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Culture war games: culturally evolving perceptual illusions

12 Mind-Bending Perceptual Illusions
By Steve Stewart-Williams

Everyone loves a good optical illusion. Most people first come across them as kids, and are instantly transfixed. And most of us never quite outgrow them. Even cats seem to enjoy the occasional optical illusion!

The good news, then, for humans and nonhumans alike, is that our illusions seem to be getting better over time. In the age of social media, lots of people are making and sharing them, and the best ones are quickly going viral and setting the new standard. In effect, our illusions are evolving culturally to be more and more powerful.

But although perceptual illusions are fun, they also have important philosophical implications. They show us in a clear and unambiguous way that we don’t directly perceive the world around us. Perceptual experience is a simulation—a mental model—that doesn’t always correspond to the reality it aims to depict.

Ken M Is The Most Epic Troll On The Internet
By Kaila Hale-Stern

Kenneth McCarthy is a 35-year-old copywriter for Comedy Central who lives in Brooklyn. It turns out he hadn’t intended to become the world’s best-known troll when he first started popping up in comments sections.

The “Ken M” persona was a reaction to the inanity of comments in places like Yahoo. “I was appalled by the Yahoo comment section. It was such a toxic, shitty space,” McCarthy told Upvoted. His own comments began as an exercise to see just how moronic he could be in return, but he didn’t set out trying to troll, and indeed claims he wasn’t aware of what a troll was when he started. The most notorious and beloved troll in Internet history began by not intentionally trolling, but as an attempt to dispel toxicity. This is a thing of beauty.

“I Now Understand How Nelson Mandela Felt”
By Titania McGrath

Unfortunately, those who fight for the progressive cause are continually bombarded by alt-right trolls who like to engage in a form of harassment known as “debate.” Only a few days before my suspension, a misogynist referred to me as “shrill and humourless.” As I was quick to point out, humour is a patriarchal construct. This is why it has been so gratifying to see the success of our current wave of feminist comedians, those brave women who are subverting the genre by ensuring that it doesn’t make anyone laugh.

Do not pity me. As a woman in a heteronormative patriarchal world I am accustomed to males like Jack Dorsey attempting to keep me silent. In my absence from Twitter, I took the opportunity to spend some time at a resort in Val d’Isère, where I could relax and contemplate my oppression. I even managed to write a book which I have entitled Woke: A Guide to Social Justice. I did want to call it My Struggle, but that title was already taken apparently.

Star Wars is ‘racist and homophobic’: BBC blunder as Twitter hoaxer is invited on air
By Anita Singh

Failng to spot the absurdity of his tweet – or the Twitter bio in which he describes himself as a “demisexual genderqueer Muslim atheist” – Sheeran invited him to appear on the World Have Your Say programme, where he gave a po-faced assessment of the franchise’s socio-political failings.

“From what I’ve seen of the old Star Wars films, there’s a lot of social problems with them rooted in homophobia, casual racial stereotypes,” he said.

Referring to C-3PO and Darth Vader by the wrong names, he went on: “The gold robot – C-25 or whatever he’s called – is a camp, neurotic coward.

“The only main female ends up in a space bikini chained to a horny space slug.

“The main bad guy – what’s he called, Dark Raider? – is black, he has a deep voice, he listens to rap music – it’s just a really bad racial stereotype.”

Rachel Dolezal: Fallout continues unabated
By BBC News

The reaction to the case has been passionate and widespread. There have been some supporting voices, but mostly commentators have vilified Ms Dolezal for “cultural appropriation”, placing her in the context of recent US debates over transgender identity and police treatment of black people.

One tweet gained a particular amount of traction. Twitter user Godfrey Elfwick claims he was born in the wrong skin and identifies as being black.

Genuine or not, the post sparked conversation about the idea of a “transracial” identity, and over the tone and subtext of much of the commentary.

Sowing the seeds of confusion still further, the Elfwick post was subsequently commented on by a fake Rachel Dolezal account.

Literary Hoaxes and the Ethics of Authorship
By Louis Menand

There are many examples of Miller’s thesis that ethnic difference inspires hoaxers. “The Third Eye,” the autobiography of a Tibetan monk named Lobsang Rampa, published in 1956, turned out to have been written by Cyril Henry Hoskin, a British plumber. “The Education of Little Tree,” by Forrest Carter, a memoir of a young Cherokee orphan raised by his grandparents, came out in 1976, a few years before “Famous All Over Town,” and became a Times best-seller. The book was praised by critics who knew something about Native American culture, sold at gift shops on Indian reservations, and taught in high schools and colleges. The author went on “Today,” where he was interviewed by Barbara Walters. Then, in 1991, a historian named Dan Carter (unrelated) revealed that the man who presented himself as Forrest Carter was really Asa Carter, a former Ku Klux Klan member and George Wallace speechwriter. By then, Asa Carter was dead, but his book had sold more than half a million copies. It seems that before Asa became Forrest Carter his career had fallen apart and he had developed a drinking problem. So he had decided to turn himself into a Cherokee. He performed a new identity.

A more complicated case is “The Radiance of the King,” a novel published in French in 1954 and in English two years later. The author was a Guinean writer named Camara Laye, and the story is set in Africa. It was received as a leading work in African literature. In 2001, Toni Morrison published a piece in The New York Review of Books in which she called “The Radiance of the King” “an Africa answering back.” It gave us, she said, “Africa’s Africa”—that is, it passed the authenticity test. But there had been rumors right from the start that Laye had not written the book, and Miller, reviewing the scholarship, concludes that “The Radiance of the King” was likely written by a former Nazi collaborator from Belgium named Francis Soulié. Laye evidently agreed to go along, and put his name to it.

If we pick up a novel about life in the barrio, or a book by a Tibetan monk, or an avant-garde literary magazine, we know what we expect to find. We are complicit in the attempt to get us to believe because we already want to believe. Writing is a weak medium. It has to rely on readers bringing a lot of preconceptions to the encounter, which is why it is so easily exploited.

Does this mean it’s all a game? Yes, in a sense. Literature is a game with language, and hoaxing alerts us to the fact that the rules are not written down anywhere—in the same way that someone who goes barefoot to a wedding alerts us to the fact that there are actually no regulations governing these things. Those acts draw our attention to the thinness of the social fabric by tearing a little piece of it.

How Slapshot Inspired a Cultural Revolution (Part Two): An Interview with the Wu Ming Foundation
By Henry Jenkins

HJ3: More recently you drew a comparison between your projects and ARGS. What similarities do you see? What might ARG designers and players learn by studying what you did a decade ago?

WM1 What you had was a huge number of people from different backgrounds and geographical areas, all interacting with each other in order to introduce ever new elements into a legend they were constructing in real time and telling all together. It is important to point out that these people didn’t know each other personally, some of them never met, never talked or wrote to each other, not even on the phone, not even via e-mail, for the whole duration of the project. I never met the majority of people who operated under the Luther Blissett pseudonym in other cities, not to mention people calling themselves Luther Blissett in other countries. Since the beginning, the Bolognese collective (which was more tight-knit than other informal groups springing out all over Italy) labeled itself “the only central committee whose aim is to lose control of the party”.

Yes, there was some sort of coordination between the different local groups, and a few things were explicitly prohibited: the Luther Blissett could not be used to spread racist, sexist or fascist material, and no Luther Blissett material could have a copyright. That’s all the “organization” we had.

Most of the time we ended up taking each other by surprise, we heard the news about a prank pulled by Blissett in Southern Italy and immediately claimed co-responsibility by playing a similar one or by giving a completely different motive for the prank! We enjoyed leaving clues for other Blissetts, and give wild interpretations of the clues left by them. In several cases the same hoaxes or actions were given different interpretations by different Blissett “coopeting” with each other. It was all grist to the mill, or as we say in Italy, “tutto fa brodo”, everything adds to the soup.

And it was transmedia storytelling taken to its extreme, clues were left on BBSs, websites, fanzines and other DIY media, pieces of mail art sent all around, restroom walls, Hertzian waves, and even classified ads on local newspapers. Sometimes we used Luther Blissett stickers in order to leave clues and give hints on how to take part in a hoax.

It Started as an Online Gaming Prank. Then It Turned Deadly
By Brendan Koerner

Some people who’d been tracking Barriss’ malicious deeds questioned why he’d been allowed to act with impunity for so long. Barriss had been frank about his crimes as they’d escalated in frequency and ambition, but law enforcement had seemed in no rush to prevent him from weaponizing the country’s emergency services with fake information. One Twitter user said he’d alerted the Dallas police to Barriss’ activities on December 10, right after the second bomb threat at the Call of Duty tournament. “­@DallasPD ignored this and 2 weeks later this same person swatted someone and a father was murdered,” he wrote. “This death could have been prevented on so many levels.” (A Dallas police spokesperson says the incident was turned over to the FBI but declined to say when that occurred.)

