Trump and allies are trying to destroy Mueller

Julian Zelizer writes: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has come under fierce political attack. President Donald Trump and his allies are systematically attempting to destroy the legitimacy of the investigation in the eyes of the public. And without a strong congressional investigative counterpart, Mueller finds himself increasingly isolated and alone.

While the White House issued a recent statement that it has no intention of firing Mueller, that is almost beside the point. In what should now be considered the classic Trumpian playbook, the President has moved aggressively to raise doubts about the credibility of his opponent. Ironically, he and his allies are attempting to crush an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians by insinuating that the Hillary Clinton campaign may, in fact, be at fault for such behavior.

The President’s attacks should not be taken lightly. As Brian Stelter has argued on CNN, Trump and the conservative media have perfected echo chamber politics, whereby the multiple charges about the investigation — that FBI agents were out to systematically bring down this presidency, that the agency is damaged by rampant conflict of interest problems, that Mueller is illegally obtaining information about the transition — have moved to the forefront of the national conversation regardless of the veracity or relevance of any of these claims.

Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, made a statement soon after the allegation emerged: “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”

The stories bleed into the rest of the media as well. On Sunday morning, a Washington Post headline read, “Mueller unlawfully obtained emails, Trump transition team claims,” which was likely music to the President’s ears. An allegation by the Trump for America legal team had quickly made its way into the headlines.

Indeed, it is telling of how effective Trump can be that Mueller’s decision to fire an FBI agent for his email conversations about the campaign was somehow turned into a black mark against him, rather than a sign of how cautiously the process has been handled. [Continue reading…]

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Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames: The two expat bros who terrorized women correspondents in Moscow

Kathy Lally writes: There’s more than one way to harass women. A raft of men in recent weeks have paid for accusations of sexual harassment with their companies, their jobs, their plum political posts. But one point has been overlooked in the scandals: Men can be belittling, cruel and deeply damaging without demanding sex. (Try sloughing off heaps of contempt with your self-esteem intact.) We have no consensus — and hardly any discussion — about how we should treat behaviors that are misogynist and bullying but fall short of breaking the law.

Twenty years ago, when I was a Moscow correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, two Americans named Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames ran an English-language tabloid in the Russian capital called the eXile. They portrayed themselves as swashbuckling parodists, unbound by the conventions of mainstream journalism, exposing Westerners who were cynically profiting from the chaos of post-Soviet Russia.

A better description is this: The eXile was juvenile, stunt-obsessed and pornographic, titillating for high school boys. It is back in the news because Taibbi just wrote a new book, and interviewers are asking him why he and Ames acted so boorishly back then. The eXile’s distinguishing feature, more than anything else, was its blinding sexism — which often targeted me.

At the time, the paper had its defenders, even those who acknowledged its misogyny and praised it anyway. A Rolling Stone article by Brian Preston in 1998 described the eXile’s “misogynist rants, dumb pranks, insulting club listings and photos of blood-soaked corpses, all redeemed by political reporting that’s read seriously not only in Moscow but also in Washington.” A 2010 Vanity Fair reminiscence by James Verini wrote: “They call Ames and Taibbi, singly or in combination, children, louts, misogynists, madmen, pigs, hypocrites, anarchists, fascists, racists, and fiends.” But “what made The Exile so popular, and still makes it so readable, was its high-low mix of acute coverage and character assassination, sermonizing laced with smut — a balance that has also characterized Taibbi’s work at Rolling Stone, where he has been a contributing editor for the last five years.” Taibbi still writes for Rolling Stone; Ames, too, works in journalism, running a podcast on war and conflict. [Continue reading…]

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Fusion GPS, producers of the Trump dossier, offer what they call ‘journalism for rent’

The Washington Post reports: Fusion GPS bills itself as a corporate research firm, but in many ways it operates with the secrecy of a spy agency. No sign marks its headquarters above a coffee shop in Northwest Washington. Its website consists of two sentences and an email address. Its client list is closely held.

