivals and coup plotters. Qahtani also began assembling cyberweapons to use on behalf of MBS. In June 2015, he contacted a shadowy Italian group known as “Hacking Team” about acquiring covert cyber tools. On June 29, 2015, Qahtani messaged the head of Hacking Team: “The Saudi Royal Court (THE King Office) would like to be in productive cooperation with you and develop a long and strategic partnership.”

Saudi and U.S. investigators have concluded that Qahtani, as MBS’s commander of information-related operations, helped organize Khashoggi’s murder.

Family politics

King Salman’s team began playing hard-nosed family politics from its very first week in power. In late January 2015, a royal decree removed two of Abdullah’s sons, Turki and Mishaal, as governors of Riyadh and Mecca, respectively. Their ouster left scars that never healed. MBS, just 29 then, was installed as minister of defense; Mohammed bin Nayef, the pliable son of the powerful former interior minister and a favorite of the CIA, was named deputy crown prince below Crown Prince Muqrin, an unassuming former head of intelligence.

Salman and MBS tightened their control further in April 2015. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2018 at 12:38 pm

The Washington Post, as It Shames Others, Continues to Pay and Publish Undisclosed Saudi Lobbyists and Other Regime Propagandists

leave a comment »

Glenn Greenwald writes in the Intercept:

IN THE WAKE of the disappearance and likely murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, some of the most fervent and righteous voices demanding that others sever their ties with the Saudi regime have, understandably, come from his colleagues at that paper. “Why do you work for a murderer?,” asked the Post’s long-time Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, addressing unnamed hypothetical Washington luminaries who continue to take money to do work for the despots in Riyadh, particularly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, or “MbS” as he has been affectionately known in the western press.

Hiatt urged these hypothetical figures to engage in serious self-reflection: “Can I possibly work for such a regime, and still look at myself in the mirror each morning?” That, said Hiatt, “is the question that we, as a nation, must ask ourselves now.”

But to find those for whom this question is directly relevant, Hiatt need not invoke his imagination or resort to hypotheticals. He can instead look to a place far more concrete and proximate: his own staff. Because it is there – on the roster of the Washington Post’s own columnists and Contributing Writers – that one can find, still, those who maintain among the closest links to the Saudi regime and have the longest and most shameful history of propagandizing on their behalf.

Carter Eskew is a former top-level adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and a Founder and Managing Director of Glover Park Group which, according to the Post’s own reporting, is one of the Saudi regime’s largest lobbyists. Glover Park, says the Post, has “remained silent amid growing public outrage over reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.” Indeed, as the New York Times reported this week, Eskew’s firm, “which was started by former Clinton administration officials,” is the second-most active lobbying firm for the Saudi regime, “being paid $150,000 a month.”

In addition to his work as a Managing Director in one of the Saudi regime’s most devoted lobbying firms, Eskew is also a Contributing Opinion Writer at the Washington Post. His last column was published just three days ago, on October 12 – ten days after Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey, and the same day that Eskew’s editor, Hiatt, published his righteous column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience could maintain ties to the Saudi regime (raising a separate but equally important ethical quandary, Eskew’s last Post column was an attack on “Medicare for All,” even though Glover Park clients include corporations with direct financial interests in that debate, none of which was disclosed by the Post).

Worse still, according to a noble campaign promoted by Karen Attiah, the Post’s Global Opinion Editor and friend of Khashoggi – a campaign designed to keep track of and shame those who still intend to participate in the Saudi Crown Prince’s “Davos in the Desert” event – Eskew, along with fellow Glover Park Director Mile Feldman, are still scheduled to speak at that event. Given all the moral decrees and shaming campaigns the Post has issued over the past ten days, how can they possibly justify their ongoing relationship with Eskew as his firm lobbies for the Saudi regime and he attends the regime’s P.R.-building event?

That question is even more compelling when it comes to Ed Rogers, the long-time GOP operative who is currently an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post. In addition to his work for Hiatt on the Post’s Op-Ed page, Rogers himself receives substantial financial rewards for his work as an agent of the Saudi regime. Just two months ago, the lobbying firm of which he’s the Chairman, BGR Group (headed by former RNC Chairman and GOP Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour), signed a new contract that includes “assist[ing] the Saudis in communicating priority issues regarding US-Saudi relations to American audiences including the media and policy communities.”