3 Men Face Federal Charges in Fatal ‘Swatting’ Prank
By Niraj Chokshi

The charges against Mr. Barriss include making false or hoax reports to emergency services, cyberstalking, making interstate threats and wire fraud. The charges against Mr. Viner, of Ohio, include wire fraud, conspiracy to make false or hoax reports, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Mr. Gaskill, of Wichita, faces charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and wire fraud.

Cyberstalking and making a false or hoax report to emergency services resulting in death of another are both offenses punishable by sentences of up to life in prison. Obstruction of justice carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Each of the charges also carries a fine of up to $250,000.

US troll contacted Australian journalists
By SBS News

An autistic Florida internet troll who created numerous online personas including an Australian radical Muslim, an African-American conservative woman and a neo-Nazi reached out to numerous Australian journalists with “inside information” about terrorists before the FBI raided his family’s home, his lawyer has told a US court.

Aliases Goldberg used to “further his plan to become a journalist, to discuss movies” or “to stir up debate and ‘chaos’ on” Twitter, Reddit, IMDB, Facebook and other social media websites included: Junaid Thorne, an Australian radical Muslim who was used to attract real terrorists; Amina Blackberry, an African-American conservative woman living in Washington, DC; Michael Slay, a neo-Nazi calling for the extermination of white people; Emily Americana, a Samoan woman in Alaska who does not like fat people or Europeans; Nuke Europe, a European Jewish guy who experienced anti-Semitism throughout Europe; and Flappy Bird, a far left woman who promoted gender issues on behalf of women and transgender people.

Florida man who pretended to be an Australian jihadist has been jailed for 10 years
By Rosie Perper

A Florida man was sentenced to 10 years in a federal medical prison facility, followed by a lifetime of supervised release, after posing online as a jihadist and planning to blow up a building.

Joshua Ryne Goldberg, 23, of Orange Park, Florida, pled guilty in December to a number of charges including attempting to destroy a building with explosives. Goldberg, who is on the Autism spectrum, lived with his parents and spent 14 to 20 hours a day online posing as different personas on forums, SBS reported, citing the hearing at the US District Court in Jacksonville. According to the report, Goldberg suffered depression and became fixated on stoking fears of a terror attack in Australia.

‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America
By Eli Saslow

Beyond the money he earned, this was what Blair had conceived of as the purpose for his website: to engage directly with people who spread false or extremist stories and prove those stories were wrong. Maybe, after people had been publicly embarrassed, they would think more critically about what they shared online. Maybe they would begin to question the root of some of their ideas.

Blair didn’t have time to personally confront each of the several hundred thousand conservatives who followed his Facebook page, so he’d built a community of more than 100 liberals to police the page with him. Together they patrolled the comments, venting their own political anger, shaming conservatives who had been fooled, taunting them, baiting them into making racist comments that could then be reported to Facebook. Blair said he and his followers had gotten hundreds of people banned from Facebook and several others fired or demoted in their jobs for offensive behavior online. He had also forced Facebook to shut down 22 fake news sites for plagiarizing his content, many of which were Macedonian sites that reran his stories without labeling them as satire.

What Blair wasn’t sure he had ever done was change a single person’s mind. The people he fooled often came back to the page, and he continued to feed them the kind of viral content that boosted his readership and his bank account: invented stories about Colin Kaepernick, kneeling NFL players, imams, Black Lives Matter protesters, immigrants, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Michelle and Malia Obama. He had begun to include more obvious disclaimers at the top of every post and to intentionally misspell several words in order to highlight the idiocy of his work, but still traffic continued to climb. Sometimes he wondered: Rather than of awakening people to reality, was he pushing them further from it?

Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics
By Scott Shane and Alan Blinder

One participant in the Alabama project, Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a small cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

An internal report on the Alabama effort, obtained by The New York Times, says explicitly that it “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”

The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to endorse a write-in candidate to draw votes from Mr. Moore. It involved a scheme to link the Moore campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that suddenly began following the Republican candidate on Twitter, a development that drew national media attention.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says.

Mr. Morgan said in an interview that the Russian botnet ruse “does not ring a bell,” adding that others had worked on the effort and had written the report. He said he saw the project as “a small experiment” designed to explore how certain online tactics worked, not to affect the election.

Facebook suspends five accounts, including that of a social media researcher, for misleading tactics in Alabama election
By Tony Romm and Craig Timberg

Facebook has suspended the account of Jonathon Morgan, the chief executive of a top social media research firm, after reports that he and others engaged in an operation to spread disinformation during the special election in Alabama last year.

Morgan confirmed his account’s suspension after Facebook said in a statement that it had taken action against “five accounts run by a multiple individuals for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior,” adding that its “investigation is ongoing.” Facebook did not provide a list of the accounts it had suspended, and Morgan declined further comment.

“We take a strong stand against people or organizations that create networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are or what they’re doing,” Facebook said. “We’ve removed thousands of Pages, Groups and accounts for this kind of behavior, as well as accounts that were violating our policies on spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior during the Alabama special election last year.”

Earlier this week, Morgan, the head of the firm New Knowledge, told The Washington Post he had experimented with misleading online tactics during the 2017 contest between Republican Roy Moore and since-elected Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Morgan acknowledged creating a misleading Facebook page to appeal to conservatives. He also acknowledged purchasing retweets on Twitter to measure the potential “lift” of political messages.

Sen. Jones calls for probe into alleged disinformation plot in Alabama Senate race
By Craig Timberg, Tony Romm, Aaron C. Davis and Elizabeth Dwoskin

Sen. Doug Jones on Thursday called for a federal probe into allegations that online disinformation tactics were used against his opponent during last year’s Alabama special election, which Jones narrowly won over Republican Roy Moore.

Jones (D-Ala.) compared the tactics to those deployed by Russia during and after the 2016 election.

“What is obvious now is that we have focused so much on Russia that we haven’t focused on the fact that people in this country could take the same playbook and do the same damn thing,” Jones said in a statement. “I’d like to see the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department look at this to see if there were any laws being violated and, if there were, prosecute those responsible.”

Project Troy: How Scientists Helped Refine Cold War Psychological Warfare
By Audra Wolfe

In fall 1947, Communist Party officials revived the party’s prewar international propaganda network under a new name, the Communist Information Bureau, or Cominform. In mid-1948, the Soviet Union launched a campaign against the United States, targeted at audiences both within its own territories and in the world at large. In Moscow, the authorities celebrated writers, musicians, and scientists who promoted seemingly “Russian” values; abroad, the Cominform’s agents attacked U.S. aggression and promoted the Communist commitment to peace. Soviet authorities meanwhile cracked down on Soviet citizens’ ability to communicate with foreigners and foreign institutions. A dispatch from the U.S. ambassador to Moscow in January 1949 warned of the “near-impregnable barrier between Soviet citizens and foreigners in the U.S.S.R.” and specifically noted that the new restrictions eliminated exceptions for “scientific and educational institutions.”

Over the next year, the United States intensified its commitment to psychological warfare and, increasingly, did so publicly. On April 20, 1950, President Truman kicked off a national “Campaign of Truth” with an address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In a lunchtime address at the Statler Hotel in Washington, D.C., Truman implored the country’s leading editors to join the government in meeting “false propaganda with truth all around the globe.” “Everywhere that the propaganda of Communist totalitarianism is spread,” the president warned, “we must meet it and overcome it with honest information about freedom and democracy.”

The FBI considered “It’s a Wonderful Life” to be Communist propaganda
By Zachary M. Seward

It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of the holiday season in the United States, but it was once considered un-American by the government.

From the film’s release in 1946 until 1956, it was listed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as suspected Communist propaganda. Mr. Potter, the villainous banker who nearly drives George Bailey to financial ruin and suicide, “represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture,” according to an FBI report (pdf, pg. 14) in 1947.

The report called it “a common trick used by Communists.”

The Club and the Mob: The Shock of the News
By James Meek

There were also the present-day successors of Service A of the KGB’s First Main Directorate, responsible in the pre-internet days for planting fake stories in the capitalist media. There were the descendants of the right-wing American media activists of the 1940s and 1950s, originally radicalised in opposition to America’s joining the war against Hitler, who set up the first network of conservative radio shows and magazines to propagate their idea that, as Nicole Hemmer puts it, ‘objectivity was a mask mainstream media used to hide their own ideological projects.’ And there are people who just make stuff up, but can spread their fake news worldwide more effectively than the most powerful press baron in the glory days of newspapers, and be anonymous when they do it. Rusbridger quotes the internet guru Clay Shirky on funding public interest journalism as a social good: ‘Social stuff is how most birthday parties are produced, how most picnics are produced, right? It has just not been a big feature of the landscape. But now it is.’ Birthday parties and picnics are, indeed, good examples of ‘social stuff’. So are lynchings, pogroms and witch hunts.

The internet hasn’t so much changed people’s relationship to news as altered their self-awareness in the act of reading it. Before, we were isolated recipients of the news; now, we are self-consciously members of groups reacting to news in shared ways. Marvellously, this facilitates solidarity for the truly oppressed, for campaigners, for those with minority interests. But it also means that the paranoid, the suspicious, the xenophobic and the conspiracy-minded know they’re not alone. They’re conscious of themselves as a collective, as an audience, weeping, cheering, heckling and screaming from the safety of the darkness over the stalls, occasionally pulling on a mask to jump onto the stage and pull down the trousers of the performers or to start a false panic that the theatre is on fire.

