Category Archives: Media/Journalism

The National Enquirer’s Fervor for Trump

Jeffrey Toobin writes for The New Yorker:

Image result for The National Enquirer’s Fervor for Trump[…] The Enquirer is defined by its predatory spirit—its dedication to revealing that celebrities, far from leading ideal lives, endure the same plagues of disease, weight gain, and family dysfunction that afflict everyone else. For much of the tabloid’s history, it has specialized in investigations into the foibles of public personalities, including politicians. In 1987, the Enquirer published a photograph of Senator Gary Hart with his mistress Donna Rice, in front of a boat called the Monkey Business, which doomed Hart’s Presidential candidacy. Two decades later, the magazine broke the news that John Edwards had fathered a child out of wedlock during his Presidential race. When Donald Trump decided to run for President, some people at the Enquirer assumed that the magazine would apply the same scrutiny to the candidate’s colorful personal history. “We used to go after newsmakers no matter what side they were on,” a former Enquirer staffer told me. “And Trump is a guy who is running for President with a closet full of baggage. He’s the ultimate target-rich environment. The Enquirer had a golden opportunity, and they completely looked the other way.”

Throughout the 2016 Presidential race, the Enquirer embraced Trump with sycophantic fervor. The magazine made its first political endorsement ever, of Trump, last spring. Cover headlines promised, “donald trump’s revenge on hillary & her puppets” and “top secret plan inside: how trump will win debate!” The publication trashed Trump’s rivals, running a dubious cover story on Ted Cruz that described him as a philanderer and another highly questionable piece that linked Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It was even tougher on Hillary Clinton, regularly printing such headlines as “ ‘sociopath’ hillary clinton’s secret psych files exposed!” A 2015 piece began, “Failing health and a deadly thirst for power are driving Hillary Clintonto an early grave, The National Enquirer has learned in a bombshell investigation. The desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won’t make it to the White House—because she’ll be dead in six months.” On election eve, the Enquirer offered a special nine-page investigation under the headline “hillary: corruptracistcriminal!” This blatantly skewed coverage continued after Trump took office. Post-election cover stories included “trump takes chargesuccess in just 36 days!” and “proof obama wiretapped trumplies, leaks & illegal bugging.

Pecker and Trump have been friends for decades—their professional and personal lives have intersected in myriad ways—and Pecker acknowledges that his tabloids’ coverage of Trump has a personal dimension. All Presidents seek to influence the media, but Trump enjoys unusual advantages in this regard. He is also in close contact with Rupert Murdoch, whose empire includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. (While the Times and the Washington Post have produced repeated scoops about Trump and Russia, the Journal, which employs a large investigative staff, has largely been silent on the issue.) Unlike Murdoch, Pecker heads a fading and vaguely comic archetype of Americana; sales of the Enquirer are down ninety per cent from their peak in 1970. But the impact of the tabloids, particularly their covers, remains substantial. A.M.I. claims that a hundred million people see the Enquirer in more than two hundred thousand checkout lines around the country every week. And the Enquirer’s covers invariably include statements about celebrities that are deeply misleading, if libel-law-compliant, as well as claims about politicians that are outright lies.

Pecker is now considering expanding his business: he may bid to take over the financially strapped magazines of Time, Inc., which include TimePeople, and Fortune. Based on his stewardship of his own publications, Pecker would almost certainly direct those magazines, and the journalists who work for them, to advance the interests of the President and to damage those of his opponents—which makes the story of the Enquirer and its chief executive a little more important and a little less funny.

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Gawker Is Dead, But the Forces That Destroyed It Are Still Very Much Alive

James West writes for Mother Jones:

In June 2016, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and put itself up for auction. The company’s high-profile demise came after it lost a $140 million libel lawsuit brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape had made its way to Gawker‘s readers in 2012.

Soon after the verdict, we found out that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel—a prominent Trump supporter—was secretly funding the lawsuit in apparent revenge for a 2007 Gawker article outing him as gay. Thiel hated Gawker and its family of blogs. In 2009, Thiel said Valleywag, a tech blog owned by Gawker, possessed the “psychology of a terrorist.”

The mogul called the Hogan verdict “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”

A new Netflix film released Friday tracks the bizarre twists and turns of the Gawkercase and its larger-than-life characters—and what happens when a secretive billionaire takes a big grudge to court and wins.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press also examines this moment of crisis for American newsrooms facing the dual threats of haemorrhaging revenue and public distrust in the time of Trump—and how the likes of Peter Thiel and billionaire casino-owner and conservative donor Sheldon Adelson can take advantage of the crisis for their own purposes.

