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Culture war games: paying the piper

As mob lynchings fueled by WhatsApp messages sweep India, authorities struggle to combat fake news
By Annie Gowen

More than a dozen people have been killed across India since May in violence fueled primarily by fake social media messages, as officials struggle to rein in this growing technology-driven menace.

The perpetrators are largely villagers, some of whom may be using smartphones for the first time. Inflamed by fake warnings of child-trafficking rings or organ harvesters sent via the WhatsApp messaging service, they have resorted to vigilante justice — attacking and beating to death people who often were innocent.

To control the subsequent violence, state authorities hired “rumor busters,” including Sukanta Chakraborty, 33, a musician who was paid about $8 a day to travel from village to village in a van equipped with a loudspeaker, warning of the dangers of fake news. He and two others were beset by a mob wielding bricks and bamboo sticks in a crowded market Thursday.

“They killed him. He was pleading to the mob that he was only doing his duty,” Tanushri Barua, Chakraborty’s wife, said in a telephone interview. “No one listened to him.”

Nine takeaways from Knight-supported research on restoring trust in news
By Nancy Watzman

Institutional trust is down across the board in American society (with a few notable exceptions, such as the military). But trust in the media is particularly troubling, plummeting from 72 percent in 1976 to 32 percent in 2017. There are many reasons for this decline in trust, writes Yuval Levin, but one of the problems is that the rise of social media has pushed journalists to focus on developing personal brands:

“This makes it difficult to distinguish the work of individuals from the work of institutions, and increasingly turns journalistic institutions into platforms for the personal brands of individual reporters. When the journalists’ work appears indistinguishable from grabbing a megaphone — they become harder to trust. They aren’t really asking for trust.”

Americans and the News Media: What they do — and don’t — understand about each other
By The Media Insight Project

The predominant view among the public that news veers too far into commentary and opinion suggests that journalists should reassess their attempts to interpret the facts they are presenting. While majorities do prefer news that is mostly facts with some background and analysis, many think most news actually seems like opinion.

In addition, the study shows that the public is open to trusting the media more — and to achieve this the media can increase transparency, clarity, and explanation of sources. Those efforts also could be essential in addressing fake news and misinformation, which both the public and journalists consider a major problem.

The low opinion journalists have of their audience may be a major underlying factor that gets in the way of winning back trust. As journalists and their news organizations pursue strategies to improve their relationship with the public, it’s worth noting that the public’s views and behaviors may not be as simplistic or dim as journalists make them out to be.

Why America Distrusts ‘the Media’ and What to Do About It
By Nick Gillespie

Audiences are increasingly drawn to highly personalized and idiosyncratic approaches that emphasize drama, personality, and viewpoint. Podcasts represent the democratization of radio, and the most popular podcasts tend to be ones that push an agenda and have outsized personalities as hosts. Narrative journalism, blogging, and other popular forms don’t hide behind the royal we or pretend to be omniscient. But if objectivity is elusive, impossible, and unattractive, that doesn’t mean that basic codes of fairness and engagement shouldn’t be front and center in contemporary journalism. Not misrepresenting opponents’ viewpoints is a good a place to start, as is foregrounding biases and predispositions rather than hiding them. Admitting errors and correcting them in real time is a prerequisite, and so is engaging the audience, which long ago stopped being passive (if it ever was).

This Is How a Newspaper Dies
By Jack Shafer

Alden’s newspapers recorded nearly $160 million in profits during fiscal year 2017, analyst Ken Doctor reported in a comprehensive piece recently at NeimanLab. The chain’s 17 percent operating margin makes it one of the industry’s best performers. Over the course of seven years, Alden doubled profits in its Bay Area News Group newspapers, another home to cutbacks. At the Pioneer Press, where its staff is down to 60, the paper produced a $10 million profit at a 13 percent margin.

Smith may be a rapacious fellow, but his primary crime is recognizing that print is approaching its expiration date and is acting on the fact that more value can be extracted by sucking the marrow than by investing deeper or selling.

The Hard Truth at Newspapers Across America: Hedge Funds Are in Charge
By Gerry Smith

… journalists protesting Alden Global’s stewardship of newspapers had plenty of stories to illustrate how cost cuts are gutting their newsrooms. Outside Alden’s offices this month, they shouted into megaphones and held signs reading “Stop Bleeding Our Newsrooms Dry.”

One of the protesters, Patricia Doxsey, is a 60-year-old reporter at the Daily Freeman in Kingston, New York. Doxsey said she had to wear fingerless gloves and a warm hat when the newsroom had no heat on a recent winter day. In the early 2000s, the newspaper had about 200 employees, she said — now it has about two dozen. And the outsourcing of the paper’s printing press to Albany means late-breaking stories aren’t published in print for two days.

“We just want Alden Global Capital to get the hell out of the news business,” Doxsey said. “It has no business owning newspapers. We’re not widgets. If they close us down, the news goes away.’’

Warren Buffett Says All But 3 American Newspapers Are Doomed (Video)
By Jon Levine

“No one except the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and now probably the Washington Post has come up with a digital product that really in any significant way will replace the revenue that is being lost as print newspapers lose both circulation and advertising,” said Buffett as he fielded questions alongside longtime colleague Charlie Munger. “‘It is very difficult to see — with a lack of success in terms of important dollars rising from digital — it’s difficult to see how the print product survives over time.”

The legendary investor was quick to minimalize the financial impacts to his company, but said the bigger loss was for the United States.

“The economic significance to Berkshire is almost negligible, but the significance to the society I think actually is enormous,” said Buffett.

When local papers close, costs rise for local governments
By Dermot Murphy

We found that the introduction of Craigslist to a local area significantly increases the likelihood of a newspaper closure, which then has a strong subsequent effect on local government borrowing costs. We also examined government borrowing costs in a county that experienced a newspaper closure and a neighboring county with similar demographic and economic characteristics that still had its own newspaper operation. In this case, we found that borrowing costs only increase in the county that experienced the closure, but not for the neighboring county that did not experience a closure. Both approaches establish that there is a causal connection between newspaper closures and government borrowing costs.

We also found that, following a newspaper closure, local government inefficiencies become more pronounced. County government employee wages (as a percentage of all wages in that county) increase, as does the number of government employees as a percentage of all county employees. (That is, more tax dollars flow to government positions after a newspaper ceases to monitor governmental activities.) Costly financial transactions by local governments, including negotiated municipal bond sales and advance refundings of callable municipal bonds, also appear more likely.

We do not necessarily expect local newspapers to return to those counties where they have shuttered. Alternative news media such as online news outlets are fundamentally changing the way that people consume news, and they are likely to remain the dominant source for news consumption. However, these online outlets do not necessarily provide a good substitute for high-quality, locally-sourced investigative journalism.

The Pulitzer-winning paper has local owners. They bought it from a chain.
By Kristen Hare

As the announcement of the 2018 Pulitzer Prizes continued on a muted TV in the background, the staff of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat prepared for a toast.

Their Pulitzer for breaking news recognized the entire staff, said CEO Steve Falk, a plastic cup of champagne in his hand.

