‘Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?’: A reporter’s accidental scoop

Kenneth P Vogel writes: I have always thought of overhearing conversations as an underappreciated journalistic tool.

When political donors, lobbyists and politicians gather at hotels for meetings and strategy sessions, they often keep out reporters. But they usually can’t keep us out of the lobby bars and restaurants where they gather afterward to gossip. And I’ve picked up all manner of tantalizing nuggets — from U.S. senators, billionaire donors and influential operatives, among others — by positioning myself within earshot of those conversations while nursing a beer at the bar.

Sometimes, those nuggets have been featured in my journalism, including in my behind-the-scenes reporting on how major donors have influenced politics; more often, they’ve merely helped me add texture to my reporting on money and influence.

But I’ve never overheard a conversation quite like the one I accidentally encountered last Tuesday, when I met a source for lunch at BLT Steak, a downtown Washington steakhouse frequented by the capital’s expense-account set. My source chose the restaurant, but I didn’t protest, since BLT is on the same block as The New York Times’s Washington bureau and has a delightful tuna niçoise salad with fingerling potatoes and green beans.

Being a rare temperate day in Washington with tolerable humidity, we requested a table in the restaurant’s outdoor section, which abuts a busy sidewalk. Not long after we’d ordered, my source noticed someone he thought he recognized being seated at the table behind me.

“Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?” he asked. [Continue reading…]

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RT, Sputnik and Russia’s new theory of war

Jim Rutenberg reports: One morning in January 2016, Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit. [Continue reading…]

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How the Pentagon tried to cure America of its ‘Vietnam syndrome’

File 20170914 9021 1w45zl0
A couple watch film footage of the Vietnam war on a television in their living room.
Library of Congress

By Paul Joseph, Tufts University

In August 1965, Morley Safer, a reporter for “CBS News,” accompanied a unit of U.S. marines on a search-and-destroy mission to the Vietnamese village of Cam Ne. Using cigarette lighters and a flamethrower, the troops proceeded to burn down 150 houses, wound three women, kill one child and take four men prisoner. Safer and his crew caught it all on film. The military command later claimed that the unit had received enemy fire. But according to Safer, no pitched battle had taken place. The only death had been the boy, and not a single weapon had been uncovered.

In describing the reaction, Safer would later say that the public, the media and the military all began to realize that the rules of war reporting had changed.

The New Yorker’s Michael Arlen dubbed Vietnam the “living room war.” The images of the war – viewed on evening news shows on the country’s three networks – enabled the public to understand the war’s human costs. In this sense, media coverage contributed to the flow of information that’s vital to any functioning democracy, and pushed Americans to either support or oppose U.S. involvement in the conflict.

However, in the country’s myriad military conflicts since Vietnam, this flow of information has been largely transformed, and it is now more difficult to see the human consequences of military operations. Despite a digital revolution that’s created even more opportunities to transmit images, voices and stories, the public finds itself further removed from what’s really happening on the front lines.

[Read more…]

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Study shows that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined

Vox reports: Fox News is, by far, America’s dominant TV news channel; in the second quarter of 2017, Fox posted 2.35 million total viewers in primetime versus 1.64 million for MSNBC and 1.06 million for CNN. Given that Fox was founded by a longtime Republican Party operative and has almost exclusively hired conservative commentators, talk radio hosts, and the like to host its shows, it would stand to reason that its dominance on basic cable could influence how Americans vote, perhaps even tipping elections.

A new study in the American Economic Review (the discipline’s flagship journal), with an intriguing and persuasive methodology, finds exactly that. Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimate that watching Fox News directly causes a substantial rightward shift in viewers’ attitudes, which translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates.

They estimate that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008.

For context, that would’ve made John Kerry the 2004 popular vote winner, and turned Barack Obama’s 2008 victory into a landslide where he got 60 percent of the two-party vote.

“There is a non-trivial amount of uncertainty” about those estimates, Yurukoglu cautions. “I personally don’t think it’s totally implausible, but it is higher than I would have guessed prior to the research.” And even if the effect were half as large as estimated, that’d still mean that Fox News is having a very real, sizable effect on elections. [Continue reading…]

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How much responsibility does the media have for creating Trump?

Matt Taibbi writes: Trump’s monstrousness is ironic, since the image of Trump as the media’s very own Frankenstein’s monster has been used and re-used in the last years. Many in the business are of the opinion that, having created Trump and let him loose in the village, we in the press now have a responsibility to hunt him down with aggressive investigative reporting, to make the world safe again.

That might indeed be a good idea. But that take also implies that slaying the monster will fix the problem. Are we sure that’s true?

Reporters seem to think so, and keep trying to find the magic formula. Just this week, staffers at the Wall Street Journal rebelled against editor-in-chief Gerard Baker. Baker, who has long been accused of being too soft on Trump, blasted his people for going too negative on the president in their coverage of the Arizona speech. He sent around a letter asking staff to “stick to reporting what [Trump] said,” rather than “packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism.”

Reporters fought back by (apparently) leaking the memo to the rival New York Times. This followed an incident in which a transcript of Baker’s recent interview with Trump was leaked to Politico earlier this month. In it, Baker mentions being glad to have seen Ivanka Trump in Southampton, and small-talks with Trump about travel and golf. The implication here is that it’s improper or unseemly for a newspaper editor to have a chummy relationship with this kind of a president.

And it is, sometimes. Reporters who should be challenging presidents and candidates are pretty much always cheating the public when they turn interviews into mutual back rub sessions.

But these intramural ethical wars within our business may just be deflections that keep us from facing bigger problems – like, for instance, the fact that we have been systematically making the entire country more stupid for decades.

We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality, scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell. We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear, self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment. [Continue reading…]

While there is a measure of truth in Taibbi’s observations, an irony that he must be acutely aware of is that his own commentary comes with a click-bait headline and lots of hyperbolic overstatement. In other words, while assuming the posture of a mainstream media critic, he nevertheless makes use of the same tools that the rest of the media employs as intellectual honesty gets trampled on in the pursuit of profit.

“The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump.” With the pretext that it’s legitimate to echo Trump’s claim that the media is the enemy of the people when the writer’s intent is to engage in a cogent critique of media complicity in Trump’s rise, Taibbi is nevertheless trying to hook readers in the competitive sport of grabbing attention. No doubt, like countless others, he feels like the end justifies the means.

More importantly, the villainization of the media treats journalists as America’s preeminent educators, yet there are many other lead characters in the cast that keeps Americans dumb: teachers, preachers, politicians, celebrities, and others.

At the same time, a current of anti-intellectualism has long infected American culture, privileging sensationalism above thoughtfulness, and twisting ignorance and small-mindedness into folksy virtues in a country built by the toil of humble settlers.

Before getting too indignant about the idea that Trump is essentially a mainstream media creation, it’s also worth reflecting on the role played by those who have for years been demonizing the mainstream media and fueling hostility and fear of government, and recognizing that these trends in shaping public opinion have also played a huge role in facilitating the rise of Trump.

So, when it comes to attributing blame for Trump’s ascent to power, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

That said, ultimate responsibility for this mess still falls into the hands of a single man: Donald Trump.

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James Murdoch, rebuking Trump, pledges $1 million to Anti-Defamation League

The New York Times reports: James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox and the son of a frequent ally of President Trump’s, condemned the president’s performance after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League.

In an email on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times and confirmed as authentic by a spokesman for Mr. Murdoch’s company, the Fox scion gave an extraordinarily candid statement against the white supremacist sentiment that swept through Virginia last weekend. It was also the most outspoken that a member of the Murdoch family has been in response to the week’s events.

Mr. Murdoch’s father, Rupert Murdoch, is a conservative media mogul who has become an informal adviser to Mr. Trump, recently dining with the president in the White House residence. The younger Mr. Murdoch has been less outspoken about his political views, making the email even more surprising.

With a subject line reading, “Subject: Personal note from James Murdoch re: ADL,” Mr. Murdoch addressed the note to “friends.”

“I’m writing to you in a personal capacity, as a concerned citizen and a father. It has not been my habit to widely offer running commentary on current affairs, nor to presume to weigh in on the events of a given day save those that might be of particular or specific concern to 21CF and my colleagues,” he wrote. “But what we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people.”

He added: “These events remind us all why vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation — a necessary discipline for the preservation of our way of life and our ideals. The presence of hate in our society was appallingly laid bare as we watched swastikas brandished on the streets of Charlottesville and acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob. I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.” [Continue reading…]

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This week should put the nail in the coffin for ‘both sides’ journalism

Margaret Sullivan writes: He’s the false-equivalency president.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the national news media’s misguided sense of fairness helped equate the serious flaws of Hillary Clinton with the disqualifying evils of Donald Trump.

“But her emails . . .” goes the ironic line that aptly summarizes too much of the media’s coverage of the candidates. In short: Clinton’s misuse of a private email server was inflated to keep up with Trump’s racism, sexism and unbalanced narcissism — all in the name of seeming evenhanded.

In a devastating post-election report, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center concluded that media treatment was rife with false equivalency: “On topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone.”

That was a factor — one of many — that helped to put Trump in the Oval Office. [Continue reading…]

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How a conservative TV giant is ridding itself of regulation

The New York Times reports: The day before President Trump’s inauguration, the top executive of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest owner of television stations, invited an important guest to the headquarters of the company’s Washington-area ABC affiliate.

The trip was, in the parlance of the business world, a deal closer.

The invitation from David D. Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, went to Ajit V. Pai, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission who was about to be named the broadcast industry’s chief regulator. Mr. Smith wanted Mr. Pai to ease up on efforts under President Barack Obama to crack down on media consolidation, which were threatening Sinclair’s ambitions to grow even bigger.

Mr. Smith did not have to wait long.

Within days of their meeting, Mr. Pai was named chairman of the F.C.C. And during his first 10 days on the job, he relaxed a restriction on television stations’ sharing of advertising revenue and other resources — the exact topic that Mr. Pai discussed with Mr. Smith and one of his business partners, according to records examined by The New York Times.

“These are invaluable and effective tools, which were taken away by the commission,” according to a summary of their meeting filed with the F.C.C.

It was only the beginning. Since becoming chairman in January, Mr. Pai has undertaken a deregulatory blitz, enacting or proposing a wish list of fundamental policy changes advocated by Mr. Smith and his company. Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a rush of regulatory actions has been carefully aligned with Sinclair’s business objectives. [Continue reading…]

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When Silicon Valley took over journalism

Franklin Foer writes: Over the past generation, journalism has been slowly swallowed. The ascendant media companies of our era don’t think of themselves as heirs to a great ink-stained tradition. Some like to compare themselves to technology firms. This redefinition isn’t just a bit of fashionable branding. As Silicon Valley has infiltrated the profession, journalism has come to unhealthily depend on the big tech companies, which now supply journalism with an enormous percentage of its audience—and, therefore, a big chunk of its revenue.

Dependence generates desperation—a mad, shameless chase to gain clicks through Facebook, a relentless effort to game Google’s algorithms. It leads media outlets to sign terrible deals that look like self-preserving necessities: granting Facebook the right to sell their advertising, or giving Google permission to publish articles directly on its fast-loading server. In the end, such arrangements simply allow Facebook and Google to hold these companies ever tighter.

What makes these deals so terrible is the capriciousness of the tech companies. Quickly moving in a radically different direction may be great for their bottom line, but it is detrimental to the media companies that rely on the platforms. Facebook will decide that its users prefer video to words, or ideologically pleasing propaganda to more-objective accounts of events—and so it will de-emphasize the written word or hard news in its users’ feeds. When it makes shifts like this, or when Google tweaks its algorithm, the web traffic flowing to a given media outlet may plummet, with rippling revenue ramifications. The problem isn’t just financial vulnerability, however. It’s also the way tech companies dictate the patterns of work; the way their influence can affect the ethos of an entire profession, lowering standards of quality and eroding ethical protections. [Continue reading…]

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Can you trust the mainstream media?

Andrew Harrison writes: If any piece of video can stand for the spirit of the times, then this fevered, resentful summer of 2017 could well be summed up in a clip of west London activist Ishmahil Blagrove, a film-maker and member of Justice4Grenfell, dispensing a furious dressing-down to a Sky reporter sent to cover the aftermath of London’s most catastrophic fire in generations.