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The Megyn Kelly Interview with Infowars’ Alex Jones

Here’s the full segment of Megyn Kelly’s interview with right-wing talk radio host and conspiracy kingpin Alex Jones of Infowars. An interesting enough piece but there’s no mention of the role Matt Druge played in elevating Jones to his current position. Also included is Alex Jones’ response where he plays clips of the pre-interview phone call between  himself and Megyn Kelly. (NBC News/Infowars)

Hey Intercept, Something is Very Wrong with Reality Winner and the NSA Leak

Peter Van Buren writes:

An NSA document purporting to show Russian military hacker attempts to access a Florida company which makes voter registration software is sent anonymously to The Intercept. A low-level NSA contractor, Reality Winner, above, is arrested almost immediately. What’s wrong with this picture? A lot.

Who Benefits?

Start with the question of who benefits — cui bono— same as detectives do when assessing a crime.

— Trump looks bad as another trickle of information comes out connecting something Russian to something 2016 election. Intelligence community (IC) looks like they are onto something, a day or so before ousted FBI Director James Comey testifies before Congress on related matters.

— The Intercept looks like it contributed to burning a source. Which potential leaker is going to them in the future? If potential leakers are made to think twice, another win for the IC.

— The FBI made an arrest right away, nearly simultaneous to the publication, with the formal charges coming barely an hour after The Intercept published. The bust is sure thing according to the very publicly released information. No Ed Snowden hiding out in Russia this time. IC looks good here.

— More evidence is now in the public domain that the Russians are after our election process. Seems as if the IC has been right all along.

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NSA Contractor Charged for Leak After Intercept Exposé on Alleged Russian Hacking of 2016 Election

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with security technologists Bruce Schneier and Jake Williams, who is a former member of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations hacking team, after a military intelligence contractor was arrested and charged with leaking a top-secret NSA report to the media. (Democracy Now!) 

Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever

Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone:

On the Internet today you will find thousands, perhaps even millions, of people gloating about the death of elephantine Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The happy face emojis are getting a workout on Twitter, which is also bursting with biting one-liners.

When I mentioned to one of my relatives that I was writing about the death of Ailes, the response was, “Say that you hope he’s reborn as a woman in Saudi Arabia.”

Ailes has no one but his fast-stiffening self to blame for this treatment. He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans’ worst fantasies about each other.

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Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia

Zack Beauchamp writes for Vox:

President Donald Trump is about to resign as a result of the Russia scandal. Bernie Sandersand Sean Hannity are Russian agents. The Russians have paid off House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz to the tune of $10 million, using Trump as a go-between. Paul Ryan is a traitor for refusing to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand was a secret Russian agent charged with discrediting the American conservative movement.

These are all claims you can find made on a new and growing sector of the internet that functions as a fake news bubble for liberals, something I’ve dubbed the Russiasphere. The mirror image of Breitbart and InfoWars on the right, it focuses nearly exclusively on real and imagined connections between Trump and Russia. The tone is breathless: full of unnamed intelligence sources, certainty that Trump will soon be imprisoned, and fever dream factual assertions that no reputable media outlet has managed to confirm.

[…] The unfounded left-wing claims, like those on the right, are already seeping into the mainstream discourse. In March, the New York Times published an op-ed by Mensch instructing members of Congress as to how they should proceed with the Russia investigation (“I have some relevant experience,” she wrote). Two months prior to that, Mensch had penned a lengthy letter to Vladimir Putin titled “Dear Mr. Putin, Let’s Play Chess” — in which she claims to have discovered that Edward Snowden was part of a years-in-the-making Russian plot to discredit Hillary Clinton.

Last Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was forced to apologize for spreading a false claim that a New York grand jury was investigating Trump and Russia. His sources, according to the Guardian’s Jon Swaine, were Mensch and Palmer.

Members of the Russiasphere see themselves as an essential counter to a media that’s been too cautious to get to the bottom of Trump’s Russian ties.

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Julian Assange Defiant as Sweden Drops Rape Investigation

BBC News reports:

Julian Assange speaks to reporters at the Ecuadorean embassy - 19 MayWikileaks founder Julian Assange has said he will not forgive and forget attempts to arrest him over rape allegations which led him to seek asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy.

Hailing an “important victory”, he said he was prepared for dialogue with the US and UK authorities.

Mr Assange, 45, is wanted in the US over the leaking of military and diplomatic documents.

Sweden said on Friday it had decided to drop its rape investigation.

Meanwhile Ecuador urged the UK to allow him safe passage out of the country.

The Wikileaks founder has chosen to remain in the embassy as he fears extradition to Sweden would lead to extradition to the US.

“Today is an important victory for me and the UN human rights system, but by no means erases seven years of detention without charge… while my children grew up. That is not something I can forgive or forget,” he told journalists from a balcony at the embassy.

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Alex Jones Settles Chobani Lawsuit, Retracts Comments About Refugees

David Montero reports for the Los Angeles Times:

Image result for alex jones chobaniAlex Jones backed down. Again.

The far-right conspiracy theorist agreed Wednesday to settle a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Greek yogurt manufacturer Chobani. The key component of the settlement agreement required him to retract inflammatory comments about refugees and the company he made on his Infowars broadcast last month.

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars, Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted, and will not be re-posted,” Jones said. “On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

It marks the latest blow to Jones, who in March apologized and issued a retraction to a Washington, D.C.-based pizzeria for his broadcast’s role in pushing a false story about a child sex ring that involved Hillary Clinton.

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Alex Jones and Roger Stone: Trump Must Go After His Critics

Alex Jones and Roger Stone continue to show their fascist tendencies by calling on President Trump to go after his critics on the left and within the Democratic Party. (Right Wing Watch)

NPR Can’t Help Hyping North Korean Threat

Glen Frieden writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR):

NPR: As North Korea Acts Out, A Search for Kim Jong Un's MotivesUN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on March 8 that “all options are on the table” regarding North Korea. Between then and April 27, NPR.org published 60 stories on US/North Korea relations.

[…] North Korea’s dictatorial government uses the threat of war as a propaganda tool against its own population—fostering loyalty to itself and its military establishment. As NPR’s own reporting (3/23/16) put it, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “needs to establish his own legitimacy, and that means standing up to enemies.” According to Brookings’ Sheena Greitens, interviewed in that piece: “North Korea might use a range of strategies…but we should remember that they’re all aimed at the same underlying, fundamental objective: ensuring Kim’s political survival.”

If North Korea’s warlike propaganda is so transparent, what should we think of the US media? Of course, professional journalists claim to pursue the truth, and report it in nobody’s interest but the public’s. But what if even a “serious” outlet like National Public Radio launches a flurry of fear-mongering at a word from the Pentagon? A survey of its coverage since March 8 suggests that NPR has promoted the perspective of the US government at the expense of public understanding of US/North Korean relations. The construction of foreign “threats” benefits both a national government hungry for legitimacy—and news organizations hungry for an audience.

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Fake News, Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles: Underresearched and Overhyped

Professor William H. Dutton reports for The Conversation:

In the early years of the internet, it was revolutionary to have a world of information just a click away from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Many hoped this inherently democratic technology could lead to better-informed citizens more easily participating in debate, elections and public discourse.

Today, though, many observers are concerned that search algorithms and social media are undermining the quality of online information people see. They worry that bad information may be weakening democracy in the digital age.

The problems include online services conveying fake news, splitting users into “filter bubbles” of like-minded people and enabling users to unwittingly lock themselves up in virtual echo chambers that reinforce their own biases.

These concerns are much discussed, but have not yet been thoroughly studied. What research does exist has typically been limited to a single platform, such Twitter or Facebook. Our study of search and politics in seven nations – which surveyed the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain in January 2017 – found these concerns to be overstated, if not wrong. In fact, many internet users trust search to help them find the best information, check other sources and discover new information in ways that can burst filter bubbles and open echo chambers.

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The Stephen Colbert Gay Joke Row is a Repulsively Cynical Ploy by Far-Right Homophobes

Lindy West writes for The Guardian:

Image result for Stephen Colbert gay joke[…] It’s important for progressives to have in-group conversations about how we talk about our political enemies and the people who hurt us. It matters (and it’s telling) when men jump straight to misogynist tropes when criticising rightwing commentator Ann Coulter, or when thin people use fatphobic slurs to decry New Jersey governor Chris Christie. It’s also important to keep a grip on nuance in those conversations, taking into account a person’s track record (Colbert was a staunch advocate of marriage equality) and intent and willingness to listen and change. And criticism within the arts is a living dialogue, not a hard-and-fast binary.

But as the Colbert situation mushroomed over the next few days, I realised that there was another potential reading of the man’s question. The far right, smelling an opportunity to manipulate the left into eating their own powerful and popular satirist, had pounced on Colbert. Oh, the homophobia, they wailed! Wasn’t it terrible? #FireColbert took hold on Twitter – strangely, not on the feeds of those oppressed by homophobia, but on the feeds of homophobes. That same week, Trump signed his executive order on religious liberty, which turned out to be a toothless dud, but was a symbolic nod to religious homophobes all the same. Colbert is now being investigated by the Federal Communications Commission, a relatively routine procedure, but alarming in the context of Trump’s obsession with punishing unfriendly media outlets and flirtation with amending the first amendment.

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Farewell to Matt Drudge

Justin Raimondo writes for Antiwar:

Related image[…] Yes, I’ve always been a big Drudge fan, which is why I was so thrilled to see him give Antiwar.com a permanent link, right between Adweek and The Atlantic – except, as it turned out, it wasn’t permanent.

About a week before President Trump bombed Syria, the Antiwar.com link on the Drudge Report disappeared.

What a coincidence!

As a conservative columnist who was a prominent supporter of Trump put it to me: “I didn’t know Jared Kushner was running the Drudge Report!”

Drudge has been pushing Trump from the beginning, which is his right. I reported favorably on many of Trump’s earlier foreign policy pronouncements, which is probably why Drudge added us to begin with: it’s too bad President Trump walked back the best aspects of his foreign policy agenda. Yet Drudge, and some – not all – of Trump’s supporters don’t seem to care about the President’s policy reversals: they’re just defending whatever he does. And that, I believe, accounts for the deletion of Antiwar.com from the Drudge Report: forget about the news you can’t get anywhere else that is published on this site. Never mind our large audience, which spans the globe. And who cares about our unique perspective? If it doesn’t fit into the Trumpian agenda – whatever that may be at any particular moment – then Matt has no use for us.

So be it.

This isn’t the first time one of my plaster gods turned out to be a disappointment, and it likely won’t be the last. We’re all of us susceptible to partisan prejudices, and we all have our little agendas, although I have to say I expected more from Drudge. I can’t even begin to describe the sinking feeling as I logged on to the Drudge Report, looked for the Antiwar.com link, and saw that it wasn’t there. For me, that link represented the only kind of legitimacy I had ever sought: recognition from one rebel to another that Antiwar.com had accomplished something real.

But I take it from where it comes: all too often, yesterday’s rebel is today’s Establishment shill. That’s just the way it is, and always will be.

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The Onion Struggles to Lampoon Trump

Charles Bethea reports for The New Yorker:

170320_r29594webIn January, 2013, Donald Trump’s special counsel, Michael Cohen, sent a letter to the Onion. The satirical online newspaper, whose Latin motto is Tu Stultus Es (“You Are Dumb”), had just published a piece under Trump’s byline, titled “When You’re Feeling Low, Just Remember I’ll Be Dead in About 15 or 20 Years.” The attorney threatened legal action. “Let me begin,” Cohen wrote, “by stating the obvious . . . that the commentary was not written by Mr. Trump. Secondly, the article is an absolutely disgusting piece that lacks any place in journalism; even in your Onion. I am hereby demanding that you immediately remove this disgraceful piece from your website and issue an apology to Mr. Trump.” The Onion gleefully declined to comply.

“We never apologized,” Cole Bolton, the site’s editor-in-chief, said recently at the Onion’s offices, in Chicago. “The article’s still up.”

Trump has been a target of the Onion for around two decades. “We’ve always thought of him as a horrendous buffoon, an objectionable person,” Bolton said. Still, the editor and his staff of sixteen mostly liberal writers and editors weren’t thrilled by the prospect of having to cover, even satirically, a Trump Presidency. “I felt a comedic dread,” Chad Nackers, the forty-three-year-old head writer, said. Nackers has satirized four Presidencies. His favorite was the Obama Administration, he said, “because Biden was a fucking blast.” Like many news outlets, just before this past election the Onion prepared headlines for both possible outcomes.

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Barrett Brown on Press Freedom, FBI Crimes and Why He Wouldn’t Do Anything Differently

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh speak with investigative reporter Barrett Brown, who recently completed a four-year prison sentence related to the hacking of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, which exposed how the firm spied on activists on behalf of corporations. He was released from prison earlier this year but was unexpectedly rearrested late last month, one day ahead of a scheduled interview for an upcoming PBS documentary. Brown was detained for four days and then released without receiving any formal written explanation for the arrest. (Democracy Now!)

Pro-Trump Network Sinclair Set to Become Nation’s Biggest Broadcaster as FCC Weakens Ownership Rules

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, about The Sinclair Broadcast Group reportedly nearing a $4 billion deal to purchase Tribune Media, which would give it control of more than a third of the country’s local TV stations. The reported purchase comes after President Trump’s pick to head the FCC, Ajit Pai, dramatically rolled back limits capping the number of stations one corporation can control. Sinclair’s chair and former CEO, David Smith, is active in Republican politics and supported Donald Trump’s campaign. (Democracy Now!)

Trump Uses Power of FCC to Pay Back Friends at Sinclair Broadcasting Group

Michael Corcoran reports for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR):

Monday morning, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the conservative media behemoth that owns more local news stations than any other company in the country, just got even bigger.  It announced it was buying Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, creating what Bloomberg (5/8/17) calls a “TV goliath.”

The purchase, which gives Sinclair a staggering reach of  nearly 69 percent  of the US population (Free Press, 5/8/17), would’ve been in  violation of ownership restrictions just weeks ago.  But last month, the Trump-appointed FCC chair, Ajit Pai, reinstated the “UHF discount,” an outdated loophole that allowed media conglomerates to exceed the nation’s 39 percent cap on ownership (New York Post, 4/20/17). Sinclair made a $420 million deal to buy Bonten Media Group (Baltimore Sun, 4/21/17) the very next day.

This sequence of events “sure looks like a quid pro quo,” as Craig Aaron of the media advocacy group Free Press has noted  (5/8/17). Months ago, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner told business executives, according to Politico (12/16/16), that “Trump’s campaign struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better coverage.” The deal, Politico reported, was that Sinclair would give Trump more (uncritical) coverage (Washington Post, 12/22/16) in exchange for more “access to Trump and the campaign.”

Now, Trump appears to be using the considerable power of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as his own personal ATM for political currency—and his Big Media allies at Sinclair are now seeing the return on their investment.

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Will Sinclair Broadcast Group Take on Fox News After Buying Tribune Media?

Stephen Battaglio reports for the Los Angeles Times:

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., the Baltimore-based company that has kept a low profile, will become a nationwide player with the planned acquisition of Tribune Media and its 42 TV stations, giving it a powerful platform to potentially launch a right-leaning programming service to rival Fox News.

The company, which already is the largest TV station group owner in the U.S. with 139 stations, has operated largely out of the media business fishbowl because it had no outlet in New York or Los Angeles.

Now, with the Tribune acquisition, Sinclair will have a footprint in most of the country’s major markets, spanning about a third of the nation’s households.

Sinclair said Monday that it will acquire Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion plus the assumption of about $2.7 billion in debt. Tribune shareholders are to receive $35 in cash and 0.23 of a share of Sinclair common stock for each Tribune share; based on Tribune’s closing stock price Friday, that’s a total value of $43.50 a share.

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Facebook Deletes Tens Of Thousands Of Accounts Ahead Of UK General Election

‘Tyler Durden’ reports for Zero Hedge:

Ahead of the British general election on June 8, Facebook has deleted tens of thousands of accounts in Britain in its ongoing battle with “fake news” the AP reports. The campaign is part of Facebook’s evolving response to accusations the group was responsible for influencing the US presidential election, through the spread of fake news stories and “filter bubbles”.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news,” said Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK. “To help people spot false news, we are showing tips to everyone . . . on how to identify if something they see is false.”

Simon Milner, the tech firm’s U.K. director of policy, says the platform wants to get to the “root of the problem” and is working with outside organizations to fact check and analyze content around the election. Milner added that Facebook is “doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news.”

Additionally, on Monday, the social announced a national print advertising campaign in the UK to “educate the British public” about fake news, as part of a concerted global effort to crack down on the false information epidemic it has seen on its platform. The ads suggest that readers should be “skeptical of headlines,” and to “look closely at the URL.” The company says it has made improvements to help them detect fake news accounts more effectively.

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Austrian Court Rules Facebook Must Delete ‘Hate Postings’

The Associated Press reports:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference on April 18, 2017 at McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California. The conference will explore Facebook's new technology initiatives and products.Facebook must remove postings deemed as hate speech, an Austrian court has ruled, in a legal victory for campaigners who want to force social media companies to combat online “trolling”.

The case — brought by Austria’s Green party over insults to its leader — has international ramifications as the court ruled the postings must be deleted across the platform and not just in Austria, a point that had been left open in an initial ruling.

The case comes as legislators around Europe are considering ways of forcing Facebook, Google, Twitter and others to rapidly remove hate speech or incitement to violence.

Germany’s cabinet approved a plan last month to fine social networks up to 50 million euros ($55 million) if they fail to remove such postings quickly and the European Union is considering new EU-wide rules.

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UK Parliament Takes First Step Towards Making Google and Facebook Censor Everything

Mike Masnick writes for Techdirt:

Image result for UK Parliament Takes First Step Towards Making Google and Facebook Censor EverythingLook, let’s just start with the basics: there are some bad people out there. Even if the majority of people are nice and well-meaning, there are always going to be some people who are not. And sometimes, those people are going to use the internet. Given that as a starting point, at the very least, you’d think we could deal with that calmly and rationally, and recognize that maybe we shouldn’t blame the tools for the fact that some not very nice people happen to use them. Unfortunately, it appears to be asking a lot these days to expect our politicians to do this. Instead, they (and many others) rush out immediately to point the fingers of blame for the fact that these “not nice” people exist, and rather than point the finger of blame at the not nice people, they point at… the internet services they use.

The latest example of this is the UK Parliament that has released a report on “hate crime” that effectively blames internet companies and suggests they should be fined because not nice people use them.

[…] This is the kind of thing that sounds good to people who (a) don’t understand how these things actually work and (b) don’t spend any time thinking through the consequences of such actions.

First off, it’s easy for politicians and others to sit there and assume that “bad” content is obviously bad. The problem here is twofold: first, there is so much content showing up that spotting the “bad” stuff is not nearly as easy as people assume, and second, because there’s so much content, it’s often difficult to understand the context enough to recognize if something is truly “bad.” People who think this stuff is obvious or easy are ignorant. They may be well-meaning, but they’re ignorant.

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Did South Park Accidentally Invent the Alt-Right?

Janan Ganesh writes for the Financial Times:

Image result for Did South Park Accidentally Invent the Alt-Right?[…] After a scatological start, South Park found its voice as a satire of the liberal left. It made joke figures of Barbra Streisand, Bono, Alec Baldwin, Toyota Prius drivers, pacifists, grievance-mongers, public sector bureaucrats, the politically correct and, in a double episode after the Danish cartoon furore of 2006, those who would cave in to religious intimidation. There were rightwing victims, too, but every other comedian picked on those. What gave South Park its electric effect — and its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, hero status among me and my friends — was its willingness to go after the hardest targets, and with style. The only liberal-baiters we had grown up with were oafish standup comics on Britain’s seedy club circuit.

The Anglo-American writer Andrew Sullivan, a “punk Tory” in his youth, went so far as to hail “South Park Republicans”: irreverent young people driven rightward by the priggishness of the other side more than by any doctrinal commitment. Parker and Stone winced at the link but knew he had half a point. “I hate conservatives,” said Stone, in a quote for the ages, “but I really fucking hate liberals.”

Their artistic influence is still unmistakable — in Family Guy, in the standup work of Bill Burr, in the derision with which celebrity pronouncements on serious matters are now met, in the fact that South Park itself is entering its 21st season. The question is whether the show had an unintended political influence, too, creating a kind of anti-PC chic that curdled into what is now the populist right. Through no conscious design of their own, did Parker and Stone invent a monster?

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To Understand Brexit, Look to Britain’s Tabloids

Katrin Bennhold writes for The New York Times:

[…] In Britain after the so-called Brexit vote, the power of the tabloids is evident. Their circulations may be falling and their reputations tarnished by a series of phone-hacking scandals. But as the country prepares to cut ties with the European Union after a noisy and sometimes nasty campaign, top politicians court the tabloids and fear their wrath. Broadcasters follow where they lead, if not in tone then in topic.

Their readers, many of them over 50, working class and outside London, look strikingly like the voters who were crucial to the outcome of last year’s referendum on membership in the European Union. It is these citizens of Brexitland the tabloids purport to represent from the heart of enemy territory: Housed in palatial dwellings in some of London’s most expensive neighborhoods, they see themselves as Middle England’s embassies in London.