The small firm has been under intense public scrutiny for producing the 35-page document known as the Trump dossier. Senior executives summoned to testify before Congress in October invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the firm is resisting a congressional subpoena for bank records that would reveal who has paid for its services.

But hundreds of internal company documents obtained by The Washington Post reveal how Fusion, a firm led by former journalists, has used investigative reporting techniques and media connections to advance the interests of an eclectic range of clients on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in the nation’s capital. The firm has played an unseen role in stories that dominated headlines in recent years.

In the years before it produced the dossier, records show, Fusion worked to blunt aggressive reporting on the medical-device company Theranos, which was later found to have problems with its novel blood-testing technology. It was also hired to ward off scrutiny of the nutritional supplement company Herbalife, which ultimately paid $200 million to distributors to settle claims by regulators.

In another case, the firm sought to expose what it called “slimy dealings” by a competitor of a San Francisco museum proposed by filmmaker and “Star Wars” director George Lucas. And it dug up information about domestic disputes involving a former mayor of Beverly Hills, Calif., as part of an investigation into a proposed real estate development that the mayor supported.

Fusion’s other past research targets, documents show, included tech giants Google and Amazon; 2012 presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama; and Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bob Corker of Tennessee. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Fusion assigned code names to the projects — many of them after cities in Texas and Maine — and avoided identifying its clients in internal documents, making it difficult to determine who was paying for the research. The firm also minimized its public footprints by paying outside contractors to collect public records from courthouses, police stations and federal agencies.

The Post’s review provides a glimpse at the tactics that have fueled Fusion’s rise in the growing and secretive industry of opposition research and corporate intelligence. The review represents the most comprehensive look at the firm’s work at a time when it is being examined by those who seek to gauge the veracity of the dossier, and it reveals methods that have drawn criticism from the targets of the company’s research, including President Trump.

Fusion’s work on the dossier went beyond ordinary opposition research, the kind that might explore a candidate’s past legislative history or embarrassing gaffes — known in the industry as “votes and quotes.” Instead, it paid a former British spy to compile intelligence from unnamed Russian sources.

Only a handful of internal documents obtained by The Post relate to the examination of Trump during the 2016 election, a project that was code-named “Bangor” and was financed in part by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Fusion declined to comment on specific cases or identify clients, but said in a statement that it is “proud of our methodology and the rigor of our research, amply demonstrated by the records cited by The Washington Post. They show what we’ve always stated: Our secret sauce is diligent and exhaustive analysis of public information.”

It continued: “The reason we are so effective is that we unearth facts that stand up to scrutiny — presumably why we are still talking about our work detailing the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia more than a year later.” [Continue reading…]

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Dylan Farrow: Why has the #MeToo revolution spared Woody Allen?

Dylan Farrow writes: We are in the midst of a revolution. From allegations against studio heads and journalists, to hotel maids recounting abuses on the job, women are exposing the truth and men are losing their jobs. But the revolution has been selective.

I have long maintained that when I was 7 years old, Woody Allen led me into an attic, away from the babysitters who had been instructed never to leave me alone with him. He then sexually assaulted me. I told the truth to the authorities then, and I have been telling it, unaltered, for more than 20 years. Why is it that Harvey Weinstein and other accused celebrities have been cast out by Hollywood, while Allen recently secured a multimillion-dollar distribution deal with Amazon, greenlit by former Amazon Studios executive Roy Price before he was suspended over sexual misconduct allegations? Allen’s latest feature, “Wonder Wheel,” was released theatrically on Dec. 1.

Allen denies my allegations. But this is not a “he said, child said” situation. Allen’s pattern of inappropriate behavior — putting his thumb in my mouth, climbing into bed with me in his underwear, constant grooming and touching — was witnessed by friends and family members. At the time of the alleged assault, he was in therapy for his conduct towards me. Three eyewitnesses substantiated my account, including a babysitter who saw Allen with his head buried in my lap after he had taken off my underwear. Allen refused to take a polygraph administered by the Connecticut state police.

In the final legal disposition of the matter, a judge denied him custody of me, writing that “measures must be taken to protect” me and that there was “no credible evidence” that my mother, Mia Farrow, coached me in any way. A prosecutor took the unusual step of announcing that he had probable cause to charge Allen but declined in order to spare me, a “child victim,” from an exhausting trial.

It is a testament to Allen’s public relations team and his lawyers that few know these simple facts. It also speaks to the forces that have historically protected men like Allen: the money and power deployed to make the simple complicated, to massage the story. [Continue reading…]

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James O’Keefe, practitioner of the sting, has an ally in Trump

The New York Times reports: Days after Donald J. Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, James O’Keefe, the conservative disrupter famous for trying to use secret recordings to embarrass liberals and journalists, visited Trump Tower and gave Mr. Trump a preview of his latest hidden camera video intended to undermine Hillary Clinton.

The footage, widely dismissed after it was released some weeks later, showed officials from Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign appearing to accept a payment for campaign swag from a Canadian woman at a Clinton campaign rally — in violation, Mr. O’Keefe contended, of election laws barring campaign contributions from foreigners.

Mr. Trump had been promoting Mr. O’Keefe’s work for years and a few weeks earlier had donated $10,000 from his foundation to Mr. O’Keefe’s group. At the meeting in his office, Mr. Trump praised the new video and pledged more money. As the campaign progressed, he pointed to other videos as evidence of his false accusations that Mrs. Clinton paid people to cause violence at Trump campaign rallies, and since his inauguration he and his team have continued to highlight Mr. O’Keefe’s work as evidence of the president’s repeated claims that the news media is peddling “fake news.”

So these should be good times for Mr. O’Keefe. He has an ally in the Oval Office who shares his views. The nonprofit group he started in 2010, Project Veritas, and an affiliated political arm called Project Veritas Action Fund have raised nearly $16 million, according to tax filings, and last year the group paid him $317,000. After years of criticism from across the political spectrum — including from a conservative establishment that has viewed him with suspicion — Mr. O’Keefe would seem well positioned to be more broadly embraced by the right, and feared by the left.

Yet Mr. O’Keefe cannot seem to get out of his own way. And after an attempted sting aimed at The Washington Post backfired in spectacular fashion last month, he has found himself in a familiar position — defending his misleading tactics, uneven results and even his nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, against criticism from across the political spectrum. [Continue reading…]

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Weinstein’s complicity machine

The New York Times reports: Harvey Weinstein built his complicity machine out of the witting, the unwitting and those in between. He commanded enablers, silencers and spies, warning others who discovered his secrets to say nothing. He courted those who could provide the money or prestige to enhance his reputation as well as his power to intimidate.

In the weeks and months before allegations of his methodical abuse of women were exposed in October, Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, pulled on all the levers of his carefully constructed apparatus.

He gathered ammunition, sometimes helped by the editor of The National Enquirer, who had dispatched reporters to find information that could undermine accusers. He turned to old allies, asking a partner in Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s premier talent shops, to broker a meeting with a C.A.A. client, Ronan Farrow, who was reporting on Mr. Weinstein. He tried to dispense favors: While seeking to stop the actress Rose McGowan from writing in a memoir that he had sexually assaulted her, he tried to arrange a $50,000 payment to her former manager and throw new business to a literary agent advising Ms. McGowan. The agent, Lacy Lynch, replied to him in an email: “No one understands smart, intellectual and commercial like HW.”

Mr. Weinstein’s final, failed round of manipulations shows how he operated for more than three decades: by trying to turn others into instruments or shields for his behavior, according to nearly 200 interviews, internal company records and previously undisclosed emails. Some aided his actions without realizing what he was doing. Many knew something or detected hints, though few understood the scale of his sexual misconduct. Almost everyone had incentives to look the other way or reasons to stay silent. Now, even as the tally of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds is still emerging, so is a debate about collective failure and the apportioning of blame. [Continue reading…]

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The men who cost Clinton the election

Jill Filipovic writes: Matt Lauer, like Charlie Rose and Mark Halperin before him, is a journalist out of a job after his employer fired him for sexually harassing female colleagues. It’s good news that real penalties are now leveled on men who harass — after centuries of the costs mostly befalling the women who endure harassment. But the deep cultural rot that has corroded nearly all of our institutions and every corner of our culture is not just about a few badly behaved men. Sexual harassment, and the sexism it’s predicated on, involves more than the harassers and the harassed; when the harassers are men with loud microphones, their private misogyny has wide-reaching public consequences. One of the most significant: the 2016 election.

Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump in an official “commander-in-chief forum” for NBC. He notoriously peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a tone similar to Mr. Lauer’s with Mrs. Clinton — talking down to her, interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt, while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush, currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.

A pervasive theme of all of these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.

A month ago, Rebecca Traister wrote in New York magazine that with the flood of sexual harassment charges, “we see that the men who have had the power to abuse women’s bodies and psyches throughout their careers are in many cases also the ones in charge of our political and cultural stories.” With the Lauer accusations, this observation has come into sharper focus on one particular picture: the media sexism that contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss.

The 2016 presidential race was so close that any of a half-dozen factors surely influenced the outcome: James Comey, racial politics, Clinton family baggage, the contentious Democratic primary, third-party spoilers, Russian interference, fake news. But when one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history and the first woman to get close to the Oval Office loses to an opponent who had not dedicated a nanosecond of his life to public service and ran a blatantly misogynist campaign, it’s hard to conclude that gender didn’t play a role. [Continue reading…]

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Woman’s effort to infiltrate The Washington Post dated back months

The Washington Post reports: The failed effort by conservative activists to plant a false story about Senate candidate Roy Moore in The Washington Post was part of a months-long campaign to infiltrate The Post and other media outlets in Washington and New York, according to interviews, text messages and social media posts that have since been deleted.

Starting in July, Jaime Phillips, an operative with the organization Project Veritas, which purports to expose media bias, joined two dozen networking groups related to either journalism or left-leaning politics. She signed up to attend 15 related events, often accompanied by a male companion, and appeared at least twice at gatherings for departing Post staffers.

Phillips, 41, presented herself to journalists variously as the owner of a start-up looking to recruit writers, a graduate student studying national security or a contractor new to the area. This summer, she tweeted posts in support of gun control and critical of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants — a departure from the spring when, on accounts that have since been deleted, she used the #MAGA hashtag and mocked the Women’s March on Washington that followed Trump’s inauguration as the “Midol March.”

Her true identity and intentions were revealed only when The Post published a story on Monday, along with photos and video, about how she falsely told Post reporters that Moore had impregnated her when she was a teenager. The Post reported that Phillips appeared to work for Project Veritas, an organization that uses false cover stories and covert video recordings in an attempt to embarrass its targets.

Phillips’s sustained attempt to insinuate herself into the social circles of reporters makes clear that her deception — and the efforts to discredit The Post’s reporting — went much further than the attempt to plant one fabricated article.

Phillips’s encounters with dozens of journalists, which have not been previously reported, typically occurred at professional networking events or congratulatory send-offs for colleagues at bars and restaurants. She used three names and three phone numbers to follow up with Post employees, chatting about life in Washington and asking to be introduced to other journalists.

In one case, Phillips kept a conversation going for five weeks with a Post employee over text message, repeatedly asking whether she and her husband could meet Phillips for dinner. After the employee shared that she was experiencing a family tragedy, Phillips wrote: “Let me know if I can do anything to help, even if just to talk or something small. We’d like to send flowers or a donation… Thoughts & prayers.” [Continue reading…]

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James O’Keefe tweeted about his ‘confrontation’ with a Post reporter. Here’s what really happened

The Washington Post reports: The Washington Post on Monday published a report about a woman who falsely claimed Roy Moore sexually assaulted her as a teenager — and who appeared to work with Project Veritas, an organization that uses deceptive tactics and secretly recorded conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

Shortly after the investigation was published, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe tweeted a video of what he called his “confrontation” with one of the authors of The Post investigation, Aaron C. Davis. The video was heavily edited, a tactic for which Project Veritas has drawn criticism.

The Post filmed the entire encounter.

Davis and another Post reporter, along with two video reporters, went to the Project Veritas offices in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on Monday morning to try to determine whether the woman, Jaime T. Phillips, worked there. They watched as she walked into the office. O’Keefe, who appeared minutes later, declined to answer questions. He invited Davis back for an interview shortly after noon. [Continue reading…]

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Reality scores a win over the perverse drive to discredit honest reporting

Margaret Sullivan writes: In the right-wing campaign to discredit the truth, every day brings a new low.

I don’t mean Roy Moore’s campaign for U.S. Senate, though that certainly has been at the center, lately, of the broader crusade.

No, I mean the insidious drive — led, sadly, by President Trump — to undermine the reality-based press in America and in so doing to eat away at the underpinnings of our democracy: a shared basis in credible, verifiable facts.

Breitbart News, as that pro-Trump propaganda machine calls itself, was part of the campaign when it sent staffers (I won’t call them reporters) to Alabama for the express purpose of knocking down a Washington Post story. In it, multiple women agreed to use their real names and to be quoted about Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct or assault when they were girls. (Breitbart ended up confirming The Post’s story but crowed about its own non-findings anyway.)

Trump was part of the campaign when he called this week for a trophy to be given for “fake news,” disparaging CNN in particular. And again when he reportedly cast doubt on the validity of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. There is no question as to the tape’s authenticity.

But the new low came Monday as Project Veritas — could its name be any more Orwellian? — was exposed for its clumsy effort to lure The Post into publishing a false story about a woman whose girlhood affair with Moore led to an abortion.

This would-be scam won the race to the bottom — so far — because, at its black heart, it mocked the bravery of women telling their own true, painful experiences. It tried to make a brazen lie the reason the women’s stories would be dismissed.

Happily, The Post’s reporting was rigorous. And luckily, the scheme had all the savvy of a bully who tries to steal your lunch with the principal watching.

“Beyond boneheaded,” was the characterization of Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, aptly noting that stupidity and maliciousness are a bad combination.

A win, then, for reality. But a troubling question arises: Who will be believed? Journalists and many thoughtful citizens may have been high-fiving Monday. And for good reason: The Post’s video of the encounter with the would-be source was like a master class in reporting as high-wire act.

But Project Veritas quickly turned this into a fundraising opportunity for itself, claiming victory and releasing a video that purported to show The Post’s bias against Trump. (It depicted a Post reporter explaining the difference between news-side reporting and editorial-page opinion, which has been openly critical of the administration.) Some, undoubtedly, believed Project Veritas’s take, cheered and opened their wallets.

Are we as a nation so deep into our social-media bubbles and echo chambers that many have lost track of what’s real and what’s fake?

It’s a deeply troubling problem but hardly a new one.

“If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer,” wrote the German-born political theorist Hannah Arendt many decades ago.

“And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

That frightening change is happening in America, and at a shocking pace. But there are encouraging signs, too. [Continue reading…]

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CNN hits back at Trump after criticism of foreign reporting

Politico reports: The feud between Donald Trump and CNN reached new heights on Monday, as the network came back swinging against the president’s latest attacks, including that CNN International misrepresents the U.S. to its global audience.

According to sources at the network, Trump’s tweet over the weekend criticizing CNN International produced extra frustration and exasperation because of the inherent risks of overseas reporting and the feeling that his message imperiled journalists working in countries hostile to a free press.

During his Monday broadcast, anchor Wolf Blitzer responded to the president’s latest claims of “fake news,” saying, “CNN and CNN International are not sponsored by any state, nor any autocrat, nor any political organization, and despite the constant criticism from the president, we are unwavering in our mission, free and independent as the press should be.”

Blitzer’s statement followed a nearly five-minute package of clips depicting CNN International journalists reporting from dangerous situations, including under gunfire in Libya and on a helicopter fleeing ISIS in Iraq.