According to the firm’s own press release, “BGR chairman Ed Rogers” – also an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post – “handles the Saudi work.” Like Eskew, Rogers’ last column for the Post was on October 12: just two days ago, the same day Hiatt published his moralizing column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience and a soul could maintain financial ties to the Saudi regime. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 10:56 am

Saudi Media Casts Khashoggi Disappearance As A Conspiracy, Claims Qatar Owns Washington Post

leave a comment »

Lee Fang reports in the Intercept:

IN SAUDI ARABIA, major media outlets have cast the disappearance and apparent murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a foreign conspiracy to denigrate the image of the kingdom. The media accounts, which come from outlets run with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies, are spinning the coverage of Khashoggi’s disappearance as a plot by rival governments and political groups to hurt the kingdom — going so far as to make false claims about the Washington Post’s owners.

The English-language arm of the news channel Al Arabiya, for instance, claimed that reports of Khashoggi’s detention inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul were pushed by “media outlets affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar” — the pan-Arab Islamist political movement and rival Persian Gulf monarchy, respectively. A subsequent story on Al Arabiya casts doubt that Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, is truly who she says she is, claiming that her Twitter profile shows that she follows “critics of Saudi Arabia.”

Al Arabiya is owned by the Saudi royal family and based in Dubai, one of the Gulf monarchies that has sided closely with Saudi Arabia amid the regional row with Qatar and others. It’s among a handful of other Saudi- and Gulf-controlled outlets — such as Al Riyadh Daily, Al-Hayat, and the Saudi Gazette — that toe their governments’ line, including frequently casting a conspiratorial light on critics of the governments’ human rights records.

In recent months, as tensions have boiled over with Qatar, Saudi Arabia is increasingly scapegoating its Persian Gulf adversary. Recent news articles in Al Arabiya blamed Qatar for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen against Houthi militia forces, a conflict that has killed over 15,000 people and brought at least 7 million to the brink of starvation.

With a public relations crisis erupting over Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, these Gulf-linked outlets are kicking into overdrive to both deny any Saudi involvement and disparage Khashoggi.

In a Thursday column for the Saudi daily newspaper Okaz, Mohamed El Saad argued that Khashoggi has advanced the interests of Qatar. He then falsely claimed that Qatar has a “50 percent ownership of the Post and has influence over its editorial direction.” Qatar, notably, has no ownership stake in the Washington Post, a paper that is privately owned by American billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Another Okaz columnist, Ahmed Ajab Al-Jahrani, claimed in a column titled, “Who Liberated Khashoggi?” that the government critic was a terrorist sympathizer whose sectarian goals were designed to destabilize the Saudi government. Al-Jahrani suggests that Khashoggi’s disappearance from Turkey represented liberation, since he had been “kidnapped” by “extremist groups” while living abroad in self-imposed exile.

Other columnists echoed these frequent refrains. Jameel Altheyabi, who write for the Saudi Gazette, an English-language affiliate of Okaz, wrote that any fears about Khashoggi’s disappearance should be blamed on Qatar, not Saudi Arabia. Altheyabi also suggested that Khashoggi’s fiancée may serve the interests of foreign spies and that much of the media coverage of Khashoggi appeared orchestrated by foreign enemies. “Those involved in the drama of Jamal’s disappearance after leaving the Saudi Consulate will face severe penalties,” he warned.

MEANWHILE, EVIDENCE OF Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance has been steadily mounting. On Wednesday, the New York Times and other outlets published photographs of 15 men who arrived in Istanbul aboard two private planes on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The men included several Saudi military officials, among them Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the chief of forensic evidence and an autopsy expert with the Saudi Interior Ministry. The group arrived in Turkey the day of Khashoggi’s scheduled meeting at the Saudi consulate and also visited the same consular building. All 15 of the men boarded private planes to quickly leave the country and return to Saudi Arabia later that day.

Saudi-affiliated outlets reacted by defending the rights of the accused hit squad. Al Yaum, a pro-government newspaper published in Saudi Arabia, reported the disclosure of the 15 men as a violation the “rights of tourists.” The photographs, the paper claimed, were defamatory. In the news section of the paper, the men were urged to seek an attorney to file a lawsuit against those who had published their photographs. Al-Riyadh Daily, in an editorial on Friday, sharply criticized foreign media for attempting “to incite international public opinion against the kingdom,” claiming that the New York Times has an “an anti-Saudi policy.”