“Every single one of you deserves the credit for what you did, not only for our community but for your own profession,” he said. “So, just on behalf of all of the local owners that are just going to be ecstatic, and I’m gonna tell them, ‘I told you so …’”

“And I’m going to tell them we need more reporters,” executive editor Catherine Barnett said, drawing applause and cheers from her staff.

“I’m going to tell them, ‘I knew you did this for a good reason,’” Falk continued. “And this is the reason.”

Nearly six years ago, a group of local business people bought the Sonoma County newspaper from Halifax Media.

Local ownership doesn’t ensure survival and it doesn’t ensure Pulitzers. But, when local owners combine a commitment to local journalism with sharp business skills, it can mean that when major news breaks, local newspapers actually have the staff to cover it.

New Jersey poised to invest $5 million into local journalism
By Brian Stelter

Free Press is a liberal public interest group. It has been campaigning for a bill like this for more than two years.

The campaign was predicated on the belief that many communities are being under-covered, partly because many local newsrooms are struggling to stay afloat.

There is ample evidence to back this up. Staffing and resources at print newspapers have been shrinking for years and digital start-ups have only partially filled the void.

In New Jersey, this is compounded by the fact that the state is located between two big cities, New York and Philadelphia, that are in other states. The practical effect: Less coverage of hyperlocal issues.

So advocates and state lawmakers argued that public funds should support “civic information” — news coverage, yes, but also things like databases and media literacy initiatives.

Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Understand Journalism
By Adrienne LaFrance

At one point, Zuckerberg hinted at the need for government subsidy of American journalism—alluding to the public-television licensing model that supports the BBC. Couldn’t Facebook pay publishers directly by licensing their stories or programming? “Yeah,” Zuckerberg said, “I’m not sure that makes sense.”

“I think news is incredibly important to society and democracy,” he added. “It’s just that it’s a pretty small minority” of what people are reading on Facebook.

And besides, unlike the journalists in the room, he’s not worried about the ad-based revenue model falling apart on Facebook. “In our case,” he said, very slowly, surely aware of the perspective of the assembled group, “I think it’s okay.”

Investigative journalism is “sacred,” he said. “We have a responsibility to do a lot more,” he said. But also: “We don’t write the news.”

“So Facebook is a media company?” I asked him, as the conversation wound down. He chuckled. “That’s a real question,” I insisted. He laughed again.

The Great Facebook Crash
By Will Oremus

The diminished flow of readers from Facebook to news sites is not an accident. Some of it may be due to readers’ fatigue and the gradual normalization of Trump’s presidency. But Facebook has also pulled back from the news business intentionally. In June 2016, it announced a shift in philosophy, prioritizing posts from individual friends and family over those from groups, brand pages, and (to a lesser extent) news outlets. The effects appeared relatively subtle at first, but Facebook acknowledges they likely compounded over time. Then, in January 2018—a time when it was under heavy fire for its role in elections and politics around the world—Facebook announced another major change to how its news feed algorithm chooses what you see when you load up the platform, this time de-emphasizing news publishers in particular and skewing the feed further toward posts from individuals.

At the same time, Facebook said that it would focus on boosting higher-quality news publishers in its rankings, using surveys to identify “trusted” sources and prioritize their content ahead of clickbait, propaganda, and fake news. (Facebook also said it would prioritize “local” and “informative” news sources, in different ways.) Facebook hoped these changes would help to stem the abuse, manipulation, and general cacophony that had polluted the platform during and after the 2016 elections.

We read every one of the 3,517 Facebook ads bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord
By Nick Penzenstadler, Brad Heath, Jessica Guynn

USC professor Nick Cull, author of The Cold War and the United States Information Agency, says the ad campaign is reminiscent of tactics employed during the Soviet era. His book explored how the KGB tried to disrupt the LA Olympics by faking propaganda from the KKK threatening black athletes.

“Soviet news media always played up U.S. racism, exaggerating the levels of hatred even beyond the horrific levels of the reality in the 1950s,” Cull wrote in an email. “It was one reason Eisenhower decided to move on civil rights.”

Adam Schiff, the Minority Leader of the House Intelligence Committee, said he made the ads available to the public so that academics could study both the intention and breadth of the targeting.

“These ads broadly sought to pit one American against another by exploiting faults in our society or race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other deeply cynical thoughts,” Schiff said in an interview with USA TODAY Network. “Americans should take away that the Russians perceive these divisions as vulnerabilities and to a degree can be exploited by a sophisticated campaign.”

At Site of U.K. Poisoning, Doubts About Case Creep In
By Ellen Barry

Russia’s campaign in the Skripal case aims to further undermine trust in the authorities, said Ben Nimmo, a fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Just as it did after the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin targeted aggrieved social groups — not difficult to find in the years since the 2008 financial crisis — and capitalized on the disciplined silence of the Western investigators, filling the vacuum with alternative theories.

Though the vast majority of people in Salisbury say they are satisfied with Britain’s explanation of the poisoning, the City Council leader said, “huge numbers of people” say there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“It doesn’t have to follow the dictates of the news cycle; it follows the dictates of the Kremlin,” Mr. Nimmo said. “If nobody else is talking about it and the Kremlin is, there will be this drip-feed effect; it will gradually erode public confidence in whatever the target is. In that situation, it can actually percolate.”

“The Russians Play Hard”: Inside Russia’s Attempt to Hack 2018—And 2020
By Nick Bilton

In the coming months, these experts told me, Russian operatives will likely start creating fake Facebook groups (if they haven’t already)—some that slam to the left, others that lean as far right as humanly possible—that will argue with one another, and help us do the same; there will be accounts on social media that use Cambridge Analytica-style targeting to serve up ads, and a barrage of cleverly designed and perfectly disguised bots on Twitter. All stuff we’ve seen already, but with much more advanced algorithms and snakier and more aggressive tactics. (This time, for example, fake video and audio will start circulating through the social stratosphere, all with the intended purpose of trying to make real news seem fake, and fake news seem real.) As we’ve seen with the various e-mails posted on WikiLeaks—ranging from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the D.C.C.C. to the countless hacking attempts around the world that preceded the French national election—any modern candidate should expect that their e-mails, text messages, and personal social-media data are hacked and published. At least any candidate that Russia wants to harm.

Clinton Blames Bernie, Delusional “Bernie Bros” for Losing 2016
By Bess Levin

“Because we agreed on so much, Bernie couldn’t make an argument against me . . . on policy, so he had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character,” Clinton writes in one passage. “Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist. When I finally challenged Bernie during a debate to name a single time I changed a position or a vote because of a financial contribution, he couldn’t come up with anything.”

Susan Sarandon: ‘I thought Hillary was very dangerous. If she’d won, we’d be at war’
By Emma Brockes

It is often overlooked that in 2001, Sarandon supported Hillary Clinton’s run for the Senate. There are photos of them posing chummily together, grinning. Then Clinton voted for the war in Iraq and it all went downhill. During the last election, Sarandon supported Bernie Sanders, then wouldn’t support Clinton after she won the nomination, and now all the moderates hate her, to the extent, she says, that she had to change her phone number because people she identifies as Hillary trolls sent her threatening messages. “I got from Hillary people ‘I hope your crotch is grabbed’, ‘I hope you’re raped’. Misogynistic attacks. Recently, I said ‘I stand with Dreamers’ [children brought illegally to the US, whose path to legal citizenship – an Obama-era provision – Trump has threatened to revoke] and that started another wave.”