The segment was in response to a tweet Trump sent Saturday: “.@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

The president also took to Twitter on Monday: “We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!” [Continue reading…]

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Botched sting with a phony Roy Moore ‘accuser’ was supposed to discredit the media. Like similar schemes, it did the opposite

The Washington Post reports: A failed effort to dupe The Washington Post into publishing a woman’s fabricated account of underage sex with Roy Moore represents the latest entry on a list of schemes that attempted to expose fake news in the mainstream media and wound up doing the opposite.

The Post’s Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites reported Monday that a woman who appears to have been working for Project Veritas, the conservative activist group run by James O’Keefe, approached the newspaper with a false claim that she had an abortion at age 15 after Moore impregnated her.

As Boburg, Davis and Crites wrote, “the group’s efforts illustrate the lengths far-right activists have gone to try to discredit media outlets for reporting on allegations from multiple women that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s.”

Instead of discrediting prior reporting, however, the botched sting showcased the journalistic rigor that news outlets such as The Post exercise before publishing accusations like those against Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama. [Continue reading…]

As Jonathan Chait notes, a fundamental problem with O’Keefe’s enterprise “is that the people who are dumb enough to believe these conspiracy theories [that he is trying to promote] are not generally smart enough to carry out a competent entrapment scheme.”

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Russia’s Putin signs ‘foreign agents’ media law

Reuters reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law on Saturday new measures allowing authorities to list foreign media outlets as “foreign agents” in response to what Moscow says is unacceptable U.S. pressure on Russian media.

The new law has been rushed through both Russian houses of parliament in the last two weeks. It will now allow Moscow to force foreign media to brand news they provide to Russians as the work of “foreign agents” and to disclose their funding sources.

A copy of the law was published on the Russian government’s online legislation database on Saturday, saying it entered into force from the day of its publication.

Russia’s move against U.S. media is part of the fallout from allegations that Russia interfered in last year’s U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

U.S. intelligence officials have accused the Kremlin of using Russian media organizations it finances to influence U.S. voters, and Washington has since required Russian state broadcaster RT to register a U.S.-based affiliate company as a “foreign agent”. [Continue reading…]

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Why BuzzFeed teamed with a far-right figure to break the John Conyers scandal

Paul Farhi writes: Journalism can make for strange bedfellows. Case in point: BuzzFeed and Mike Cernovich.

Cernovich — a controversial far-right figure who has promoted blatantly false conspiracy theories, such as the discredited “Pizzagate” hoax — was the source of a big BuzzFeed scoop Monday night. The popular news and features website reported that legendary liberal Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) made repeated sexual advances toward female staffers and secretly reached a financial settlement with one accuser. The story was based largely on documents and affidavits supplied by Cernovich to BuzzFeed’s reporters.

The BuzzFeed-Cernovich connection is odd, to say the least — something like Michael Moore dropping damning info about President Trump to Fox News. Even that doesn’t quite capture the jagged journalistic history of Cernovich, whom “60 Minutes” described earlier this year in a story about fake news as “a magnet for readers with a taste for stories with no basis in fact.”

The agreement between Cernovich and Buzzfeed appears to have come with a hidden facet: Cernovich acquired the congressional documents after offering to pay $10,000 for them. [Continue reading…]

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Trump tweets on CNN could muddy AT&T-Time Warner lawsuit

Politico reports: The Justice Department’s decision to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger sets up another high-profile lawsuit in which President Donald Trump’s prolific and opinionated tweets could complicate his administration’s agenda.

The DOJ announced Monday that it would seek to derail the $85 billion deal because the combined company could charge competitors hefty fees to distribute Time Warner content, providing an unfair advantage to AT&T-owned DirecTV. But questions about political meddling by the Trump administration have dogged the merger throughout the government’s review process — and those concerns could now factor into arguments the companies make in court challenging the rejection of their proposed union.