News outlets affiliated with Saudi Arabia also toe the government’s line abroad, to an international news audience. Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper headquartered in London and owned by Faisal bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family, has published several columns this week claiming that foreign agents tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar were behind reports claiming that the Saudi government had a role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

This isn’t the first time the Saudi-backed outlets have sprang to the defense of the government amid a public relations fiasco over the regime’s human rights record. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 10:52 am

Conservatives mount a whisper campaign smearing Khashoggi in defense of Trump

leave a comment »

Is there nothing to which conservatives will not stoop? Robert Costa and Karoun Demirjian report in the Washington Post:

Hard-line Republicans and conservative commentators are mounting a whispering campaign against Jamal Khashoggi that is designed to protect President Trump from criticism of his handling of the dissident journalist’s alleged murder by operatives of Saudi Arabia — and support Trump’s continued aversion to a forceful response to the oil-rich desert kingdom.

In recent days, a cadre of conservative House Republicans allied with Trump has been privately exchanging articles from right-wing outlets that fuel suspicion of Khashoggi, highlighting his association with the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth and raising conspiratorial questions about his work decades ago as an embedded reporter covering Osama bin Laden, according to four GOP officials involved in the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Those aspersions — which many lawmakers have been wary of stating publicly because of the political risks of doing so — have begun to flare into public view as conservative media outlets have amplified the claims, which are aimed in part at protecting Trump as he works to preserve the U.S.-Saudi relationship and avoid confronting the Saudis on human ri ghts.

“Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner asserted on Thursday’s highly rated “Outnumbered” show. “I just put it out there because it is in the constellation of things that are being talked about.” Faulkner then dismissed another guest who called her claim “iffy.”

The message was echoed on the campaign trail. Virginia Republican Corey A. Stewart, who is challenging Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), told a local radio program Thursday that “Khashoggi was not a good guy himself.”

While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career. Khashoggi knew bin Laden in the 1980s and 1990s during the civil war in Afghanistan, but his interactionswith bin Laden were as a journalist with a point of view who was working with a prized source.

Nevertheless, the smears have escalated. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son and key political booster, shared another person’s tweet last week with his millions of followers that included a line that Khashoggi was “tooling around Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden” in the 1980s, even though the context was a feature story on bin Laden’s activities.

A Tuesday broadcast of CR-TV, a conservative online outlet founded by popular talk-radio host Mark Levin, labeled Khashoggi a “longtime friend” of terrorists and claimed without evidence that Trump was the victim of an “insane” media conspiracy to tarnish him. The broadcast has been viewed more than 12,000 times.

story in far-right FrontPage magazine casts Khashoggi as a “cynical and manipulative apologist for Islamic terrorism, not the mythical martyred dissident whose disappearance the media has spent the worst part of a week raving about,” and features a garish cartoon of bin Laden and Khashoggi with their arms around each other.

The conservative push comes as Saudi government supporters on Twitter have sought in a propaganda campaign to denigrate Khashoggi as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement once tolerated but now outlawed in Saudi Arabia as a terrorist organization.

“Trump wants to take a soft line, so Trump supporters are finding excuses for him to take it,” said William Kristol, a conservative Trump critic. “One of those excuses is attacking the person who was murdered.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2018 at 8:12 pm

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

leave a comment »

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

An absolute must-read report on a school-shooter’s mind

leave a comment »

This is stunning. And will it ever propel the new meme forward.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2018 at 8:39 pm

NBC’s questioning of Ivanka Trump was more than appropriate—it should be just the start.

leave a comment »

Margaret Sullivan was the best Public Editor the NY Times ever had. She listened to readers and bedeviled editors and journalists when they strayed into slackness. She now works for the Washington Post as their media columnist, and her report today is spot-on:

In the Harry Potter books, there was the evil Lord Voldemort — “he who must not be named.”

In Donald Trump’s world, there are Ivanka Trump and John F. Kelly — they who must not be questioned.

The operative word in this latter world, we learn, is “inappropriate.”

“I think it’s a pretty inappropriate question to ask a daughter if she believes the accusers of her father when he’s affirmatively stated that there’s no truth to it,” Ivanka Trump said, scolding the NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander in an interview on “Today.”

Alexander wanted to know whether the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct should be believed.

After all, Ivanka Trump bills herself as a champion of women and is a close adviser to her father and a frequent representative of the United States abroad.