Conspiracy theories are more rampant than ever. Can they be stopped?
By Nathan Collins

“There’s a fundamental difference between [misperceptions] and conspiracy theories,” Miller says. “The very nature of a conspiracy theory is a belief in a far-reaching conspiracy,” which makes it more likely that a believer will take any attempt to correct their beliefs as lies promulgated by the conspirators.

The better tactic for addressing conspiracy theories, Miller says, may be not “to attack the belief itself, but rather the reasons people believe in conspiracy theories”. That could include working to improve trust in government or addressing deeper anxieties. Conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, for example, reflect a deep desire to reduce randomness and hence anxiety, some of which may itself reflect fears about who is in power – Democrats, for example, are more likely to believe in conspiracies when Republicans are in power, and vice-versa.

In the face of that anxiety, changing a person’s beliefs is a tall order. “It’s about wanting to give them the motivation to believe the correct thing,” Miller says. “But tackling the motivation side is a heck of a problem.”

That’s a scary thought given the increasingly real-world implications of some conspiracy theories. The theory known as Pizzagate, for example, led an armed man to travel to Comet Ping Pong, the alleged hub of the alleged Clinton sex trafficking operation, to, as he put it, “self investigate”.

Even if it never came to shots fired, as it did in that case, and misperceptions and conspiracy theories had no effect on electoral outcomes, beliefs would still matter, says John Bullock, a political scientist at Northwestern University. “You can think of getting the beliefs right as a necessary condition for certain kinds of things that you want voters to do. If you want voters to gauge politicians accurately, well, that entails voters having accurate beliefs, or probably does,” Bullock says. And even if their beliefs aren’t as far from the truth as some suspect, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be the best, most civic-minded citizens we might hope they’ll be.

Taking all of it in, Nyhan says, there may be a deeper problem, one that is harder to solve: Not much is going to change until politicians and media outlets commit to telling the truth, over and over again. Nyhan isn’t particularly sanguine about that possibility – the political and economic incentives do not seem to favor it, and given the polarized state of American politics, demand for misleading information “isn’t going away”.

Yet there remains some hope. Fact checking politicians might help keep them honest, Nyhan and frequent co-author Jason Reifler found in 2014 – and fact checking is something news media is generally taking more seriously. Then there was the news on Monday that Apple, YouTube, Facebook and Spotify all but booted one of the most popular sources of conspiracies, Alex Jones, from their sites, suggesting that maybe something might start to change.

Who’s the Real American Psycho?
By Maureen Dowd

Trump may not be sweaty and swarthy, but he makes a good bad guy. As with Nixon and Watergate, the correct moral response and the lavish remunerative rewards neatly dovetail.

Even for Washington, the capital of do-overs and the soulless swamp where horrendous mistakes never prevent you from cashing in and getting another security clearance, this is a repellent spectacle. War criminals-turned-liberal heroes are festooned with book and TV contracts, podcasts and op-ed perches.

Those who sold us the “cakewalk” Iraq war and the outrageously unprepared Sarah Palin and torture as “enhanced interrogation,” those who left the Middle East shattered with a cascading refugee crisis and a rising ISIS, and those who midwifed the birth of the Tea Party are washing away their sins in a basin of Trump hate.

The very same Republicans who eroded America’s moral authority in the 2000s are, staggeringly, being treated as the new guardians of America’s moral authority.

They bellow that Trump is a blight on democracy. But where were these patriots when the Bush administration was deceiving us with a cooked-up war in Iraq?

FROM THE EDITORS; The Times and Iraq
By The New York Times

Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ”regime change” in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one.

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted.

Why they get it wrong
By W. Joseph Campbell

History, it has been said, is “what we decide to remember,” and journalism history is not an exception. Recalling and celebrating the memory of Cronkite’s supposedly telling truth to power about Vietnam — or of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s bringing down a corrupt presidency — is to offer reassurance to contemporary journalists at a time of confusion and upheaval in their field.

Deciding to remember such mythical tales is understandable if not justifiable, given that those tales bring solace and reassurance amid sweeping uncertainty.

When historians traffic in fake news
By Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow

The story of the “War of the Worlds” mass panic was overhyped and underreported, and it’s only recently that revisionist scholars have been able to clarify the historical record. This episode provides a clear example of the process by which fake news can quickly become ingrained deeply in American culture. Political decisions, governmental administrative moves and even social theory in the United States were made based on the idea that masses of panicked listeners fled their homes, terrorized by the radio — even though it didn’t happen that way.

The lesson is clear. Both journalists and scholars need to be more self-aware and skeptical whenever sensational stories about media manipulation arise. These stories are so irresistible that they can become too-quickly enshrined as fact, told again and again as anecdote until historians eventually certify the myths as reality.

That process didn’t begin and end in 1938. Today’s fake news can just as easily inform tomorrow’s social psychology and history textbooks.

Not so fast about that fading media myth
By W. Joseph Campbell

So there I was, waxing hopeful the other day that The War of the Worlds panic myth was fading away.

A passage in a commentary today in the New York Times rather dashes that optimism.

The myth has it that on the eve of Halloween in 1938, a Sunday night radio dramatization about Martians invading the eastern United States, a tale adapted from H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel, pitched Americans by the thousands into panic and mass hysteria.

And the Times’s commentary repeats the myth, stating: The “Halloween eve radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds’ triggered widespread panic among thousands fearing an actual alien invasion was taking place.”

That all makes for a good story, but it’s thinly documented — as the Times itself made clear just last week. At the show’s 80th anniversary, the Times posted online a commentary that said the “stubbornly persistent narrative” about radio-induced panic and hysteria is “false.”

Orson Welles and the Birth of Fake News
By A. Brad Schwartz

Many scholars believed radio could, like a hypodermic needle, inject ideas straight into people’s minds, convincing them of anything — even something as fantastical as an alien attack.

But further investigation refuted this simplistic picture. A Princeton University survey of frightened listeners indicated only about a third understood the invaders to be Martians. The rest imagined something more plausible that they already feared, such as a Nazi blitzkrieg.

The broadcast, in short, didn’t bypass the conscious intellect to convince people of something they wouldn’t otherwise believe. It passed through pre-existing fears, attitudes and beliefs, to be corroborated or refuted within the mind of each listener.

The most extreme examples of panic often came from people told to tune in by someone else. They responded not so much to the radio’s power as to the trust they placed in their particular messenger. Some never even heard the show itself.

Later studies of the mass media would confirm these two fundamental rules of persuasion. Media messages generally cannot convince audiences of something contrary to their existing attitudes or prejudices. But they can powerfully reinforce what people already believe. Second, especially in the age of social media, fake news is most powerful when it is shared — not just by prominent information sources but also by anyone on Twitter or Facebook.

The roundabout of death and why people hurt themselves for memes
By Steve Stewart-Williams

As soon as the capacity for culture evolved in our species, there was nothing to stop culture from spiralling off in new and unexpected directions. These loopholes immediately open up the possibility of maladaptive memes.

In fact, given the design specs of our learning biases, maladaptive memes are a virtual certainty. Consider the prestige bias. When we copy a prestigious person, we don’t just copy the things that made them a success. We often copy irrelevant things as well, including clothes, political views, and drug habits. Advertisers exploit this chink in our armour when they pay celebrities to endorse their products. There’s no good reason to think that skill on the football pitch goes hand-in-hand with skill in choosing the best brand of underwear or the best spray deodorant. Yet otherwise-rational people act as if it does.

Admittedly, this isn’t especially harmful. But the tendency to copy prestigious people certainly can be. In fact, it can be fatal. A stark example is the phenomenon of copycat suicide. When a suicide is splashed across the news, at-risk individuals sometimes copy the victim and take their own lives as well. There’s some evidence that the higher in status the original victim was, the more likely these copycat suicides become. Thus, the prestige bias can sometimes lead to the acquisition of lethal memes. The same is true of all our learning biases.

If memes are too lethal, they tend to burn themselves out. During the heyday of European colonialism, a number of indigenous groups came to believe that, if they had faith, the Europeans’ bullets couldn’t harm them. Needless to say, this meme had disastrous consequences. One group infected with the meme – the Mahdists of Sudan – lost 11,000 men in a single battle to the bullets of Kitchener’s army. This was bad for them obviously, but it was also bad for the meme. In effect, the meme removed itself from the “meme pool” through its effects on its hosts’ behaviour.

But although ultra-lethal memes are likely to be rare, humans will probably always be plagued by less-lethal-but-nonetheless-dangerous memes – memes like the roundabout of death. This is the price we pay for being a hyper-cultural species.

How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner

A gynecologist and obstetrician in San Francisco named Jen Gunter, who also writes a column on reproductive health for The Times, has criticized Goop in about 30 blog posts on her website since 2015. A post she wrote last May — an open letter that she signed on behalf of “Science” — generated more than 800,000 page views. She was angry about all the bad advice she had seen from Goop in the last few years. She was angry that her own patients were worried they’d given themselves breast cancer by wearing underwire bras, thanks to an article by an osteopath who cited a much-debunked book published in 1995. Gunter cited many of Goop’s greatest hits: “Tampons are not vaginal death sticks, vegetables with lectins are not killing us, vaginas don’t need steaming, Epstein Barr virus (E.B.V.) does not cause every thyroid disease and for [expletive] sake no one needs to know their latex farmer; what they need to know is that the only thing between them and H.I.V. or gonorrhea is a few millimeters of latex, so glove that [expletive] up.”

But something strange happened. Each of these pronouncements set off a series of blog posts and articles and tweets that linked directly to the site, driving up traffic. At Harvard, G.P. called these moments “cultural firestorms.” “I can monetize those eyeballs,” she told the students. Goop had learned to do a special kind of dark art: to corral the vitriol of the internet and the ever-present shall we call it cultural ambivalence about G.P. herself and turn them into cash.

EXCLUSIVE – ‘I can’t be held accountable’: ‘Poop cult’ leader cited by the FTC for claiming her cabbage juice could reverse cancer and regrow limbs defends herself after one follower died
By Natalie Rahhal

According to her website, her book is the vehicle for the recipe and methodology of her cabbage concoction, but it bears the peculiarly sci-fi title, Exposing the Lies Candida: Weaponized Fungus Mainstreaming Mutancy.

In a 2017 post in a closed Facebook group of the same name, she promised she had a ‘protocol to reverse 100% of all your health issues A-Z vaccinated or not!!’

She continued, elaborating on conspiracy theories blaming the government, academia, biotech and even holistic and allopathic industries for giving people ‘Candida/Cancer’ through vaccines and other less clear mechanisms as a way of making money and exerting control over populations.

Instead, on venues including Facebook, her own website and the Dr Phil show (another Dr Phil guest accused her of preying on vulnerable people), she has promoted her own garishly green drink as a way to purge the candida, via explosive bouts of diarrhea.

She has also claimed that her drink can reverse autism and turn gay people straight.

Italy’s anti-vaccine push could spread around the world
By Eileen Drage O’Reilly

How it’s happening: Multiple studies have said that social media platforms have allowed the voice of relatively small groups like anti-vaxxers to expand globally.

  1. A 2017 study of Italy in the journal Vaccine says “new media might have played a role in spreading misinformation.”
  2. It found a “significant inverse correlation” between MMR vaccination coverage and social network activity on the topic “autism and MMR vaccine.”

The Biggest Junk Science of 2018
By Ross Pomeroy

1. Measles Resurges Globally. Anti-vaxxers have been threatening to bring back measles for a few years now, and now, it seems they finally have. More than 41,000 children and adults across Europe were infected with measles in the first six months of 2018, the BMJ reported. There were 23,927 cases in all of 2017, the previous decadal high. The reason is obvious, says the World Health Organization: “vaccine hesitancy”. Fewer people are receiving vaccines against infectious diseases in many parts of the world, partly out of complacency, but mostly due to the spread of false information and deliberate fearmongering by vaccine opponents. As Dr. Alberto Villani, president of the Italian Pediatric Society, told NBC News, “People are dying from measles. This was unbelievable five or 10 years ago.” There were 110,000 global deaths in 2017, a tragic number almost sure to be eclipsed this year.

How Slapshot Inspired a Cultural Revolution (Part One): An Interview with the Wu Ming Foundation
By Henry Jenkins

HJ3: Many of the best pranks associated with Luther Blissett seem to have been played upon traditional media — on television producers and print journalists primarily. How might we see what you did as reflecting the shifting relations between bottom-up grassroots media power and top-down corporate media power?

WM1. In the Italian press, from 1994 to 1999, “Luther Blissett” (whose advent coincided with the rise of the Web) became almost a synonym for “Internet activism” and net-culture. Traditional journalists felt both fascinated and threatened by this “new media” thing, it was growing so fast and they were totally unprepared, unable to understand. They couldn’t find words for such a complex social trend (an epoch-defining shift from top-down communication systems to horizontal networks and personal media!).

They could find words for Luther Blissett though, as the Sheriff of Nottingham could find words for Robin Hood. Luther Blissett was a person — well, sort of, I mean that he was an anthropomorphic figure, he literally embodied what was happening all around. I keep a ten-inches stack of press clippings in my apartment; leaf through it, and you’ll find all kinds of definitions for Blissett: “terrorista culturale”, “bandito dell’informazione”, “pirata informatico”, “guerrigliero digitale”…

In 1996-97 Italy and Europe were swept by a tide of moral panic and mass paranoia on the subject of pedophilia, all of a sudden the Internet was described as an evil place, far more dangerous than any other place, the wood where child abusers lurked from behind trees, waiting for Little Red Riding Hood. It didn’t matter that in Italy 91% of reported child abuses took place in the family and had nothing to do with computers: the Internet was the new folk devil. Traditional gatekeepers had the pretext for venting their anxiety for the Internet, and slandering those who dared do without them.

That’s when the Luther Blissett Project started to pull well-organized media pranks on such morbid subjects as pedophilia, the Internet, and satanic ritual abuse. We wanted to prove that that kind of sensational stories was picked up and printed with no fact-checking at all. Some panic-spreaders cut extremely sorry figures because of us. A few of them angrily commented that, by sidetracking the press, we were protecting actual pedophiles. An interesting logic: if there are no pedophiles, we’re going to invent them, and if someone proves that we invented them, we’ll accuse them of defending pedophiles… that didn’t exist in the first place!

In one particular case, Luther Blissett even conducted a grassroots counter-investigation in a criminal case in Bologna, where a bunch of heavy metal fans (they called themselves the “Children of Satan”) had become scapegoats for the local law authorities. They were arrested during a poorly-thought-out operation targeting alleged ritual abusers. No evidence at all, no reliable testimony, nothing. Of course they were savagely calumniated in the media, at least at the beginning, there was much talk about “secret websites for pedophiles” etc. Luther Blissett, by means of some carefully planned stunts, managed to instil in the public opinion reasonable doubts about the solidity of the case against those guys. In the end they were fully acquitted and indemnified by the state for eighteen months of unjust detention.

Slowly but steadily moral panic decreased and Luther Blissett switched to other tactics and targets (e.g. the highbrow art world and the Holy See), four of us focused on “Operation Dien Bien Q“, and the whole network prepared for the end of Blissett’s Five Year Plan.

As I look back, I understand that Luther Blissett pioneered the collision between old and new media, in a phase when the boundaries of old and new were sharper than they are now, and there were less intersections, only a few newspapers had an online edition, journalist didn’t have their own blogs, and file sharing was still far from being a mass phenomenon.

Do journalists pay too much attention to Twitter?
By Mathew Ingram

“Our results indicate that the routinization of Twitter into news production affects news judgment,” the researchers write. “For journalists who incorporate Twitter into their reporting routines, and those with fewer years of experience, Twitter has become so normalized that tweets were deemed equally newsworthy as headlines appearing to be from the AP wire. This may have negative implications.” Among those implications, they argue, is that journalists can get caught up in a kind of pack mentality in which a story is seen as important because other journalists on Twitter are talking about it, rather than because it is newsworthy.

The researchers argue it can also distort the way a story is reported. For example, when the photo of Chris Christie looking uncomfortable while standing behind Donald Trump in 2016 was published by the AP, Twitter exploded with jokes, and multiple news outlets wrote about it, but those familiar with Christie said there was nothing unusual about his expression. There are also more serious examples: The study notes a study of tweets posted by Russian agents working for the notorious “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency found more than 30 news outlets—including NPR, The Washington Post, and BuzzFeed—had embedded tweets from fake accounts in their news stories.

Three ways national media will further undermine trust
By Nikki Usher

Here’s the rub: Journalists who amplify conspiracies or highlight bad actors lend legitimacy to their causes. This sort of exposure might draw concerned attention from news consumers, but it can unwittingly undermine what journalists have set out to do. In their efforts to prevent people from being tricked or to alert them to danger, high-profile news outlets are actually lending even greater credibility to the bad actors and helping further spread their messages.

All too often, the first time a news consumer without a hyperpartisan right-wing media diet learns of a conspiracy theory comes via the national news media. QAnon burst into the spotlight not just because Roseanne Barr tweeted about it, but also because journalists covering Trump rallies decided that it was newsworthy to highlight the supporters in the crowd carrying pro-Q signs.

Flat-earthers have their message spread and shared journalists who are rightfully agog after hearing explanations that, no, the North Pole is actually the center of the world. In an article about a flat-earth conference in Denver — something which would not meet most standards of newsworthiness — The Guardian copped to the media’s culpability in the spread of the movement, noting “their increase in relevance is primarily due to social media and an endlessly curious media.” The piece noted that The Washington Post has run six different articles about an amateur rocketeer attempting to kiss the sky and video-record that the world is flat.

The bad actors and fake-news creators who have received profile attention by major outlets are too many to count — the college student looking to make some extra bucks, the liberal Angelino determined to make the hard-right look stupid (and produces massive misinformation to make the point). Coverage of the dark corners of Reddit and of Gab have highlighted nastiness on the Internet that should have remained there rather than drawing further attention to these activities.

The New Radicalization of the Internet
By The Editorial Board

While the motivations of violent actors may be different, the paths they travel toward violence are similar. Cesar Sayoc, the accused mail bomber, posted links on Twitter and Facebook to conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and illegal immigration. The accused Pittsburgh killer, Robert Bowers, was active on Gab, a social network established to harbor speech censored by mainstream platforms — including speech that many other platforms found too extremist. Two hours before the shooting, Mr. Bowers posted that a Jewish organization that aids refugees “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The rise of post-truth liberalism
By John Gray

A recent addition to the New York Times editorial board, the Harvard-educated Sarah Jeong, has a record of posting tweets about “dumbass fucking white people”, who – among many other sins and crimes – are “marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants”. What is notable about these comments is not their casual racism. It is that the sentiments they express are commonplace – the stock-in-trade of hundreds of thousands of graduates mass-produced in centres of higher learning every year.

Sarah Jeong Shouldn’t Be Fired for Her Tweets. That Doesn’t Mean Liberals Have to Defend Them.
By Yascha Mounk

If the left imitates the inflammatory rhetoric of the right, the best possible future is one in which today’s minority groups take over the reins of power but our social divisions grow even more poisonous. Since we will still have to live alongside each other, this would mean that minority groups, even once they are in power, would face the hostility of an extremely resentful block of what Jeong might call “old white men.”

The defensive inversion of bigotry, in other words, is a disastrous recipe for building the kind of society to which the left itself should, given its own values and the interests of its own members, aspire: one in which there is more rather than less friendship and affection across racial lines, and one in which society is more rather than less peaceful. And that is why any liberal or leftist who shares an aspirational vision of what a racially just America might one day look like has very good reason to reject the kind of rhetoric of which Jeong’s tweets are but a particularly controversial example.

The New York Times Just Published An Unqualified Recommendation For An Insanely Anti-Semitic Book
By Yair Rosenberg

That a celebrated cultural figure like Walker would promote such a self-evidently unhinged bigot might seem surprising at first glance. But this is only because the cultural establishment has spent years studiously looking away from Walker’s praise of Icke and his work, and her repeated expressions of anti-Semitism.

Back in June 2013, Walker wrote an effusive blog post showering accolades on Icke and his book Human Race Get Off Your Knees. “It’s an amazing book, HUMAN RACE GET OFF YOUR KNEES,” she enthused, “and reading it was the ultimate reading adventure. I felt it was the first time I was able to observe, and mostly imagine and comprehend, the root of the incredible evil that has engulfed our planet.”

In December 2013, Walker offered end-of-year thanks to an array “beloved humans who’ve stuck their necks out for the collective.” One of them was David Icke, whose Human Race Get Off Your Knees book also got its own entry.

In May 2013, Walker told the BBC’s Desert Island Discs that if she could have only one book, it would be Icke’s Human Race.

In July 2015, Walker shared an interview between David Icke and Alex Jones, his American analog. The account that posted the video has since been banned from YouTube.

In September 2016, Walker promoted a lecture of Icke’s to her readers, writing, “I decided to find, among Icke’s numerous videos, one lecture that might offer an introduction that wouldn’t be too scary for folks leery of being nudged in a direction of inquiry that might upset, destroy possibly, their worldview. I think this one might fit the bill.” YouTube has since taken down that lecture.

By Thomas Chatterton Williams

It brought to mind another disturbing op-ed that took a similar rhetorical line in The New York Times last November under the title, “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” In it, Cardozo law professor Ekow N. Yankah wrote: “Donald Trump’s election has made it clear that I will teach my boys the lesson generations old, one that I for the most part nearly escaped. I will teach them to be cautious, I will teach them suspicion, and I will teach them distrust. Much sooner than I thought I would, I will have to discuss with my boys whether they can truly be friends with white people.” He continues, “these recent months have put in the starkest relief the contempt with which the country measures the value of racial minorities.” The ridiculous thing, he concludes, “was thinking friendship was possible in the first place.”

How the election of Donald Trump with a minority of the popular vote can possibly count as proof of how the country as a whole “measures the value of racial minorities” is the most obvious flaw in the argument. But the argument—like the blanket case against men above—is not so much about precision as it is about emotion: specifically, the catharsis of condemnation. I understand that editors run arguments like these to challenge readers’ opinions and inspire fresh thought (and, of course, to attract clicks). What is far less clear, though, is who could ever be persuaded by them.

Andrew Sullivan: When Racism Is Fit to Print
By Andrew Sullivan

The neo-Marxist analysis of society, in which we are all mere appendages of various groups of oppressors and oppressed, and in which the oppressed definitionally cannot be at fault, is now the governing philosophy of almost all liberal media. That’s how the Washington Post can provide a platform for raw misandry, and the New York Times can hire and defend someone who expresses racial hatred. The great thing about being in the social justice movement is how liberating it can feel to give voice to incendiary, satisfying bigotry — and know that you’re still on the right side of history.

The Top 14 Causes of Political Polarization
By David Blankenhorn

13. The decline of journalistic responsibility. The dismantling of the old media has been accompanied by, and has probably helped cause, a decline in journalistic standards. These losses to society include journalists who’ll accept poor quality in pursuit of volume and repetition as well as the blurring and even erasure of boundaries between news and opinion, facts and non-facts, and journalism and entertainment. These losses feed polarization.

Eric Bischoff Says Today’s News Media Uses The Same Formula As Pro Wrestling
By Kellie Haulotte

How the news media and pro wrestling use the same formula:

“What is with the news today? All of us are exposed to it, right? I mean most of us — if you’re like me at least I’m kind of addicted to it — but I try as hard as I can to not watch it, because it upsets me. It wasn’t until after I got out of the wrestling business and I retired then I realized that the news media and professional wrestling used much of the same formula. They don’t want you to think, they want you to feel, and as long as you feel passionately one way or the other, business is good, and right now business is very, very good for the news media that cover politics.

“It never used to be that way, now I’m 63-years-old, I’ve been around for a little while and I’ve always been interested in current events. As I got older, I don’t recall seeing politics as bad as it is today. At least the news media back in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, at least they tried to pretend and most of them did a great job. At least there was an integrity in journalism and lines they wouldn’t cross, things they wouldn’t do. They would report both sides of the stories and let the audience or the reader decide how they felt about the given issue, or personality, or politician, but that’s gone. Why is that? Why did that happen? It seems to me at least then it’s really just begun happening over the last ten or eight years is when it’s gotten really bad.

“Where what you watch on television isn’t as much informing you and making you think, it’s making you feel and pissing you off more often than not, because that’s what they do it’s called ‘cheap heat’ in the wrestling business. It’s easy, just like me coming out here and making fun of people. It’s easy to get people to react to that kind of thing and a lot easier to get them to react to that than asking them to think. So that’s what they do.”

Sort By Controversial
By Scott Alexander

If you just read a Scissor statement off a list, it’s harmless. It just seems like a trivially true or trivially false thing. It doesn’t activate until you start discussing it with somebody. At first you just think they’re an imbecile. Then they call you an imbecile, and you want to defend yourself. Crescit eundo. You notice all the little ways they’re lying to you and themselves and their audience every time they open their mouth to defend their imbecilic opinion. Then you notice how all the lies are connected, that in order to keep getting the little things like the Scissor statement wrong, they have to drag in everything else. Eventually even that doesn’t work, they’ve just got to make everybody hate you so that nobody will even listen to your argument no matter how obviously true it is. Finally, they don’t care about the Scissor statement anymore. They’ve just dug themselves so deep basing their whole existence around hating you and wanting you to fail that they can’t walk it back. You’ve got to prove them wrong, not because you care about the Scissor statement either, but because otherwise they’ll do anything to poison people against you, make it impossible for them to even understand the argument for why you deserve to exist. You know this is true. Your mind becomes a constant loop of arguments you can use to defend yourself, and rehearsals of arguments for why their attacks are cruel and unfair, and the one burning question: how can you thwart them? How can you can convince people not to listen to them, before they find those people and exploit their biases and turn them against you? How can you combat the superficial arguments they’re deploying, before otherwise good people get convinced, so convinced their mind will be made up and they can never be unconvinced again? How can you keep yourself safe?

Stop the Stupid Tucker Carlson Boycott
By Jack Shafer

Both good journalism and bad journalism create controversy. But it’s always a mistake to stamp out controversy with a censor’s heel. Nate Silver put it better than I can in a Tuesday evening tweet: “The logical endpoint of deeming advertisers to have endorsed the political messages of the shows they run ads on is that only milquetoast both-sidesism with a pro-corporate bent will be advertising-supported, if any political content is ad-supported at all.” Silver’s view is informed by his memory of the time when conservative groups urged boycotts of advertisers and network thought to be promoting LGBTQ or other “nontraditional” lifestyles.

Are boycotts never warranted? Media scholar Michael Socolow of the University of Maine says he backs boycotts that punish the producers and advertisers for their actions. “But when you boycott advertisers to punish networks/programming, you’re actually punishing consumers of information and damaging the public sphere,” Socolow says.

The Demise of Gawker: An Interview with Ryan Holiday
By Stephen Elliott

RH: It’s interesting. At the outset of 2012, there’s a question of who’s the underdog. And you might think Peter Thiel, being very wealthy, is the big guy. You might think Hulk Hogan is the big guy. But Peter was outed and had no recourse. So is he really more powerful than Gawker? Is Hulk Hogan, a world famous celebrity, more powerful than Gawker?

The litigation cost between 10- and 20-million dollars. Hogan could not have afforded to litigate the case that he won. And so it’s interesting, if we take the verdict that the jury gave as being justice. This is a case Hogan won that he could not have afforded to litigate.

SE: And Gawker knows this and that’s why the editorial strategy seems [in retrospect] completely unjust. To run a company doing things you know are unjust and illegal, refusing to take stuff down that’s illegal because you’re invulnerable and the little guy can’t afford to sue you.

RH: I also think people don’t understand what Gawker‘s role was in the media system. Often Gawker would break a story, like the Hogan story. And then the New York Times could report on it. They could publish unseemly information that the rest of the media could then report and follow up on. Gawker is not the only side that understands it’s basically suicide to sue a media outlet in this country. And look, for the most part that’s a good thing. You wouldn’t want powerful people to be able to intimidate the media into not covering them.

But at the same time, it means that if you’re an average person and you are unfairly or unjustly or illegally treated by a media outlet, you have very little in the way of recourse. I mean not just that it cost 10-million dollars to litigate the case. It also took almost five years, and it arguably made the sex tape much more well-known. And so an embarrassing situation is even more embarrassing for the plaintiff. And then unconscionable things that Hulk Hogan had done came to light as a result of the lawsuit.

It’s a bad system where people who might be guilty of unrelated things, who might have skeletons in the closet or be on financially unsound footing, are incapable of getting justice when it comes to media coverage about them.

SE: Gawker could have just written about it. They didn’t have to have it playing on their site.

RH: That’s a very important distinction that again has been lost in the media coverage. Writing about the tape is completely covered by the First Amendment. Playing an illegally and surreptitiously recorded sex tape of two consenting adults in the privacy of a bedroom, not as much. This is where copyright comes in, where privacy comes in. Where a number of other non-First Amendment related issues come in. And so Gawker knows they’re doing something illegal.

After the editorial-solidarity stunt: Why nothing changed in Trump-press war
By W. Joseph Campbell

Not that anyone thought the solidarity stunt — or “spun-up nonsense,” as one boycotting newspaper called it — would make much difference. But it did make the press seem defensive, easily wounded, prone to group think, and eager to take refuge in eye-rolling platitudes. The editorials condemning Trump certainly oozed sanctimony; here’s a sample:

“A war on the press is a war on democracy,” declared the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“A free society can only function correctly if its citizens have timely access to information concerning its government’s dealings, and if representatives are held to acceptable standards,” intoned the Courier of Waterloo, Iowa.

“An independent and free media — and local news in particular — is our protection from tyranny and our guard against the oppression of those who would take advantage of us,” said the Duluth News Tribune.

“… a free press is fundamental to the continuation of our American experiment in democracy,” asserted the Dallas Morning News.

“A free press builds the foundation for democracy,” said the Tampa Bay Times. (More likely the reverse is true: Press freedom and media pluralism are effects, not conditions, of democratic governance.)

In any case, none of that chest-thumping had much chance of swaying popular opinions about the news media. Suspicions about the news media run deep, as a recent Gallup poll suggests: 62 percent of respondents said they believe bias lurks in news in print and on radio, and television.

The news media would do better to be more candid about their imperfections, limitations, and biases; to undertake more vigorously to get it right; to correct errors promptly and without chafing, to be less lop-sided, and less condescending, in their coverage.

Jon Stewart: Trump’s Winning War With Media by Using Their ‘Own Narcissism’ Against Them
By Caleb Ecarma

Stewart began his point by noting that corporate media outlets have focused so much on the Trump phenomenon because “you gotta’ make money to. You got bills to pay, man, you got electric bills, you got food.”

CNN International host Christiane Amanpour, who was interviewing Stewart along with fellow star comedian Dave Chappelle, pushed back on that statement and said that journalists have a different motivation.

“I think that journalists have taken it personally, they are personally wounded and offended by this man. He baits them, and they dive in,” Stewart replied. “What he’s done well, I thought, is appeal to their own narcissism, to their own ego, because when he [attacks the media], they say, we are noble, we are honorable, how dare you, sir! And they take it personally.”

He continued by explaining why this hurts the news cycle: “Now, he’s changed the conversation to not that his policies are silly or not working or any of those other things, it’s all about the fight and he’s able to tune out everything else and get people just focused on the fight, and he’s going to win that fight.”

Newsroom jobs fell 23% from 2008 to 2017, mainly in newspapers
By Elizabeth Grieco

Newsroom employment across the United States continues to decline, driven primarily by job losses at newspapers. And even though digital-native news outlets have experienced some recent growth in employment, too few newsroom positions were added to make up for recent losses in the broader industry, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics survey data.

From 2008 to 2017, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 23%. In 2008, about 114,000 newsroom employees – reporters, editors, photographers and videographers – worked in five industries that produce news: newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and “other information services” (the best match for digital-native news publishers). By 2017, that number declined to about 88,000, a loss of about 27,000 jobs.

This decline in overall newsroom employment was driven primarily by one sector: newspapers. Newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 45% over the period, from about 71,000 workers in 2008 to 39,000 in 2017.

Of the five industries studied, notable job growth occurred only in the digital-native news sector. Since 2008, the number of digital-native newsroom employees increased by 79%, from about 7,400 workers to about 13,000 in 2017. This increase of about 6,000 total jobs, however, fell far short of offsetting the loss of about 32,000 newspaper newsroom jobs during the same period. (A separate Pew Research Center analysis of reported layoffs at newspapers and digital-native news outlets found that nearly a quarter of the digital outlets examined experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018, despite the overall increase in employment in this sector.)

“Everyone’s for Sale”: Winter Has Arrived for the Digital-Media Darlings
By Joe Pompeo

Mic canned the majority of its staff last week as part of a last-resort sale to Bustle for about $5 million—$95 million less than its previous valuation. Vice, under turnaround C.E.O. Nancy Dubuc, is in the process of trimming its 3,000-person global headcount by 15 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported Vice’s losses at more than $50 million in 2018. At Refinery29, 10 percent of the workforce received pink slips this fall. BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti recently floated in the pages of The New York Times the quixotic notion of a multi-company merger between BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox Media, Group Nine Media, and Refinery29, as a means to rival the Facebook-Google ad duopoly.

Boutique players have not been spared either. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s Lenny Letter shut down in October, and last week brought the end of Rookie magazine, the 21st-century answer to Sassy, created by precocious tastemaker Tavi Gevinson. “Digital media has become an increasingly difficult business, and Rookie in its current form is no longer financially sustainable,” Gevinson wrote in a farewell note to readers. Traditional magazine companies, meanwhile, are trying to adapt to the digital world. Hearst, whose holdings include Cosmopolitan and Esquire, has endured layoffs, restructuring, and a leadership shake-up. Condé Nast, which owns Vanity Fair, is looking for a new C.E.O. who can streamline and maximize its global clout.

Billionaires Can Seem Like Saviors to Media Companies, but They Come With Risks
By David Gelles

“Jobs and Bezos and presumably Benioff, these people are doing good work,” said Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, who recently donated $20 million to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. “Anything that helps independent journalism is a good thing.”

But just as often, it seems, the new owners of newspapers and magazines can sap newsroom morale, or quickly discover that they have little tolerance for financial losses, or unions.

After Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, bought The New Republic six years ago and tried to remake it — leading to the exodus of many longtime members of its staff — he eventually sold it.

Peter D. Barbey, the heir to a retail fortune who bought The Village Voice in 2015 and pledged to support it, recently closed it.

And last year, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, shut down Gothamist and DNAinfo after its writers voted to unionize.

“Being owned by a local billionaire is not necessarily an act of charity,” Mr. Rosenstiel said. “There are clearly billionaires who are buying up publications because they want to influence political discourse in the country.”

At The Las Vegas Review-Journal, which the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bought in 2015, reporters and editors have been concerned about what they perceive as his editorial interference.

The Murder of the Weekly Standard
By John Podhoretz

There would at least be a larger meaning to the Standard’s end if it were being killed because it was hostile to Donald Trump. But I do not believe that is the case. Rather, I believe the fissures in the conservative movement and the Republican party that have opened up since Trump’s rise provided the company man with a convenient argument to make to the corporation’s owner, Philip Anschutz, that the company could perhaps harvest the Standard’s subscriber-base riches and then be done with it.