“Donald Trump’s dangerous talk about CNN cast a shadow over their actions,” said Craig Aaron, president of advocacy group Free Press, which opposes the merger. While Aaron called AT&T-Time Warner a “huge merger with clear consumer harms,” he warned: “If there’s any evidence the White House interfered because it dislikes CNN’s journalism, that would be a disaster.”

The president’s tweets have come up in the legal arguments of those battling his other policies, including his administration’s restrictions on travelers from Muslim countries, decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and ban on openly transgender soldiers. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-Fox News employee says she was blocked from investigating Trump-Russia ties

Bloomberg reports: A former Fox News employee said the network blocked her from going to Moscow to investigate President Donald Trump’s links with Russia, one of several claims of news bias at 21st Century Fox Inc. made by former and current workers opposing its takeover of Sky Plc.

“You can’t do in-depth reporting if you’re not there,” said Jessica Golloher, a former Fox Radio correspondent who is suing the division for gender discrimination, at a gathering with U.K. lawmakers and citizens in Parliament on Monday. “Fox didn’t let me go to Moscow to dig into Trump’s Russian connections, even when I offered to pay my own way.”

“Fox is just buying what the White House is selling,” she said.

Golloher’s claim follows allegations earlier this year that Trump colluded with Fox on a story to divert attention from his ties with Russia. She made the remarks shortly after meeting the Competition & Markets Authority, which is investigating the 11.7 billion-pound ($15.5 billion) Sky merger on grounds of media plurality and whether Fox has a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants to punish CNN by breaking up the AT&T/Time Warner deal

Peter Kafka writes: What would it look like if the President of the United States punished American businesses he didn’t like, or news organizations that reported things he didn’t like?

It would look like this: Trump’s Department of Justice is threatening to scuttle AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner unless the merged companies dump CNN and Turner, the cable unit that houses CNN, according to a source familiar with the DOJ’s review.

The Financial Times first reported the news today, as did the New York Times.

We got a hint of this this morning, when AT&T’s CFO said he wasn’t sure when the deal would close — though he still thought it would close.

We could spend time discussing why this makes no sense under conventional antitrust law, since AT&T/Time Warner is a “vertical” merger, where the two companies are in different lines of business.

But don’t ask us. Ask antitrust expert Makan Delrahim, who announced last year that the proposed deal shouldn’t be a problem.

Except now Delrahim has apparently changed his mind. Or, more precisely, Delrahim now works for Donald Trump as the head of antitrust at the DOJ.

Since then, Delrahim has been signaling that he may have problems with AT&T/Time Warner after all.

Sober industry observers — including ones that had problems with the deal — figured that Delrahim wanted to slow down approval of the deal, perhaps because he didn’t want to rubber stamp it.

And if he did have problems with it, a logical place to look would be AT&T’s ownership of HBO, which rival pay TV networks had argued would give HBO unfair footing.

Nope. Per the FT, “It’s all about CNN,” which makes sense if you are a leader of a banana republic who believes that news outlets that report stories critical of your leadership are “fake news.” [Continue reading…]

Richard W Painter, White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, tweets:

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Harvey Weinstein’s army of spies

Ronan Farrow writes: In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations. According to dozens of pages of documents, and seven people directly involved in the effort, the firms that Weinstein hired included Kroll, which is one of the world’s largest corporate-intelligence companies, and Black Cube, an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies. Black Cube, which has branches in Tel Aviv, London, and Paris, offers its clients the skills of operatives “highly experienced and trained in Israel’s elite military and governmental intelligence units,” according to its literature.

Two private investigators from Black Cube, using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her. One of the investigators pretended to be a women’s-rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan. The same operative, using a different false identity and implying that she had an allegation against Weinstein, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press. In other cases, journalists directed by Weinstein or the private investigators interviewed women and reported back the details.

The explicit goal of the investigations, laid out in one contract with Black Cube, signed in July, was to stop the publication of the abuse allegations against Weinstein that eventually emerged in the New York Times and The New Yorker. Over the course of a year, Weinstein had the agencies “target,” or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focussed on their personal or sexual histories. Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally. He also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating. [Continue reading…]

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