Wait, from the right?

“No, from the left! ‘How dare you! You who are responsible for this!’”

Is it upsetting to be attacked?

“It’s upsetting to me more from the point of view of thinking they haven’t learned. I don’t need to be vindicated.”

But it’s upsetting that they’re still feeding the same misinformation to people. When Obama got the nomination, 25% of [Hillary’s] people didn’t vote for him. Only 12% of Bernie’s people didn’t vote for her.”

Hillary Clinton’s Finger-Pointing Show Will Cost the Democrats
By Michelle Cottle

Considering Clinton’s own complicated relationship with the media (actually, it’s not that complicated—she hates us), it was heartwarming to hear her passionately defending the Fourth Estate. Admittedly, she couldn’t resist taking some shots at coverage of the 2016 presidential race. She brought up “the Russian disinformation campaign” and how it “has been abetted to some degree by the way politics has been covered.” She pointed to studies “showing how the mainstream political coverage was influenced by the right-wing-media ecosystem and other factors to depart from normal journalistic standards,” and she name-checked the Harvard professor Thomas Patterson for calling “the false equivalency in the coverage ‘corrosive’” and saying “the relentlessly negative news has had a ‘leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans.’” Even so, she couched her criticism in praise for some media outlets that have recognized their mistakes and taken the “brave step” of “publicly examining” their screwups and working henceforth to “avoid the errors that helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.”

They Always Wanted Trump
By Gabriel Debenedetti

… Clinton associates’ wariness of Bush and his likely financial firepower was still acute: Democratic pollster Celinda Lake wrote to Clinton adviser Minyon Moore to warn her that she’d been testing Bush’s economic message for a client. “It has been remarkably strong. Getting even half of african americans and democrats and two thirds of latinos. Some thought it ended too harsh. But the perspective on the economy has really worked. Now we didn’t tell people this was from bush. But it’s a warning.”

So to take Bush down, Clinton’s team drew up a plan to pump Trump up. Shortly after her kickoff, top aides organized a strategy call, whose agenda included a memo to the Democratic National Committee: “This memo is intended to outline the strategy and goals a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign would have regarding the 2016 Republican presidential field,” it read.

“The variety of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right. In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more ‘Pied Piper’ candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party,” read the memo.

“Pied Piper candidates include, but aren’t limited to:
• Ted Cruz
• Donald Trump
• Ben Carson
We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

12 Russians indicted for meddling in 2016 US election
By Eric Tucker

Twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic Party and released tens of thousands of private communications in a sweeping conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, according to an indictment announced days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The indictment represents special counsel Robert Mueller’s first charges against Russian government officials for interfering in American politics, an effort U.S. intelligence agencies say was aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The case follows after a separate indictment that accused Russians of using social media to sow discord among American voters.

The 29-page indictment lays out how, months before Americans went to the polls, Russians schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Stolen emails, many politically damaging for Clinton, appeared on WikiLeaks in the campaign’s final stretch.

The charges say the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person in touch with the Trump campaign to offer help. And they say that on the same day Trump said in a speech, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by Clinton’s personal office.

Putin Won. But Russia Is Losing
By Ian Bremmer

Putin’s worst decision was the green light he gave his intelligence services to play with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It wasn’t a surprising move; manipulation and sabotage are art forms in which any former KGB lieutenant colonel will take pride. Putin wanted to bring the U.S. down a peg, and he hated Hillary Clinton. No evidence has yet emerged that Putin made Trump President, but the U.S. intelligence community and lawmakers of both parties are now focused on threats posed by Russia. Yet in spite of Trump’s fascinating refusal to criticize Putin, Russia’s President has gained nothing of value from the U.S. President. Only Putin’s failure to understand the checks and balances at the heart of the U.S. political system explains his apparent belief that Trump could override all objections to his would-be Russia reset. Sanctions aren’t going away. Now that Russia’s secret services stand accused of brazenly poisoning Sergei Skripal, a former double agent exiled in the U.K., more may be coming.

Putin’s adventurism has so far helped divert the attention of the Russian public away from endemic corruption and economic stagnation at home.

It’s time to go after Vladimir Putin’s money in the West
By Anders Aslund

Overall assessments indicate a personal enrichment of Putin and his closest cronies of some $20 billion to $25 billion a year since 2006. Nemtsov and Milov documented pilfering from Gazprom of $60 billion from 2004 to 2007, and this was probably just over half of their enrichment, which has only increased. By now, this group would have accumulated $240 billion to $300 billion. Businessman Bill Browder estimates that Putin is the richest man in the world, with a personal wealth of $200 billion. Total private Russian holdings abroad are assessed in the range of $800 billion to $1.3 trillion, according to Global Financial Integrity and a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

Putin and his friends have not accumulated their vast fortunes to consume them, but rather, to maintain power in Russia. The irony is that having undermined property rights in Russia, they — like other Russians — can only safeguard their savings abroad in countries that enjoy the rule of law, allow anonymous ownership and have sufficient financial depth for their vast fortunes.

Most Dictators Self Destruct. Why?
By Leonid Bershidsky

… even Putin, after 17 years in power, is in danger of making a miscalculation one day, perhaps finally misreading the mood of the increasingly cynical Russian public that keeps registering support for him in largely worthless polls. It’s easy to imagine the choleric Erdogan getting into an armed conflict Turkey cannot sustain or using disproportional violence as Turks’ patience with his reprisals wear thin. It’s a possibility, although a remote one, that, after Xi’s power consolidation, the Chinese Communist Party will opt for a more liberal successor and he won’t be able to hold the reins as tightly.

Treisman notes that in 85 percent of the episodes he studied, democratization was preceded by mass unrest. Sooner or later, people tend to get tired of regimes in which they have little say. Then, it only takes a misstep from the one person at the center of such a regime. Dictators often overestimate the external danger to their power, the plots of foreign or exiled enemies. In the final analysis, they are the biggest threat to themselves.

George Lakoff says this is how Trump uses words to con the public
By Julia Waldow

STELTER: What does it mean that [Trump] weaponizes words?

LAKOFF: Remember, he’s a salesman. He’s been selling for 50 years. Right now what he’s selling is himself, his worldview, and his policies. So how does he sell it? One technique is by creating compound words like “crooked Hillary” or “fake news.” It says really that Hillary is inherently crooked, that the news is inherently fake. And that is something that serves his purposes. It allows him to essentially control the news.

STELTER: “Control the news.” I want to get into that piece of it as well, because your column made me think about what I might be doing wrong, what others might be doing wrong, in terms of coverage of President Trump.