That this is an entirely hostile act is proved by the fact that he and Anschutz have refused to sell the Standard because they want to claim its circulation for another property of theirs. This is without precedent in my experience in publishing, and I’ve been a family observer of and active participant in the magazine business for half a century.

New media hits stumbling block, scaring away some investors
By Renae Merle and Thomas Heath

The most recent example of industry troubles is Mic, a millennial friendly news site, which was recently sold to Bustle Digital Group, a publishing company focused on female readers. Last year, the site received $25 million from venture investors, giving it a valuation of more than $100 million, according to PitchBook. A year later, it was sold to Bustle for a reported $5 million.

“Our business models are unsettled,” Mic publisher Cory Haik wrote in a letter to staff, most of whom were laid off as part of the deal. “If anyone tells you they have it figured out, a special plan to save us all, or that it’s all due to a singular fault, know that is categorically false.”

Alert! Alert! The information demands on the modern digital journalist are overwhelming and leading to burnout
By John Crowley

These words from Molly de Aguiar, managing director of the News Integrity Initiative (NII) at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, perhaps best sum up where our industry is at.

“Clearly, there are many things converging to overwhelm journalists right now — the 24/7 news cycle, the amplification/urgency that social media adds to that, the intense pressures to churn out stories that will generate traffic and generate ad revenue, the attempt to discredit journalism by calling it ‘fake news.’ Most journalists don’t have the authority to actually do much about how their newsroom operates.”

It is not too dramatic to say that many outlets we regard as big won’t be around in 10 years’ time. She feels the newsrooms that do succeed “are the ones who understand that the one-way broadcast model is not sustainable” and who invest in building loyal relationships with their audiences. “It’s not easy, though — it’s time and labor-intensive and they won’t be able to build trust overnight,” she says. “There has to be a really fundamental shift in the way newsrooms think about the communities they serve, which means really re-ordering their priorities about what stories they do and don’t write [and] how they allocate their resources.”

From news fatigue to news avoidance
By Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff

A Pew survey this spring found nearly seven in ten Americans felt exhausted and “worn out” by the news. Recent research on “news avoidance” has shown similar sentiments around the world. The Reuters Institute’s 2017 Digital News Report found that between six and 57 percent of populations worldwide said they “sometimes” or “often” avoided the news, usually because they did not trust it or found it upsetting. The U.S. came in at 38 percent according to that measure. The population of extreme news avoiders who report consuming news less often than once a month or never at all remains relatively small: an average of 3 percent worldwide and 8 percent in the U.S. But there are reasons to believe all of these numbers may grow in 2019.

The first reason is simply the continued growth of alternatives to news. As Markus Prior argued in an influential book in 2007, many people once tuned in to news because it was one of the few available options on their televisions. Back when there were only three channels and they all showed news at the same time, opting out took more effort than opting in. As the array of media options grew, first with cable television and later the Internet, some people began to consume less news simply because they preferred other fare. While it’s possible the exodus from news for this particular reason has maxed out (or at least changed in the age of social media), there’s little question that alternatives of every stripe continue to proliferate.

The second reason news avoidance will likely grow is the increase in political polarization, particularly “affective polarization” — or growing animosity between opposing political groups — which we’re seeing in many countries, including but not limited to the U.S. A growing body of evidence suggests a link between media distrust and political distrust, especially in places where the population is highly polarized. Meanwhile, one of the most common reasons people say they “sometimes” or “always” avoid news is because it upsets them. These findings in combination suggest that in an environment where affective polarization is increasing, more and more people may avoid the news — even as a small segment of news enthusiasts go online like addicts in search of a fix.

These are hardly encouraging predictions, but our biggest concern is that they will play out unevenly, perpetuating, or even increasing, existing inequalities. As we explain in a recent article (also covered last month by Nieman Lab), more women than men avoid news, and women are more likely to say news upsets them. As we argue in that paper, a gender gap in news avoidance is cause for alarm because, “If women, and lower-income women in particular, are less informed about political affairs than other groups, they may be poorly positioned to advocate for themselves politically.”

If you hate the media, you’re more likely to be fooled by a fake headline
By Joshua Benton

Don’t like the media? Think it’s all “lies” or “fake”? Then you’re probably not as good at reading the news as your less perpetually annoyed peers.

That’s one finding from a new study from the News Co/Lab at Arizona State, in collaboration with the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas. Those who have negative opinions of the news media are less likely to spot a fake headline, less likely to differentiate between news and opinion — but more confident in their ability to find the information they need online.

“We’re seeing a divide in news literacy among specific groups that may diminish their ability to fully understand what’s happening in the world,” said Chen, a past Nieman Lab contributor.

DER SPIEGEL Reveals Internal Fraud
By Ullrich Fichtner

In February 2017, DER SPIEGEL published “Lion Boys,” a heart-wrenching story that made waves well beyond journalistic circles. It told of how Islamic State had abducted two brothers, ages 12 and 13, brainwashed them, and dispatched them to Kirkuk as suicide bombers.

It’s the stuff of legendary features. In stories like these, the present is consolidated into a readable format, vast lines of contemporary history become tangible, and suddenly the big picture is painted on a very human scale. Reporters who have this kind of material, and a talent for dramaturgy, can spin gold out of it like in a fairytale. Relotius has this talent. But he invented the material. He wrote one of the best stories published in recent years, a masterpiece. The presenter of the coveted Peter Scholl-Latour award, Paul-Josef Raue — a man who has been in the newspaper business for decades — said that as he read the story he was proud to be a journalist because “journalism just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Der Spiegel’s first-class faker
By Josef Joffe

Among Relotius’ most celebrated articles were his pieces on Donald Trump’s America. They paint a picture of the country Europeans love to despise.

“In This Small Town” — a 7,300-word story about Fergus Falls, where “people pray for Donald Trump on Sundays,” confirmed what we all “know.” It was a tableau of “red-neck” America — a gun-toting, intolerant, anti-immigrant and irrationally religious nation.

The fact-checking work of two Fergus Falls citizens revealed this to be a fabrication. Not only does Relotius’ starring character, city administrator Andrew Bremseth, not carry a Beretta 9mm to work, he doesn’t even own one. Neither does the town have a sign that reads “Mexicans stay out.”

Relotius’ report was about perpetuating “an ugly and exaggerated stereotype,” the residents concluded, unsurprisingly. “We are either backward, living in the past and have our heads up our asses, or we are like dumb endearing animals that just need a little attention in order to keep us from eating the rest of the world alive.”

The scandal is a wake-up call to Relotius’ editors back home — and everyone else. It’s unfortunately all too easy to fall into the same trap they did. Why check carefully if this is what we have always known and what confirms our beliefs? People are people, and journalists are people — with their unarticulated prejudices and stereotypes.

The Spiegel Scandal and the Seduction of Storytelling
By Jeff Jarvis

The larger problem here is that our measurements of success are royally fucked up. On the business side, we value volume for volume’s sake — circulation, audience, pageviews, clicks, CPM — which, as I like to say, inevitably leads to cats and Kardashians and ultimately to clickbait made flesh, Donald Trump. On the editorial side, we value attention to us — most read, most clicked, most emailed, time spent. All of these metrics are mediacentric, egocentric. Our measures of success should instead be set by the public against its needs and goals.

The Legacies of Figures Like George H.W. Bush Require More Than Simple Partisan Narratives
By Yascha Mounk

When I first came to the United States in 2005, I was amazed by how freewheeling the public discourse was compared to the staid, consensual debates I’d witnessed in France and Germany. There were, of course, very deep political divisions at that time as well. But while the op-ed pages of the New York Times would very rarely laud George W. Bush, and the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal would very rarely criticize him, most topics were not infected by the same extent of partisan rancor. If I wanted to know what stance a magazine took on the latest geopolitical development, how a critic felt about the latest movie, or even what thoughts might occur to them on the occasion of a celebrity’s death, I actually have to, you know, read what they wrote.

Today, by contrast, the vast majority of both writers and publications have become brands that are always on-message. This leaves depressingly little room over for the inherent complexity of the world. And so, instead of grappling with contradictory facts, too many of us prefer to preach to an ever-more righteous choir.

This is a great shame. For attempting to think through the complexity of the world is not just one of life’s great pleasures; it is also a prerequisite for affording our political adversaries the minimal amount of consideration without which we will, sooner or later, come to think of even the most well-meaning and mild-mannered of political adversaries as an evil enemy to be destroyed.

The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb.
By Sean Blanda

Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.

It’s impossible to consider yourself a curious person and participate in social media in this way. We cannot consider ourselves “empathetic” only to turn around and belittle those who don’t agree with us.

People with extreme political views ‘cannot tell when they are wrong’, study finds
By Josh Gabbatiss

“We found that people who hold radical political beliefs have worse metacognition than those with more moderate views,” said lead author and neuroscientist Dr Steve Fleming.