Blagrove seethes with righteous anger. “Fuck the media, fuck the mainstream,” he tells the TV journalist to cheers from passers-by, all the rage and frustration of the Grenfell disaster directed for a moment not at the borough council that enabled it but at those who covered it. Then he makes a connection familiar to old footsoldiers of the left and increasingly popular with its new recruits. Everything is connected. “For two years, you’ve hounded and demonised Jeremy Corbyn,” Blagrove shouts. “You said he was unelectable. You created that narrative and people believed your bullshit for a while. But what this election has done is shown that people are immune. They’re wearing bulletproof vests to you and the other billionaires of the media owners and Rupert Murdoch and all the motherfuckers.”

In years gone by, this might have been ignored as a standard everything-is-wrong jeremiad against the iniquities of the system. Blagrove is, after all, a veteran of Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner. But the clip went viral and clearly spoke to a wider audience. This summer, what was once a fringe analysis – that the media are not a complex collection of independent agencies holding the system to account but an elite-directed component of that system – finally moved into the popular consciousness.

After the bitter referendums over Scottish independence and Britain’s EU membership, after newspapers and TV failed to predict the successes of Donald Trump, Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, and finally with the nightmarish failure of policy and oversight that led to Grenfell, confidence in the media has taken a battering. And alternative voices are keen to undermine it further. From new, conspiracy-minded outlets such as the Canary and Evolve Politics to the “alt-right”, libertarian and hard Brexit conversations that cluster on Twitter, the loudest and most strident voices push a relentless line: you can’t trust the mainstream media.

It is not just the politically motivated who hold these beliefs. Judged on hard metrics, confidence in UK media has fallen noticeably in recent years. According to communications agency Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer survey of 1,500 Britons, the number of people who said they trusted British news outlets at all fell from an already low 36% in 2015 to a mere 24% by the beginning of 2017. The 2017 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute, published in June, found that just 41% of British people agreed that the news media did a good job in helping them distinguish fact from fiction. The figure for social media was even lower: 18%.

“It’s a serious problem for the profession,” says Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute. “The political legitimacy of institutions like the BBC and also the business models of newspapers depend on the idea that they offer something trustworthy. Healthy distrust can be a good thing but hardened cynicism is paralysing.”

He is worried that people are tending to judge the entire industry by its worst practitioners. “The danger is that the influential and the upper classes see journalism as too tabloid and populist, while working-class people think it pays little attention to people like themselves and their lives – and no one is happy.”

“It is beginning to feel like a culture war,” says Ian Katz, editor of BBC2’s Newsnight and formerly deputy editor of the Guardian. The “attritional decline” in trust that he has witnessed during his 25 years in journalism has accelerated sharply over the past few years, he says. Now, when Newsnight sends reporters and producers to cover the Grenfell protests or June’s van attack near Finsbury Park mosque, they are met with “extraordinary levels of hostility and suspicion”.

“At Grenfell, a lot of the reaction crystallised around the idea of an establishment plot to minimise the extent of the catastrophe,” Katz explains. “There was an elision of a whole series of things into the Grenfell disaster, including the perception that the media had failed to give Corbyn a fair crack. That hostility has become a proxy for wider, inchoate anger with the establishment in general and the press in particular.”

He’s talking about a new article of faith on the political left: that, in its attitudes to Corbyn, the media inadvertently revealed the truth about themselves. Instead of supporting Labour’s new leader, goes the narrative, liberal newspapers such as the Guardian and Observer, along with “state broadcaster” the BBC, set out to destroy him. When Corbyn did better than expected in the 2017 general election, this proved that the media were unequivocally wrong and the Corbynites were right. Questions of a journalistic duty to examine, or the separation of news and comment, or even basing your coverage reasonably on the past performance of platforms similar to Corbyn’s, were by the by. So was the point that Corbyn did not actually win the election. No matter – the liberal press had betrayed its readers and the MSM (mainstream media) had got it wrong. [Continue reading…]

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The manipulative tricks tech companies use to capture your attention

 

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Reporters reveal stories of online harassment

Carlett Spike and Pete Vernon write: Journalists have always faced angry feedback from those who don’t agree with their work. But modern internet culture, combined with a vitriolic political environment, has exposed reporters to a new level of scrutiny and harassment.

No known tallies exist on the scope of the online abuse, but the rise of President Donald Trump, fueled by an ever-loyal, often-threatening social media horde, has brought the issue of virtual harassment to the fore. And the line between online threats and real-world safety concerns is increasingly blurred.