LAKOFF: He knows how to use language very effectively. And not only that, he has strategic tweets. His tweets fall into four categories. One, they can preemptively frame something, frame something before it’s framed out there in the public. Secondly, it can divert attention away from something that’s threatening to him. It can shift the blame, either to some other person or to the news media itself. And it can be a trial balloon, something really outrageous to see what the reaction is, and if there’s no real reaction, he can do what he wants.

And he also knows how to use psychology. For example, there is a phenomenon in which some well-publicized event that is out there, like some particular terrorist attack or something like that, becomes a weaponized way of just categorizing all people. He knows how to do this. This is part of his sales technique.

And that allows him to control the media, provided that the media repeats what he says. One of the things that journalists are trained to do is to repeat and quote what public figures say. But when the public figures are distorting, lying, and trying to reframe things in an utterly false way, what the journalists are doing is helping them. They’re helping to get ’em out there. And not only that — if they deny it, if they go out and quote his words and then say, “This isn’t true,” what they’ve done is quoting his words. It’s like when Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” and everyone thought of him as a crook. The point is that denying a frame activates the frame.

Trump has turned words into weapons. And he’s winning the linguistic war
By George P Lakoff and Gil Duran

“Deal” and “winning” are not just words. They are central to his worldview. Those who win deserve to win; those who lose deserve to lose. Those who don’t win are “losers”. This is a version of individual responsibility, a cornerstone of conservative thought. There is a moral hierarchy. Those who win are better than those who lose.

“America first” means that America is better than other countries, as shown by its wealth and power. And that wealth and power should be used to win – to acquire more wealth and power in all its “deals” – even with our allies. Power includes the power to bully or punish – for example, to impose tariffs or pull out of treaty – or at least threaten if others don’t go along with him.

Trump’s tweets are not random, they are strategic. There are four types: 1) Pre-emptive framing, to get a framing advantage. 2) Diversion, to divert attention when news could embarrass him. 3) Deflection: Shift the blame to others. And 4) trial balloon – test how much you can get away with. Reporting, and therefore repeating, Trump’s tweets just gives him more power. There is an alternative. Report the true frames that he is trying to pre-empt. Report the truth that he is trying to divert attention from. Put the blame where it belongs. Bust the trial balloon. Report what the strategies are trying to hide.

The Reputation-Laundering Firm That Ruined Its Own Reputation
By Ed Caesar

In the summer of 2011, Bell Pottinger executives received an inquiry from a potential client, the Azimov Group, which described itself as an international team of investors in the cotton trade who had links to the government of Uzbekistan. The inquiry should have raised concerns. Uzbekistan’s cotton industry was reported to be reliant on government-enforced child labor. The country’s leader, Islam Karimov, was a de-facto dictator, and his security services had been accused of manifold abuses, including the torture of political opponents. In 2002, there were credible reports that two dissidents had been boiled alive.

A Bell Pottinger executive quickly replied to the Azimov Group, saying that some of his colleagues would be “delighted to talk to you about how we might best support your enterprise.” Two representatives of the Azimov Group soon came to Bell Pottinger’s main office, in Holborn. Firm executives told them that they’d take the job only if the Uzbek government pursued a “reform agenda.” Nobody expressed broader concerns about polishing the image of a dictatorship.

The Bell Pottinger executives proposed a monthly fee of about a hundred and thirty thousand dollars. They boasted about their political connections, noting that one executive at the firm, Tim Collins, had worked with George Osborne, who was now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and with David Cameron, who had become the Prime Minister. Collins told the Azimov representatives, “There is not a problem in getting messages through to them.” The executives also discussed what they called the “dark arts” of optimizing Google searches and editing Wikipedia pages in favor of clients. Collins said that Bell Pottinger’s goal would be “to get to the point where, even if they type in ‘Uzbek child labor’ or ‘Uzbek human-rights violation,’ some of the first results that come up are sites talking about what you guys are doing to address and improve that, not just the critical voices saying how terrible this all is.”

The meetings, however, were an ambush. The Azimov Group was a fake entity, and the two “representatives” were undercover reporters from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Both were using hidden cameras. A front-page story soon appeared in the Independent with the headline “CAUGHT ON CAMERA: TOP LOBBYISTS BOASTING HOW THEY INFLUENCE THE PM.”

Combating media myths: Are there antidotes to the junk food of journalism?
By W. Joseph Campbell

Journalists also would do well to cultivate greater recognition of their fallibility. Too often they seem faintly concerned with correcting the record they tarnish. They tend not to much like revisiting major flaws and errors. As Jack Shafer, media critic for the online magazine Slate, has written: “The rotten truth is that media organizations are better at correcting trivial errors of fact—proper spellings of last names, for example—than they are at fixing a botched story.”

Not surprisingly, there was no sustained effort by the news media to set straight the record about the chimerical scourge of “crack babies.” Not surprisingly, there was little sustained effort to explore and explain the distorted and badly flawed reporting from New Orleans in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.

Encouraging a culture of skepticism and tolerance for viewpoint diversity in American newsrooms also would help curb the rise and dissemination of media-driven myths. Newsrooms can seem like bastions of group-think. Michael Kelly, the former editor of National Journal, once observed: “Reporters like to picture themselves as independent thinkers. In truth, with the exception of 13-year-old girls, there is no social subspecies more slavish to fashion, more terrified of originality and more devoted to group-think.”

Group-think and viewpoint diversity are not topics often discussed in American newsrooms. But they’re hardly irrelevant. It is not inconceivable that a robust newsroom culture that embraces encourages skepticism, invites challenges to dominant narratives, and rewards contrarian thinking would have helped thwart publication of embarrassingly mistaken tales such as the Post’s account about Jessica Lynch.

Freelancers are precarious. When should they push back?
By Abby Seiff

At a certain level, only journalists can really be watchdogs for other journalists. An ordinary reader might not pick up on inaccuracies or problems with tone and angle. This may well be why Twitter is full of these sorts of rejoinders. Thousands of journalists picking apart thousands of stories. Some pushing back, others staying silent. Editors hanging in the background, apparently, deciding whether to learn from the criticism or whether to attack.

I replied to the editor with a letter of protest, copying three other senior editors. I’ve burned a bridge, I thought. Might as well burn it well. I argued for a journalist’s right to free expression and said this short-term blacklisting seemed coercive. I defended Chen’s position. I asked what policy I broke.

Our job, in this freelance system, is to stay silent. We protect ourselves with whisper networks of correspondents who quietly tell one another which editors to avoid, what publications to steer clear from. At the end of the day, no one wants to be the one to raise a voice. The stakes are too high; the scales too tipped.

MSNBC Does Not Merely Permit Fabrications Against Democratic Party Critics. It Encourages and Rewards Them.
By Glenn Greenwald

Anyone who criticizes the Democratic Party or its leaders is instantly accused of being a Kremlin agent despite the lack of any evidence. And the organization that leads that smear campaign is the one that calls itself a news outlet (and this is all independent of the fact that another one of its hosts recently lied about having her blog hacked and claimed she reported it to the FBI — a claim everyone in journalism knows is a lie — and not only was never sanctioned for it by was praised for doing that by MSNBC’s star host).