“They often have a misplaced certainty when they’re actually wrong about something, and are resistant to changing their beliefs in the face of evidence that proves them wrong.”

Why Smart People Are Vulnerable to Putting Tribe Before Truth
By Dan M. Kahan

Conceptually, curiosity has properties directly opposed to those of identity-protective cognition. Whereas the latter evinces a hardened resistance to exploring evidence that could challenge one’s existing views, the former consists of a hunger for the unexpected, driven by the anticipated pleasure of surprise. In that state, the defensive sentries of existing opinion have necessarily been made to stand down. One could reasonably expect, then, that those disposed toward science curiosity would be more open-minded and as a result less polarized along cultural lines.

This is exactly what we see when we test this conjecture empirically. In general population surveys, diverse citizens who score high on the Science Curiosity Scale (SCS) are less divided than are their low-scoring peers.

Indeed, rather than becoming more polarized as their science literacy increases, those who score highest on SCS tend to converge on what the evidence signifies about climate change, private gun ownership, nuclear power and the other risk sources.

Experimental data suggest why. Afforded a choice, low-curiosity individuals opt for familiar evidence consistent with what they already believe; high-curiosity citizens, in contrast, prefer to explore novel findings, even if that information implies that their group’s position is wrong … . Consuming a richer diet of information, high-curiosity citizens predictably form less one-sided and hence less polarized views.

Warning To Democrats: Most Americans Against U.S. Getting More Politically Correct
By Domenico Montanaro

When it comes to the overall tone and level of civility in Washington between Republicans and Democrats, 70 percent of Americans believe it has gotten worse since Trump was elected. And there isn’t much of a partisan divide on this one, as nearly two-thirds of Republicans also say so.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans also think people overall are less respectful of each other than they were a few years ago. People across party lines agree on this point as well — with 72 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 64 percent of Republicans all saying so.

Notably, slightly more people blame the media (37 percent) for the tone in Washington than Trump (35 percent). As between the two parties, 13 percent of people blame Democrats in Congress while 8 percent blame Republicans in Congress. Predictably, there’s a partisan divide: About two-thirds of Democrats blame Trump; 58 percent of Republicans, on the other hand, blame the media.

The dynamic of Americans overall faulting the media has become more pronounced since Democrats won the House in November. In the November NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, 40 percent blamed Trump and just 29 percent blamed the media.

Trump: A Setback For Trumpism
By Scott Alexander

I think all of this should increase people’s concern about backlash effects. Contrary to what some of my conflict theorist friends seem to think, civility and honesty are not always pointless own-goals in politics. If you’re sufficiently repulsive and offensive, you can also end up damaging your own cause.

As I’ve pointed out before, backlash can sometimes be a necessary trade-off to energize your base. But as I’ve also pointed out before, people tend to overestimate the importance of turning out the base, and to underestimate the importance of not having everyone hate you. So if I were a Trumpist, I would be very worried right now.

Recovering the (Lost) Art of Civility
By David Bornstein

D.B.: Is it necessary to understand how we got here?

D.F.: It’s important to explore the question, but it’s not always necessary to agree on the answer. We have lots of experience in many contexts — from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gang violence — that the most important thing is to be able to hear and acknowledge each other’s stories. We can do that without agreeing on exactly what happened or — and this is key — agreeing on whose fault or responsibility it is.

D.B.: What about political leaders themselves? Could they become less polarizing?

D.F.: It’s possible. I wonder if there are some states where Democratic and Republican Party leaders would be willing to host cross-party conversations — not in the heat of the electoral cycle, but after it. Those conversations would be challenging, but they could be structured with an agreed set of questions that both parties say they want to explore together. They could pick a few public issues that matter in the state, and perhaps later look at national issues. Then, in cities and towns across the state, groups of no more than a dozen — half from each party — could meet over dinner, maybe once a month for six months.

They could feed back the main points of their conversations to the state level, where they’d be reviewed by party leaders, who would also be in regular, private conversation with each other. After six months, or longer if it seemed useful, there could be some public reflection and discussion.

I’m confident that a process like that with some design and facilitation from people who are independent could bring the partisan heat down, build relationships and make it harder to demonize each other, even if it didn’t lead to agreement on the issues. Party machinery matters. It works. It’s not hard for them to deliver activists to a room if they decide they really want to do this.

Reach out, listen, be patient. Good arguments can stop extremism
By Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

One famous example involved Ann Atwater and C P Ellis in my home town of Durham, North Carolina; it is described in Osha Gray Davidson’s book The Best of Enemies (1996) and a forthcoming movie. Atwater was a single, poor, black parent who led Operation Breakthrough, which tried to improve local black neighbourhoods. Ellis was an equally poor but white parent who was proud to be Exalted Cyclops of the local Ku Klux Klan. They could not have started further apart. At first, Ellis brought a gun and henchmen to town meetings in black neighbourhoods. Atwater once lurched toward Ellis with a knife and had to be held back by her friends.

Despite their mutual hatred, when courts ordered Durham to integrate their public schools, Atwater and Ellis were pressured into co-chairing a charrette – a series of public discussions that lasted eight hours per day for 10 days in July 1971 – about how to implement integration. To plan their ordeal, they met and began by asking questions, answering with reasons, and listening to each other. Atwater asked Ellis why he opposed integration. He replied that mainly he wanted his children to get a good education, but integration would ruin their schools. Atwater was probably tempted to scream at him, call him a racist, and walk off in a huff. But she didn’t. Instead, she listened and said that she also wanted his children – as well as hers – to get a good education. Then Ellis asked Atwater why she worked so hard to improve housing for blacks. She replied that she wanted her friends to have better homes and better lives. He wanted the same for his friends.

When each listened to the other’s reasons, they realised that they shared the same basic values. Both loved their children and wanted decent lives for their communities. As Ellis later put it: ‘I used to think that Ann Atwater was the meanest black woman I’d ever seen in my life … But, you know, her and I got together one day for an hour or two and talked. And she is trying to help her people like I’m trying to help my people.’ After realising their common ground, they were able to work together to integrate Durham schools peacefully. In large part, they succeeded.

The Psychology of Political Polarization
By Daniel Yudkin

Conservatives tend to see the world as a hostile place where personal success is realized through disciplined adherence to a strict set of ethical rules. In their view, humility is achieved by submitting one’s preferences to the established wisdom of authority and tradition.

In contrast, liberals tend to view the world as a place where success is achieved by casting off the strictures of society and allowing individuals to achieve their true potential through self-expression. They believe that humility is achieved by acknowledging the degree to which success in life is a result of circumstances beyond one’s control.

These differing notions of virtue shape the way people think and talk about social issues. Conservatives may frame political topics in the language of respect and discipline, while liberals may frame such topics in the language of values like compassion and equality.

This, in turn, may lead people to misunderstand others’ motives, making political rifts appear deeper than they really are. Conservatives look at liberals’ emphasis on self-expression and see weakness and self-indulgence. Liberals look at conservatives’ emphasis on personal responsibility and see chauvinism and victim-blaming.

This distortion renders thoughtful dialogue difficult at a time when it is most necessary. Americans are far more aligned on many critical issues than you might think. For example, our data show that 75 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, 82 percent believe that racism is at least a somewhat serious problem in America and 79 percent favor providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children. In addition, 77 percent of Americans agree that our differences are not so great that we cannot come together.

Complicating the Narratives
By Amanda Ripley

The lesson for journalists (or anyone) working amidst intractable conflict: complicate the narrative. First, complexity leads to a fuller, more accurate story. Secondly, it boosts the odds that your work will matter — particularly if it is about a polarizing issue. When people encounter complexity, they become more curious and less closed off to new information. They listen, in other words.

There are many ways to complicate the narrative … But the main idea is to feature nuance, contradiction and ambiguity wherever you can find it. This does not mean calling advocates for both sides and quoting both; that is simplicity, and it usually backfires in the midst of conflict. “Just providing the other side will only move people further away,” Coleman says. Nor does it mean creating a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and their opponents. That is just simplicity in a cheap suit. Complicating the narrative means finding and including the details that don’t fit the narrative — on purpose.

The idea is to revive complexity in a time of false simplicity. “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete,” novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her mesmerizing TED Talk “A Single Story.” “[I]t’s impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person.”

Usually, reporters do the opposite. We cut the quotes that don’t fit our narrative. Or our editor cuts them for us. We look for coherence, which is tidy — and natural. The problem is that, in a time of high conflict, coherence is bad journalism, bordering on malpractice.

In the midst of conflict, our audiences are profoundly uncomfortable, and they want to feel better. “The natural human tendency is to reduce that tension,” Coleman writes, “by seeking coherence through simplification.” Tidy narratives succumb to this urge to simplify, gently warping reality until one side looks good and the other looks evil. We soothe ourselves with the knowledge that all Republicans are racist rednecks — or all Democrats are precious snowflakes who hate America.

Complexity counters this craving, restoring the cracks and inconsistencies that had been air-brushed out of the picture. It’s less comforting, yes. But it’s also more interesting — and true.

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