The effects of this trend extend beyond discomfort, influencing the news itself. CJR spoke with journalists who acknowledge that they have started to think twice before taking a stance that could be controversial, and they occasionally opt not to publish anything rather than deal with the abuse. [Continue reading…]

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Does doom and gloom convince anyone about climate change?

Erika Engelhaupt writes: A couple of weeks ago, an article in New York magazine laid out a horrific scenario of global warming. The photo at the top summed up the tone: A fossilized human skull, jaw gaping beneath aviator sunglasses, hovered over a caption warning that people could be “cooked to death from both inside and out” in a hotter climate.

If that’s not doom and gloom, I don’t know what is. Yet despite being a complete downer, the article quickly became New York magazine’s most-read story ever.

The article also reignites a debate over how best to communicate the science of climate change. Scientists and others who hope to inform the public or spur action have long struggled with how to convey the high stakes of global warming without making people feel helpless or fueling deniers by coming across as alarmist.

“Certainly a lot of people paid attention to it, and it sparked a very good conversation about what we’re up against,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. But its message of impending doom can have very different effects on people, he notes. “There are different audiences in this country, and they’re affected by extreme scenarios differently.”

That became clear as soon as the article was published, when just about everyone with an opinion on climate change jumped on it. Scientists questioned its accuracy — we don’t know that it will be that bad, many said. Breitbart News, aiming from the right, proclaimed that New York had “broken the world record for the scariest, most catastrophic, hysterical exercise in extravagant climate doom-mongering in the history of the universe.”

Others suggested it was just the kick in the pants that America needs. In fact, Slate said, the article isn’t too alarmist; the rest of us just haven’t been alarmist enough. [Continue reading…]

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Scaramucci says ‘we are back in business’ with CNN; credits Jeff Zucker with helping him get job in White House

BuzzFeed reports: Anthony Scaramucci is already working to smooth over the administration’s rocky relationship with CNN.

In a transcript of comments Scaramucci made Sunday on a hot microphone between appearances on Fox News, CNN, and CBS News talk shows, Scaramucci described his mindset when he took the lectern at his first press briefing on Friday, hours after his appointment was announced and press secretary Sean Spicer resigned.

“In the back of my mind I have to call on CNN and send a message to [CNN President Jeff] Zucker that we are back in business,” Scaramucci said, according to the transcript obtained by BuzzFeed News. He referred to Zucker having “helped me get the job by hitting those guys,” a reference to the network’s decision to force the resignation of three employees over a retracted Russia article that mentioned Scaramucci.

According to the transcript, Scaramucci — who was filming the interviews remotely — joked that Zucker is “not getting a placement fee for getting me the job.”

Scaramucci confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he made the comments and said that some of his colorful remarks were jokes.

After his interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Scaramucci confirmed that he spoke on the phone with Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief. [Continue reading…]

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Can the tech giants be stopped?

Jonathan Taplin writes: I would date the rise of the digital monopolies to August 2004, when Google raised $1.9 billion in its initial public offering. By the end of that year, Google’s share of the search-engine market was just 35%; Yahoo ’s was 32%, and MSN’s was 16%. Today, under Alphabet, Google’s market share is 87% in the U.S. and 91% in Europe. In 2004, Amazon had net sales revenue of $6.9 billion. In 2016, its net sales revenue was nearly $136 billion, and it now controls 65% of all online new book sales, whether print or digital. In mobile social networks, Facebook and its subsidiaries (Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) control 75% of the American market.

This shift has brought about a massive reallocation of revenue, with economic value moving from the creators of content to the owners of monopoly platforms. Since 2000, revenues for recorded music in the U.S. have fallen from almost $20 billion a year to less than $8 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. U.S. newspaper ad revenue fell from $65.8 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2013 (the last year for which data are available). Though book publishing revenues have remained flat, this is mostly because increased children’s book sales have made up for the declining return on adult titles.

From 2003 to 2016, Google’s revenue grew from about $1.5 billion to some $90 billion as Alphabet. Today, it is the largest media company in the world, collecting $79.4 billion in ad revenue in 2016, according to Zenith. Facebook is a distant second, with $26.9 billion.

The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked. [Continue reading…]

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Trump schmoozes with the press on Air Force One

The New York Times reports on Trump’s off-the-record turned on-the-record remarks to the press as they flew to Paris together this week: For reporters who covered Mr. Trump before he became president, there was a familiar discursive rhythm to his remarks.