Needless to say, MSNBC is not the only cable outlet that acts as an arm of a political party and encourages its on-air personalities to lie and smear critics of that party. I have spent years documenting lies told by certain Fox News employees and denounced the willingness of some of their hosts to do exactly that while on Fox News itself.

But you can’t be a credible critic of lies — whether told by other cable outlets or politicians — if you not only permit but clearly encourage and reward your own on-air personalities when they do the same. And in the case of MSNBC, they not only do this, but they practice one of the most historically destructive versions of it: fabricated allegations that their critics, including journalists, are treasonous agents of a foreign power.

All the problems at NBC News aren’t just coincidence. They’re symptoms.
By Margaret Sullivan

… a news organization’s reputation builds — or fades — over time. Does NBC really want to be seen as a place where stars are protected too vigorously, and where ratings and profits reign supreme?

Given NBC’s prominence, its foibles hurt not only the network itself, its own journalists, and its viewers.

Such self-sabotage also hurts American journalism overall at a time when there are more than enough external enemies waiting to pounce.

Never Mind Peter Thiel. Gawker Killed Itself
By Simon Dumenco

You know that famous line about how “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”? Gawker had started with that sensibility. Back in 2003, in a Gawker post titled “What Is Gawker” (lost to Gawker-server history but captured at the time by Felix Salmon), Elizabeth Spiers wrote,

Current obsessions include but are not limited to, Tina Brown, urban dating rituals, Condé Nastiness, movie grosses, Hamptons gauche, real estate porn, Harvey Weinstein, fantasy skyscrapers, downwardly mobile i-bankers, Eurotrash, extreme sport social climbing, pomp, circumstance, and other matters of weighty import.

But by 2007, Gawker’s writers had moved far beyond targeting the “haves” and the “undeservedly successful.” If Gawker decided you were a “douchebag” or an “asshat,” for whatever arbitrary reason, it would come after you and fucking destroy you.

There was something downright proto-Trumpian about Gawker as it shifted from afflict-the-comfortable snark to take-no-prisoners drive-bys. In fact, these days, when Donald Trump really loses it and gets personal and goes absolutely nuclear on his targets — particularly when he attacks the family members of his targets — it’s hard for me not to think of the tone and tactics of Gawker at its worst. In Vanessa’s story, for instance, she recounted how on Sept. 27, 2007, Gawker published a post titled “Elijah Pollack Is Going To Be A Horror” — a hit job on a preschooler intended, apparently, to punish his father for being a writer Gawker hates.

When Southern Newspapers Justified Lynching
By Brent Staples

Newspapers even bragged about the roles they had played in arranging particularly spectacular lynchings. But the real damage was done in terse, workaday stories that justified lynching by casting its victims as “fiends,” “brutes,” “born criminals” or, that catchall favorite, “troublesome Negroes.” The narrative that tied blackness inextricably to criminality — and to the death penalty — survived the lynching era and lives on to this day.

The Montgomery Advertiser was historically opposed to lynching. Nevertheless, when its current staff scrutinized the paper’s lynching-era coverage, they concluded that it had conveniently opposed lynching in the abstract while responding with indifference to its bloody, real-world consequences. The editors found that the paper too often presumed without proof that lynching victims were guilty and that, in doing so, it advanced the aims of white supremacist rule.

SPLC: From Klan Hunters to Multimillion-Dollar Smear Machine
By Liel Leibovitz

When a venerated organization whose mission statement still speaks of “seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society” spends so many of its considerable resources besmirching utterly legitimate activists and advocates—many of whom, like Nawaaz, working to reform oppressive and violent structures—we would do well to stop and recognize the pernicious patterns at play here. The SPLC applies the powerful language of civil rights to mark those with whom it disagrees as bigots or racists or white supremacists, inviting likeminded journalists to use the organization’s sterling reputation as an unimpeachably credentialed reason to push political opponents outside the bounds of acceptable debate. Facing Hoff Sommers’s claim that so many alleged feminists these days spend most of their energy attacking men rather than striving for equality is hard; labeling her an extremist who should therefore not be taken seriously by serious people is much easier. The SPLC has half a billion dollars and seemingly endless appetite for such character assassination campaigns, which should trouble anyone committed to unfettered inquiry, intellectual exchange, and the other old-fashioned values for which journalism, academia, and other high-minded pursuits once stood.

Free Speech and the Capitulation of the SPLC
By Cathy Young

The SPLC’s labeling is not harmless. In 2012, a man attempted a terrorist attack on the Family Research Council’s Washington, DC headquarters and shot a security guard after a leading gay rights organization issued a press release referring to the FRC as a “hate group,” based on the SPLC’s designation. One can easily see why Nawaz, whose work involves countering radical Islamism in the Muslim community, would feel that the SPLC “put a target on [his] head” by branding him an anti-Muslim extremist.

Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?
By Ben Schreckinger

The organization has been criticized for spending more of its money on fundraising and overhead and less on litigation than comparable groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. And it has taken flak for amassing a huge endowment—more than $200 million—that is disproportionately large for its operating costs. SPLC President Richard Cohen defends the endowment as necessary to ensure the group can survive legal battles that might last for years. (As for Dees himself, he made $337,000 in 2015, according to the watchdog group Charity Navigator; Cohen made $333,000 the same year.) In 1994, the local paper, the Montgomery Advertiser, ran a series investigating the group’s marketing, finances and personnel practices that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. (Dees responded—according to a transcript from a 1999 Nieman Foundation discussion on journalism about nonprofits—by mobilizing prominent liberal politicians for whom he had raised money to lobby the Pulitzer Board not to award the prize to the Advertiser.)

Panel Discussion: Nonprofit Organizations
By Nieman Watchdog Project

Jim Tharpe, Deputy Metro Editor, The Atlanta Constitution.

First Threats, Eventually No Response to Questions

At that point, they hired an independent attorney. They’re all lawyers, you’ve got to understand. They hired an attorney who began first by threatening me, then my editor, and then the publisher. “And you better be careful of the questions you ask and the stories you come up with,” and they would cite the libel law to us. So we were under threat of lawsuit for two years, basically, during the research phase of the series.

They initially would answer our questions in person, as long as they could tape-record it. After we asked about finances, they wanted the questions written down and sent to them in advance, and then finally they said, “We’re tired of you guys, we’re not answering anything else,” and they completely cut us off.

We published the series over eight days in 1994, and it had very little effect, actually. I think the center now raises more money than it ever has. [Laughter]

The story really didn’t get out of Montgomery and that’s a real problem. The center’s donors are not in Montgomery; the center’s donors are in the Northeast and on the West Coast. So the story pretty much was contained in Montgomery where it got a shrug-of-the-shoulders reaction. We really didn’t get much reaction at all, I’m sad to say.

One of our editorial writers had an interesting comment on it. I think he stole it from somebody else, but his comment was this: “They came to do good and they’ve done quite well for themselves, and they’ve done even better since the series was published.” I’m not sure what the lesson in that is, but don’t assume because a nonprofit has a sterling reputation it’s not worth looking into, and don’t assume when you start looking into it that it’s going to be easy to get the information, because it’s not.

How Trump’s Election Shook Obama: ‘What if We Were Wrong?’
By Peter Baker

Mr. Rhodes writes that neither he nor Mr. Obama knew at that time that there was an F.B.I. investigation into contacts between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia, despite Mr. Trump’s recent unsubstantiated claims that the departing president placed a “spy” or multiple spies in his campaign.

Mr. Rhodes writes he did not learn about the F.B.I. investigation until after leaving office, and then from the news media. Mr. Obama did not impose sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the meddling before the election because he believed it might prompt Moscow into hacking into Election Day vote tabulations. Mr. Obama did impose sanctions after the election but Mr. Rhodes’s suggestion that the targets include President Vladimir V. Putin was rebuffed on the theory that such a move would go too far.

Mr. Obama and his team were confident that Mrs. Clinton would win and, like much of the country, were shocked when she did not. “I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming,” Mr. Rhodes writes. “Because when you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we’d run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She’s part of a corrupt establishment that can’t be trusted to bring change.”

Race, Gender and Trump: Everything You Think You Know is Wrong
By Musa al-Gharbi

In fact, Hillary didn’t just get one of the lowest female vote shares of any Democrat over the last six elections among those who did turn out, fewer women headed to the polls this cycle overall. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, female participation dropped by 0.4 percentage points in 2016 as compared to 2012 — and 2.5 percentage points compared to 2008.

Clinton ultimately lost largely because of her poor performance with women. Had Hillary won the same shares as Obama, Gore, or even her husband with this constituency, or if she had equivalent (or especially increased) rates of female turnout, she almost certainly would be president today.

Why didn’t she? Again, women didn’t defect to Trump en masse, they didn’t seem have a problem voting for a woman (given that the lost votes gravitated mostly towards Stein). The problem seemed to be Hillary Clinton in particular: her message, her platform, her character. And of course, the same factors that drove so many women away from Clinton likely also depressed her performance with men. Indeed, had Clinton won, she would have been (like Trump is) the least-popular victorious candidate in modern U.S. history.

The “whitelash” theory also suggests a surge white voting. Instead, participation among non-Hispanic whites was stagnant relative to 2012, and down from 2008. In fact, whites made up a smaller share of the electorate in 2016, while Hispanics and Asians made up a larger percentage of overall voters.

More damning: Trump actually won a smaller share of the white vote than Mitt Romney. He was nonetheless able to win because he won more Hispanics and Asians than his predecessors, and more black votes than any Republican since 2004.

Are rightwing black people traitors to the cause? Of course they’re not
By Kenan Malik

Many on the left have long seen rightwing black or gay people or women as traitors to the cause. There is something disturbing in this claim that there is a right way of thinking for oppressed peoples and that those who dissent are committing betrayal.

It is a way of thinking about race, community and heresy that has deep, reactionary roots. “Traitors” is how Islamists describe liberal Muslims. It is how the apartheid government in South Africa explained white anti-apartheid activists. And it is the label that the far right has long hung upon white anti-racists. Thomas Mair, who murdered Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, saw her as a “collaborator”. “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” he declared at his trial.

Where racists patrol the streets and the workplace to ensure black people know their place, a new class of “anti-racists” seek to police public debates to ensure that only the right people speak and only the right things get said.

Segregation of public debate in the name of “anti-racism” – and that is what the demand to “stay in your lane” amounts to – is no more progressive than the racist segregation of social space.

The social media mob is a danger to society
By Daniella Greenbaum

Given that in these thin-skinned days just about any subject can be called “culturally sensitive,” and given that a committee would basically ensure that my column became a safe space, I had no alternative but to resign. And so I’ve had the disorienting experience of becoming one small data point in what is a disturbingly large set.

Columnists on the right and the left have known for years about the ferocious blowback that awaits the expression of unpopular ideas. But now the definition of “unpopular” has expanded so widely that reasonable views that might have seemed mainstream just a few years ago can be deemed unacceptable by self-appointed censors. Even publications that pride themselves on holding open-minded values are watching their backs.

We are slowly normalizing the policing of speech and opinion. Sometimes overtly, and sometimes through the intimidation that stops people from saying or writing or publishing what they believe because they know that the social media mob is lying in wait.

When the Twitter Mob Came for Me
By Kevin D. Williamson

Having my views misrepresented is familiar territory for me. In 2014, I got a call from a friend who was disturbed by my public support for Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, who had gotten himself into trouble for some racist remarks. I had, at that time, never heard of Mr. Sterling, but there was a quote from me right there on Twitter: “‘Looks like the antiracist gestapo are already lacing up their jackboots for Donald Sterling,’ National Review’s Kevin Williamson commented.”

I mention that one mainly because I know the source of it: It was invented by Matt Bruenig, a left-wing blogger and lawyer formerly associated with the progressive think tank Demos and a contributor to, among other publications, the Atlantic. That quote was not a distortion; it was not “taken out of context” or anything of the sort. It was a pure fabrication. (Mr. Bruenig says that the quote, produced in its entirety above, was intended as “satire.”)

The Atlantic has often welcomed controversial writers. The magazine’s best-known contributor today is Ta-Nehisi Coates, arguably the nation’s foremost writer on race. He came in for criticism after writing, in his book “Between the World and Me,” that the first responders on 9/11 were “not human” to him, that he had come to regard such uniformed figures as menaces. I don’t share his view, but if that’s what he thought at the time, then I’m glad he wrote it. He could have pretended to have had thoughts and feelings other than the ones he did—but the truth is usually more interesting, and it is always more useful.

The late Christopher Hitchens was another frequent contributor to the Atlantic. He was routinely denounced by people on the left for his harshly critical views of Islam. He complained of the war in Afghanistan that “the death toll is not nearly high enough,” described the Jewish scriptures as “evil and mad” and directed shameful vitriol at Mother Teresa. Hitchens routinely and gleefully gave occasion for offense—and he was one of the invaluable essayists of our time.

“Yes,” Mr. Goldberg said when I reminded him of this precedent. “But Hitchens was in the family. You are not.”

Kevin Williamson Is Not a Victim
By Joshua Holland

In 2016, Kevin Williamson stirred up the conservative Twitter mob by writing in the National Review that white working-class people living in hollowed-out Rust Belt communities have only themselves to blame for their circumstances. “Get off your asses and go find a job,” he wrote. “You’re a four-hour bus ride away from the gas fields of Pennsylvania.” The column raised some decent points—Williamson argued that Trump was depending on voters who scapegoat immigrants for their economic woes. He talked about the costs and benefits of international trade and argued that it represents a net positive for the country as a whole. It could have been a relatively uncontroversial piece, but his sneering attitude—he ultimately concluded that “the truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die”—pissed off many of his conservative co-tribalists. But the thing that really stands out after the Atlantic affair is how that argument contrasts with the whiny, woe-is-me attitude on display in his Wall Street Journal op-ed. For Williamson, taking personal responsibility is a virtue to be demanded of others, not something he’s inclined to grapple with himself.

We must rally around Joy Reid
By Erik Wemple

In a moment of transparency and generosity, Reid on Saturday morning noted, “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of these posts. I hired cybersecurity experts to see if somebody had manipulated my words or my former blog and the reality is they have not been able to prove it,” she said.

Reid cannot give up now. If her original experts haven’t been able to redeem her own fine-tuned instincts, it’s time to hire new ones. Have them rummage through archives, screenshots, passcodes, digital trails from the 2000s. Put them in touch with the FBI, hold conference calls, put out press releases, sue someone.

Why keep this investigation going? Because of the stakes. Somewhere out there is a hacker — or perhaps an entire collective — specializing in retroactive-digital-homophobia-archival-insertion intrusions. This time they victimized Joy Reid. But tomorrow they could go after anyone in the industry. They’ll memorize old blogging archives; they’ll study fonts and writing styles; they’ll turn back the web’s clock a decade, then push it forward, then drop some inflammatory text on some platform.

Randa Jarrar, Moral Grandstanding, and Forbearance
By Conor Friedersdorf

This is a common mistake made by participants in social-media pile-ons: They erroneously assume a person’s character and competence can—and ought to—be accurately judged by the most ill-advised words they post on social media. Rather than spend any time or effort investigating whether or not the offending remarks are actually reflective of typical behavior or indicative of work performance, they write articles in which they fixate on and amplify that worst moment while treating it as all one needs to know about a person.

That is irresponsible. Social media brings out the very worst in many people. Fixating on and amplifying their worst is a choice. Extrapolating from it is often inaccurate.

It’s not too much to expect that adults will have the maturity to recognize as much. Yet growing factions on the right and left routinely engage in this behavior. They fixate on and amplify the most polarizing words in our society, not only when doing so is unavoidable, or serves some constructive function despite its costs, but even when the words in question are uttered by an otherwise obscure person, like a Fresno State creative writing professor, and when the better course is simply ignoring the words. In this case, ignoring the tweets would’ve restricted them to a fleeting moment in the Twitter streams of a tiny number of people. No one would’ve thought about profane Barbara Bush insults ever again.

Instead, critics deliberately made this a national story.

A Liberal Who Remembers
By Oliver Traldi

I remember when endless, pointless war was a bad thing. But these people want a war against -isms just as the Bush administration did. And just as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld wanted to tap your phones in case you made a joke about a bomb, they want to monitor your every interaction to make sure you’re not doing anything problematic. They want to tell you what songs you’re allowed to sing along with in your own car, by yourself. They want to institute an elaborate “sex bureaucracy” to manage and control the clumsy hookups of college students. I remember that being a liberal meant believing in privacy — the privacy of consenting adults in their own homes, for instance. But now anyone is at risk of exposure for an off-color social media post or a wrong move on a date. If privacy were a liberal value, why did liberal journalists gleefully dig into the Reddit posts of mild-mannered Ken Bone after his red sweater was a hit at a town hall debate in the fall of 2016? Why is it so easy to know so much about romantic encounters between celebrities and their fans, between senior and junior journalists, between pairs of people I haven’t even heard of before? If liberals still value privacy, then why is it considered politically necessary to publish so much of this stuff?

The Perpetual Helldump
By Rational Thinker 69

An entry from the “SAclopedia,” Something Awful’s internal quasi-wiki of forum events, gives a good rundown of the idea:

The official birth of Helldump 2000 spawned a new creative outlet for pedophiles, racists, bigots, Ron Paul supporters, gun zealots, defenders of anime and otherwise crap posters to be outed in a thorough, convincing manner by an astute civilian task force. Essentially, it checks and balances the stupidity that seeps its way into the forums as a whole, although (unfortunately) it does not function as a preventive treatment (shit posters still propagate at an alarming rate). Rather, the modus operandi of Helldump is to profile and insult the (assumed) poor goon for his questionable views, and in turn function as a virtual tourniquet in an attempt to stop the bleeding, as well as force said shit poster into online anonymity and / or reclusiveness.

(It’s worth noting that the Something Awful mods made the intelligent decision to not allow doxxing, the digging up of personally identifying information — however, offsite material was allowed to be used in making a case that the poster was bad and deserved to be shamed and/or banned)

Reading that description, even if its done in a jokey tone, one notes how “bigots” and “defenders of anime” and “Ron Paul supporters” are lumped together into an amorphous bloc of Enemies of the Forum. Also note the invoking the perpetual and overwhelming threat of a “shit poster” underclass, needing to be trimmed and controlled by their betters. Threads often played out the same way — being a furry probably earned as much scorn as being a pick-up artist; getting a sad sack internet poster to write an ill-conceived manifesto of anger in defense of himself for being a bad poster was an unambiguous positive. One could very easily become a Helldump superstar yourself, if you could successfully destroy other forum users.

This created an unintentional Maoist environment, in which posters were demanded to answer for a wide variety of sins. Occasionally, bits of rules lawyering would take place in an attempt to find bannable material on the poster that could persuade the moderators to ban the impure poster — “wouldn’t this count as a bannable post?”, etc. This was, in essence, callout culture before callout culture had a name. And lord help you if you tried to quell the mob behavior by pointing out how toxic or arbitrary it all was: this basically meant you were de facto defending racism, or pedophilia, or Ron Paul, or the furry fandom, or perhaps were defending racism via your defense of an anime defender, or whatever. A thread which successfully broke down a poster into sufficient rage or resulted in a ban would wind up in the forum’s equivalent of a hall of fame, “Helldump Success Stories.”

With the main incentives being forum stardom and the sense of community that emerges from being on the side of good, Helldump predictably turned on itself. In fact, they even had an internal purification process (also from SAclopedia):

In addition a process known as Garbage Day has been instituted, whereby every Monday (or Tuesday if Lowtax forgot), Helldump users who have posted at least one thread in Helldump may vote to ban a user and permanently lock them out of helldump. The target must have had at least 10 posts or have made at least one thread in order to be eligible. Voters must provide links to their target’s posts proving they meet the criteria, as well as a link to the thread that qualifies them.

Following a major bout of forums drama, involving a Helldumper who became a Helldumpee, Helldump closed down about 2 years after its creation. Perhaps this other definition from the SAclopedia sums up the whole of Helldump:

A place for fat people to openly mock pictures of slightly fatter people.

Other writers, in admittedly odd outlets, have documented the influence between Something Awful culture and the modern left:

Helldump was closed after two years, and many of its regulars migrated to a different subforum, Laissez’s Fair, “the original Dirtbag Left.” The SA wiki entry for LF helpfully explains that it was “opened up to put all the Ron Paul shit” and became a “refugee holding bay” for Helldump after the latter was closed. “Over time people started making effort posts about such things the nightmare that is our criminal justice system, social justice in general, as well as the ideas of Karl Marx. The lack of moderation was made up for by basically shouting people out of the forum who were stupid MRAs and concern trolls. Gradually the complexion of the forum shifted from liberal to socialist.” Eventually, LF was closed, because “LF posters went internet detective on mods and posted death threats,” including several to then-President Obama.