In the campaign leading up to a snap election on June 8, most tabloids can be counted on to act as the zealous guardians of Brexit and as a cheering section for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May — even though the city that houses them voted the other way.

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The Women Behind the Disquietingly Vital ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Stephanie Eckardt writes for W Magazine:

Image result for The Women Behind the Disquietingly Vital The Handmaid's TaleIn February of this year, a novel from 1985, by a Canadian author now 77, shot right to the top of the bestsellers lists. Though popular for decades, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s chilling vision of a near-future dystopia in what was once New England—where a toxic environment, a cruel theocracy, and a plague of infertility have turned a sector of women into enslaved concubines—suddenly seemed all too timely. It was then that a trailer for the book’s upcoming TV adaptation aired during the Super Bowl, just a couple of weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated and a nationwide spread of marches for women’s rights turned into the largest protest in American history.

Atwood did not seem upset by the sudden renewal of interest in the single most enduring work of her back catalogue, despite the fact that she’s still churning out book after book today. “How could I be?” she said on a recent morning in Washington, D.C., in the historic Hay-Adams hotel not even a block away from the White House. “But on the other hand, the circumstances that have given rise to it having this sudden uptick are quite frightening. If I had a choice of two things—book not popular, circumstances not arise, or book popular, due to certain circumstances—I would of course pick the first one. But those were not my choices.”

Right alongside her book on the current bestseller lists is another prescient dystopian vision, George Orwell’s 1984—which happened to be the year that Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale on legal pads and a beat-up typewriter in West Berlin, punctuated by echoing reminders of the East German Air Force. It was not her first experience with political unrest. Born in 1939, which, as Atwood is wont to remind, “takes me all the way through World War II,” she seems to consider her “deep background in dystopias,” accumulated both in history books at Harvard and on the ground in places like Afghanistan, tantamount to her destiny.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Is Just Like Trump’s America? Not So Fast

Jessa Crispin writes for The Guardian:

Image result for The Handmaid's Tale[…] If the television show based on the Margaret Atwood dystopia feels like propaganda, with its depiction of women raped, mutilated, and forced into shapeless cloaks and bonnets in the new American theocracy named Gilead, then it shouldn’t be a surprise viewers are responding to it as such.

There are dozens of thinkpieces claiming this show is all too real and relevant; Atwood herself called it “a documentary” of Trump’s America. Sarah Jones at The New Republic went so far as to compare Gilead to contemporary Texas and Indiana. Women are in peril. We must do something.

If this propaganda is not being used to sell us a war, we should be interested in what it is selling us instead. That so many women are willing to compare their own political situation living under a democratically elected president with no overwhelming religious ideology (or any other kind, for that matter, except for maybe the ideology of greed and chaos), with the characters’ position as sexual slaves and baby incubators for the ruling class, shows that it is always satisfying to position yourself as the oppressed bravely struggling against oppression.

The text and the thinkpieces make it clear who our enemies are: conservatives and Christians. (It shouldn’t be a surprise The New Republic piece was headlined “The Handmaid’s Tale is a Warning to Conservative Women.”)

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David Ignatius’ 15 Years of Running Spin for the Saudi Regime

Adam Johnson writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR):

WaPo: A young prince is reimagining Saudi Arabia. Can he make his vision come true?Last week, in “A Young Prince Is Reimagining Saudi Arabia. Can He Make His Vision Come True?,” Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius (4/20/17) wrote what read like a press release for the Saudi regime. What’s more, he’s written the same article several times before. For almost 15 years, Ignatius has been breathlessly updating US readers on the token, meaningless public relations gestures that the Saudi regime—and, by extension, Ignatius—refer to as “reforms.”

Ignatius columns on Saudi Arabia break down roughly into two groups: straight reporting mixed with spin and concern trolling, and outright press releases documenting the dictatorship’s spectacular reforms.

[…] Let’s begin by taking a look at his most recent iteration of this genre (4/20/17), featuring a brave Saudi prince taking on “religious conservatives” (vague reactionaries who are never named or defined) to change his own monarchy:

Two years into his campaign as change agent in this conservative oil kingdom, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be gaining the confidence and political clout to push his agenda of economic and social reform.