They ranged from quirky boasts — “I’m a tremendous fracker” — to frustrated outbursts. “What do you do?” he asked after recounting that President Vladimir V. Putin twice denied to him that Russia had meddled in the presidential election. “End up in a fistfight with somebody?”

They revealed a man getting a crash course in the world — “They have an 8,000-year culture,” he said of the Chinese — but one who still sees things through a real estate prism. The White House was built largely in 1799, he noted, so China views it “like a super modern building.”

And they showed someone who recognizes that his observations occasionally edge into the surreal. “As crazy as that sounds,” Mr. Trump said, after explaining why the border wall with Mexico needed to be transparent: to prevent drug dealers from throwing 60-pound sacks of drugs over it and hitting unsuspecting Americans on their heads.

Ever the negotiator, Mr. Trump shared his tradecraft for trying to pin down Mr. Putin on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

“I said to him, ‘Were you involved in the meddling with the election?’” he recalled. “He said, ‘Absolutely not. I was not involved.’ He was very strong on it. I then said to him, in a totally different way, ‘Were you involved with the meddling?’ He said, ‘I was not — absolutely not.’” [Continue reading…]

The same words “in a totally different way”? Are we to imagine that Trump adopted his rarely used falsetto in a cunning effort to throw Putin off balance?

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Syria and the case for editorial accountability

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: On June 29, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published a comprehensive report confirming that the nerve agent used in the Syrian regime’s April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 92 was sarin. The conclusion was no surprise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF) had already found the symptoms of the victims consistent with exposure to a nerve agent. In a separate analysis, the French government had matched sarin samples from the site to regime stock. A Human Rights Watch investigation also found the regime responsible for this and three other chemical attacks since December, and said the latest attack was “part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons”.

However, the response from the regime and its supporters followed a familiar pattern. There was denial, deflection and deception. There were conspiracy theories. There was whataboutery. But effluvia from this dung heap merely fouled the air until it was ignited into a noxious fire by an inveterate pyromaniac. Enter Seymour Hersh.

Seymour Hersh, a once celebrated journalist, has been reluctant to cede the limelight. But the pride of place that he earned through hard work he now wants to keep by trading on his legacy alone. Hersh, who once did the legwork for his stories – finding sources, corroborating claims, verifying evidence – is now relying on the uncorroborated claims of anonymous sources to tell tall tales that contradict available evidence. The man who broke world-changing stories from My Lai to Abu Ghraib now hops from publication to publication, writing sensational drivel, sullying his reputation and diminishing his publishers’.

His latest story, published in the German daily Die Welt, was a colourful rendition of an extant conspiracy theory: that the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun did not result from a chemical attack but were caused by toxic discharge from a conventional attack on a jihadi facility. Based on the baroque testimony of an anonymous source, Hersh concludes that there was no sarin involved. [Continue reading…]

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Syria, Seymour Hersh and the Sarin denialists

Brian Whitaker writes: Do news organisations have a duty to publish stories from anonymous sources when there is reason to believe they are untrue? Apparently some people think so.

Yesterday, following scientific tests, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that inhabitants of Khan Sheikoun, in the Syrian province of Idlib, had been “exposed to Sarin, a chemical weapon”, during an attack last April. Reports at the time said at least 74 died and hundreds were injured.

The news that Sarin had definitely been involved caused a buzz on Twitter from people refusing to believe it. Many pointed instead to an article in a German newspaper last weekend which quoted an unnamed “senior adviser to the American intelligence community” as saying no chemical attack had taken place.

The article, by veteran American journalist Seymour Hersh, suggested that Syrian forces using a conventional explosive bomb had accidentally hit a store of “fertilisers, disinfectants and other goods” causing “effects similar to those of sarin”.

Hersh’s version contradicted evidence from a range of sources and, in the light of yesterday’s announcement from the OPCW, is clearly untrue. As far as some people were concerned, though, it said what they wanted to hear and, even after the OPCW reported its findings, they were still complaining that mainstream media had failed to take Hersh’s ridiculous story seriously. [Continue reading…]

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Brian Karem says Sarah Huckabee Sanders confrontation was ‘a long time coming’

 

 

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