Many people from the more leftist parts of SA went on to become “Weird Twitter,” which was puffed by outlets like Buzzfeed. John Herrman and Katie Notopoulos, the authors of the linked piece, gravitated toward LF superstars on Twitter and tried to replicate their style. Some of them, such as Lund, Kriss, David Thorpe (who had a regular column on SA and is now a music journalist), Virgil Texas, Jon Hendren (who was, as docevil, once an admin of the “Fuck You And Die” (FYAD) subforum, but was shamed off the site after a bizarre incident involving a charity event featuring Smash Mouth and Guy Fieri), and Alex Nichols, parlayed those connections into posting careers.

That’s the Helldump style: look through everything, pick out the worst, make up a caricature from that, then relentlessly attack it. For entities like The Atlantic, who I believe sincerely wish to try and be beacons of ideological diversity: the Helldump process is going to happen no matter who you hire from the right. If not by professional journalists, then by some groundling or other looking for favs and a political hit. The idea is both to score points against ideological enemies and to make it as difficult as possible to “do” ideological diversity itself, purifying the mainstream media outlets in the same way Something Awful’s goons wished to purify its forums. Many left-wing Twitter figures are straightforward and clear on this point. While I do not believe the right is incapable of this behavior, at this exact moment, I really don’t see any equivalent efforts being made from their side of the aisle — misrepresentations sure, but attempts to get people fired, no. In time, that could change.

‘Mass firing’ at conservative site RedState
By Brian Stelter

“They fired everybody who was insufficiently supportive of Trump,” one of the sources who spoke with CNNMoney said, adding, “how do you define being ‘sufficiently supportive’ of Trump?”

But if it was about politics, it was also about money.

RedState writers work on contract and are paid based on the amount of traffic to their posts.

“Those who had been under a contract with a higher per-click rate were mostly all tossed, only keeping those who were pro-Trump even if their traffic was comparable,” another one of the sources said on condition of anonymity.

“Of those who make less under their contracts, they mostly tossed those who had been openly critical of the president,” the source said. “It seems to have been a cost saving measure, but the deciding factor between any two people seems to have been who liked the president and who didn’t.”

RSF Index 2018: Hatred of journalism threatens democracies
By Reporters Without Borders

More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion. The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.

The line separating verbal violence from physical violence is dissolving. In the Philippines (down six at 133rd), President Rodrigo Duterte not only constantly insults reporters but has also warned them that they “are not exempted from assassination.” In India (down two at 138th), hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay. In each of these countries, at least four journalists were gunned down in cold blood in the space of a year.

Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most. In the Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), President Milos Zeman turned up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov inscribed with the words “for journalists.” In Slovakia, (down 10 at 27th), then Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas.” A Slovak reporter, Ján Kuciak, was shot dead in his home in February 2018, just four months after another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a targeted car-bombing in Malta (down 18 at 65th).

“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire.”

For Local Newspapers, Angry Readers Are a Given. But Killings Send Shivers.
By Tim Arango and John Herrman

“People don’t realize how dangerous it is for journalists around the world to cover their communities,” said Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Discussions about the dangers of journalism usually center on covering wars, but the intimacy of local reporting, and the grievances that can arise among subjects, present their own risks, he said.

“When you are criticized in local media, the people who see it are your neighbors and the people you associate with,” Mr. Simon said. “And that can engender a lot of anger.”

How Safe Are American Newsrooms?
By Jack Shafer

Given all the conflict, turmoil and shaming that appear in the press, it’s a minor astonishment that there’s not more of it. Such attacks were common in the early days of the republic, when newspapers were tools of the political parties. The two generations following the War of 1812 were “the golden age of editorial fighting and dueling,” wrote scholar John Nerone in his 1994 book, Violence Against the Press: Policing the Public Sphere in U.S. History. The partisan presses started fights in their news columns and often settled them on the streets. Abolitionist newspapers and the African-American press that emerged during Reconstruction caught more than their share of the violence, with the editor of the Alton Observer murdered in an 1837 riot.

“Besides duels, journalists over the years have been attacked by angry mobs, kidnapped, beaten, even tarred and feathered,” Michael Rosenwald wrote recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. “Their homes were egged, presses set on fire, horses stolen. Covering Congress was at times so hazardous that in addition to pencils and notebooks, some reporters carried daggers.”.

Violence subsided in the 20th century as papers abandoned their partisan roots and embraced “professionalism,” Nerone writes. Malcontents would still occasionally target the ethnic, minority, and labor presses for their advocacy, but deadly violence against American journalists became largely unthinkable as the press recast itself from partisan puncher to adversarial institution in pursuit of truth. As Nerone puts it, the cultural makeover allowed the press to honestly portray itself as the watchdog of government and corporations and the advocate of the powerless. American journalists became untouchables, a standing violated only once when Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was killed in a still-unsolved 1976 car bombing.

Has the Annapolis slaying punctured journalists’ status as inviolable? The signs are easy to read. Partisan outlets like Breitbart now abound, and people fight in the streets over their fringe politics. No one can directly connect the Annapolis travesty to President Donald Trump’s anti-press rhetoric. The killer appears to have been solely motivated by personal animus against the newspaper. But Trump’s vitriol certainly hasn’t soothed passions. News organizations are the “enemy of the American people,” as he puts it. He’s called journalists “dishonest,” “sick people,” claimed they dislike their country, accused them of “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” and singled out dozens of reporters and outlets for specific abuse. Trump may not be drawing targets on anybody’s back, but he’s got his crayons out. If the man had a soul, Annapolis should be good enough reason for him to retire his blanket condemnations of the press for the remainder of his White House tenure.

Steven Pinker: why we need more reason in our politics
By Steven Pinker

For their part, the media could examine their role in turning politics into a sport, and intellectuals and pundits could think twice about competing. Can we imagine a day in which the most famous columnists and talking heads have no predictable political orientation but try to work out defensible conclusions on an issue-by-issue basis? A day in which “You’re just repeating the left-wing [or right-wing] position” is considered a devastating gotcha? In which people (especially academics) will answer a question like “Does gun control reduce crime?” or “Does a minimum wage increase unemployment?” with “Wait, let me look up the latest meta-analysis” rather than with a patellar reflex predictable from their politics? A day when writers on the right and left abandon the Chicago Way of debating (“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue”) and adopt the arms-controllers’ tactic of Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-Reduction (make a small unilateral concession with an invitation that it be reciprocated)?

That day is a long way off. But the self-healing powers of rationality, in which flaws in reasoning are singled out as targets for education and criticism, take time to work. It took centuries for Francis Bacon’s observations on anecdotal reasoning and the confusion of correlation with causation to become second nature to scientifically literate people. It’s taken almost fifty years for Tversky and Kahneman’s demonstrations of Availability and other cognitive biases to make inroads into our conventional wisdom. The discovery that political tribalism is the most insidious form of irrationality today is still fresh and mostly unknown. Indeed, sophisticated thinkers can be as infected by it as anyone else. With the accelerating pace of everything, perhaps the countermeasures will catch on sooner.

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