Ignatius begins by doing something a lot of “reformer” boosters do in Saudi Arabia: conflating “economic reform” with social reform. The latter is typically the neoliberal lubricant to get to what really matters, the further privatization and leveraging of Saudi’s immense wealth. Indeed, the only social reforms even mentioned in the glowing report are “a Japanese orchestra that included women” performing to “mixed audience,” and a co-ed Comic Con. Perhaps by 2025 they’ll have mixed-gender D&D tournaments.

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Alex Jones’ Ex-Wife Wins Ugly Custody Battle

Alberto Luperon reports for Law Newz:

A bitter trial ended in victory on Thursday for Kelly Jones, ex-wife to Infowars founder Alex Jones. Now she has joint custody of their three children, and the right to have their primary residence with her instead of their dad, The Austin American-Statesman reports. That means the kids will live with their mother for the time being, and then they’ll transition back into having more visitation with their father.

Mr. Jones had had primary custody of the children since the 2015 divorce. Meanwhile, this limited Ms. Jones to supervised visits.

The nine-day trial was a bit of a side-show. Most family issues like this evade media attention, but this one was different. His attorney said in a pre-trial hearing that he’s “playing a character” on his radio show, and is “a performance artist.” That’s quite the thing to say about the boisterous, over-the top Mr. Jones, who says the United States government implemented the 9/11 attacks. However, Mr. Jones maintained that he is completely sincere in what he says, but that he likes to leave his work at work, away from his children.

But Ms. Jones’s attorney Robert Hoffman said the Infowars host is like a “cult leader” who turned their kids against her, according to the Statesman. He claimed Mr. Jones was “emotionally, sexually, physically abusive” during their marriage, and used wealth to “escape detection.”

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New Laura Poitras Documentary Reveals WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Misogyny, Distaste for Clinton and Trump

Alex Thompson reports for VICE News:

Image result for New Laura Poitras Documentary Reveals WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Misogyny, Distaste for Clinton and TrumpJulian Assange had given filmmaker Laura Poitras unprecedented access for over five years, and she had hundreds of hours of footage in her possession. But last summer, the WikiLeaks co-founder started to have second thoughts. “Presently, the film is a severe threat to my freedom and I’m forced to treat it accordingly,” he texted her.

Now we know why.

Poitras’ new documentary, “Risk” — following up on her Oscar-winning “CitizenFour,” on Edward Snowden — provides perhaps the most unvarnished, intimate look into the persistence, smarts, self-righteousness, and misogyny of the man who, despite being holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly five years, has earned the ire of the most powerful governments on Earth.

It’s actually the second version of the film, the first having screened at Cannes in May of 2016. Reviews of the original described it as a sympathetic portrayal of Assange and WikiLeaks work in general, but then came the reports of sexual misconduct by an Assange confidante and a rock star in the hacker space, Jacob Applebaum, whom Poitras had been romantically involved with after the shooting of the film. Poitras then felt obligated to further probe the culture of misogyny that’s infiltrated the hacker community and that Assange has perpetuated.

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Syrian Girl: The Kardashian Look-Alike Trolling for Assad

Noah Shachtman and Michael Kennedy wrote for The Daily Beast in October 2014:

Image result for The Kardashian Look-Alike Trolling for AssadShe thinks that Ebola could be an American military bioweapon. She thinks that the Defense Department’s advanced research arm is covertly intervening in the GamerGate debate about feminism and video games. She’s fond of extremist groups like Hezbollah. She believes the Illuminati are leaving secret clues in, among other places, the viral Kony 2012 video. Oh, and she also says she’s in contact with the Syrian Electronic Army, the hacker group tied to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Meet the Damascus regime’s biggest fangirl on social media—at least in English language social media. Her name is Maram Susli. Or Mimi al-Laham. Or Partisangirl. Or Syrian Girl. Or it would appear, or Syrian Sister. She goes by many handles.

As “Partisangirl,” Susli has emerged from the fever swamps of online conspiracy forums and onto social media to become a darling of truthers and state propaganda channels alike. Whenever there’s unpleasant news about the Syrian military or government, Susli (that’s her surname) seems to be there to interpret the false flag semaphore for her rapt audience. The chemical-weapons attack that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburbs? The rebels’ fault. The massacre of more than 100 men, women, and children in Houla? Oh, that was British intelligence. The U.S. bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria? Just an elaborate show, since American is taking it easy on ISIS. And the ghastly videos featuring the murder of Western aid workers? Many of them are fakes.

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