Uncomfortable, yes. Inappropriate, no. (And yes, I thought a similar question to Chelsea Clinton about her father’s accusers during the 2016 presidential campaign was fair game, even though — unlike Ivanka Trump — she was not a government representative.)

The Ivanka Trump episode echoed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s response to journalists about Kelly, the White House chief of staff, last October. Kelly got the facts wrong — or lied, if you will — when he tried to discredit Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, a Florida Democrat who had criticized the president for the insensitive way he spoke to a soldier’s widow in a condolence phone call.

“If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you, but I think that — if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate,” Sanders said.

There’s that word again.

Sorry, but being a first daughter, or a general, doesn’t let anyone off the hook here.

The question to Ivanka Trump might have been inappropriate if she had no role in government or no voice on women’s issues, but that’s far from the case.

As for Kelly, Sanders’s claim was silly on its face, and merely a way to avoid the real question — a perfectly legitimate one.

Far from backing off, journalists should hone their questioning skills and find new ways to pin down this particularly slippery administration.

“The immediate news cycle rewards speed, but the most effective questions require an almost lawyerly precision, along with careful honing and preparation,” said Frank Sesno, author of “Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change” and the director of the journalism school at George Washington University.

Sesno added, “Especially with this coached class of public officials, every question has to be outcome-driven — strategic about what you are looking for.”

We need more of that.

Journalists have pretty much given up on asking about President Trump’s tax returns, for example — a matter of great public interest.

Is there a better way to ask?

Instead of questioning Trump — or his spokeswoman — on when he’s going to release his returns or if he’s ever going to release them, what if the query went something like this: “Do you think Americans are entitled to know how tax reform has affected you personally and how it affects your businesses?”

What if, instead of merely fact-checking Trump or tallying up his false statements, he — or his spokeswoman — were asked about them directly:

“Fact-checkers have found more than a thousand examples of your saying things that are simply untrue. These are often simple matters of fact, for example, your repeated statements that the United States is the highest-taxed nation in the world. Why do you — or why does the president — say so many things that aren’t true?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2018 at 9:20 am

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

leave a comment »

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

Interesting test of corporate control: WaPo blasts an Amazon product

leave a comment »

And both are owned by Jeff Bezos,  which is why it’s an interesting challenge. Which way will the wind blow? “Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2017 at 2:51 pm

Desperation: A woman who apparently works for O’Keefe tried to plant a false story (about Roy Moore) in the Washington Post. She failed.

leave a comment »

Interesting report.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2017 at 6:52 pm

Trump’s White House defies media’s superlatives

leave a comment »

Eric Wemple has a good column in the Washington Post:

Sample the outrage:

  • “Every administration tries to manipulate the press, but this is the most hostile to the media that [an administration] has been in United States history,” said veteran reporter Bob Franken.
  • The administration is “more restrictive” and also “more dangerous” to media outlets than any other in U.S. history, said USA Today’s Susan Page.
  • “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that,” said veteran TV journo Bob Schieffer.
  • “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said New York Times reporter David E. Sanger.
  • “It’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press,” said Margaret Sullivan.
  • “In the past, we would often be called into the Roosevelt Room at the beginning of meetings to hear the president’s opening remarks and see who’s in the meeting, and then we could talk to some of them outside on the driveway afterward. This president has wiped all that coverage off the map. He’s the least transparent of the seven presidents I’ve covered in terms of how he does his daily business,” said former ABC News correspondent Ann Compton.
  • “This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with,” said Jill Abramson.

Such affinity for superlatives! Seasoned media-watchers can determine quite easily that those comments don’t pertain to the Trump White House, which lacks the discipline to execute secrecy. They all pan the media policies of the Obama White House.

They provide some perspective, too, on the study of relative media-obstruction. Franken’s objections came after photographers complained that Obama staffers had excluded them from certain events, giving preferential treatment to official White House photographer Pete Souza. Others, including Page, Sullivan and Abramson, relate to the Obama administration’s insistence on pursuing leak investigations. “Over the past eight years,” wrote New York Times investigative reporter James Risen late last year, “the [Obama] administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistleblowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.” . . .

Continue reading. And read the whole thing. What Trump is doing is worse, and he explains why.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2017 at 5:42 pm

Interesting: The “most-read” stories right now in the Washington Post

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2017 at 12:11 pm

%d bloggers like this: