Skip to content


Culture war games: a willingness to be mau-maued

The Rise and Fall of the Palo Alto Consensus
By Kevin Munger

The Palo Alto Consensus held that American-made internet communication technologies (both hardware and software) should be distributed globally and that governments should be discouraged from restricting speech online. Its proponents believed that states in which public discourse was governed by “everyone” — via social media and the internet — would become more democratic. This would mean both regime change in authoritarian countries (the Arab Spring) and more responsive politics in electoral democracies (something like the White House Petitions).

Part of the appeal of the Palo Alto Consensus was that it would create a dilemma for states: They could not restrict online information flows without upsetting their populations’ social and economic lives. The assumption was that states would be prevented from shutting down information flows about, say, corruption or police brutality. That has been a success. But everyone seems to have underestimated the demand for information about how white nationalism is good and vaccines are bad. The downsides of information flows controlled by powerful institutions are obvious, but now people are coming to recognize their upsides.

Sri Lanka’s Decision to Censor Social Platforms Is Indefensible
By Trevor Timm

First, there’s a giant assumption buried in here that cutting off modes of communication — no matter how vital to a country’s citizenry — will prevent violence. Let’s put aside for a minute that the Sri Lankan government is now stifling the country’s citizens from easily contacting their friends and family members, preventing them from getting real news about the events, and keeping them from being alerted about other safety concerns.

Research shows that internet blackouts like this will have the opposite effect, even if you believe that a country’s motives are entirely wholesome. Just one month ago, Stanford’s Jan Rydzak released a working paper looking at India’s attempts in 2016 to shut down portions of the internet, which was carried out with the state intention of stopping violence. “Bottom line,” Rydzak said about his study’s conclusions, “shutdowns are followed by a clear increase in violent protest and have very ambiguous effects on peaceful demonstrations.”

Furthermore, the idea that we should trust the Sri Lankan government — let alone any government — in wholesale blocking of social media sites is terrifying. Sri Lanka doesn’t exactly have the most stellar human rights record to begin with. And we know “safety” concerns are at the heart of literally every excuse any government makes when attempting to censor the internet. Journalists should look at these sentiments skeptically, not swallow them whole without a second thought.

Myanmar shuts down internet in conflict areas as UN expert warns of potential abuses
By James Griffiths

The Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has been conducting a major security operation and crackdown in the western province of Rakhine since August 2017, when alleged Rohingya militants attacked police posts.

More than 720,000 Rohingya are estimated to have been forced to flee into Bangladesh as a result of the ensuing violence, which US lawmakers and international human rights bodies have said amounts to ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

U Myo Swe, an official with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, told the Irrawaddy, a Myanmar news site, that this month’s internet shutdown was “for the sake of security and the public interest.”

“All of us know the situation in Rakhine. People are in trouble, and many people have been displaced. The internet is one of the contributors to this. So, it has been temporarily suspended. It will be resumed when stability is restored,” U Myo Swe said.

Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said the internet shutdown could have the precise opposite effect, however.

“As there is no media access and serious restrictions on humanitarian organisations in the conflict-affected area, the entire region is in a blackout,” she said in a statement. “I fear for all civilians there, cut off and without the necessary means to communicate with people inside and outside the area.”

Lee said the UN had been informed the Tatmadaw was conducting a “clearance operation” which “we all know by now can be a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population.”

Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the shutdown “deliberately impedes journalists’ ability to send, receive, and publish reports from Rakhine and Chin states.”

India Shut Down Kashmir’s Internet Access. Now, ‘We Cannot Do Anything.’
By Vindu Goel, Karan Deep Singh and Sameer Yasir

The information blockade was an integral part of India’s unilateral decision last week to wipe out the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, an area of 12.5 million people that is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has long been a source of tension. That has brought everyday transactions, family communications, online entertainment and the flow of money and information to a halt.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the rapid adoption of the internet, particularly on smartphones, to modernize India and bring it out of poverty, the country is also the world leader in shutting down the internet.

The country has increasingly deployed communications and internet stoppages to suppress potential protests, prevent rumors from spreading on WhatsApp, conduct elections and even stop students from cheating on exams. Last year, India blocked the internet 134 times, compared with 12 shutdowns in Pakistan, the No. 2 country, according to Access Now, a global digital rights group, which said its data understates the number of occurrences.

“Shutting down the internet has become the first go-to the moment the police think there will be any kind of disturbance,” said Mishi Choudhary, founder of SFLC.in, a legal advocacy group in New Delhi that has tracked the sharp rise in web shutdowns in India since 2012.

The global gag on free speech is tightening
By The Economist

Free speech is hard won and easily lost. Only a year ago it flowered in Ethiopia, under a supposedly liberal new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. All the journalists in jail were released, and hundreds of websites, blogs and satellite TV channels were unblocked. But now the regime is having second thoughts. Without a dictatorship to suppress it, ethnic violence has flared. Bigots have incited ethnic cleansing on newly free social media. Nearly 3m Ethiopians have been driven from their homes.

Ethiopia faces a genuine emergency, and many Ethiopians think it reasonable for the government to silence those who advocate violence. But during the alleged coup it did far more than that—in effect it silenced everyone. As Befekadu Haile, a journalist and activist, put it: “In the darkness, the government told all the stories.”

Some now fear a return to the dark days of Abiy’s predecessors, when dissident bloggers were tortured. The regime still has truckloads of electronic kit for snooping and censoring, much of it bought from China. It is also planning to criminalise “hate speech”, under a law that may require mass surveillance and close monitoring of social media by police. Many fret that the law will be used to lock up peaceful dissidents.

The Crisis of Social Media
By Adrian Shahbaz and Allie Funk

In Sudan, nationwide protests sparked by devastating economic hardship led to the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir after three decades in power. Authorities blocked social media platforms on several occasions during the crisis, including a two-month outage, in a desperate and ultimately ineffective attempt to control information flows. The suspension of the constitution and the declaration of a state of emergency further undermined free expression in the country. Harassment and violence against journalists, activists, and ordinary users escalated, generating multiple allegations of torture and other abuse.

In Kazakhstan, the unexpected resignation of longtime president Nursultan Nazarbayev—and the sham vote that confirmed his chosen successor in office—brought simmering domestic discontent to a boil. The government temporarily disrupted internet connectivity, blocked over a dozen local and international news websites, and restricted access to social media platforms in a bid to silence activists and curb digital mobilization. Also contributing to the country’s internet freedom decline were the government’s efforts to monopolize the mobile market and implement real-time electronic surveillance.

The victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s October 2018 presidential election proved a watershed moment for digital election interference in the country. Unidentified actors mounted cyberattacks against journalists, government entities, and politically engaged users, even as social media manipulation reached new heights. Supporters of Bolsonaro and his far-right “Brazil over Everything, God above Everyone” coalition spread homophobic rumors, misleading news, and doctored images on YouTube and WhatsApp. Once in office, Bolsonaro hired communications consultants credited with spearheading the sophisticated disinformation campaign.

In Bangladesh, citizens organized mass protests calling for better road safety and other reforms, and a general election was marred by irregularities and violence. To maintain control over the population and limit the spread of unfavorable information, the government resorted to blocking independent news websites, restricting mobile networks, and arresting journalists and ordinary users alike.

Deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe made the internet less affordable. As civil unrest spread throughout the country, triggering a violent crackdown by security forces, authorities restricted connectivity and blocked social media platforms.

Internet Shutdowns Don’t Make Anyone Safer
By Editorial Board

Methods vary, but the trend is clear enough. Countries are increasingly ordering telecoms and other companies to block network access, shut down messaging services, or otherwise restrict digital applications or websites, usually citing public order or national-security concerns. In extreme cases, internet access can be “blacked out” entirely. Worldwide, such shutdowns rose to 188 last year, up from 75 in 2016.

Expect that regrettable figure to rise. For autocrats, the appeal is obvious. They can use such restrictions to suppress inconvenient news or unwanted opinions, censor political rivals, prevent activists from organizing, and stifle talk of government misdeeds. For instance, after voters cast ballots last year in an election widely seen as corrupt, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo blocked all internet access for nearly three weeks. The stated goal — which cost the impoverished country roughly $3 million a day, according to one calculation — was to prevent “chaos.”

Even in democracies, such bans can be tempting. When terrorists killed more than 250 people in Sri Lanka in April, authorities shut down access to multiple social-media services for more than a week. That might have seemed justified in the moment: Messaging apps can accelerate the spread of disinformation, and further violence appeared imminent.

The problem is that there’s no evidence such bans work. They do nothing to moderate the anger that might lead to violence, and dedicated troublemakers can evade them with VPNs and other technology — or simply by spreading rumors the old-fashioned way. Shutdowns also tend to become a habit: They are imposed in India more often than in all other countries combined, sometimes for bizarre or trivial reasons.

And the drawbacks are severe. Done rashly, internet blockages can impede vital communication, hinder the work of emergency workers, induce public panic, and encourage the spread of rumors in the absence of reliable news coverage. They might even encourage violence. Unsurprisingly, they’re also expensive: By one estimate, India’s shutdowns have cost more than $3 billion over five years.

A Lesson From 1930s Germany: Beware State Control of Social Media
By Heidi Tworek

Radio only became central to Nazi aims after Hitler was elected chancellor in January 1933, but Goebbels quickly exercised power over the medium, because the state already controlled its infrastructure and content. State control over radio had been intended to defend democracy. It unintentionally laid the groundwork for the Nazi propaganda machine.

Radio emerged as a new technology in the early 1920s, and the bureaucrat tasked with developing regulations for it in the Weimar Republic, Hans Bredow, initially had high hopes. He thought that radio could broadcast education and entertainment to bring the German population together after the divisive loss of World War I, and believed that radio should not broadcast political content, fearing it might exacerbate an already febrile environment.

Initially, Bredow allowed private companies to broadcast, and only from the mid-1920s on did stations start to air some news. This seemed dangerous to Bredow and other officials, who worried that news could stoke uprisings or antidemocratic sentiment.

Weimar bureaucrats began exerting ever greater state supervision over radio content to try to depoliticize it. As the Weimar Republic became more and more politically unstable, Bredow and others pushed through reforms in 1926 and 1932 that mandated direct state supervision of radio content. Bredow believed that increased state direction would prevent Weimar democracy from failing.

Ironically, this effort played right into the Nazis’ hands, and meant that the Nazis could seize immediate control over radio content when they came to power. Bredow was imprisoned for trying to stand up for democratic values. (After World War II, he helped to reestablish radio in democratic West Germany. There is now even a media institute in Hamburg named after him.)

The Nazi example, though extreme, reminds us that well-intentioned laws can have tragic unintended consequences.

French lawmakers vote to target online hate speech in draft bill
By Mathieu Rosemain and Elizabeth Pineau

Several internet and freedom of speech advocacy groups questioned have argued the bill paves the way for state censorship because it does not clearly define illicit content.

Insults, slurs and racist comments proliferate today on social networks. Under the law, it would be up to Facebook, Twitter and video streaming platform YouTube to swiftly remove the content, pushing them to be zealous, advocacy groups say.

“Imposing a 24-hour limit to remove clearly unlawful content is likely to result in significant restrictions on freedoms, such as the overblocking of lawful comments or the misuse of the measure for political censorship purposes,” said Quadrature du Net, a group that advocates free speech on the internet.

The group also highlighted that a law adopted in 2004 already demanded the removal of hateful content, but in a “responsive” way, leaving enough time to platforms for assessing the seriousness of the content under review.

“The assessment of the illegality of hate content cannot be left to platform operators alone…,” France’s Human Rights League said in a statement before Friday’s vote.

“We warn against circumventing the powers of the judicial authorities in favor of the independent administrative authorities,” it added.

Russia bans ‘disrespect’ of government
By BBC News

If you believe the pro-Kremlin MPs behind this legislation, tackling fake news and online insults benefits the Russian people and the state. But the headline in today’s edition of the newspaper Vedomosti tells a different story: “Fake concern about society”, declared its front page.

Critics of the legislation believe the draft laws are part of a growing Kremlin-inspired crackdown on Internet freedom.

They point to another bill under debate to create a “Sovereign Internet”. Under the plan, Russian cyber space could operate independently of the world wide web. Many see this as Russia’s version of the Great Firewall of China: an Internet Iron Curtain.

Breaking the internet: new regulations imperil global network
By Rob Lever

Ira Magaziner, a former policy adviser to president Bill Clinton who helped negotiate deals to bring the internet around the world, said he is optimistic that countries will find ways to keep the internet from fragmenting.

“We are going through a period where there are a lot of questions and a lot of forces for disintegration,” Magaziner said, while noting that countries cutting off data will be hurting themselves.

“If the advantages are large enough, it will hang together,” he said.

YouTube, Facebook Purges Are More Extensive Than You Think
By Matt Taibbi

… the biggest deniers of “well-documented violent events” are often not small-time conspiracy theorists, but governments, especially our own. Moreover, some of the worst spreaders of conspiratorial news are not Twitter geeks, but America’s biggest media organizations.

In late May, Shorrock was one of just a few reporters who cried foul when mainstream news outlets made what may have been a serious factual error.

Beginning with Bloomberg on May 30th, and including the Daily Beast, the Wall Street Journal and a long list of other major Western outlets, it was reported that North Korean official Kim Hyok Chol — who headlined a group of nuclear arms negotiators who met with Trump officials last year — was “executed” as part of a “purge of officials.”

The story was based upon a single unnamed source in the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

A few days later, Chol was supposedly seen with Kim Jong Un and his wife at an “amateur art performance.” This was according to North Korean media. Multiple news outlets have since reported the development, including Reuters, the Times, and the Washington Post. The Post headline read: “The rumor of Kim Jong Un’s purge: Why it matters even if it’s wrong.”

The Post led off by pointing the finger not at big news organizations, but “social media,” which it said “was ablaze last week with reports” about the purges. The paper noted that a mistake would be unfortunate, but, “even a false purge story doesn’t justify ignoring the larger trend in North Korea’s authoritarian regime.”

It’s worth pointing out that nothing seems to have been proven one way or another in this tale. Still, Shorrock’s original comment on Twitter — which criticized Bloomberg for running a report based on one unnamed source in a paper he said has a “history of false stories” — seems salient. What happens when mainstream platforms get things wrong en masse? Do small-timers get yanked, while big organizations get to make mistakes?

From WMD to inaccurate reports about drone strikes to things like the attitude of South Koreans toward a peace process, the most troublingly conspiratorial reporting often comes with an official imprimatur. A frequent theme is overhype of villainous news about targets of American “regime change” plans. Especially if people believe “fake news” is being carefully rooted out, they will now be even more susceptible to such official deceptions.

Conservatives say Google and Facebook are censoring them. Here’s the real background.
By Shannon C. McGregor and Daniel Kreiss

Political practitioners told us that advertising that focuses on the politics of assault rifles, for or against, might run afoul of Google’s rules. At Google, algorithms vet most advertising for “inappropriate content.” When an algorithm flags an ad, it then goes to human reviewers. If reviewers reject the ad, they give very little explanation — failing to clarify, for instance, why an ad about the politics of assault rifles counts as “inappropriate content.” As a result, campaigns don’t know how to design ads that meet the standards; that limits the range of political topics on which politicians can campaign.

Keeping the rules vague allows these firms maximum flexibility to interpret their own rules. The campaign staffers we interviewed reported that company representatives generally do not explain or justify these decisions. Journalists, researchers and individuals who have an interest in how platforms moderate political speech remain largely in the dark.

The lack of transparency makes it hard for campaigns to contest any decision to turn down an ad. When we visited the offices of a prominent conservative organization, senior staffers showed us ads rejected by platform companies with little more than a one-word response to explain the rejection. Since the companies offer so little justification or opportunities to appeal, some campaigns turn to the press to air their grievances.

Former Google and Facebook staffers told us about times when their clients’ ads had been rejected, and they had appealed within their companies for reconsideration and asked why certain ads were denied or what policies meant. Many of these discussions are hidden from public view. We analyzed emails, given to us privately by one of the people in the exchange, among Facebook staffers and political staffers working on a 2017 gubernatorial campaign, to examine how the company advised campaigns to deal with speech from an opponent that appeared to violate the platform’s ad policies. Facebook often suggested that the campaign should run ads of its own to counter the opponent’s claims. The documents we reviewed suggest that when Facebook did act to take down deliberate misinformation and misleading content, Facebook gave different explanations to the campaign involved and to the public; these explanations conflicted with one another; and the explanations changed over time.

Certainly, deciding when a political ad has crossed the line from provocative to irresponsible is a nuanced and difficult decision. Both Google and Facebook reportedly have extensive internal debates about what constitutes inappropriate content. But the current approach does not provide either transparency to campaigns or disclosure to the public.

YouTube’s purge of white supremacist videos also hits anti-racism channels
By Suhauna Hussain and Samantha Masunaga

In the SPLC video, Blumenthal was exploring how people could believe the Holocaust was a hoax and how that belief contributes to anti-Semitism, Beirich said.

“YouTube saw someone speaking of Holocaust denial and assumed it was promotion. But it was the opposite — it was exposure and condemnation of Holocaust denial thinking.”

YouTube said it posts clear policies on what content is acceptable and removes videos violating those policies, but with the massive volume of videos on the site, sometimes the company makes the wrong call.

“When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it,” YouTube said in a statement. “We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.”

Opinion: Social media bans don’t just hurt those you disagree with – free speech is damaged when the axe falls too freely
By Jodie Ginsberg

Silencing those with whom you disagree is, without doubt, censorship. It is of most concern when enacted by those in government – as we see in countries such as Saudi Arabia where journalists and government critics are jailed, and even killed, for their work.

But governments are not the only ones to exert power. Social media platforms have enormous influence over what we see and how we see it. Therefore we should be concerned about the unilateral actions taken by the platforms to limit legal speech and approach with extreme caution any solutions that suggest it’s somehow easy to eliminate only “bad” speech.

Those applauding the banning of Jones et al might want to pause to consider that it is not only far-right drum-bangers who lose access to their accounts.

Last month, an article in USA Today highlighted the example of US high school teacher and activist Carolyn Wysinger, whose post in response to actor Liam Neeson saying he’d roamed the streets hunting for black men to harm, was deleted by Twitter for violating its community standards. “White men are so fragile,” the post read, “and the mere presence of a black person challenges every single thing in them.”

Other activists have had posts deleted for highlighting racist messages they receive, lesbians have been banned for using the word “dyke”in their posts.

In the UK, gender critical feminists who have quoted academic research on sex and gender identity have had their Twitter accounts suspended for breaching the organisation’s hateful conduct policy, while threats of violence towards women often go unpunished.

“Men Are Scum”: Inside Facebook’s War on Hate Speech
By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

It’s nine A.M. on an autumn Tuesday, and I’m sitting in on a meeting about “men are scum” at Facebook’s campus in Menlo Park, California. The trouble started a year ago, in the fall of 2017. The #MeToo movement had recently begun. Nicole Silverberg, currently a writer on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, had shared on her Facebook page a trove of bilious comments directed at her after she’d written a list of ways men “need to do better.” In the comments section beneath her post, another comic, Marcia Belsky, wrote, “Men are scum.” Facebook kicked Belsky off the platform for 30 days.

This seemed absurd. First of all, the news at the time was dominated by stories of men acting scummily. Second, Facebook had been leaving up plenty of well-documented crap. By then the company was deep into an extended cycle of bad press over the toxic, fraudulent, and/or covertly Russian content that had polluted its platform throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. In Western Europe, the far right was using the site to vilify Middle Eastern migrants. In Southeast Asia, authoritarian regimes were using it to dial up anger against religious minorities and political enemies. But Facebook was taking down “men are scum”?

Belsky hopped on a 500-person (Facebook) group of female comics. A bunch of them were getting banned for similar infractions, even as they reported sexist invective being hurled their way. They decided to protest by spamming the platform. On November 24, dozens of “men are scum” posts went up. And then … they came right down. Belsky was put back in Facebook jail. The women of Men Are Scum became a brief Internet cause célèbre, another data point in the never-ending narrative that Facebook doesn’t care about you.

Ten months later, the issue hasn’t gone away, and Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg has let it be known within the company that he, too, is concerned by the policy. Today’s meeting is part of an ongoing attempt to solve the problem. The session takes place in Building 23, which, compared with the glorious Frank Gehry-designed offices on the other side of campus, is small and relatively nondescript. No majestic redwood trees, no High Line-inspired rooftop park. Even its signage—inspirational photo illustrations of Elie Wiesel and Malala—suggests a more innocent era, when the company’s ethos seemed more daftly utopian than sinister. The meeting room is called “Oh, Semantics.” All the rooms at Facebook have cute names like “Atticus Finch” or “Marble Rye,” after the Seinfeld episode. Mostly they seem random, but this one feels apt, because Oh, Semantics is where the company’s shadow government has been meeting, every two weeks, to debate what you can and cannot post on Facebook.

Facebook while black: Users call it getting ‘Zucked,’ say talking about racism is censored as hate speech
By Jessica Guynn

“White men are so fragile,” she fired off, sharing William’s post with her friends, “and the mere presence of a black person challenges every single thing in them.”

It took just 15 minutes for Facebook to delete her post for violating its community standards for hate speech. And she was warned if she posted it again, she’d be banned for 72 hours.

Wysinger glared at her phone, but wasn’t surprised. She says black people can’t talk about racism on Facebook without risking having their posts removed and being locked out of their accounts in a punishment commonly referred to as “Facebook jail.” For Wysinger, the Neeson post was just another example of Facebook arbitrarily deciding that talking about racism is racist.

“It is exhausting,” she says, “and it drains you emotionally.”

Black activists say hate speech policies and content moderation systems formulated by a company built by and dominated by white men fail the very people Facebook claims it’s trying to protect. Not only are the voices of marginalized groups disproportionately stifled, Facebook rarely takes action on repeated reports of racial slurs, violent threats and harassment campaigns targeting black users, they say.

Many of these users now think twice before posting updates on Facebook or they limit how widely their posts are shared. Yet few can afford to leave the single-largest and most powerful social media platform for sharing information and creating community.

Facebook and Twitter are growing into the mainstream
By Emily Bell

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and whoever else outsources decision-making on these issues will eventually have to internalise them, too, and have a recognisable culture, set of rules, appeals process and communications system which is capable of responding quickly to information crises. The disruption that minor calls about malicious material creates are too much for any corporate system to withstand, unless it has been designed to deal with them. The inevitable outcome will be a narrowing of the type of material promoted and circulated.

The platforms are no longer innovators in terms of speech, publication and the public sphere; they are incumbents, gatekeepers, publishers, however you want to describe them. In other words they are done with disruption, and will therefore inevitably become perpetuators of incumbency themselves. As the experiment of levelling access to tools and speech comes to a shuddering halt, the platforms will increasingly favour the establishment, whether that is among a narrow band of mainstream media suppliers, a smaller number of high-follower influencers, a tiered system of political actors or a particular class of advertisers.

The Pelosi video and the rolling debate are not a sign of how far away we are from mainstream “normality” but how close to its return.

Facebook Has a Right to Block ‘Hate Speech’—But Here’s Why It Shouldn’t
By Brian Amerige

… executives at Facebook and Twitter have both been very clear that they think regulation is “inevitable.” They’ve even offered to help draft the rules. But such statements don’t confer upon the government a moral right to regulate these platforms. Whether a company or a person invites a violation of their rights is immaterial to the legitimacy (morally and legally) of such a rights violation. Rights of this type cannot be forfeited.

Moreover, the fact that these huge platforms are open to regulation shouldn’t come as a surprise. Facebook and Twitter are market incumbents, and further regulation will only serve to cement that status. Imposing government-mandated standards would weaken or prohibit competition, effectively making them monopolies, in the legitimate sense, for the first time. Unlike potential new platforms, Facebook and Twitter have the capital and staff to handle onerous, complicated, and expensive new regulations. They can hire thousands of people to review content, and already have top-flight legal teams to handle the challenge of compliance. The best thing governments can do here is nothing. If this is a serious enough issue—and I think it is—competition will emerge if it’s able to do so.

The U.N. Hates Hate Speech More Than It Loves Free Speech
By Jacob Mchangama

These inherent problems with hate speech laws are magnified when applied to the global level and the 193 member states of the United Nations, many of whose governments are authoritarian. In illiberal states, such bans become a weapon in the hands of the authorities rather than a shield for vulnerable groups and minorities.

As a response to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda adopted strict genocide denial laws. But these laws have been widely abused to silence political and journalistic criticism of President Paul Kagame. In 2017, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly passed the Anti-Hate Law for Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence, with prison sentences of up to 20 years. Predictably, the law has been used to prosecute journalists critical of President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian government. Russia has even copied Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, which is likely to be used against critics of the Kremlin.

Guterres rightly notes the proliferation of anti-Muslim hatred. But in Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, Muslims are frequently the targets of laws against “religious hatred.” Ablaykhan Chalimbayev spent five years in a Kazakh prison for quoting a commentary on the Quran. Other Kazakh victims include atheists and human rights activists. Hate speech laws may also be used to protect religious authorities and doctrines from criticism. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has repeatedly sought to expand the definition of hate speech under international law to include “defamation of religions.” In Russia, laws against religious hatred are used to protect the Orthodox Church from offense, including irreverent art.

How Berlin Became an Unlikely Home for China’s Artists
By Melissa Chan

Since taking power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has tightened the Communist Party’s grip on all aspects of life and society, including the arts. He believes that art should serve a nationalist purpose, that nudity is bad, and that contemporary art and architecture are “weird.” Under his leadership, the censorship-review process that all creatives must submit their works to, whether for an art exhibition or a film’s release, has become even more conservative and unpredictable.

This Chinese Artist Criticized Google and Xi Jinping. Now He’s Facing Government Harassment.
By Ryan Gallagher

Once he discovered that police in China had uncovered his identity, Badiucao disappeared from the internet. For six months, his highly active Twitter and Instagram pages fell silent. But after taking a break to assess his future and his security, the 33-year-old artist has decided that he is ready to return. His latest project, “China’s Artful Dissident,” is a documentary film aired in Australia on Tuesday, in which he reveals his face to the public for the first time.

“The only way to maintain my safety is to show myself to the world and tell the world what happened in Hong Kong,” Badiucao said in a phone interview from Melbourne. “For a lot of people, it was a big defeat of human rights and free speech that my exhibition got canceled. I want to make sure that people know this is not the end. I am not away. I am back. I will be back with you. And we will fight together.”

Dissident Artist Ai Weiwei Is Cut From Film; Producer Cites ‘Fear of China’
By Amy Qin

The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was under house arrest in Beijing when he was invited to remotely direct a segment for “Berlin, I Love You,” an anthology film set in the German capital. The segment portrayed the separation of a family and featured his 5-year-old son, Ai Lao, who lived in Germany.

“It’s sweet and has some sadness,” Mr. Ai said about his segment, which he directed in 2015. “Not politically sensitive at all.”

But in the final version of the film, which was released in the United States this month, Mr. Ai’s contribution was nowhere to be found. Mr. Ai said the producers told him they had decided to cut his segment after investors, distributors and other partners raised concerns about the artist’s political sensitivity in China.

“When I found out, I was very angry,” Mr. Ai said. “It was frustrating to see Western creators and institutions collaborating with Chinese censorship in such an obvious way.”

‘South Park’ Scrubbed From Chinese Internet After Critical Episode
By Patrick Brzeski and Ryan Parker

The most recent episode of South Park, “Band in China,” has been generating loads of media attention for its sharp critique of the way Hollywood tends to shape its content to avoid offending Chinese government censors in any way whatsoever.

Now, those very same government censors, in the real world, have lashed back at South Park by deleting virtually every clip, episode and online discussion of the show from Chinese streaming services, social media and even fan pages.

South Park‘s “Band in China” episode featured a pair of storylines critical of China. One involves Randy getting caught attempting to sell weed in China and getting sent to a work camp similar to those Beijing has been using in Xinjiang Provence to hold as many as a million Chinese Muslims for political indoctrination. (While he’s at the work camp, Randy runs into an imprisoned Winnie the Pooh.)

A second plot follows Stan, Jimmy, Kenny and Butters forming a metal band, which becomes popular and attracts the attention of a manager who wants to make a film about them. But then the script keeps changing so that the film can safely be distributed in China.

“Now I know how Hollywood writers feel,” Stan says at one point while a Chinese guard watches over him and alters his work while he writes the script. Several shots also are taken at Disney, including a scene where Mickey Mouse shows up to make sure all his employees (other Marvel and Disney cartoon characters) play ball with the Chinese authorities.

N.B.A. Commissioner: China Asked Us to Fire Daryl Morey
By Sopan Deb

The Chinese government asked the N.B.A. to fire a team executive who posted on social media in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, said on Thursday in his first public appearance in the United States since returning from a contentious trip to Asia.

“We said there’s no chance that’s happening,” Silver said. “There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

Beijing denied the claim on Friday. “The Chinese government never posed this requirement,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The backlash to Morey’s post was swift: Several Chinese companies denounced him and cut ties with the Rockets, one of the most popular teams in China. Morey’s own boss, the owner of the Rockets, publicly rebuked him.

But the anger didn’t just come from China. The league also came under fire at home for its initial written response that said it was “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” American politicians across the spectrum and many stateside fans accused the N.B.A. of bowing to China’s government to preserve profits.

Silver expressed mild frustration with that characterization, saying he was confused by the reaction and felt he was misinterpreted. “I had thought we had taken a principled position,” he said. “I thought we hadn’t so-called acquiesced to the Chinese.”

Even so, Silver two days later stood up more forcefully for Morey and his free speech rights — much to the ire of the Chinese government. The state-run television network, China Central Television, canceled its broadcasts of the games between the Lakers and the Nets and several other related events and promotions.

“We wanted to make an absolutely clear statement that the values of the N.B.A., these American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go,” Silver said. “And one of those values is free expression.”

Google pulls Hong Kong protestor game from store
By BBC News

Many companies worry about offending Chinese consumers, or falling foul of the government’s sensibilities, because it could affect sales in a huge market.

That is particularly true for the gaming industry. Gaming market research firm Newzoo puts the global market for gaming at $152.1bn, with China ($36.5bn) and the US ($36.9bn) together accounting for nearly half of that total.

In a statement, Google said the game was removed because it violated Google Play’s policies.

“We have a longstanding policy prohibiting developers from capitalising on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game,” Google said.

Google noted it had pulled apps previously for attempting to profit from other high-profile events such as earthquakes, crises, suicides and conflicts.

The move comes just days after an online gamer from Hong Kong was removed from an international tournament for the game Hearthstone because he expressed support for the protestors during a livestream.

Activision Blizzard said the gamer, identified as “Blitzchung”, had violated rules and would not be allowed to play in any Hearthstone e-sports games for the next 12 months.

The company said the competition rules banned any behaviour that might cause public disrepute or offend a portion or group of the public.

The official Chinese publication the Global Times said Chinese social media users thought Activision Blizzard’s move was an example of “how to be responsible in the Chinese market,” but move has drawn protest on social media elsewhere, with many gamers calling for a boycott of Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard cuts punishment for gamer who supported Hong Kong protests
By Christopher Palmeri

For Activision Blizzard, the boycott threat came at a particularly difficult time. The Santa Monica-based company has struggled to come up with fresh hits, and executive turnover is high. The heads of Activision Blizzard’s three major divisions have been replaced over the past year, as was its chief financial officer, who quit.

And the company is counting on customers embracing a mobile version of its hit shooting game “Call of Duty,” done in partnership with Tencent, which has also invested in Activision Blizzard.

Tencent sues critics in clampdown on reputational damage
By Qianer Liu

“It’s very weird,” said Jianfei Yan, who was faced with a Rmb1m ($140,000) defamation lawsuit from Tencent in March after writing an article about the dominance of the “super powerful” WeChat platform and its potential for data breaches. “If Tencent questioned my comments, they could [have stopped] me publishing them on WeChat . . . but they just directly appealed to the court and sued me.”

Tencent declined to comment on the cases. But in a document submitted in May after a court hearing against Jihua Ma, another of the bloggers, it said it opted against deleting the offending articles on WeChat because doing so “would further cause damage to Tencent’s reputation”.

Xuyang Sun, the third blogger, was sued by Tencent for Rmb5m earlier this year after he pointed out that the company’s efforts to reduce children’s time spent gaming could be circumvented. “I think they just pick the soft persimmon,” he said, arguing that his critique was milder than similar attacks levelled by the state-owned People’s Daily newspaper.

Chasing critics through the courts rather than simply shutting them down sends a forceful message to multiple audiences, said one Hong Kong-based defamation lawyer — whether it is to other bloggers looking to write critically about the organisation, or even to employees who might be tempted to leak information about it.

Taiwan game ‘Devotion’ upsets China with Winnie the Pooh reference
By Kerry Allen

One of the easter eggs in Devotion is a poster containing the words “Xi Jinping” next to “Winnie the Pooh”, in an ancient style of writing. Winnie the Pooh has been censored on Chinese search engines and social media since 2017, after bloggers began comparing Mr Xi to the children’s story book and film character.

Gamers have also spotted an old newspaper in Devotion that refers to an individual who has received a prison sentence, nicknamed “baozi” or “steamed bun”.

“Steamed bun” is another sensitive term in China, as social media users have used it to refer to the president and evade government censors.

Red Candle Games confirmed that Devotion had been removed from Steam China on 23 February, and issued an apology, saying the poster with the Winnie the Pooh reference had made it into the game by accident due to a technical issue.

It said that it was aware some players may have been offended by the images, and said that it was in touch with Steam to ensure that such players could obtain a full refund.

“The whole team of Red Candle Games bears the responsibility of this awfully unprofessional mistake,” a statement on Monday said. “It is not Red Candle’s vision to secretly project extensive ideology, nor is it to attack any person in the real world.

“We sincerely hope that this ends with Red Candle, and please do not take it out on all of our innocent partners.”

Taiwanese Vice Premier Chen Chi-mai has praised the game, saying: “Only in countries with democracy and freedom can creation be free from restrictions.”

Chinese online censors, meanwhile, are trying to scrub references to the game and its hidden messages.

Searches for both “Red Candle Games” and “Devotion” in Chinese on Weibo are showing no results.

What’s On Weibo, which tracks content on the site, said that over the weekend posts containing the hashtag #Devotion were racking up hundreds of millions of views.

But on Monday, a search of the hashtag #Devotion showed only four posts, none of which refer to the game.

Posts that mention the game’s title in English, which the censors are often lax in censoring, show that China-based users are receiving messages on Steam saying that the game is “no longer available” to play in their country.

Meanwhile Red Candle’s account on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo service has been suspended, preventing the company from publicising its game in the mainland.

Uproar Over ‘Abominable’ Movie’s Map of China Spreads in Asia
By Cecilia Yap

DreamWorks Animation’s “Abominable” has drawn calls for boycotts and censorship in Southeast Asia as it shows a map of China with maritime claims the country’s neighbors dispute.

The map shows Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line encompassing about 80% of the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters. Universal Pictures, which released the film worldwide, and its partner and co-producer China-based Pearl Studio declined to comment.

The uproar adds DreamWorks to the list of big global brands hit by geopolitical crossfire in Asia over issues from sovereignty to maritime boundaries and political unrest.

Bans, Censorship and Boycotts: Netflix Faces Increased Scrutiny Overseas
By Scott Roxborough

In Jordan this summer there were calls to ban Jinn, Netflix’s first Arabic-language original series, because of two scenes in which female actor Salma Malhas kisses two different boys — shocking for some in the Muslim country. In Brazil, left-wing politicians called for a Netflix boycott in protest of José Padilha’s crime series The Mechanism, a lightly fictionalized version of a political kickbacks scandal that has divided the nation. Netflix’s award-winning Israeli drama Fauda has been attacked both by pro-Palestinian groups (for its sympathetic depiction of Israeli commandos) and by pro-Israel campaigners (for its sympathetic depiction of Palestinian terrorists).

Outrage after Netflix pulls comedy show criticising Saudi Arabia
By Mattha Busby

Netflix defended its decision, stressing that it was in response to a “valid legal request” from the kingdom’s communications and information technology commission, to which it acceded in order to “comply with local law”.

“We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request – and to comply with local law,” the company told the Financial Times.

It added that the Saudi telecoms regulator cited a cyber-crime law that states that “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine not exceeding SR3m ($800,000).

The episode can still be seen in other parts of the world – and in Saudi Arabia on YouTube – yet it is likely to raise pressing new questions about the limits of free online expression and the responsibility of western companies to uphold liberal values.

Universal Scraps ‘The Hunt’ Release Following Gun Violence Uproar
By Pamela McClintock and Trilby Beresford

Universal has decided to scrap the release of The Hunt — an R-rated satire in which elites hunt “deplorables” for sport — following a series of mass shootings across the country. The film had been set to hit theaters Sept. 27.

The studio’s announcement on Saturday came a day after President Donald Trump took aim at the pic — though he didn’t identify it by name — and Hollywood, saying on Twitter, “Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves “Elite,” but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!”

Even before Trump weighed in, the movie sparked an outcry on social media amid the public anger over gun violence, while networks entered into the conversation when ESPN pulled an ad for the film that it had previously cleared. Subsequently, Universal pulled all its spots.

“While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film,” the studio said in Saturday’s statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”

‘Simpsons’ Episode Featuring Michael Jackson’s Voice to Be Pulled
By Joe Flint

In “The Simpsons” episode titled “Stark Raving Dad,” Homer Simpson briefly ends up in a mental institution, where he meets a man who claims to be Michael Jackson. The character, Leon Kompowsky, was voiced by Mr. Jackson. Mr. Brooks said the episode had been one of his all-time favorites.

“This was a treasured episode. There are a lot of great memories we have wrapped up in that one, and this certainly doesn’t allow them to remain,” Mr. Brooks said.

Mr. Brooks said pulling the episode was important because of the need to show compassion for Mr. Jackson’s alleged victims.

Asked why Mr. Jackson’s previous run-ins with the law over allegations of child abuse weren’t enough to pull the episode earlier, Mr. Brooks cited his acquittal in 2005. But the documentary, in his mind, made the case beyond argument.

Getting the episode off all the platforms and outlets that carry the show—including streaming services, TV stations and Blu-ray/DVD box sets—won’t happen overnight, Mr. Brooks said, “but the process has started.”

Mr. Brooks acknowledged the potential for criticism from fans of Mr. Jackson, as well as from people who love that particular episode.

“I’m against book burning of any kind. But this is our book, and we’re allowed to take out a chapter,” he said.

Auden on No-Platforming Pound
By Edward Mendelson

On this issue: “Shall a book be judged by what it contains or by the character of the man that wrote it, or, to use your terms, does a man who has sacrificed any claims to the title of ‘American’ thereby sacrifice any claims to the title of ‘Poet’?”, I have only two points to add to what Mr Gannet[t] and others have already said. Firstly that the question of how good or bad Pound’s poems are is irrelevant (I do not care for them myself particularly); the issue would be the same if some hick newspaper refused, for the same reasons, to print some scribbler they had been in the habit of printing. (Vice versa, of course, if Pound were the greatest poet in the world, it would not entitle him to more lenient penalties for treachery.) Secondly, the issue is far more serious than it appears at first sight; the relation of an author to his work only one out of many, and once you accept the idea that one thing to which a man stands related shares in his guilt, you will presently extend it to others; begin by banning his poems not because you object to them but because you object to him, and you will end, as the nazis did, by slaughtering his wife and children.

As you say, the war is not over. This incident is only one sign—there are other and far graver ones—that there was more truth than one would like to believe in Huey Long’s cynical observation that if fascism came to the United States it would be called Anti-fascism. Needless to say, I am not suggesting that you desire any such thing—but I think your very natural abhorrence of Pound’s conduct has led you to take the first step which, if not protested now, will be followed by others which would horrify you.

Errol Morris, Steve Bannon, and American Discourse
By Ann Marie Lipinski

What does it mean for journalism when we cannot examine a subject without appearing to promote it?

Morris recalled screening his 1999 documentary “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.” to a group of college students who appeared to be swayed by the subject’s Holocaust denials. “That was not my intent,” he said wryly. Before releasing the movie, he added direct denunciations of Leuchter, an edit he still laments for telling people what to think rather than asking them to think.

“To me the ironies were so unbelievably strong that you want them just to wash over people,” he said. “You don’t want to editorialize about them. If they’re incapable of seeing these ironies, then what do you do?”

Some argue that perilous political times have obviated traditional journalistic inquiry and that “American Dharma” should have conveyed a more combative stance toward Bannon—despite the fact that Morris is more visibly present and critical than in any documentary he’s made. The filmmaker was despondent. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to infantilize my audience? I’m supposed to just play to what’s going to make them happy or feel better about themselves?”

He added: “I learned maybe it’s not possible to make movies like this anymore and that I shouldn’t make another political film ever again.”

Jewish novelist blames ‘climate of fear’ in UK for cancelled talks
By Harriet Sherwood

A bestselling novelist says he has been dropped from two literary events in the UK in recent weeks because he is Jewish.

Richard Zimler, author of the celebrated 1996 novel The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, said two cultural event coordinators had terminated negotiations on publicising his new novel because they feared a backlash from anti-Israel campaigners. Zimler has no connections with or family in Israel.

The author’s personal publicist, who asked not to be named, confirmed that two organisations had pulled out of initially enthusiastic discussions about events with Zimler, whose latest book The Gospel According to Lazarus was published in April. They feared his Jewishness would alienate Palestinian sympathisers among their clientele and could result in protests, the publicist said.

An author lost her book deal after tweeting about a Metro worker. She’s suing for $13 million.
By Deanna Paul and Lindsey Bever

On the morning of May 10, the World Bank communications officer and mother of three tweeted a photo of a black female Metro worker who was breaking the D.C. region transportation agency’s rules by eating breakfast on a train.

“When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train,” Tynes tweeted. “I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds,” she wrote.

By 10 a.m., less than 30 minutes later, Tynes had deleted the post and apologized for the “short-lived expression of frustration,” according to court documents. But the fuse of public outrage and ostracism had already ignited.

Tynes took the additional step of contacting the agency to ensure the employee would not be disciplined (and the complaint notes that no action was ever taken against the transit worker). Then, she spoke to Rare Bird executive Robert Jason Peterson and explained that, “having not grown up in the United States, the issue of race had not even occurred to her when she made the tweet.”

Peterson, the filings said, reassured the writer and told her he did not blame her. “You’ll get through this, we’ve got your back,” he allegedly said to Tynes just before noon.

Hours later, Rare Bird released a statement, calling Tynes’s tweet — which it described as the policing of a black woman‘s body — “something truly horrible.”

As The Washington Post previously reported, in response to the tweet, Rare Bird announced it had decided not to distribute her book. “We think this is unacceptable and have no desire to be involved with anyone who thinks it’s acceptable to jeopardize a person’s safety and employment in this way,” the company announced on Twitter.

By the following day, the publisher had announced plans to halt shipments of the book and postpone the publication date while taking the “appropriate next steps to officially cancel the book’s publication.” Preorders for the novel were also canceled, even though sales had skyrocketed, court documents say.

Rare Bird did not respond to requests for comment on Tynes’s lawsuit.

Why do authors have to be ‘moral’? Because their publishing contracts tell them so
By Lionel Shriver

Until punters finally find better things to do, we’ll not be rid of social media, nor constrain the natural tendency of large, anonymous groups to goad one another to greater extremes of vilification. But the most troubling response to this disembodied form of mass bullying has been widespread institutional capitulation. Publishers and other legacy media, companies and academia are our only real buttresses against mob rule.

An ‘institution’ sounds misleadingly abstract and monolithic. Corporations, universities and organizations are run by particular people. The editors and senior managers who have stuck by me are particular people. It’s time for individuals in similar positions of authority to stop folding in the face of online flak, much less giving the ‘tweet’ contractual weight. To instead push back. To show a little integrity, loyalty, and backbone. To stand up for their writers, their lecturers, their employees. To distinguish finger–pointing from fact. To staunchly weather passing Twitter storms, in the confidence that faddish communal temper tantrums will eventually exhaust themselves, or will at least move on to the next unfortunate, if only out of boredom.

It’s time for folks with institutional power to exercise independent judgment, rather than immediately disavowing overnight pariahs who only yesterday were their friends and colleagues. To refuse to respond to every mob at the door by picking up a baseball bat and joining the throng. You know who you are.

Editing in an age of outrage
By Ian Buruma

In my view, an editor should not be afraid of publishing contentious subject-matter; the job is to make people think. There is much talk on American campuses of the need to avoid opinions, or even literary works that might make students feel uncomfortable. But a certain degree of discomfort can help people consider unfamiliar or unorthodox points of view, which is usually salutary.

In fact, the NYRB, never a magazine to follow any particular movement, had published writers who behaved violently before. Norman Mailer had stabbed his wife with a knife. A murderer named Jack Abbott, promoted by Mailer, published his writing in the magazine while still in prison in the 1980s and killed a man almost as soon as he got out. This caused a considerable scandal, particularly as Mailer had lobbied for his release. Some people saw it as the consequence of naive liberal tolerance, and others regarded the admiration for Abbott as a form of literary machismo. But even then, no editor was fired as a result. One might say, of course, that times have changed. One could also say that Mailer, and possibly Abbott, were better writers than Ghomeshi. I would not claim that Ghomeshi is a master stylist. But the quality of a person’s prose should not determine how we judge the writer’s moral character. And moral character, in turn, shouldn’t be the sole determinant in whether the person should or should not be published.

Considering people who have fallen from grace — again, often for very good reasons — it is hard to avoid using religious language. The way out of moral ignominy is to be redeemed. But redemption has to be earned by confession, self-reflection and apology. This is why people caught in a history of sexual misbehaviour usually issue an apology straight away, sometimes a rather slippery one: “If I have offended anyone . . . ,” etc. I was only an offender by proxy, as it were. Nonetheless, I was strongly advised by a senior editor at a famous liberal journal in New York (not the NYRB) to write an apology, so that his “younger editors” would allow me to contribute to that magazine again.

Why sexist and racist philosophers might still be admirable
By Julian Baggini

We seem to be caught in a dilemma. We can’t just dismiss the unacceptable prejudices of the past as unimportant. But if we think that holding morally objectionable views disqualifies anyone from being considered a great thinker or a political leader, then there’s hardly anyone from history left.

The problem does not go away if you exclude dead white establishment males. Racism was common in the women’s suffrage movement on both sides of the Atlantic. The American suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt said that: ‘White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.’ Emmeline Pankhurst, her British sister in the struggle, became a vociferous supporter of colonialism, denying that it was ‘something to decry and something to be ashamed of’ and insisting instead that ‘it is a great thing to be the inheritors of an empire like ours’. Both sexism and xenophobia have been common in the trade union movement, all in the name of defending the rights of workers – male, non-immigrant workers that is.

What If the 2040 Presidential Litmus Test Is Veganism?
By Cass R. Sunstein

In the 1970s, how many politicians saw sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination? Not a lot. Catharine MacKinnon’s great book, “Sexual Harassment of Working Women,” gave rise to that idea. It did not appear until 1979.

In that decade, how many politicians favored a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability? Not a lot. The Americans With Disabilities Act was not enacted until 1990.

Back then, how many politicians favored same-sex marriage, or opposed discrimination against lesbians, gay men or transsexuals?

Let’s agree that on these issues and many others, the arc of the moral universe has been bending toward justice. If so, it’s too severe, and even a form of injustice, to punish people for not thinking, decades ago, as people do now.

Moral time travel is a perilous enterprise.

Virginia Woolf? Snob! Richard Wright? Sexist! Dostoyevsky? Anti-Semite!
By Brian Morton

If, whenever we open old books, we understand from the get-go that their authors have motes in their eyes regarding important ethical or political questions, it might help us understand that the same thing could be said of us today.

To take an example almost at random: Most of us rely on technology that can be traced to child labor or even slave labor. We know this — or we should know this — but we don’t think about it much. When we’re texting or using social media, we don’t tend to be troubled by the thought that the cobalt in our phones may have been extracted by 10-year-olds in Katanga working 12-hour shifts for a dollar a day. We don’t stop short, seized by the realization that taking part in the fight against global inequality is more urgent than anything else we could possibly be doing. We finish the text or the tweet or the email and go on with our lives.

If you or I were to write a novel with a passage in which someone takes a casual glance at his phone, how might this strike a reader from the future — someone whose understanding of human interconnectedness is far more acute than our own? I’m guessing that readers from the future might find our callousness almost unbearable, and might have to remind themselves that despite the monstrousness into which we could descend in passages like this, some of what we were saying might be worth listening to.

How Posters Became Art
By Hua Hsu

Parisians were used to seeing posters in the streets and in shops, advertising theatre and cabaret, circuses and books, cookies and soaps. But Mucha’s “Gismonda” poster startled passersby, and made them covetous. Some people bribed the bill stickers responsible for putting the posters up. Others simply cut them down from the walls themselves.

After Bernhardt ordered four thousand more posters, Mucha was famous. His rise was part of a poster craze that swept through Europe and the United States in the eighteen-nineties. Magazines, galleries, and clubs quickly emerged to respond to this appetite. At parties, women dressed up as their favorite posters and others guessed which ones they were. Posters even influenced the colors used in turn-of-the-century clothing.

“Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau / Nouvelle Femme” is one of the inaugural exhibitions at the Poster House, a museum of poster design and history, which opened in Manhattan in late June. It is the first such museum in the United States, though poster museums in Europe date back several decades.

Mucha was born in 1860 in southern Moravia, and initially found work by lettering tombstones and painting portraits, murals, and scenery for theatres. A wealthy patron encouraged him to travel abroad and study art formally. In 1888, Mucha moved to Paris, where, a few years later, he began illustrating for magazines and books. In 1896, he was hired by Champenois, one of the most important printers of the time. The Poster House show collects Mucha’s images of Bernhardt, along with display posters for biscuits, magazines, and bicycles. Though the people in his posters are rarely shown using the products they’re advertising, they often look enraptured, a riot of curves and wavy hair. The exhibit argues that Mucha’s posters illustrated an expanding sense of how people could see themselves—especially women, whom he frequently portrayed as bold and independent.

In 1901, Mucha published “Documents Decoratifs,” a guide for aspiring artists and designers to replicate le style Mucha. It became an Art Nouveau bible, widely used in art schools and factories. Demand for Mucha’s work grew, and, in the early nineteen-hundreds, he left the “treadmill of Paris” for America, hoping to remake himself as a painter of singular, monumental works. He eventually completed “The Slav Epic,” a cycle of twenty canvases depicting the struggles and the triumphs of the Czechs and other Slavic peoples. In 1928, he donated the series, which he considered his masterwork, to the city of Prague. Despite his hope that Prague would build a pavilion to permanently show the canvases, they are not currently on display. He remains much better known for his initially more disposable work.

Why the Mona Lisa stands out
By Ian Leslie

When Watts looked into the history of “the greatest painting of all time”, he discovered that, for most of its life, the “Mona Lisa” languished in relative obscurity. In the 1850s, Leonardo da Vinci was considered no match for giants of Renaissance art like Titian and Raphael, whose works were worth almost ten times as much as the “Mona Lisa”. It was only in the 20th century that Leonardo’s portrait of his patron’s wife rocketed to the number-one spot. What propelled it there wasn’t a scholarly re-evaluation, but a burglary.

In 1911 a maintenance worker at the Louvre walked out of the museum with the “Mona Lisa” hidden under his smock. Parisians were aghast at the theft of a painting to which, until then, they had paid little attention. When the museum reopened, people queued to see the gap where the “Mona Lisa” had once hung in a way they had never done for the painting itself. The police were stumped. At one point, a terrified Pablo Picasso was called in for questioning. But the “Mona Lisa” wasn’t recovered until two years later when the thief, an Italian carpenter called Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught trying to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The French public was electrified. The Italians hailed Peruggia as a patriot who wanted to return the painting home. Newspapers around the world repro­duced it, making it the first work of art to achieve global fame. From then on, the “Mona Lisa” came to represent Western culture itself. In 1919, when Marcel Duchamp wanted to perform a symbolic defacing of high art, he put a goatee on the “Mona Lisa”, which only reinforced its status in the popular mind as the epitome of great art (or as the critic Kenneth Clark later put it, “the supreme example of perfection”). Throughout the 20th century, musicians, advertisers and film-makers used the painting’s fame for their own purposes, while the painting, in Watts’s words, “used them back”. Peruggia failed to repatriate the “Mona Lisa”, but he succeeded in making it an icon.

Although many have tried, it does seem improbable that the painting’s unique status can be attributed entirely to the quality of its brushstrokes. It has been said that the subject’s eyes follow the viewer around the room. But as the painting’s biographer, Donald Sassoon, drily notes, “In reality the effect can be obtained from any portrait.” Duncan Watts proposes that the “Mona Lisa” is merely an extreme example of a general rule. Paintings, poems and pop songs are buoyed or sunk by random events or preferences that turn into waves of influence, rippling down the generations.

San Francisco school board votes to paint over mural of George Washington’s life
By Justin Wm. Moyer

Lope Yap Jr., vice president of the Washington High School Alumni Association and a defender of the mural, said contentious public meetings on the subject had reached a “new low,” with those fighting Arnautoff’s work accusing preservationists of white supremacy.

Those who wished to destroy the mural, he said, didn’t understand its intent — to criticize genocide, not glorify it.

“Are you going to change the name of Washington state?” he said. “Are they giving out explosives to blow up Mount Rushmore?”

Move to erase George Washington mural sparks firestorm among Dems
By Carla Marinucci

Semler, who attended George Washington High, agrees that “The “Life of George Washington” was designed “to inform and educate students of Washington’s entire legacy; the noble and ignoble, his leadership in war and peace and his holding of slaves. It also tells students our country’s manifest destiny was built on conquering the frontier.”

“Was Washington a slave owner? Yes. Did he command troops that killed Native Americans? Yes,’’ says Shrum. “But George Washington — it seems stupid to have to say it — performed an incredible service for this country. We wouldn’t be here without him.’’

San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History
By Bari Weiss

Victor Arnautoff, the Russian immigrant who made the paintings in question, was perhaps the most important muralist in the Bay Area during the Depression. Thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, he had the opportunity to make some enduring public artworks. Among them is “City Life” in Coit Tower, in which the artist painted himself standing in front of a newspaper rack conspicuously missing the mainstream San Francisco Chronicle and packed with publications like The Daily Worker.

Arnautoff, who had assisted Diego Rivera in Mexico, was a committed Communist. “‘Art for art’s sake’ or art as perfume have never appealed to me,” he said in 1935. “The artist is a critic of society.”

This is why his freshly banned work, “Life of Washington,” does not show the clichéd image of our first president kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Instead, the 13-panel, 1,600-square-foot mural, which was painted in 1936 in the just-built George Washington High School, depicts his slaves picking cotton in the fields of Mount Vernon and a group of colonizers walking past the corpse of a Native American.

“At the time, high school history classes typically ignored the incongruity that Washington and others among the nation’s founders subscribed to the declaration that ‘all men are created equal’ and yet owned other human beings as chattel,” Robert W. Cherny writes in “Victor Arnautoff and the Politics of Art.”

In other words, Arnautoff’s purpose was to unsettle the viewer, to provoke young people into looking at American history from a different, darker perspective.

What happens when a student suggests that looking at photographs of the My Lai massacre in history class is too traumatic? Should newspapers avoid printing upsetting images that illuminate the crisis at the border, like the unforgettable one of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, facedown, drowned in the Rio Grande?

All are fair game for censorship in a worldview that insists that words and images are to be judged based on how “safe” they make people feel.

The notion of erasing art has an American pedigree. Arnautoff was intimately familiar with it, having been interrogated in 1956 by the House Un-American Activities Committee for drawing a caricature of Vice President Richard Nixon. But I suspect he would have been surprised to learn that more than 60 years later, progressives in charge of educating San Francisco’s children are merrily following this un-American playbook.

San Francisco Should Not Destroy its Controversial Murals
By Roberta Smith

In a democracy, destroying a work of art is never a solution to any offense it may give. Once art has been made and released into the often choppy flow of life, it should stay there. It will live on anyway. To dictate its elimination is an implicitly autocratic move, similar in spirit, if not scale, to the deliberate demolition of ancient art and artifacts by the Taliban and the Islamic State.

The offended parties in and around the high school assume that their feelings about the murals are permanent and paramount. Those favoring destruction think that they know what the art is about, and that they have the right to decide for everyone, now and in the future, what will be accessible, what will be known. But reactions to art are in constant flux, and the best art should contain multitudes of interpretations.

Does the Board of Education really want the destruction of an 83-year-old mural cycle on its hands? It recalls the shameful eradication of “Man at the Crossroads,” the Diego Rivera mural that was plastered over at Rockefeller Center in 1934 by the Rockefellers.

Now, like then, it raises the question: Who owns a work of art? As the angry Rivera wrote in a letter, “If someone buys the Sistine Chapel, does he have the authority to destroy it?” Art, especially effective art, is never really owned by anyone.

People change, and because they do, so does art. Even Washington evolved, according to the Mount Vernon website, ultimately lamenting owning slaves and freeing his slaves at his death in 1799. There’s a good chance that future generations will find the opposition to Arnautoff’s murals actions quaint, presumptuous or infuriating, similar to the way we view the storms ignited by D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

Old favorites, outdated attitudes: Can entertainment expire?
By Ted Anthony

Don’t simply ban or eliminate or delete. Talk about stuff — whether formally, when it’s presented to the public, or informally at home. And don’t assume we’re smarter today; as you read this, entertainment is being made that’ll be just as problematic to our great-grandchildren.

And involving more voices in the production of today’s popular culture — and the selection, curation and characterization of yesterday’s — can make sense of this more than dismissing the issue as overreaction or scrubbing the leavings of less-enlightened eras.

That doesn’t mean that newly offensive classics can’t be entertaining. Many of these things are American favorites for a reason: They resonated with us over many years, and have things to say that remain relevant — and, at times, fun and escapist.

But wherever you come down, to suggest that entertainment — music, movies, TV, a multibillion-dollar industry designed to sell our culture’s stories back to us in infinite configurations — is not something to examine sometimes under a more close-up lens seems a bit self-defeating. This, after all, is us — maybe not an inclusive enough “us,” maybe not the “us” that many want us to be, but something that demands to be understood.

Let Molly Ringwald have the last word: “Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art — change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”

Harvard researcher on psychology of art
By Colleen Walsh

GAZETTE: You mention that art that evokes negative emotions can also be positive thing. Can you explain?

WINNER: We gravitate toward art that depicts tragic or horrifying events (think of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch or Lucian Freud, whose portraits are often distorted and somewhat grotesque); we flock to sad or suspenseful or horrifying movies or plays or novels; we listen to music that conveys grief. Given how we strive to avoid feelings of sorrow and terror and horror in our personal lives, this presents us with a paradox — one that interested philosophers such as Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and David Hume. This puzzle is resolved by studies showing that when we view something as art, any negative feelings about the content are matched by positive ones. For instance, one study demonstrated that presenting photographs of disgusting things like rotting food either as art photography or illustrations to teach people about hygiene led to different reactions: Those who viewed the images as art reported positive feelings along with the negative ones; those who viewed them as hygiene illustrations reported only negative feelings. Other studies have shown that people report being highly moved by art with negative content, and the experience of feeling moved combines negative affect with an equal level of positive affect. In short, we can allow ourselves to be moved by tragedy and horror in art because it is not about us; we have entered a fictional world of virtual reality. And the experience of being moved by such works is not only pleasurable, but can also be highly meaningful as we reflect on the nature of our feelings.

Is Wireless Festival’s crackdown on cursing hip-hop hypocrisy?
By Ludovic Hunter-Tilney

In the US, stickers warning about explicit lyrics began appearing on records in 1985. Campaigners should have got wise to the scheme’s Achilles heel, namely that the alerts were actually a form of endorsement, when West Coast rapper Too $hort released a 1987 album with a cover boasting “Dirty Rapps Inside: Parental Guidance Suggested”. But instead they doubled down, creating the black-and-white standardised warning that continues to be used on album artwork today. The first release to carry it was 1990’s Banned in the USA by the infamously crude Florida rap group 2 Live Crew.

Since then, efforts to de-cuss rap have proved spectacularly unsuccessful. In 2015, lyrics website Musixmatch published a study claiming that its songs employ a profanity every 47 words. The next most sweary genre was heavy metal, which used an expletive every 352 words, a far more modest ratio: there are probably fouler-mouthed Anglican priests.

Rap’s linguistic crudeness has a social function. It derives from the music’s origin in the street culture of a sector of the US population that has suffered centuries of violent prejudice, for whom polite Wasp formulations are evidence of the most monstrous linguistic hypocrisy. In a more genteel world, gangsta rap pioneers NWA might have threatened to “chuck the police” and New York tough guys Wu-Tang Clan could have bragged that they “ain’t nuthing to muck wit”. But NWA and the Wu-Tang were products of a harsh world.

Killer Mike, Chance the Rapper, Meek Mill to Supreme Court: Pittsburgh rapper’s lyrics are not ‘a true threat of violence’
By Veronica Stracqualursi

The rappers, in their brief filed Wednesday, said that the opinion “reveals a court deeply unaware of popular music generally and rap music specifically.”

The song, they said, represented the “perspective of two invented characters in the style of rap music, which is (in)famous for its exaggerated, sometimes violent rhetoric, and which uses language in a variety of complex ways.”

“It is not intended to be taken literally, something that a reasonable listener with even a casual knowledge of rap would understand,” they wrote, also providing a “primer” to the justices on hip hop and rap music.

Knox’s case would test the legal standard for whether a statement is a “true threat” and unprotected by the First Amendment.

The question, as it is presented by Knox’s lawyers, is whether a government must show that a “reasonable person” would regard someone’s statement as a sincere threat of violence, or whether it is enough to show only that the speaker’s subjective intent was to threaten.

The Pennsylvania court was divided over the standard for what determines a statement to be a “true threat.”

“A majority of courts have held that the standard is objective and requires a showing that a ‘reasonable person’ would regard the statement as a sincere threat of violence,” Knox’s lawyers wrote in their petition urging the justices to take the case. “But other courts have held that the standard is subjective and assess only whether the speaker intended to communicate such a threat.”

The split has led to uncertainty over the limit of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, which the Supreme Court would have the opportunity to clear up if it takes the case.

Supreme Court declines to take up First Amendment case brought by rap artist
By Ariane de Vogue

Following a 2012 arrest in part for gun and drug charges, Knox, who performs under the moniker “Mayhem Mal,” and Rashee Beasley, who goes by “Souja Beaz,” wrote and recorded a song titled, “F*** the Police,” seen as a homage to the N.W.A. 1988 rap song “F*** tha Police.” Knox and Beasley’s song, posted on Facebook and YouTube, included the names of the two Pittsburgh officers who arrested them with lyrics like, “I’ma jam this rusty knife all in his guts and chop his feet” and “Well your shift over at three and I’m gonna f*** up where you sleep.”

The officers testified that the lyrics of the song, which also includes the line, “Let’s kill these cops cuz they don’t do us no good,” made them “nervous” and concerned for their safety, with one saying it led him to leave the police force.

A trial court found Knox guilty in 2013, rejecting his arguments that his song was speech protected under the First Amendment. The court held that the song amounted to a “true threat.” The rapper said at his sentencing that he did not intend any harm against the officers and that he should be viewed separately from his rap persona.

Knox appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling last year. The court’s chief justice wrote in the ruling the song “is of a different nature and quality” because it doesn’t “include political, social, or academic commentary, nor are they facially satirical or ironic. Rather, they primarily portray violence toward the police.”

Skengdo and AM: the drill rappers sentenced for playing their song
By Dan Hancox

During the tabloid brouhaha over drill and violent crime last summer, the police launched a high-profile media campaign, with the Met chief, Cressida Dick, blaming drill for fuelling the rise in violence, and announcing they had persuaded YouTube to remove 30 music videos.

Det Supt Mike West says that the force had been looking at the connection between online videos and gang violence since 2015 and has developed a central database with more than 1,600 indexed videos used to gather intelligence. “The speed at which an online disagreement can escalate into violence, often very serious violence, is staggering,” West says. “Music role models and social media have a hugely powerful and positive impact, but when used in the wrong way the consequences can quite literally be deadly.”

As of 30 November 2018, the Met has secured the removal of 90 such videos from the platform. “We are not seeking to suppress freedom of expression through any kind of music,” West says. “We only ask for videos to be removed from social media which we believe raise the risk of violence.”

The artists take a different view. “The video censorship doesn’t make sense,” says Skengdo. “As soon as it goes down, fans will put it back up.” The official video for the offending Skengdo and AM track was removed from YouTube at the Met’s request last July – but the track is still easily available to listen to on the website.

What of the violent content of Attempted 1.0, in which the rappers recount alleged stabbings and provocatively taunt rivals? “Young kids spend all night playing Fortnite, playing GTA, where you’re actively making your character shoot over and over,” says AM. “We’re just talking about violent things that have happened. It’s clear to see which one is worse.” In fact, the lurid tales of violence in Attempted 1.0, designed to humiliate 410’s musical rivals, are arguably in the long tradition of diss tracks.

The BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Kenny Allstar says drill originally came about “based on what people in the under-represented sector were going through and about showcasing stories that people in the mainstream world wouldn’t understand. If you look back to earlier times like the punk era, young people who were being backed down decided to rise up and speak their mind.”

Since when was it a police job to impose sanctions on drill musicians?
By Kenan Malik

Gang violence is an important and fraught issue, especially in London. Few would deny that music-driven clashes in the drill world often relate to real-life conflict. But the roots of gang violence are complex, and afford no easy solutions. There is no evidence that drill music causes gang violence. The authorities, though, want to be seen to be doing something. So they’ve turned drill musicians into scapegoats and criminalised music in a policy low in effectiveness but high in visibility.

The attempt by the police to redefine “incitement” and the willingness of the courts to potentially imprison musicians for performing “unacceptable” songs are assaults on basic liberties. Music writers, such as Dan Hancox, and free speech organisations, including Index on Censorship, have raised the alarm, yet there is a striking lack of wider concern about these trends.

Many on the left have become so supportive of censorship that they barely notice. Many on the right who often holler about free speech violations remain silent about the censorship of marginalised black musicians. And so the police and courts continue to hack away at our liberties.

He rapped that he’d shoot up the University of Florida. Are his lyrics free speech?
By Howard Cohen

“The context is key for determining whether something is a true threat,” said Clay Calvert, a journalism professor and director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida.

“Rappers often engage in hyperbole and rhetoric to posture,” he said.

A judge will have to determine whether the line in the rap could be perceived by a reasonable person to be a credible, true threat of violence. True threats are not protected speech, courts have ruled.

Under Florida statutes concerning threats, a person who threatens to kill or do bodily injury to another person or threatens to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism — including by writing, composing, sending or procuring, and by means which include electronic communication — “that would allow another person to view the threat, commits a felony of the second degree.”

Alachua sheriff’s Lt. Brett Rhodenizer told the Gainesville Sun his understanding of the posted rap is that “it was very specific as to locations … and concurrent with an upcoming concert,” and probable cause existed to make the arrest.

Of McCallum’s posted rap lyric, Calvert told the Miami Herald on Thursday: “My feeling is it’s not a true threat. The fact that this is happening is not unusual. This case in Gainesville is reflective of how rap music often finds itself in the crosshairs of prosecution, including true threats.”

“’True threat’ is something that puts people in fear of an imminent threat or death. Would a reasonable listener of that song hear that threat?” Calvert asks, noting that that’s the decision a Florida court will have to make concerning McCallum’s reference to the UF campus in his Facebook post — which had not been taken down early Thursday.

Previous songs, such as Johnny Cash’s classic murder ballad, “Folsom Prison Blues,” written in 1953, and N.W.A.’s “F— tha Police” in 1988, a blistering rap that protested police brutality and racial profiling, sparked controversy for their violent content.

But there was no “true threat” stated or implied in lyrics like Cash’s “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” or N.W.A.’s indictment of police officers as a collective.

“I tell my class, ‘When Britney Spears asks, ‘Hit me baby one more time’ she’s not asking to be hit,’” Calvert said.

Turkey puts novelists including Elif Shafak under investigation
By Alison Flood

English PEN director Antonia Byatt said the free speech organisation was “deeply concerned” about the threats to Shafak. “She is an extremely talented writer and it should never be a crime to write fiction or to comment on the world we live in,” said Byatt. “Freedom of expression in Turkey is increasingly under serious threat. Too many writers are in prison whilst others have been forced into exile.”

In 2006, Shafak was tried and acquitted for “insulting Turkishness” after prosecutors noticed a character in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul referred to the massacre of Armenians in the first world war as genocide. While the writer does acknowledge sexual abuse appears in some of her fiction, she rejected entirely the idea that this could mean she condones it.

“They don’t make a distinction … If a writer writes about these subjects –paedophilia, sexual violence, sexual harassment – those sentences are taken out of the book as if you’re defending sexual harassment,” she said. “It’s just the opposite. All my life I’ve fought for women’s rights, children’s rights, minority rights, so to me this kind of accusation is so baseless. And also it means writers cannot write about these subjects any more.”

I’m sick of fighting moronic culture wars
By Lionel Shriver

I’m an old-school rebel. Tell me I can’t do something and my immediate impulse is to do it. I write minority characters. You can only dispense with silly rules by breaking them, and any freedoms that you don’t exercise you’re bound to lose.

This means resisting the all-too-rational protective urge to self-censor. In 1969, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint outraged American conservatives, and Roth meant the novel to be outrageous. He recognised that artists are supposed to push the confining cultural boundaries of their times. But these days, that means pushing back against the rigid rectitude of the Left.

We can also maintain our senses of humour. The best weapon against people who take themselves too seriously is not to denounce but to make fun of them. They deserve it, and we deserve a good belly laugh at their expense.

As a comedy aficionado, I’m appalled at disgusting ‘jokes’ creeping back into the industry
By Liam Evans

It simply isn’t good enough for comedians to cry “free speech” after every hateful joke, as though the laws that govern the rest of us don’t apply to them.

The battle for equality will not be won by activists alone. We all need to play our part. Sometimes this will mean risking the accusation of being a “prude” or a “killjoy”, but this is surely a price worth paying.

Such tactics are designed to silence us, to make us feel ashamed for standing up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.

It takes an astonishing degree of entitlement to claim the right to free speech without accepting the consequences of one’s choices. In a country poised on the brink of a far-right resurgence, is a cheap laugh really worth the risk? The kind of jokes that reinforce negative stereotypes and normalise bigotry should no longer be tolerated in our society. This really isn’t too much to ask.

Update: The headline to this article has been amended, to no longer refer to the author as a comedian “working the circuit” 4/3/19

‘Bill Hicks was a bit misogynist’ – young comics reassess the standup legend
By Brian Logan

Rob Oldham’s debut show Worm’s Lament was well received at the Edinburgh fringe last year. Anachronisms apart, Petts and Bob both admire Hicks’s comedy, considering him, in Bob’s words, “a nice dude”. Not so Oldham, who sees Hicks as unpleasant, hypocritical – and not as radical as he’s cracked up to be.

Again, it’s the toxic masculinity that’s off-putting. “In his ‘Goat Boy’ character,” says Oldham, “he revels in these paedophilic sketches. When he wants to disparage Rick Astley, it’s about having no dick as opposed to Jimi Hendrix’s big dick. Then there’s his repeated references to rape as a moral punishment. For a supposed critical voice, who doesn’t follow all the other sheep, how on Earth did he not realise he was recycling a violent patriarchal trope which has been the bedrock of an oppressive system for thousands of years?”

Standing Up to the Comedy Scolds
By Matthew Hennessey

Mr. Quinn says he wrote “Red State Blue State” as a response to the polarization of the Trump era. As the title suggests, he turns his fire on conservatives and liberals alike. “They both make me sick,” he says. “The right can be a little bit racist and the left can be a little bit fascist.”

So where does Mr. Quinn fall on the political spectrum? “I think of myself as a radical moderate.” By which he means? “Being moderate is radical,” because these days “people are all [expletive] extremists.” The idea that you could agree with a political party on every issue “seems bizarre to me.” But Mr. Quinn the moderate acknowledges one distinction between left and right: “Most of the censorship for the last 200 years came from the right in this country, and for the last 40 years, most of it comes from the left.”

Can political comedy be funny? Yes, he says, “if you admit and acknowledge that you’re pursuing an agenda.” If the audience is in on the joke, “then it can be funny.” But anyone who looks at politics and “sees pure good and evil, I would shy away from how funny they can be. Because being rigid, being a zealot, a fanatic—whatever you want to call it—like, that, to me, is usually not the funny people in the room.”

Ricky Gervais: ‘Freedom of speech is so important for human rights’
By Dylan Jones

DJ: Where are we going with all this? What happens now?

RG: The climate needs to change. Just look at the Louis CK thing: you know, a warm-up that was put on the internet and everyone was outraged because he’s suddenly alt-right. He’s not suddenly alt-right. He’s doing the same stuff he did two years ago when you loved him. You just don’t love him any more. So that’s a problem. I think the big problem nowadays, through everything – politics, comedy, art, anything – is people give opinions like they’re facts. I said in Humanity, we’ve always had “My opinion is worth as much as yours”, but now we’ve got “My opinion is worth as much as your fact.” And that’s why it falls into two tribes, because they think it’s binary or they think in black and white. I want to stop people saying, “This joke is offensive.” I want them to say, “I found it offensive.” I want them to own the emotion. I want them to admit it’s all about them. It’s a feeling. It’s not truth. I once tweeted, “Twitter: where people are more offended by jokes about war, famine and cancer than they are by actual war, famine and cancer.” And it’s still true.

Danny Baker, Racism and Punishment
By Kenan Malik

Few who know Baker, or have listened to his shows, would consider him racist. Part of the problem, perhaps, is the way social media has encouraged people to be provocative for the sake of it, at the same time as it has eroded boundaries between the public and the private. Baker is infamous for his rage-filled, foul-mouthed tweets, particularly about football.

The kind of talk we might once have shared only with friends we knew would not take it the wrong way now constantly spills into the public sphere. The desire to be offensive as a mark of ‘authenticity’, or as a challenge to authority, can often blind people to the real meaning of what’s being said.

What of Baker’s sacking? Many have insisted the BBC had no choice. Others see him as a victim of political correctness or of Twitter mobs. Neither view really gets to the heart of the case.

People should have the right to be offensive, even racist. I have long opposed the criminalisation of offensive or hateful speech. But those who are offensive or racist must also face the consequences of their views.

Do these consequences include being sacked? In most cases, no. It’s becoming increasingly common for employers to sack employees for comments made not in the workplace, or as part of their job, but as private citizens. From academic Steven Salaita, whose appointment was blocked by the University of Illinois for tweets about Gaza deemed antisemitic; to Angela Williamson, an employee of Cricket Australia, sacked for tweeting about the Tasmanian government’s abortion facilities; to economist Maya Forstater, dismissed from the thinktank Centre for Global Development for tweeting about trans women that ‘men cannot turn into women’ – employers are increasingly policing the views of workers.

It’s a trend that should worry us. Employees should be judged by their ability to do their job, not their political views. To accept that employees should be sacked for their political views is a dangerous path.

Jo Brand ‘apologises for battery acid joke’ after police launch probe
By Bonnie Christian

In a statement, a spokeswoman said: “Heresy is a long-running comedy programme where, as the title implies and as our listeners know, panellists often say things which are deliberately provocative and go against societal norms but are not intended to be taken seriously.

“We carefully considered the programme before broadcast. It was never intended to encourage or condone violence, and it does not do so, but we have noted the strong reaction to it. Comedy will always push boundaries and will continue to do so, but on this occasion we have decided to edit the programme. We regret any offence we have caused.”

In reply to a question about the state of UK politics, Brand had told the programme: “Well, yes, I would say that but that’s because certain unpleasant characters are being thrown to the fore and they’re very, very easy to hate and I’m kind of thinking ‘Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?’

“That’s just me. I’m not going to do it, it’s purely a fantasy, but I think milkshakes are pathetic, I honestly do, sorry.”

Jo Brand and the death of comedy
By Stephen Daisley

Comedy is at the forefront of the battle for freedom of speech because comedy at its sharpest is sanctioned transgression that pokes at the boundaries of its sanction. That’s why Jerry Sadowitz is funny and Amy Schumer is the pushing-40 vagina joke lady. Each has their place, however, and each has to be defended in their right to affront, offend and provoke. Comedy is one of life’s great bullshit-detectors and laughter the torment of every po-faced politruk. Deny people the freedom to ridicule and you deny them a liberty more intimate, more atavistic than political assembly or even religious practice.

Right-wingers prate that Brand has been hoist with a petard devised by her fellow leftists, that it’s a bit much to drag her down the nick but it ultimately serves her sort right. They’re never slow to take up a pitchfork when an offence mob is stirring against a conservative. There’s a lot of ‘imagine if a right-wing comedian had said…’ on the go right now, as though a bout of performative outrage will balance the culture war scales. Jo Brand: lefty BBC feminist. She’s got to be worth a Nazi pug or a Scrutoning. Get her and a few more like her and maybe you’ll start to feel less aggrieved, less under siege.

Freedom of speech cannot survive a partial defence; it will not support a transactional relationship. Yes, there are limits in law but when it comes to the core principle, you are either for it or you’re not.

If you’re for it, you already know that Jo Brand’s joke was not a call to violence. But if you must pretend otherwise, let’s hear no more about hypersensitive liberals and precious millennials. A right-wing snowflake melts just the same.

Ricky Gervais Will Never Back Down
By Laura Bradley

Do you ever get tired about talking about P.C. culture, and whether your comedy is offensive? Do you ever wish journalists would just stop asking about it?

Well, the thing is—I think, again, when a journalist says to me something like, “Is there anything you wouldn’t joke about?”, that’s exactly the same as me saying back to them, “Is there anything you wouldn’t write about? Is there anything you wouldn’t ask about?” The answer is no, because there are no offensive questions; it depends on your answer. Just like there are no offensive subjects, it depends on the joke. That’s what I want to get across to people: it depends on the joke. You can’t just say, “You shouldn’t joke about the Holocaust,” because it depends on the joke and the intent.

I forget who it is—I think it’s from a novel, where a Holocaust survivor eventually dies and he goes to heaven. He tells God a Holocaust joke and God says, “That’s not funny.” The guy says, “I guess you had to be there.” Which I think is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever heard. It sums up that people not involved are offended on other people’s behalf, or they’re virtue signaling, or they don’t understand the issue, or they’ve just taken this dogmatic rule—“You shouldn’t joke about X.” Well, I say that you can. It depends on the joke. You might not like the joke, but don’t tell [me] I can’t. At the end of the day, I’m going to keep saying what I want, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it until it’s against the law. I’m quite happy with it.

Also, we’re only talking about a few idiots. That’s the other thing: the clickbait thing where a paper says, “So and so said a thing, and everyone’s furious.” No, everyone isn’t furious. 0.001 percent of everyone is furious, and the rest of us don’t give a fuck, and we wouldn’t even know about it if you hadn’t put it in your paper.

The World According to Mad Magazine
By Tim Kreider

Humor is adolescents’ reflexive defense against all the unpleasantness they’re confronting for the first time. It’s a distinctively adolescent form of humor we now call “snark” — irony, sarcasm, satire and parody — whose agenda is to mock and tear down and caper gleefully upon the grave of everything sacred and respectable.

It’s no coincidence that Mad reached its highest circulation in the era of the Vietnam War, Watergate and the “credibility gap” — the collapse of public faith in the integrity and honesty of our government. It was a healthy antidote to earlier generations’ automatic deference to an authority that too seldom deserved it.

‘It’s Only a Joke, Comrade!’
By Anna Kasradze

Q: Did jokes reduce pressure on the regime to make incremental changes that materially improved people’s lives?

A: I think you’re right from an outside analytical point of view, but the regime saw jokes exclusively as anger and resistance. We often think of jokes as a way to stand up against a dictator, but really sharing them helps us go to work the next day and get on with life. A lot of people have emotional connections to anekdoty as resistance culture (maybe their families were involved), and they don’t want to hear that jokes helped people to cope. I understand and respect that. People at the time could often feel like jokes said “No, I don’t stand for this,” but the things that we do and say can feel like something but have a different result. I don’t think there are any regimes that collapsed because people told jokes. Too often in history it’s the people not telling jokes who jump on the barricades.

Q: What most surprised you during your research?

A: Finding these sources was surprising, because I was assured I was going to fail. Another surprise was that the regime itself changed its view of humor over time. First, they considered it a dubious leftover of the pre-revolutionary past that needed to be corrected, but from 1935 they thought of it as a contagious mind virus and began censoring jokes even in the courtroom and court records. That’s a whole new level of paranoia, which really doesn’t imply a great deal of trust in their own ideology or their own people. Another surprising thing was that most people who were telling jokes thought they were the exception, that other people weren’t telling jokes in their close circles of friends.

Russia passes law to jail people for 15 days for ‘disrespecting’ government
By Marc Bennetts

Putin is thought to be extremely sensitive to perceived insults. One of his first acts when he came to power in 2000 was to target a satirical television show called Kukly (Puppets) that was broadcast by the NTV television station.

In one episode, aired in January 2000, Putin was depicted as an evil, infant gnome muttering obscenities. Within months, the NTV channel was taken under state control, and jokes about the ex-KGB officer quickly disappeared from Russia’s television screens.

Zimbabwean comedian Gonyeti abducted and beaten
By BBC News

A Zimbabwean comedian has been found after being abducted and beaten by masked gunmen in the capital Harare, her relatives and colleagues say.

Samantha Kureya, known by her stage name “Gonyeti”, has been critical of the police and government in her skits.

She was taken from her home, beaten and forced to drink sewage before being dumped, her colleague says.

In Zimbabwe, comedians have historically found it difficult to make jokes about authority, fearing jail.

Kureya told the BBC in 2018 that her comedy company Bustop TV used to be banned from attending national events but since Robert Mugabe was ousted from power she hoped comedians would be allowed more freedom of expression.

“I just hope in Zimbabwe we have the freedom to talk about the president without being in trouble, the freedom to talk about anyone without the police coming after you.”

“I just hope it will change, ” she said.

Turkish Comedy Veterans in Court After TV Attack Riles Erdogan
By Selcan Hacaoglu

“Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you can’t test our patriotism, know your boundaries,” said Gezen. That sparked applause, cheers and whistles from the audience at a convention center in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, some of whom shouted in unison “we’re soldiers of Mustafa Kemal,” a reference to the founder of Turkey’s secular republic, Ataturk.

“The only way out of this polarization and chaos is democracy,” Akpinar said. “How nice if we can reach there” without quarrels and fighting, he said. If not, fascist regimes often see their leader “hung by his feet, maybe he dies by poisoning in a dungeon or faces some other bad end,” Akpinar said.

Both actors are being probed on suspicion of insulting the president, while Akpinar is also being investigated for possibly inciting an armed uprising against the government, state-run Anadolu Agency said, citing the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul. Both Akpinar and Gezen denied targeting or insulting Erdogan, according to Halk TV’s website.

Erdogan had hit back during a speech on Saturday, calling the two “poor excuses” for actors.

“They should go and give an account for it to the judiciary, we can’t leave these things unanswered,” he said. “You want to have this country’s president hanged!”

Turkey’s Crackdown on Academics Represses History Once Again
By Brennan Cusack

In 2013, peaceful protests against Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian 10-year rule erupted and the government responded with a violent crackdown. Peace talks with the P.K.K. officially dissolved in 2015.

Then came the failed coup attempt of 2016. Academic activism on sensitive subjects like the Armenian and Kurdish issues quickly flipped from an act of social progression to near treason, and the Turkish government issued decrees that removed more than 5,800 academics and shuttered over a hundred universities. One wave of dismissals nearly gutted Ankara University’s departments of law and of political science.

Hundreds of the dismissed academics fled to safety abroad, yet they have largely remained quiet, worried their words will be used against family members and colleagues back home. Many others are trapped inside Turkey’s borders, unable to work but — with holds on their passports — unable to leave. Some have become bloggers, secondhand-book sellers, consultants, restaurateurs and organic farmers. Human Rights Watch has sounded the alarm on the trumped-up terrorism charges and general lack of due process granted to these academics, but this has done little to turn the tide. Frightened of falling into this purgatory, working academics have now succumbed to self-censorship.

‘The Era of People Like You Is Over’: How Turkey Purged Its Intellectuals
By Suzy Hansen

“The first thing these kinds of ideological movements target are people and institutions that produce knowledge,” Uzgel said. “They have to clear those areas in order to establish their own power. Because they represent the only dissenting forces in a society. The business class does not speak up against the government. Civil society is already weak in Turkey. Universities with strong traditions are critical because they recruit younger generations. You have to break institutions. Authoritarian regimes don’t necessarily send everyone to jail.”

But if the authoritarian regime lasts long enough, it can succeed in suppressing even relatively uncritical voices. Most of the Mulkiye professors did not believe that Erdogan wanted an Islamic state or a fascist one. What the A.K.P. seems to propose for Turkey’s future is a country without character — a country that can believe itself to be free as long as it does not adopt an identity that threatens the A.K.P. Institutions like Mulkiye had been one thing above all: independent in spirit and principle. Such institutions cannot exist in Erdogan’s Turkey for many, many reasons, one of which is simply that they are too distinct.

Individuals, too, can become less distinct. They become fuzzy. Their voices fade. They lose their place in society, so much so that when they discover themselves again, the sweetness of it takes them by surprise. One of the many professors I interviewed was Faruk Alpkaya. Alpkaya talked about Turkish history. He was an academic — that was his job. But after 20 years of being a professor, he, like Uzgel and thousands of others, has spent the last two and a half years as a nonentity in official Turkish life. Alpkaya spoke in bursts for 10 minutes at a time, then apologized as if he had surprised himself, using a verb tense in Turkish that can imply the discovery of something previously unknown.

“I’m sorry,” he would say. “I must miss speaking.”

Censorship Comes To Harvard Law School
By Harvey Silverglate

On February 6th, Fein received an email from Bora stating: “I regret to inform you that the Board of the Harvard Law School Forum must retract its invitation to speak at the Forum this spring. Unfortunately, the rest of the Board is not comfortable with inviting you to speak this spring as it appears our views on the Ottoman action against Armenians after World War I diverge slightly from yours.”

Twelve days later, Fein wrote a letter to Law School Dean John F. Manning. He sent Manning the email exchanges leading up to the Forum’s dis-invitation. Fein pointed out to Dean Manning, as he had earlier pointed out to Bora, that members of the Harvard community “enjoy a First Amendment right to boycott persons who are unpersuaded that the treatment of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in World War I can be characterized as genocide within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.” He said that he would like the opportunity to “debate the issue,” although he recognized the Forum’s “Board’s right to censor.” (In a subsequent letter to the president of the Forum, Fein invited board members to defend their disinvitation in a debate at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It remains to be seen whether members will accept the invitation.)

At a private university like Harvard, the powers-that-be do have the legal right to censor, since non-governmental bodies, such as private universities, are not obligated to honor the First Amendment’s protections for free speech. It was this legal nicety that Fein had the grace to concede in his letter to Dean Manning. But Fein’s grace was followed by a stinging, and wholly appropriate, rebuke of the culture that has seemingly taken over the Law School:

“I suggest that you may wish to consider examining Harvard Law School’s free speech instruction or precepts based upon my encounter with the HLSF Board’s censorship. I would be profoundly saddened if Harvard Law School ever graduated students philosophically aligned with Spanish Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada or the Pope’s Index of Forbidden Books.”

Ouch!

Inside Liberty University’s ‘culture of fear’
By Will E. Young

The culture of Liberty is governed by lists of principles. According to the Faculty Handbook, for instance, professors are expected to “promote . . . free market processes” and “affirm . . . that the Bible is inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters.” One cause of perpetual insecurity at Liberty is the school’s militant refusal to award tenure to any faculty member (outside the law school, which must offer it for accreditation). Instructors are instead hired on year-to-year contracts; during the spring semester, they find out whether they will be coming back the next fall.

The result is constant, erratic faculty turnover. One recently fired teacher describes the spring as a cycle of stressed-out, fearful professors wandering into each other’s offices to ask if they had their contracts renewed yet. “If you’re a conservative Christian in the academic world, the chances of you getting a job are nil in many areas,” says Melton, who worked at Liberty as an associate professor for 15 years before resigning because of what he described as the school’s surveillance and fear tactics. “The administration knows that, and . . . they wield that very effectively, keeping people quiet.”

Correction: Oberlin College-Racial Dispute story
By Mark Gillispie

Owners of a market in a famously liberal town were awarded $44 million in damages this week in their lawsuit claiming Oberlin College hurt their business and libeled them in a case some observers said embodied racial hypersensitivity and political correctness run amok.

A jury in Lorain County awarded David Gibson, his father, Allyn Gibson, and Gibson’s Bakery, of Oberlin, $33 million in punitive damages Thursday. That comes on top of an award a week earlier of $11 million in compensatory damages.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have spoken,” Oberlin College attorney Rachelle Zidar told the jury Thursday before the larger award was announced, according to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. “You have sent a profound message. We have heard you. Believe me when I say, ‘Colleges across the country have heard you.’”

Oberlin College spokesman Scott Wargo declined to comment after the award was announced.

O Oberlin, My Oberlin
By Abraham Socher

If Oberlin and Raimondo seem to have treated Oberlin’s activist students as a constituency to be manipulated, they also catered to them as customers. And the customer, unlike the student, is always right. When asked why the college could not send out a notice supportive of the Gibsons, Krislov’s chief of staff, Ferdinand Protzman, replied that “both the college and Gibson’s are dealing with the same customer base,” and there was no profit in irritating the most vocal members of that customer base. In short, the college participated in the “smearing of the Gibsons” because, like easy grades and better banh mi sandwiches, it’s what the customer wanted. But, of course, real education consists in helping students to see that the most desirable thing is knowledge.

… At the height of the protests, no more than 10 percent of Oberlin’s students were standing in front of Gibson’s, even though there is not a lot to do on a weeknight in Oberlin, Ohio. Moreover, although an alarming number of administrators, and perhaps a handful of professors, were involved in the protests and ensuing conflict with Gibson’s, it was an even smaller percentage. There is a kind of modified Pareto principle working at schools like Oberlin in which the radicalized 5 or 10 percent of the population establishes the tone for the entire institution. Of course, this is true of all organizations, but it seems to me that colleges are especially susceptible to this phenomenon precisely because liberal-arts education calls out for a unifying principle or goal, something that holds together this four-year experience of 130 credit hours in the history of this and the structure of that. Oberlin, like Cardinal Newman, used to have a theological answer to that question, one that underwrote one of the most principled stands on racial equality in the 19th century.

Over the last century, politics replaced theology. “Think one person can change the world? So do we,” has been Oberlin’s official motto for quite some time. It’s just advertising (I remember some campus graffiti from the early 2000s—“Oberlin: changing the world for $30,000/yr”—now it’s closer to $60,000). But the attitude expresses the self-image of many liberal arts colleges, and many more professors, and since only radicals “know” how to change the world, it cedes them the high ground. The upshot, at least here, has been the furthest thing from idealism possible. Instead of unleashing the potential of students, students were unleashed on an innocent family and business.

Oberlin College’s Legacy and the Need to Have Enemies
By S. Frederick Starr

Pastor Oberlin would have been appalled. But the founder of Oberlin College, Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), would not have been. Finney, a fierce enemy of Calvinism and the sparkplug of the so-called Second Great Revival, believed human beings could be perfected if only specific evils and their perpetrators could be stamped out. In this frightening doctrine, Finney manifested what the University of Virginia psychiatrist Vamik Volkan called “the need to have enemies and allies.”

In its early years Oberlin College found many dragons to slay. Slavery was high on the list. John Brown’s father was an Oberlin trustee, and the college briefly employed Brown himself before he unleashed his war of terror on Kansas. Other dragons included “the demon drink” (the Anti-Saloon League was founded in Oberlin), art (one early Oberlin president, after visiting the Louvre, vowed never to enter an art museum again), and those heathens world-wide who resisted the efforts of the legions of missionaries sent from Oberlin. Book burning was not unknown in early Oberlin’s early days.

Liberalism Isn’t What It Used to Be
By Michael Blechman

The archvillain of my youth was Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who sought to ruin the career of anyone he accused of being a Communist or fellow traveler. Many compared his efforts to the Salem witch trials, as a result of which 19 people were executed based solely on the “credible” accusations of a few young girls.

The due-process hero of my younger years was Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He defended Tom Robinson, a black sharecropper falsely accused of rape by a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Although Atticus proved that Mayella was lying in a brilliant cross-examination that had me—as a young lawyer-to-be—silently cheering as I read, Tom was convicted by a white jury that presumed him guilty.

I had always thought it was only bigoted Jim Crow juries and redbaiters like Joe McCarthy who rode roughshod over due process. Yet in 2011 the Obama Education Department sent a “dear colleague” letter to colleges and universities, threatening to cut off federal funding unless the schools changed their procedures to make it easier to discipline students accused of sexual assault. As a result, many students were stripped of their rights to counsel, cross-examination of their accusers and discovery of the evidence against them. Those procedures were re-examined by the current secretary of education, a step that was bitterly criticized by progressives because it may make it more difficult to punish the accused—the price of all due-process protections.

My first reaction to the #MeToo movement was satisfaction that victims of sexual harassment could feel safer about speaking out. Then, during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, “women deserve to be heard” transformed into “women deserve to be believed.” A presumption of guilt replaced the presumption of innocence, and progressives seemed unconcerned. I can imagine a #MeToo version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with Mayella Ewell as the heroine, Atticus Finch condemned for “toxic masculinity” and the lynch mob cheered as an engine of popular justice.

Another tenet of American justice that inspired me to lean left was the idea that every defendant, however unpopular, is entitled to legal representation. Here my childhood heroes were lawyers like William Kunstler, who defended politically unpopular leftist clients, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which defended clients of every stripe when their constitutional rights were threatened.

This year, however, Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard Law School professor, became the object of student protests after joining disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. The protests led Harvard to fire Mr. Sullivan and his wife as faculty deans at Winthrop House, a campus residential college. The right of an unpopular defendant to counsel, it seems, is no longer a progressive value.

Harvey Weinstein’s Defense Lawyer and Unpopular Speech in a Cold Climate
By Jeannie Suk Gersen

Due process for the accused isn’t always easy to stomach. In September, 2001, I was a law student, and, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, I remember sitting in a class discussion over whether indefinite detention and torture were appropriate ways to deal with terror suspects. How could I dare raise the question of their civil rights? These people could be plotting another mass murder. They threatened our most basic sense of safety. In the years that followed, accused terrorists were the defendants who inspired the fiercest public scorn. Their lawyers were denounced as enemies of national security. Yet lawyers’ work in those cases forged sane legal doctrine on due process and executive power, doctrine that protects our civil rights today. Now lawyers for alleged sexual predators occupy the position as those for terror suspects—considered guilty by association. As with terror trials, these #MeToo cases will have lasting implications for constitutional law and criminal procedure.

Well into the second year of the #MeToo movement, as allegations ripen into legal cases, people want and expect the courts to deliver decisions that will truly address the scope of sexual violence in our society. But, as any lawyer knows, many #MeToo cases will not end in legal vindication. Why not? Because the alleged behavior doesn’t match legal definitions, or because of statutes of limitations, or insufficient evidence, or questionable witnesses, or police misconduct, or prosecutorial overreach, or doubtful juries—in short, for all the reasons that cases can fall apart when subjected to scrutiny in court. When defense lawyers do their job, one effect is to make it harder for the government to impose suffering on their clients, whether innocent or guilty. This is a notion that most liberal Americans like, when we talk about mass incarceration or the war on drugs. It is often less comfortable in the context of #MeToo.

Harvard Betrays a Law Professor — and Itself
By Randall Kennedy

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.

The central force animating the drama has been student anger at anyone daring to breach the wall of ostracism surrounding Mr. Weinstein, even for the limited purpose of extending him legal representation. They want to make him, a person still clothed with the presumption of innocence, more of an untouchable before trial than those who have been convicted of a crime. There was no publicized protest at Winthrop House when Mr. Sullivan successfully represented a convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star, who was acquitted of a separate double murder before killing himself in prison.

Harvard officials are certainly capable of withstanding student pressure. This time, though, they don’t want to. Some high-ranking administrators have clearly been guided by an affinity for the belief that Mr. Sullivan’s representation of Mr. Weinstein constituted a betrayal of enlightened judgment. Others have simply been willing to be mau-maued.

Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down
By Ronald S. Sullivan Jr.

I should note that I am not opposed to student protest. Many important social justice movements began with student protests, including movements from which I, as an African-American, have benefited. Had it not been for students who staged sit-ins at lunch counters, I would not have had the opportunity to be trained at Harvard Law School.

But I am profoundly troubled by the reaction of university administrators who are in charge of student growth and development. The job of a teacher is to help students think through what constitutes a reasonable argument. It is a dereliction of duty for administrators to allow themselves to be bullied into unprincipled positions.

Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.

This must change. Until then, universities are doing a profound disservice to those who place their trust in us to educate them.

Stop the Knee-Jerk Liberalism That Hurts Its Own Cause
By Nicholas Kristof

Campus activists at their best are the nation’s conscience. But sometimes their passion, particularly in a liberal cocoon, becomes blinding.

That’s what happened at Oberlin College, long a center of activism, where students once protested the dining hall for cultural appropriation for offering poor sushi. Now Oberlin is in the news again because of a development in an episode that began the day after Trump was elected.

A black student shoplifted wine from a store called Gibson’s Bakery, and a white store clerk ran after him and attempted to grab him. The police report shows that when officers arrived, the clerk was on the ground getting punched and kicked by several students.

Seeing this incident through the lens of racial oppression, students denounced Gibson’s and distributed fliers claiming, “This is a RACIST establishment.” A university dean attended the protest, and the university responded to student fervor by suspending purchases from the bakery.

I understand that militancy emerges from deep frustration at inequities. But it turned out that the operative narrative here was not oppression but simply shoplifting. The student who stole the wine pleaded guilty to theft and acknowledged that there was no racial profiling involved.

Gibson’s this month won $44 million in actual and punitive damages from Oberlin, apparently reflecting the jury’s exasperation with the university for enabling a student mob.

At a time when there is so much actual injustice around us — third-rate schools, mass incarceration, immigrants dehumanized — it’s bizarre to see student activists inflamed by sushi or valorizing a shoplifter. This is kneejerk liberalism that backfires and damages its own cause.

Art Spiegelman: golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism
By Art Spiegelman

When the Folio Society, venerable publisher of luxurious illustrated books since 1947, decided to plunge in with a deluxe compilation of golden age Marvel comics, they invited me, as a graphic novelist and comic book scholar, to write an introduction to the book. Perhaps they misguidedly figured that I might lend the endeavour a fig leaf of respectability.

I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay “apolitical”, and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

A revealing story serendipitously showed up in my news feed this week. I learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s “Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee” for 2020. I’ve also had to learn, yet again, that everything is political… just like Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw.

Ravelry, a Popular Knitting Site, Bans Pro-Trump Content
By Sarah Mervosh

Knitting and crocheting are known for bringing people of all walks of life together. There are knitting groups for church missions and pregnant mothers, gay and transgender people and black liberation. But in the era of Instagram and Etsy, the craft, historically practiced by older women, has also experienced a clash of cultures as it finds a new following among a younger demographic.

In recent years, knitted products have become weapons in the fight for women’s rights, including a campaign to send knitted vaginas to male members of Congress, and the campaign during the first Women’s March in 2017 to wear pink “pussyhats” in protest of remarks made by Mr. Trump on the “Access Hollywood” tape.

It was unclear exactly what prompted the Ravelry policy change on Sunday. But the post announcing the decision cited as its inspiration a similar policy at RPG.net, a gaming site that enacted its own ban on Trump support in October 2018.

A Witch-Hunt on Instagram
By Kathrine Jebsen Moore

Karen Templer surrendered to her accusers and, although some of her critics remain adamant that she has not done enough for diversity, she seems to have been accepted back in the clique of “BIPOC knitter friendly” knitting activists. ”I think perhaps the original intent of this discussion has been hijacked in an effort to attack and accuse people who disagree with the methods of implementing change,” Tusken told me in an email. “This debate has caused a lot of division, but the divide isn’t between racists and non-racists. It is between those who agree and those who disagree with the bullying, harassment, and virtue-signalling tactics currently being used to solve the problem.” She says she has received support from many well-known names in the knitting industry. Of her accusers, Tusken said: “I have known for a long time that the knitting community wasn’t as supportive and loving as everyone claimed. In reality there are strong cliques and it can be difficult to fit in. There have been many times I’ve had to keep my mouth shut due to fear of something like this happening. I have been called a ‘hateful racist POS [piece of shit].’ But this didn’t hurt nearly as bad as being called a horrible person and publicly denounced by ‘friends’ who I have met in person and built relationships with.” She was even accused of being a neo-Nazi because she enjoys drinking Guinness. But as incongruous as cruelty and knitting might seem, this is no laughing matter. People’s livelihoods are being credibly threatened by this kind of behaviour. “You can be bullied and destroyed,” Tusken told me.

Protester who shouted ‘Nazi scum’ at Trump fan quits NHS job after petition
By Martine Berg Olsen

An NHS worker who was filmed shouting ‘Nazi scum’ at a Donald Trump supporter has quit her job after 3,000 people signed a petition for her to be sacked.

Siobhan Prigent, 34, was caught on camera screaming in the face of a grandfather, shortly before he was doused in milkshake in London’s Parliament Square on Tuesday.

Prigent, who appears to be holding a ‘this episode of Black Mirror isn’t funny any more! #NoThanksNazis’ sign can be seen laughing as the British Trump fan gets attacked by protesters.

The man, who was wearing a MAGA hat was then pushed around by the mob demonstrating against the president’s state visit to the UK.

How the news took over reality
By Oliver Burkeman

In 2013, when Donald Trump was still a mockable reality TV star, and Twitter wasn’t yet known affectionately among its users as the “hellsite”, the German-Korean cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han published a prescient book entitled In the Swarm, which argued that digital communication was gradually rendering politics impossible. Healthy political debate, he argued, depends on respect, which requires that participants retain a sort of mental distance from each other: “Civil society requires respectfully looking away from what is private.” But digital connectivity collapses distance. Social media blurs the distinction between making considered public comments on the news and impulsively emitting snatches of one’s half-formed private impressions of it; and it rewards and amplifies the most extreme expressions of emotion. When there is a direct pipeline running in both directions between the news and the deepest recesses of everyone’s psyches, the result – obvious in hindsight, perhaps – isn’t that it is easier to reach consensus or resolution. It is that every topic of public disagreement spirals rapidly into psychodrama.

A functioning public sphere also depends on collective access to a shared body of facts about reality, to serve as the stable ground on which to hash out our differences of opinion. But with such an enormous surplus of information, filtered on the basis of what compels each user’s attention, that shared basis of facts is soon eroded. Meanwhile, the algorithms of social media invisibly sort us into ever more separate communities of ever more similar people, so that even if you are discussing, say, movies or sport, you’re increasingly likely to be doing so with those who share your political affiliations; the more you engage with politics, the more everything becomes political – and, research suggests, the harder it becomes to understand your political opponents as fully human. This is a situation ripe for exploitation by demagogues, who understand that their power consists in turning the whole of life into a battleground divided along political lines, thereby maximising their domination of public attention.

Given all this, the idea that being ceaselessly preoccupied with the news might be a useful way to defeat authoritarianism, or to achieve any other laudable political goal, begins to look extremely unconvincing. If you spend hours each day on social media fuming about your opponents, you are still participating in the corrosion of democracy, even if you are participating from a morally impeccable position. And so the conventional wisdom among the politically clued-in – that what this moment calls for is more engagement with the news – may be the opposite of the truth.

Academic who defined news principles says journalists are too negative
By Ulrik Haagerup

The overwhelming negativity of news in recent years has prompted a debate about its impact on the public psyche. Recent academic studies have found that pessimistic news makes audiences feel helpless and less likely to engage in solving global problems.

A 2017 study on declining global audiences for traditional news sources was conducted by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. The study showed that 48% of people leaving news media did it because news had a negative effect on their mood; 37% said they stopped consuming news because they did not trust the content; and 27% said they stopped following the news because “there is nothing I can do about it anyway”.

The Edelman Trust Barometer published global research in late 2017 showing that on average 53% of people worldwide felt the system they lived in was failing. Respondents expressed a “sense of injustice”, “lack of hope”, “lack of confidence” and “desire for change”. In countries like France, Germany, Italy, US, Spain, the UK and the Netherlands, between 56% and 72% of the population described a meltdown of their trust in democratic society.

Trump is the product of a narcissistic media age
By Gary Abernathy

… as cable TV and, later, digital platforms flourished, so did the need for revenue. What became evident was that Americans would tune in to watch a good fight, which brought us “Crossfire” on CNN and countless imitators on other channels pitting left vs. right, each one louder and more aggressive than the one before. Americans were encouraged to choose sides, driving us deeper into our partisan corners.

On the entertainment side, television struck gold with “reality” programming, placing seemingly ordinary citizens in voyeuristic and titillating settings, asking viewers to cheer one contestant, jeer the other and cast their votes.

Out of this divisive and salacious swamp climbed the combative, shocking and polarizing Donald Trump, stepping onto a cultural stage constructed almost specifically for him. The billionaire businessman’s years of self-promotion and pervasive tabloid presence culminated in his stint as ringmaster of “The Apprentice,” one of the most popular reality shows of all time. As a candidate and president, against a sea of traditional politicians still practicing the old proprieties, Trump flourishes because he says and does that which fits perfectly within the gaudy landscape created by our modern news and entertainment media.

He is the political pioneer of the Narcissistic Age. He cannot be too outrageous, because shocking and offensive are spoon-fed to America as the norm, courtesy of both unscripted and scripted television, which grows bolder with every new series in portraying what was once taboo language and scandalous behavior.

Pundits wonder why millions of Americans aren’t shocked by Trump. The shouting demagogues on cable news who bemoan our polarized politics and our lowered standards, and the producers and entertainers in Hollywood who curse his name, should come to terms with the fact that Trump is the progeny of their own talents and efforts.

Five myths about journalism
By Jeremy Littau

While antipathy may be high, trust in the press has been on the rise recently, according to a Gallup poll released last fall. It shows 45 percent of Americans reporting that they trust the press a great deal or a fair amount — up from an all-time low of 32 percent in 2016, but still well off its peak of 72 percent in 1976. The picture also is more nuanced when you consider political affiliations: Seventy-six percent of Democrats say they trust the news media, compared with 42 percent of independents and 21 percent of Republicans. The numbers have roughly held steady since 1998 for independents and Democrats, but the loss of trust among Republicans is the noteworthy trend — down from 41 percent in 1998. So to say it’s an overall American sentiment is wrong. Similarly, recent upticks in press trust (a 2018 American Press Institute report noted that 32 percent of Americans reported increased trust in the media in the previous year) are linked to growing trust among Republicans. Thus it would be more accurate to say that Republicans don’t particularly like or trust the news media.

The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story
By Caitlin Flanagan

I have watched every bit of video I can find of the event, although more keep appearing. I have found several things that various of the boys did and said that are ugly, or rude, or racist. Some boys did a tomahawk chop when Phillips walked into their group. There is a short video of a group that seems to be from the high school verbally harassing two young women as the women walk past it. In terms of the school itself, Covington Catholic High School apparently has a game-day tradition of students painting their skin black for “black-out days,” but any attempt by the school to cast this as innocent fun is undercut by a photograph of a white kid in black body paint leering at a black player on an opposing team.

I would not be surprised if more videos of this kind turn up, or if more troubling information about the school emerges, but it will by then be irrelevant, as the elite media have botched the story so completely that they have lost the authority to report on it. By Tuesday, The New York Times was busy absorbing the fact that Phillips was not, apparently, a Vietnam veteran, as it had originally reported, and it issued a correction saying that it had contacted the Pentagon for his military record, suggesting that it no longer trusts him as a source of reliable information.

How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.

How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World
By Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg

His first order of business was to establish a proper Murdoch-owned empire in Australia. After buying a couple of additional local papers, he founded the country’s first national general-interest newspaper, The Australian, which gave him a powerful platform to help elect governments that eased national regulations designed to limit the size of media companies. He would eventually take control of nearly two-thirds of the national newspaper market. With the construction of his Australian media empire underway, Murdoch moved on to Britain and Fleet Street, using his newest acquisitions, The News of the World and The Sun, to successfully promote Margaret Thatcher’s candidacy for prime minister. Once elected, her government declined to refer his acquisition of The Times of London to antimonopoly regulators, giving him the country’s leading establishment broadsheet to go with his mass-circulation tabloids.

Television was next. After Murdoch lost the bidding for the British government’s sole satellite broadcasting license, Thatcher again came to his rescue, looking the other way when he started a rival service, Sky Television, which beamed programming into Britain from Luxembourg. The bigger Murdoch’s empire became, the more power he had to clear away obstacles to further its expansion. His influence became an uncomfortable fact of British political life, and Murdoch seemed to revel in it. “It’s The Sun Wot Won It,” The Sun declared on its front page in 1992, after helping send the Tory leader John Major to 10 Downing Street by relentlessly smearing the character of his opponent, Neil Kinnock. (“Nightmare on Kinnock Street,” The Sun headlined a savage nine-page package that included a satirical endorsement from the ghost of Joseph Stalin.) Murdoch could switch parties when it suited his purposes and ably supported Britain’s “New Labor” movement in the 1990s: Conservatives at the time had proposed regulations that would have forced him to scale back his newspaper operations in order to expand further into TV.

Murdoch used the same playbook in the United States. In 1980, he met Roy Cohn — the former adviser to Senator Joseph McCarthy and a Trump mentor — who introduced him to Gov. Ronald Reagan’s inner circle. It was a group that included Roger Stone Jr., another Trump confidant and the head of Reagan’s New York operations, who said in a later interview that he helped Murdoch weaponize his latest tabloid purchase, The New York Post, on Reagan’s behalf in the 1980 election. Reagan’s team credited Murdoch with delivering him the state that year — Murdoch gave Stone an Election Day printing plate from The Post over a celebratory meal at the 21 Club — and his administration subsequently facilitated Murdoch’s entry into the American television market, quickly approving his application for American citizenship so he could buy TV stations too.

The Reagan administration later waived a prohibition against owning a television station and a newspaper in the same market, allowing Murdoch to hold onto his big metro dailies, The New York Post and The Boston Herald, even as he moved into TV in both cities. The administration of George H.W. Bush suspended rules that forbade broadcast networks to own prime-time shows or to profit from them. That move allowed Murdoch to build the nation’s fourth broadcast network by rapidly filling out his schedule with shows from his newly acquired 20th Century Fox studio — “The Simpsons,” “21 Jump Street” — while also earning substantial profits from the production unit’s syndicated rerun hits like “M*A*S*H” and “L.A. Law.”

Maybe more than any media mogul of his generation, Murdoch exploited the seismic changes transforming the industry during the waning years of the 20th century (another lesson from Keith, an early adopter of radio and newsreels). These changes were driven by technology: It was now possible to transmit endless amounts of content all over the world in an instant. But they were also driven by regulatory changes, in particular the liberation of TV and radio operators from the government guidelines that ruled the public airwaves. The Reagan administration’s elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, which had for decades required broadcasters to present both sides of any major public-policy debate, spawned a new generation of right-wing radio personalities who were free to provide a different sort of opinion programming to a large, latent conservative audience that was mistrustful of the media in general. It was only a matter of time until similar programming started migrating to the burgeoning medium of 24-hour-a-day cable television. And it was of course Murdoch who imported it.

Murdoch had watched enviously as his younger rival, Ted Turner, built his own cable news network, CNN. In 1996, he and Roger Ailes, a former media adviser for Nixon and George H.W. Bush, started their conservative competitor, Fox News, which catered to those Americans whose political preferences had gone unaddressed on television news. Another political favor was crucial. When Time Warner, which owned CNN, refused to carry the new network on its cable system in New York, the city’s Republican mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani — another future Trump adviser and a lion in the pages of The Post — publicly pressured the cable company as the two sides moved toward an eventual deal.

A round-the-clock network with a virtual monopoly on conservative TV news, Fox conferred on Murdoch a whole new sort of influence that was enhanced by politically polarizing events like the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the post-Sept. 11 war in Iraq that marked its early years. If Murdoch’s papers were a blunt instrument, Fox’s influence was in some ways more subtle, but also far more profound: Hour after hour, day after day, it was shaping the realities of the millions of Americans who treated it as their primary news source. A 2007 study found that the introduction of the network on a particular cable system pushed local voters to the right: the Fox News Effect, as it became known. In a 2014 Pew Research poll, a majority of self-described conservatives said it was the only news network they trusted. Murdoch’s office above the Fox newsroom in Midtown Manhattan became a requisite stop on any serious Republican presidential candidate’s schedule.

How much influence he still wielded in British politics was an open question. Murdoch had effectively been chased out of London five years earlier in the wake of the biggest crisis of his career: the revelations that his News of the World tabloid had, in search of dirt, been systematically hacking into the phones of politicians, celebrities, royals and even a 13-year-old schoolgirl. The scandal that followed, itself fit for tabloid headlines, would permanently alter the course of both the family and its empire. One of Murdoch’s executives, Rebekah Brooks, a virtual seventh child to Murdoch, was arrested, tried and acquitted. Andy Coulson, a former Murdoch editor who had gone to work for Prime Minister David Cameron, was sent to prison for encouraging his reporters to engage in illegal practices. In a futile effort at damage control, the company spent millions of dollars settling claims from hacking victims. Murdoch and James, who was running the company’s European and Asian operations from London at the time, were grilled in a public hearing before Parliament. James denied knowing that the phone-hacking was widespread but was publicly confronted with an email he was sent in 2008 alerting him to the potential severity of the problem. (He said that he had not reviewed “the full email chain.”)

Heather Mills reaches ‘substantial’ settlement over phone hacking
By Hadas Gold

Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers has agreed to pay Heather Mills and her sister a “substantial” settlement over claims stemming from a decade-old phone hacking scandal.

Mills, a philanthropist and former wife of Paul McCartney, said in a statement outside the High Court in London on Monday that she and her sister, Fiona Mills, were the victims of a “targeted smear campaign” that included “hacking, invasion of privacy, and the publication of countless falsehoods and lies.”

In 2011, British tabloid News of the World apologized for hacking the voicemails of celebrities, royals, murder victims and other high-profile figures. Parent company News Corp later shut down News of the World amid a parliamentary and police investigation. Most phone hacking cases involved the tabloid, but other UK newspapers have also settled cases.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer of ‘extortion’ over intimate photos
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Paul Farhi, Sarah Ellison and Devlin Barrett

Bezos said Thursday that the Enquirer threatened to publish intimate pictures of him unless he backed off an investigation of the tabloid. In an extraordinary post to the online publishing platform Medium, Bezos said the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., made the threat after he began investigating how the tabloid obtained text messages that revealed his relationship with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.

Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, wrote that the Enquirer wanted him to make a false public statement that he and his security consultant, Gavin de Becker, “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

Bezos declined to do so. Instead, he published what he said were emails from Enquirer executives to a lawyer representing de Becker. In one, top Enquirer editor Dylan Howard appears to suggest that the tabloid would publish a series of photos of Bezos and of Sanchez, some of them salacious, if AMI’s terms weren’t met.

“I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our newsgathering,” Howard wrote, going on to say that the Enquirer had a “below the belt selfie” of Bezos, among other shots. Howard added, “It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.”

Bezos noted that the email “got my attention,” but said that “any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here. If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”

The National Enquirer’s tactics have been revealed. But they’re not new.
By Paul Farhi, Sarah Ellison and Emily Yahr

In other cases, the Enquirer has pulled its punches in the past when its targets pushed back.

In 2005, amid allegations that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a young woman he was mentoring, the publication found a second woman, Beth Ferrier, who made a similar allegation against the entertainer.

But the Enquirer killed an article about Ferrier’s allegations after Cosby’s lawyer, Martin Singer, threatened to sue. After negotiations with Cosby, the Enquirer instead agreed to publish an “exclusive” interview with him, in which he denied all of the allegations. “Sometimes you try to help people and it backfires on you, and then they try to take advantage of you,” he told the publication.

Cosby was convicted last year of three counts of sexual assault against Constand and is serving a prison sentence. More than five dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Singer is now representing de Becker, whom Bezos hired to investigate the leak of his texts and photos to Sanchez.

The News Media’s Business Model of Extortion
By Guy Rolnik

Media scholars have studied and documented the biases that news organizations have toward their owners’ interests, their advertisers, their audience, and their sources (“access bias”). Tracking these biases usually involves analyzing the published content, the editorial agenda, the framing of stories, and the “priming” of certain issues.

One thing that media scholars can’t measure or research, however, are the stories that never get published. Likewise, they can’t study the news and information that is gathered and produced not with the intention to publish, but rather to be used as political and economic leverage.

The assertion that blackmail and politicking are part of AMI’s business model (AMI denies this, as well as Bezos’s claim that he was blackmailed) did not shock many people. The non-prosecution agreement AMI signed with the Justice Department last September detailed how the company was used as a vehicle for “catch and kill” stories about the extramarital affairs of President Trump.

But this type of behavior is hardly exclusive to small players operating in the margins of the media industry like AMI. In a 2014 interview with acclaimed investigative journalist Lowell Bergman, Michael Wolff (who wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch) said “[Murdoch] likes to cultivate the sense that he knows more than you know and that he has information that he can use. So on any number of occasions, he will have said to me in reference to somebody, or—he goes, ‘We have pictures of him’. In other words, the implication is, ‘We have pictures of him in some kind of comprising situation’.” (Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has also accused Murdoch of blackmail).

Economists Rafael di Tella and Ernesto Dal Bó describe tacit threats to the reputation of politicians and public officials as an important feature of the political economy of many countries. Di Tella and Dal Bó posit that a rational public may also choose to ignore negative media reports about a politician’s personal life, since politicians who are willing to go after powerful special interest groups tend to face recurring threats. The prevalence of coercive (and often tacit) methods of influence, they contend, helps explain how countries come to be governed by “inept politicians,” particulary developing countries where the risk of reputational harm is accompanied by the danger of physical violence.

Of course, establishing the existence of such tacit threats requires a lot of data and anecdotal evidence, and this kind of evidence is very hard to find. Most public figures who are threatened or blackmailed by powerful media outlets will choose to strike a deal. Bezos, the world’s richest man, was willing to pay a heavy price and expose himself in order to send a signal to his opponents that he is not the kind to be bullied. Faced with the threat of having embarrassing photos of themselves exposed, most people would have caved. Bezos, thanks to his enormous financial resources, can take the risk of going after people who attempt to blackmail him. For politicians or regulators, however, a tarnished reputation often leads to their career being destroyed.

Daddy Warbucks Goes to War
By Maureen Dowd

As Galloway told me: “The second-worst decision in the last 12 months was the world’s wealthiest man sending out pictures of his genitalia. The worst decision was A.M.I. deciding to attempt to blackmail the wealthiest man in the world via email. Dumb and dumber.

“A.M.I. went out of business this week. They just don’t know it. They have a megalodon after them.”

Galloway thinks that Bezos vs. Pecker will mimic Thiel vs. Gawker: “The same hubris infected Gawker, wrapping yourself in the First Amendment as an excuse for depraved behavior and ruining people’s lives. That dog will no longer hunt.”

What Was the Washington Post Afraid Of?
By Irin Carmon

Amy and I did win the Mirror Award for Best Story on Sexual Misconduct in the Media, and when we went onstage to accept it, I spoke: “The stories that we have been doing are about a system. The system has lawyers and a good reputation. It has publicists. It has a perfectly reasonable explanation about what happened. It has powerful friends that will ask if it’s really worth ruining the career of a good man based on what one women says, what four women say, what 35 women say. Indeed, the system is sitting in this room. Some more than others.”

I couldn’t see Fager from where I stood, but I knew he was there. We’d eventually hear he’d returned to his office livid. Later, I’d email Wallsten to tell him he had inspired my speech, if inadvertently.

“The system,” I said from the stage, “is still powerful men getting stories killed that I believe will one day see the light of day.”

That last prediction proved true. In July, Ronan Farrow broke the story in The New Yorker of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Fager and Moonves. The piece confirmed what we had found: Fager “allowed harassment in the division,” according to 19 current and former employees, and six former staffers told Farrow that Fager, while inebriated at company parties, “would touch employees in ways that made them uncomfortable,” though none went on the record.

Four days later, the CBS board of directors announced it had assigned two firms to investigate the claims against Moonves “and cultural issues at all levels of CBS.” In September, Farrow published a second story, this time with a former intern accusing Fager on the record of groping her. Three days later, he was fired after sending a threatening text to a CBS reporter assigned to ask him about The New Yorker story. The investigators would later say his dismissal was justified based on “certain acts of sexual misconduct,” according to the New York Times. The Times also reported that Moonves himself had confirmed our story, revealing to investigators that CBS paid nearly a million dollars to a woman who had “accused Mr. Fager of sexual misconduct,” the Times reported.

Jeffrey Epstein Pitched a New Narrative. These Sites Published It.
By Tiffany Hsu

After Jeffrey Epstein got out of the Palm Beach County jail in 2009, having served 13 months of an 18-month sentence resulting from a plea deal that has been widely criticized, he began a media campaign to remake his public image.

The effort led to the publication of articles describing him as a selfless and forward-thinking philanthropist with an interest in science on websites like Forbes, National Review and HuffPost.

The Forbes.com article, posted in 2013, praised him as “one of the largest backers of cutting-edge science around the world” while making no mention of his criminal past. The National Review piece, from the same year, called him “a smart businessman” with a “passion for cutting-edge science.” The HuffPost article, from 2017, credited Mr. Epstein for “taking action to help a number of scientists thrive during the ‘Trump Era’,” a time of “anti-science policies and budget cuts.”

All three articles have been removed from their sites in recent days, after inquiries from The New York Times.

A professor called Bret Stephens a ‘bedbug.’ The New York Times columnist complained to the professor’s boss.
By Tim Elfrink and Morgan Krakow

The professor said Stephens’s decision to email his superior at GWU with his complaints was an inappropriate attack from a writer with one of the highest-profile platforms in journalism.

“He not only thinks I should be ashamed of what I wrote, he thinks that I should also get in trouble for it,” Karpf told The Washington Post. “That’s an abuse of his power.”

In an email to The Post hours after his missive went viral, Stephens said that his message to Karpf “speaks for itself.”

But Tuesday morning, Stephens appeared on MSNBC to address the incident further.

He called the Karpf’s bedbugs tweet “dehumanizing and totally unacceptable” and said he invited Karpf to his home to see if the professor would call him a bedbug to his face — because, Stephens said, “a lot of things people say on social media aren’t the things they’re really prepared to say in one-on-one interactions.”

He also explained why he had copied the provost on the email, saying that he did not want to get Karpf in professional trouble, but that “managers should be aware of the way in which their people, their professors or journalists, interact with the rest of the world.”

“Using dehumanizing rhetoric like bedbugs or analogizing people to insects is always wrong,” Stephens said. “We can do better. We should be the people on social media that we are in real life.”

Stephens also deactivated his Twitter account on Tuesday, writing that the platform “is a sewer. It brings out the worst in humanity. I sincerely apologize for any part I’ve played in making it worse, and to anyone I’ve ever hurt.”

The message disappeared when Stephens deactivated his account, but he confirmed to The Post that he had left Twitter.

A spokesperson for the Times didn’t immediately respond to a message about the columnist’s exchange with the professor.

This month, the Times demoted another prominent journalist, Jonathan Weisman, who formerly edited congressional coverage for the paper’s Washington bureau, after he wrote tweets criticized as racist and then emailed author and Times contributor Roxane Gay to demand an “enormous apology” after she called him out.

A column suggested waiters could ‘tamper’ with Trump officials’ food. Amid backlash, the Boston Globe pulled it.
By Allyson Chiu

The roughly 1,200-word op-ed that appeared on the Boston Globe’s website Wednesday began with the author looking back on one of his “biggest regrets” in life — “not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon.”

“I was waiting on the disgraced neoconservative pundit and chief Iraq War cheerleader about 10 years ago at a restaurant in Cambridge and to my eternal dismay, some combination of professionalism and pusillanimity prevented me from appropriately seasoning his entree,” wrote Luke O’Neil, a Boston-based freelance journalist and regular contributor to the Globe’s opinions section. (O’Neil has also contributed to The Washington Post.)

By Thursday evening, amid fierce backlash from critics who decried its contents as “hateful, divisive, counter-productive rhetoric,” the Globe first revised the piece and then took the unusual step of pulling it entirely.

Rather than quell the outrage, though, the decision incensed others, including O’Neil, who slammed the publication’s integrity. The Globe did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday.

Bloomberg Law tried to suppress its erroneous Labor Dept. story
By Erik Wemple

The headline on Tuesday’s story: “Trump Labor Aide Quits After Anti-Semitic Facebook Posts Surface.”

Problem: Those “anti-Semitic” messages were satirical jabs at anti-Semitism, rendering them anti-anti-Semitic. Even so: An official with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned the post, and the Labor Department announced that it had accepted Olson’s resignation. Social media roared at the madness.

As folks read the actual post, sanity made a comeback. The ADL renounced its own condemnation. And the Labor Department announced the reinstatement of Olson: “On Friday, August 30, 2019, Senior Policy Advisor of the Wage and Hour Division, Leif Olson offered his resignation and the Department accepted. Following a thorough reexamination of the available information and upon reflection, the Department has concluded that Mr. Olson has satisfactorily explained the tone of the content of his sarcastic social media posts and will return to his position in the Wage and Hour Division.”

Bloomberg Law responded by writing a fresh story. It also adjusted the initial, erroneous story with its headline about “Anti-Semitic Facebook Posts.” In place of that headline came a more accurate formulation: “Trump Labor Aide Quits After Facebook Posts Surface (Corrected).” As for the “corrected” part, Bloomberg Law signaled the changes to the article with this italicized text: “In light of the subsequent events, we removed ‘Anti-Semitic’ from the headline and clarified Olson’s reference to those tropes.

Chris Pratt criticised for T-shirt choice
By Yahoo Movies UK

Update: This article was updated on 17 July with the initial headline, ’Chris Pratt criticised for ‘white supremacist’ T-shirt’ being amended to ‘Chris Pratt criticised for T-shirt choice.’ References to White Supremacism in this article have been removed.

Sir Roger Scruton
By New Statesman

After its publication online, links to the article were tweeted out together with partial quotations from the interview – including a truncated version of the quotation regarding China above. We acknowledge that the views of Professor Scruton were not accurately represented in the tweets to his disadvantage. We apologise for this, and regret any distress that this has caused Sir Roger.

Editor’s Note
By The New Republic

Dale Peck’s post “My Mayor Pete Problem” has been removed from the site, in response to criticism of the piece’s inappropriate and invasive content. We regret its publication.

Iowa reporter who found a viral star’s racist tweets slammed when critics find his own offensive posts
By Katie Shepherd

On Sept. 14, an Iowa man named Carson King went viral after holding a sign on ESPN’s “College GameDay” asking for donations on Venmo to pay for his “Busch Light Supply.” When cash unexpectedly poured in, King decided to give it to a local children’s hospital instead of buying beer, leading Venmo and Anheuser-Busch to pledge matching donations.

That’s when Des Moines Register reporter Aaron Calvin set out to profile King — and found two offensive tweets the 24-year-old had sent when he was 16.

That discovery has now sparked an acrimonious conflict, as King quickly lost his partnership with Anheuser-Busch, and the Des Moines Register scrambled to explain its decision to report on the old tweets in the first place — particularly after critics Tuesday turned up multiple offensive tweets once sent by Calvin, forcing the paper to open a new investigation into its own reporter.

US journalist fired over ‘cancel culture’ story
By BBC News

Online backlash against the backlash built even before the Des Moines Register article was published, and Twitter sleuths began uncovering Mr Calvin’s own statements that mocked same-sex marriage, domestic abuse and included a racial slur.

In a contrite tweet, he wrote: “Hey just wanted to say that I have deleted previous tweets that have been inappropriate or insensitive.

“I apologise for not holding myself to the same high standards as the Register holds others.”

His apologetic tweet was deleted, too.

Late on Thursday night, the executive editor of the Register announced that Mr Calvin had been fired after his online comments were brought to the paper’s attention.

Editor Carol Hunter’s letter to readers says: “We hear you: You’re angry, you’re disappointed and you want us to understand that.”

She wrote that the paper was re-examining employees’ social media accounts as well as policies for “backgrounding individuals in stories, with particular attention to acts committed by juveniles and to the newsworthiness of that information years later”.

The New York Times Faces Questions Over Kavanaugh Story
By David Bauder

Headlined “Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not,” the story was primarily about Deborah Ramirez, a Connecticut woman who alleged that Kavanaugh, as a freshman at Yale in 1983, had pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her. Kavanaugh has denied those claims.

Yet the authors said they’d uncovered a similar story involving Kavanaugh at another freshman-year party, where he allegedly exposed himself and friends pushed his penis into the hands of a female student. The story said former classmate Max Stier reported the incident to the FBI and senators as Kavanaugh’s nomination was being discussed, but the story said Stier would not discuss it with the authors. Kavanaugh would not comment on the story, a court spokeswoman said Monday.

After the story was posted online but before it was in the print edition, the Times revised the story to add that the book reported that the woman supposedly involved in the incident declined to be interviewed, and that her friends say she doesn’t recall the incident. While an editor’s note pointed out the revision, it did not say why those facts had been left out in the first place. A Times spokeswoman said no one was available for an interview on Monday.

The Times’ deputy editorial page editor, James Dao, posted answers to readers’ question on the newspaper’s website Monday evening but did not address this issue.

The Times also apologized for an offensive tweet sent out by the opinion section advertising its initial story. The tweet said: “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun. But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale University in the first place.”

The Times deleted the tweet and said it was “clearly inappropriate and offensive” and was looking into how it was sent.

“They Played It Up Pretty Big”: Kavanaugh Turmoil Engulfs the New York Times
By Joe Pompeo

Summing up the internal vibe on this overall, one source said, “The most charitable read is that the Times sometimes twists itself in knots with weird internal rules and traditions.”

And then there’s this perspective, as another Times source put it: “The irony is that this book is not an attack on Kavanaugh. It’s very balanced. If people actually read the book, they’ll see it’s very fair and meticulous and well reported. Liberals are not going to be satisfied. This is not an ‘Impeach Kavanaugh’ book.”

Similarly, in the words of a former high-ranking Times figure, “In today’s journalistic world, the conversation is a bit irrelevant, because for most of the people who read the New York Times online or on their phones, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. Your average reader is not gonna really know or care where it is. They played it up pretty big, and I have to tell you: When I first read it, I had no idea it was in the Review. I tapped on a link, and at the top it said ‘News Analysis.’ And I also didn’t know it was a book adaptation, because I didn’t even get to the end. I get the point of view of the activists. They want the Times to further their agenda, but that’s not the Times’ job.”

What Liberals Are Getting Wrong About the Times Headline
By Jack Shafer

As headlines go, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism” wasn’t ideal, something the Times admitted by changing the headline to “Assailing Hate, But Not Guns” for the remainder of the print run. The paper issued an official statement calling the original “flawed” and Baquet put on the hair shirt. But the original Times headline—and please refrain from mounting a “fire Jack Shafer” movement until you finish this piece—was fairly accurate. Read or listen to Trump’s speech. He literally condemned racism and called for unity!

While it’s fair to ask whether Trump was sincere in damning bigotry and white supremacy, there’s only so much work you can expect a headline to do in such a small space. That’s why newspapers publish articles below headlines. If you detach your eyes from your Twitter account long enough to read the Page One stories by Michael Crowley, Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns in the Times, you’ll find sharp and critical reporting on the Trump speech.

The fury uncaged by the five-word Times headline had less to do with the language used and more to do with the political validation that liberals and lefties have come to demand from the news media they consume. It’s not good enough for some liberals that the Times has kept a tight vigil on Trump since he announced his candidacy four years ago, exposing him as a tax cheat, tracking his lies, aggressively covering the Mueller investigation and the Stormy Daniels case, cataloging everybody he’s insulted on Twitter, fending off his “enemy of the people” charges, recording his abuse of emergency powers, and documenting his contempt for the rule of law. They want every column-inch of copy in the Times to reinforce and amplify their resistance values, right down to the headlines. Anything perceived as even a minor deviation from that “mission,” they seem to think, requires the mass cancellation of subscriptions and calls for the executive editor’s resignation.

Dropshipping journalism
By Daniel Tovrov

“You’re chancing it half the time,” says a current Newsweek writer. “You’re being asked to write a story in two hours, and your editors are being asked to edit it in twenty minutes, and we’re all supposed to be experts on whatever it is the story’s about, even if we’re covering the entire world. It’s just not possible.”

Newsweek has tended to hire young reporters, many of them fresh from college papers or internships. In the course of my reporting for this piece, at least ten senior staffers left or were let go, their salaries freed up while Newsweek continued to look for “News Fellows,” contract employees working forty-hour weeks for $15 per hour, the minimum wage in New York City. Three former Fellows confirmed that they were expected to do the same amount of work as salaried reporters—a minimum of four stories a day, with no overtime—with the promise of being hired full-time after four months.

“The owners see media as a profitable thing, but it’s profitable because they’ve found an exploitable workforce. There are so many young, earnest, hungry writers who will work for so little,” says Sydney Pereira, who covered climate change for Newsweek until March of last year. “We’re digging the owners out of debt at the expense of our mental health.”

Iworked at IBT in 2011 and 2012, the year before it bought Newsweek. I was twenty-four and thrilled. When I was hired, I was one of two reporters covering “world news.” My original contract stipulated that I had to bring in a minimum of ten thousand unique readers a month, an impossibly high number that my editor told me to ignore. The world, US, and business desks were meant to write “legitimate” stories that went on the front page, while a “Continuous News Desk,” later renamed “Breaking News,” spammed Google News and paid our salaries. Drafting off the BuzzFeed News model that had developed months earlier, Jeffrey Rothfeder, our Editor-in-Chief, said that the clickbait would bring in revenue while hard-news reporting would build our reputation.

Much of Newsweek’s current disorder was incubated in those early days of IBT, when we were still figuring out how digital journalism would work. We quickly learned that the patience of the owners, who own Newsweek today, was short. I witnessed incredible journalists lose their jobs over inconsistent traffic, despite editors’ best efforts to save them by shifting them from desk to desk to avoid detection. Many of us adopted the strategy of using a pseudonym to write about the latest nutjob’s doomsday prophecy or planet made of diamonds when we needed quick hits. The owners and editors were fine with this, but a CMS update created automated bylines and ended the practice.

It was in this era that, due to a contagious morale problem, IBT management added a carrot to go along with the stick: traffic bonuses. This was also when reporters were first ranked by traffic on a spreadsheet.

Until recently, a reporter could earn an extra $2,000 per month for stories that attracted six hundred thousand unique page views. Numerous current and former reporters told me that when interviewing for a job at Newsweek, editors told them not to worry about salaries between $35,000 and $45,000—about $10,000 less than the average entry-level reporter position in New York City—because their bonuses would earn them an additional $24,000 per year.

But the reality is that if you aren’t writing clickbait, the bonuses can be hard to get. And failing to get a traffic bonus, some said, puts a target on your back.

How Mic.com exploited social justice for clicks
By Adrianne Jeffries

Mic started riding the Facebook wave early in 2012. Individual stories kept going viral, pulling in 2 million, 3 million, 5 million unique visitors per piece. Former staffers described the viral power of Mic’s stories as a fluke, something they’d never witnessed before and have never seen again. Every month brought a new record, former staffers told me. It felt like Mic was unstoppable — but it was not to last. In August 2015, Mic’s Facebook traffic dropped dramatically, former staffers said. This happened every so often; traffic would dip, the audience and editorial teams would adjust a bunch of levers, and the crisis would blow over. This time was different, possibly due to changes made by Facebook that included a penalty for clickbait, as indicated by readers clicking on a story but not spending much time with it.

Mic, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, had already hired Bleacher Report veteran Michael Cahill in May 2015 as its director of search engine optimization. His task was to translate Mic’s Facebook optimization process to Google. This meant analyzing search trends in order to generate key phrases — everything from “What time is the convention” and “Watch Trump’s speech live” to “How to pick up women” — and assigning those key phrases to a staff of SEO writers, who then reverse-engineered stories around them. “He starts building this little team. They’re off in their own world. Garbage shit. Typos everywhere. ‘Keyword keyword 2017 colon how when where why.’ These poor kids are writing like ten of these a day,” said the former staffer who left in late 2016. “That strategy just kind of overtook the entire newsroom. The desk editors would have weekly meetings with his little lackey… they would have a spreadsheet of like 50 different story ideas that had a bunch of keywords in them, and we had to sit down and assign them to writers together.”

During these experiments, Mic continued to bait Facebook readers into getting worked up over everything: Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie, a high school teacher in Oregon who doesn’t believe in rape culture, people with bad opinions on Thought Catalog, people using bad hashtags, and Zazzle.com. “Mic trafficked in outrage culture,” a former staffer who left in 2017 said. “A lot of the videos that we would publish would be like, ‘Here is this racist person doing a racist thing in this nondescript southern city somewhere.’ There wouldn’t be any reporting or story around it, just, ‘Look at this person being racist, wow what a terrible racist.’” Mic had already exhausted its outrage vocabulary by the time Trump’s election supercharged civil rights violations.

“It ratchets everything up to 11, to a point where if everything is an outrage, nothing is an outrage,” the staffer who left in 2017 said. “Everything is the biggest deal in the world because you’re trying to create traffic, and it desensitizes us to what are actually huge breaks in social and political norms.”

The over-the-top rhetoric made Mic a favorite of the alt-right, which held it up as the paragon of leftist myopia. Its YouTube videos got so many bilious comments that Mic disabled them. “Mic is kind of like a caricature of what you would think of a millennial leftist site that’s kind of stupid and doesn’t know any better,” said one former employee who left in late 2016. One recent story, about a Portland burrito cart opened by two white girls who “bragged about stealing tortilla recipes from Mexico to start a business,” was hate-reblogged across the conservative blogosphere even though the piece, written by Jamilah King, was short and relatively even-handed. An editor’s note says the verb in the headline was changed from stealing to bringing back in order to “better reflect the overall tone of the piece.”

After November 8, some of Mic’s staffers questioned whether the site had contributed to the political divisiveness, lobotomizing of the media, and complacency on the left that post-election thinkpieces cited as factors in Hillary Clinton’s fall and Donald Trump’s triumph. “It kills me when I think about the contribution of liberal media in what happened in the election,” said a former employee who was with the company until this year. “When I think about the role Mic played in growing that sentiment of moral outrage — and it then bleeding into publications that you think should have risen above it — it doesn’t feel good.”

“Journalism Is Not About Creating Safe Spaces”: Inside the NYT’s Woke Civil War
By Joe Pompeo

One of the younger, newer Times employees I spoke with boiled down the conflict as follows, with the obvious caveat that there are, of course, “woke” people in the old guard and traditionalists in the younger set. “The olds,” my source said, “feel like the youngs are insufficiently respectful of long-standing journalistic norms, or don’t get that things are the way they are for a reason. The youngs feel like the olds are insufficiently willing to acknowledge the ways in which the world and media landscape have changed, and that our standards and mores should evolve to reflect that.” (Several Times sources emphasized that this dynamic has been around for decades. As Gay Talese once wrote of the 1950s-era Times: “There were philosophical differences dividing older Timesmen who feared that the paper was losing touch with its tradition and younger men who felt trapped by tradition.”)

Similarly, an institutional Times person said, “I think a lot of this younger generation were brought up to believe that it’s very important that their voices be heard, and so I think it’s a bit harder to fit into an institution where it’s less than democratic in some ways. One generation came of age where they entered this esteemed institution and tried to find a way to fit into it, and this other generation has an expectation that the institution will change to accommodate them. That’s the essence of the tension.”

The Fall Of Mic Was A Warning
By Maxwell Strachan

If Mic’s downfall is a case study, the lesson is clear, Bergdahl argued.

“Journalistic institutions need to be institutions. They need to be able to grow in a healthy and steady way,” Bergdahl said. “When I think about things that grow that wildly and that successfully, I don’t think of a media company ― I think of cancer.”

Altchek and Horowitz’s decision to launch Mic could hardly have been better timed. After all, the digital media industry was sizzling. Early in 2011, AOL had purchased HuffPost for $315 million, a number that raised some eyebrows at the time but looked small by 2013, when Vice was valued at more than $1 billion. The financial optimism was propped up by a booming digital ad market and a growing appetite for mobile content that helped bring together two odd bedfellows: journalists and venture capitalists. At the end of 2014, Wired noted that “the media sector [was] overflowing with capital—as of September 2014 it was the second-largest VC-funded area of the year, after software.”

When a headline construction shared well on Facebook, Mic relentlessly published stories that fit the blueprint. In 2015, the phrase “One Tweet” (i.e., “In One Tweet, This Man Took Down a Group of Incredibly Sexist Internet Trolls”) appeared in the headline of stories about “sexist internet trolls,” Ricky Gervais, “the racist hypocrisy of American police violence,” “Game of Thrones,” J.K. Rowling (more than once), Elizabeth Warren and “the racist double standard of the media’s shooting coverage.” The next year, the phrase “brutal truth” (i.e., “The Brutal Truth Every White Feminist Needs to Hear”) made its way into headlines about viral Instagram posts, masculinity, white gay men, white allies and prom.

Altchek proved to be a talented fundraiser. “Chris is incredibly smart and an incredibly great salesman,” said a longtime member of the brand team. The company raised $60 million over its eight years as an independent company, and The Wall Street Journal once quoted someone saying it was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2014, Twitter reportedly offered to buy the company for approximately $90 million, but Altchek and Horowitz declined. By then, their aspirations had grown larger.

“The next $10 billion media company will be the one that wins over millennials,” Altchek said soon afterward. “We understand them intuitively because we are them.”

One former executive at the company explained that the $60 million the company took in necessitated lofty goals and a substantial return. Ideally, venture capitalists search for a “10x return” on their investments. In the media business, however, “it’s hard to get there in the time horizon that a venture capital business wants,” the former executive said.

Absent a business model that would prove Mic a worthy gamble, the company focused on growth early on.

“We had to show audience growth,” said a separate former executive at the company. “As a company that was venture-backed, that was important.”

Altchek described “explosive audience growth” as “central” to Mic’s strategy in a 2016 company email. “That means aggressively pursuing new platforms and distribution opportunities. Almost always, that means doing so before business models have been fully developed. This is how we win,” he said.

The crisis facing digital media shows no signs of ending. Last year, well over 50% of every dollar spent on digital ads in the U.S. went to Google and Facebook, and one of the strongest gainers on the so-called “duopoly” is Amazon, according to research company eMarketer. That leaves media companies like BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Vice fighting for scraps.

This winter, all three of those outlets laid off significant chunks of their staff — 9.5% at HuffPost, 10% at Vice and 15% at BuzzFeed. In April, a private equity group acquired Gizmodo Media Group, reportedly for less than half of what it had been valued at a few years before. Twenty-five employees were promptly let go.

All told, at least 2,900 people have lost their jobs in media so far this year, making the sector an anomaly. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently at its lowest level since 1969.

U.S. newsroom employment has dropped a quarter since 2008, with greatest decline at newspapers
By Elizabeth Grieco

From 2008 to 2018, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 25%. 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 2018, that number had declined to about 86,000, a loss of about 28,000 jobs.

The number of newsroom employees at U.S. newspapers declined by 47% between 2008 and 2018This decline in overall newsroom employment has been driven primarily by one sector: newspapers. The number of newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 47% between 2008 and 2018, from about 71,000 workers to 38,000.

Of the five industries analyzed, notable job growth occurred only in the digital-native news sector. Since 2008, the number of digital-native newsroom employees has increased by 82%, from about 7,400 workers to about 13,500 in 2018. This increase of about 6,100 total jobs, however, fell far short of offsetting the loss of about 33,000 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.)

Executive Summary and Key Findings of the 2019 Report
By Nic Newman

Here is a summary of some of the most important findings from our 2019 research.

  1. Despite the efforts of the news industry, we find only a small increase in the numbers paying for any online news – whether by subscription, membership, or donation. Growth is limited to a handful of countries mainly in the Nordic region (Norway 34%, Sweden 27%) while the number paying in the US (16%) remains stable after a big jump in 2017.
  2. Even in countries with higher levels of payment, the vast majority only have ONE online subscription – suggesting that ‘winner takes all dynamics’ are likely to be important. One encouraging development though is that most payments are now ‘ongoing’, rather than one-offs.
  3. In some countries, subscription fatigue may also be setting in, with the majority preferring to spend their limited budget on entertainment (Netflix/Spotify) rather than news. With many seeing news as a ‘chore’, publishers may struggle to substantially increase the market for high-priced ‘single title’ subscriptions. As more publishers launch pay models, over two-thirds (70%) of our sample in Norway and half (50%) in the United States now come across one or more barriers each week when trying to read online news.
  4. In many countries, people are spending less time with Facebook and more time with WhatsApp and Instagram than this time last year. Few users are abandoning Facebook entirely, though, and it remains by far the most important social network for news.
  5. Social communication around news is becoming more private as messaging apps continue to grow everywhere. WhatsApp has become a primary network for discussing and sharing news in non-Western countries like Brazil (53%) Malaysia (50%), and South Africa (49%).
  6. People in these countries are also far more likely than in the West to be part of large WhatsApp groups with people they don’t know – a trend that reflects how messaging applications can be used to easily share information at scale, potentially encouraging the spread of misinformation. Public and private Facebook Groups discussing news and politics have become popular in Turkey (29%) and Brazil (22%) but are much less used in Western countries such as Canada (7%) or Australia (7%).
  7. Concern about misinformation and disinformation remains high despite efforts by platforms and publishers to build public confidence. In Brazil 85% agree with a statement that they are worried about what is real and fake on the internet. Concern is also high in the UK (70%) and US (67%), but much lower in Germany (38%) and the Netherlands (31%).
  8. Across all countries, the average level of trust in the news in general is down 2 percentage points to 42% and less than half (49%) agree that they trust the news media they themselves use. Trust levels in France have fallen to just 24% (-11) in the last year as the media have come under attack over their coverage of the Yellow Vests movement. Trust in the news found via search (33%) and social media remains stable but extremely low (23%).
  9. Worries about the quality of information may be good for trusted news brands. Across countries over a quarter (26%) say they have started relying on more ‘reputable’ sources of news – rising to 40% in the US. A further quarter (24%) said they had stopped using sources that had a dubious reputation in the last year. But the often low trust in news overall, and in many individual brands, underlines this is not a development that will help all in the industry.
  10. The news media are seen as doing a better job at breaking news than explaining it. Across countries, almost two-thirds feel the media are good at keeping people up to date (62%), but are less good at helping them understand the news (51%). Less than half (42%) think the media do a good job in holding rich and powerful people to account – and this figure is much lower in South Korea (21%), Hungary (20%), and Japan (17%).
  11. There are also significant differences within countries, as people with higher levels of formal education are more likely to evaluate the news media positively along every dimension than the rest of the population, suggesting that the news agenda is more geared towards the interests and needs of the more educated.
  12. To understand the rise of populism and its consequences for news and media use, we have used two questions to identify people with populist attitudes, and compared their news and media use with those of non-populists. People with populist attitudes are more likely to identify television as their main source of news, more likely to rely on Facebook for online news, and less likely to trust the news media overall.
  13. More people say they actively avoid the news (32%) than when we last asked this question two years ago. Avoidance is up 3 percentage points overall and 11 points in the UK, driven by boredom, anger, or sadness over Brexit. People say they avoid the news because it has a negative effect on their mood (58%) or because they feel powerless to change events.

Major upheavals like the Yellow Vests or Brexit in the UK have put a strain on perceived impartiality of the news media, which in turn can affect trust. But if we look over time across some of our biggest countries, we see a generalised – and worrying – picture of decline. Even countries like Finland and Germany, which have not seen dramatic polarising events, have seen falls of 9 and 13 percentage points respectively in just five years. Across the 12 countries we have been tracking since 2015, trust scores are down on average by 4 points though they have risen slightly in Italy, Spain, Australia, and Ireland and have remained level in the Netherlands and Denmark

… trust levels in the United States (32%) have remained flat overall, but this hides a much richer and more dramatic story.

Digging into the detail, we find an increase in trust (+18pp) amongst those who self-identify on the left of the political spectrum as they lent their support to liberal media outlets in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory. Over the same period, we have seen the almost total collapse of trust on the right to just 9%.

In the UK, we don’t see the same picture. Trust on both the left and the right has fallen, but if anything the trust gap has narrowed – perhaps because both are equally unhappy about Brexit coverage, which crosses party lines. Whatever the reasons, there has been no total loss of confidence amongst those on the right.

More than half (55%) of our sample across 38 countries remains concerned about their ability to separate what is real and fake on the internet. Concern is highest in Brazil (85%), South Africa (70%), Mexico (68%), and France (67%), and lowest in the Netherlands (31%), and Germany (38%), which tend to be less polarised politically. The biggest jump in concern (+12pp) came in the UK (70%) where the news media have taken a lead in breaking stories about misinformation on Facebook and YouTube and there has been a high-profile House of Commons inquiry into the issue.

In the UK, news avoidance has grown 11 percentage points mainly due to frustration over the intractable and polarising nature of Brexit. Here, over half (58%) of respondents said the news had a negative impact on their mood, while four in ten (40%) said there was nothing they felt they could do to influence events. When asked about the type of news avoided, more than two-thirds (71%) cited Brexit coverage, followed by other types of politics (35%), and then sports news (28%). The majority of open-ended responses also mentioned frustration or sadness over Brexit.

Across all countries, most people agree that the news media keeps them up to date with what’s happening (62%), but only half (51%) say news media help them understand the news. Just four in ten (42%) think that the news media does a good job in its watchdog role – scrutinising powerful people and holding them to account. These qualities – of explanation and scrutiny – are at the very core of the mission of journalism in many countries, and these scores speak directly to declining trust in the news.

Many news publishers are stuck in a vicious cycle of declining revenue and regular cost cutting – as illustrated within our country page section this year. We also find some governments – increasingly alarmed by market failure, especially in local news and investigative journalism – considering using public money and other measures to support pubic interest journalism. Elsewhere, we find authoritarian-minded politicians looking at the weakness of commercial media as an opportunity to capture or unduly influence the media. These trends continue to play out at different paces in different places with no single path to success. Media users all over the world continue to flock to digital websites and platforms, and engage with many kinds of journalism online and offline. But we are still some way from finding sustainable digital business models for most publishers.

The Decline of American Journalism Is an Antitrust Problem
By Sally Hubbard

News publishers must get through Facebook and Google’s gates due to the two platforms’ concentrated control over the flow of information. But Facebook and Google compete against news publishers for user attention, data and ad dollars. They are controlling the game and playing it too.

Publishers never had a fair shot, nor do they have bargaining power against the platforms. The platforms can cut them off with a simple tweak of an algorithm. Facebook and Google exploit their middlemen positions to divert ad revenue away from publishers and into their own pockets.

And the platforms can hyper-target users based on their 360-degree views of what their users read, think, and do, thanks to their ability to track users across millions of websites and even offline. Last year, Facebook and Google accounted for approximately 85 percent of the growth of the more than $150 billion North America and EU digital advertising market, according to Digital Content Next, a main trade association for publishers.

To their credit, Facebook and Google started on their paths to dominance with innovation. But their monopoly power is not purely the result of competing on the merits. Facebook has repeatedly acquired rivals, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Google’s acquisitions—including Applied Semantics, AdMob, and DoubleClick—cemented its market power throughout the ad ecosystem as it bought up the digital ad market spoke by spoke.

Together, Facebook and Google bought 150 companies in just the last six years. Google alone has bought nearly 250 companies. Thus far, antitrust enforcers have not stood in their way, nor have they stopped Facebook and Google from leveraging their monopoly power to exclude competition.

News is not just any commodity. It’s a social good that is essential to hold power to account. It was a journalist named Ida Tarbell that took down the most notorious monopoly in US history, Standard Oil. News deserves the special protection it has had throughout American history, through non-discrimination and interoperability rules for networks. We also need rules to curb invasive data collection by default and to give citizens ownership of their data.

Newspapers’ Embarrassing Lobbying Campaign
By Jack Shafer

The backers of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2019 seem to think that a segment of the news industry has a “right” to the levels of revenue it once enjoyed. That’s almost as crazy as President Donald Trump’s protectionist tariffs! In her column, the Post’s Sullivan argues that we should pass the antitrust bill to give newspapers a breather because they produce a valuable good. I agree that newspapers are the greatest media ever invented. I swaddled my children in newsprint and fed them newsprint porridge as their first solid meals. But my nostalgia for the great newspaper era is no justification for putting a federal thumb on the scales in the direction of newsprint. If consumers are deliberately spurning newspapers en masse and flocking elsewhere for news and advertising, it’s not the business of Congress to steer them back.

Instead of petitioning Congress for special privileges in the Katharine Graham manner, the news industry needs to compete. If it can’t wrangle enough customers, it deserves what’s coming to it.

News Publishers Go To War With the Internet — and We All Lose
By Jeff Jarvis

No, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are not the internet, but what is done to them is done to the net. And what’s been done includes horrendous new copyright legislation in the EU that tries to force Google et al to have to negotiate to pay for quoting snippets of content to which they link. Google won’t; it would be a fool to. So I worry that platforms will link to news less and less resulting in self-inflicted harm for the news industry and journalists, but more important hurting the public conversation at exactly the wrong moment. Thanks, publishers. At Newsgeist Europe, I sat in a room filled with journalists terribly worried about the impact of the EU’s copyright directive on their work and their business but I have to say they have no one but their own publishers and lobbyists to blame.

I am tempted to say that I am ashamed of my own industry. But I won’t for two reasons: First, I want to believe that the industry’s lobbyists do not speak for journalists themselves — but I damned well better start hearing the protests of journalists to what their companies are doing. (That includes journalists on the NMA board.) Second, I am coming to see that I’m not part of the media industry but instead that we are all part of something larger, which we now see as the internet. (I’ll be writing more about this idea later.) That means we have a responsibility to criticize and help improve both technology and news companies. What I see instead is too many journalists stirring up moral panic about the internet and its current (by no means permanent) platforms, serving — inadvertently or not — the protectionist strategies of their own bosses, without examining media’s culpability in many of the sins they attribute to technology. (I wish I could discuss this with The New York Times’ ombudsman or any ombudsman in our field, but we know what happened to them.)

A Paradox at the Heart of the Newspaper Crisis
By Marc Tracy

Over the last decade, the finance industry noticed that newspapers were distressed — but potentially valuable — assets that were available at bargain-basement rates, said Penny Abernathy, the U.N.C. journalism professor who wrote last year’s report, “The Expanding News Desert.”

A paper that once fetched a price of 13 times its annual revenue could be had for one-fourth that amount. In the role of publisher, investors discovered that lowering overhead typically reduced costs at a faster rate than it drove down revenues. Many papers shrank. And their profits went up.

“Put yourself in the shoes of a hedge fund or private equity firm,” said John Longo, a Rutgers Business School professor. “Newspapers have steady, albeit slightly sinking, cash flow. In that kind of business, you can put some leverage on.”

If you ignore that the industry showing signs of ill health under its new minders has been deemed so essential to the nation that it was enshrined in the First Amendment, then these practices, straight out of the Wall Street playbook, seem unremarkable.

“They used the same notion of how they would manage newspapers as they would widget factories,” Ms. Abernathy said.

The hedge-fund-controlled publishers GateHouse Media and MNG are now among the four companies that own the most newspapers in the country. And MNG made efforts to buy the other newspaper chain among the big three, Gannett — which is now in talks to merge with GateHouse Media.

Alexia Quadrani, an analyst at J.P. Morgan, hinted at a flaw in the strategy of the industry’s new entrants: “It’s a cash cow, right? But at the end of the day, it is in decline. You ask yourself, What’s your endgame?”

Media’s Fatal Flaw: Ignoring the Mistakes of Newspapers
By Jeremy Littau

The accidental brilliance of the newspaper business model is it commoditized all those information needs to an audience that, pre-internet, had no other choice. You want a weather report? The newspaper had it. Looking for a job? The newspaper had it. Newspapers owned their readership, which had many needs but few choices. Advertisers showed up in droves to capitalize on this holy grail—a captive audience that could be reliably delivered in a defined space.

The internet changed everything. The weather became a website, then an app. TV guides went online and became interactive and customizable. Classifieds became searchable and interconnected across regions, then states, and eventually the nation.

Suddenly, all the things people had once depended on newspapers for were online and free. When you give people new choices, they ask hard questions about the value of the old product. The depressing answer: Traditional newspapers weren’t worth much to a community whose news needs were increasingly regional and national, but whose local information needs were now free.

This exposed some of the fissures that newspapers had with their audience, ones that were entirely knowable but hidden by monopoly thinking. The most obvious example is political differences, the perception that conservatives distrust a media they see as too liberal. But there were other rifts. People of color and women have long complained about how they were portrayed in news, a sentiment backed by decades of academic research. The internet gave these already dissatisfied audience segments new choices—and reason to leave newspapers behind.

This history is important because it represents a way forward as we remake the news for a constantly changing landscape. I am bullish on the future of news because society still has information needs. That isn’t going to change, even as the way we get our news continues to evolve.

Journalism has been slow to realize that its competitive advantage was always in being embedded in communities and serving the public interest. Technology made newspapers’ dominance possible in a pre-internet world, and a lack of understanding about the threat—and opportunity—of new technologies has been their downfall.

Remaking news systems, particularly for local news, starts with listening. Some of the most promising news innovations of the past decade, such as the Texas Tribune in Austin, Texas, have built their entire strategy around audience engagement and community needs.

Losing the News
By Brent Cunningham

If there is one person who embodies the complexity Reynolds faces in trying to strike the balance he seeks in the Gazette-Mail‘s coverage, it is Ken Ward Jr., the paper’s 51-year-old environmental reporter. Ward, who grew up in a manufacturing town in Mineral County, near the Maryland border, joined the Gazette in 1991. Four years earlier, when Ned Chilton died, the outpouring of tributes contained a note of anxiety that corruption would flourish in the state without him to keep it in check. “If it had not been for Ned Chilton,” one law-enforcement official said at the time, “the politicians would have carried away the statehouse, the courthouse, and city hall.” But Ward, as much as anyone, helped ensure that “sustained outrage” continued to define Gazette journalism. He embraced Paul Nyden’s belief that journalism’s highest calling was not some feckless notion of “objectivity,” but rather to follow the paper trail and expose the many ways the powerful exploit the powerless. Fuck ’em, in other words, but do it with the facts.

Over the next 20 years, Ward gained national prominence for his reporting on mine safety and the environmental costs of coal; among industry leaders and their political allies, he gained a reputation as a major pain in the butt.

Then, on April 5th, 2010, an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia killed 29 miners. It was the country’s deadliest coal-mining disaster in 40 years. The ensuing investigation described a culture of disregard for safety and environmental regulations within Massey, the nation’s fourth-largest producer of coal at the time. Eighteen corporate officials refused to cooperate with the investigation, invoking their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

What happened at Upper Big Branch was the culmination of the state’s legacy of corruption—a choice made a century earlier to surrender its soul to the coal industry, underfunding regulatory enforcement even as it made endless concessions to coal’s economic, political, and cultural power. It also was the start of a six-year-long story that was unprecedented in the state’s history, one that resulted in Don Blankenship, the Massey chief executive officer and a powerful figure in the state and beyond, going to prison for conspiring to violate safety and health standards.

And it was a story for which Ward had been preparing since he started at the paper. The entire media ecosystem seemed to rely, to varying degrees, on his reporting and institutional knowledge during the days and months after the explosion. He even made a cameo, indirectly, at Blankenship’s trial, when prosecutors played a recording of Blankenship on the phone, less than a year before the explosion at Upper Big Branch, fretting about the prospect of a memo from one of his safety inspectors becoming public. The memo was damning, citing not just specific safety concerns but a culture of putting profit before safety. On the recording, Blankenship describes the memo as “worse than a Charleston Gazette article.”

But the piece of this story that means the most to Ward, that still causes his voice to crack years later, happened during one of the least consequential moments in the Blankenship saga. When the verdict was on appeal, Ward drove five hours to Richmond, Virginia, to hear oral arguments. “We don’t typically go to Richmond to cover trials,” he says, “but when I walked into the federal courthouse there, I saw some family members of the victims, and one of them saw me and said, ‘We knew the Gazette would be here.'”

The Jeffrey Epstein Case Was Cold, Until a Miami Herald Reporter Got Accusers to Talk
By Tiffany Hsu

“A lot of other local journalists aren’t given the luxury of the time I had with this, even though they are the last line of defense against corruption, against taxpayer money being wasted,” said Ms. Brown, who wears a beaded bracelet that spells out “brave,” a gift given to her by an 81-year-old friend while she was in the thick of reporting. “This has helped the public see we’re not the enemy of the people.”

She added that she had spent more than $100 certifying letters to send to Mr. Epstein, his lawyers, his handlers and other people in his orbit. She tracked his flight plans and showed up at his home when she knew he was present. No one responded, she said.

In April, the lawyer and social commentator Alan Dershowitz, who helped broker Mr. Epstein’s plea deal, wrote a public letter to the administrators of the Pulitzer Prize urging them not to reward what he called “fake news and shoddy journalism.” (The series was not a finalist.)

The morning that her first article on Mr. Epstein was scheduled to be published, she brought bagels into The Herald’s newsroom. When the piece became the most-read article on the paper’s website, surpassing a story about a woman who had passed gas in a convenience store, her colleagues broke into applause.

What Will Your Future Look Like Without Local News?
By Jim Rich

Fewer journalists yields fewer stories. And with the never-ending fire drill of trying to catch whatever crumbs of digital revenue the parasitic behemoths Facebook and Google let fall from their golden plates, those fewer journalist have less time to focus on anything beyond the latest hourly news cycle. To make matters worse, the type of journalism at the heart of our CVA series didn’t make money. To the contrary, in protest against our coverage, the Archdiocese canceled a million-dollar printing contract with the News’ printing plant in Jersey City, New Jersey. There was a day when the News would have shrugged off that sort of loss and quickly found a comparable deal to replace it. But those days had long passed. Instead, it created intense pressure on the business side of our operation, which quickly trickled into my office. The owner at the time, Mort Zuckerman, and publisher, Bill Holiber, to their credit, stood by the work we were doing in spite of all this because they believed it was the right thing to do. I’m not confident, just three years later, that the financial landscape would allow that today.

Which is the precipice we find ourselves, as a democracy, teetering on today. There are signs of encouragement as not-for-profit newsrooms sprout up across the nation. But most of those, while staffed with great talent, are mostly smaller shops focused on a more narrow range of important beats, such as City Hall or the State House. But not every important story comes from those places. The CVA series was borne out of the News’ ability to cover a breadth of stories — in this case, a heinous allegation of serial child sex abuse in Long Island.

As legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin used to say, the stories get better the more stairs you climb. He despised reporters who were shackled to their desks and phones. He believed the stories that made a difference were the ones found in the least expected places. He was right.

That’s what we lose when newsrooms are gutted.

Loss of newspapers contributes to political polarization
By David Bauder

The struggling news industry has seen some 1,800 newspapers shut down since 2004, the vast majority of them community weeklies, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the contraction. Many larger daily newspapers that have remained open have effectively become ghosts, with much smaller staffs that are unable to offer the breadth of coverage they once did. About 7,100 newspapers remain.

Researchers are only beginning to measure the public impact of such losses. Among the other findings is less voter participation among news-deprived citizens in “off-year” elections where local offices are decided, Abernathy said. Another study suggested a link to increased government spending in communities where “watchdog” journalists have disappeared, she said.

Dunaway said voters in communities without newspapers are more likely to be influenced by national labels — if they like Republicans like President Donald Trump, for example, that approval will probably extend to Republicans lower on the ballot.

The diminished news sources also alter politicians’ strategies, Dunaway said.

“They have to rely on party ‘brand names’ and are less about ‘how I can do best for my district,’” she said.

Getting Over Ourselves
By Kyle Pope

A big swath of the public doesn’t like us or trust us, polls show; many Americans even question the value of the press as an institution. Faith in journalists has never been high, but we’ve reached a dangerous new drop in the relationship. We know some reasons: the financial crisis of 2008 occasioned profound misgivings about institutional power, and media organizations were swept up in that discontent. Journalism, in the general public’s view, had grown both self-absorbed and uncritical of the establishment. The economy recovered but trust in media did not.

The press was seen as part of the power structure—part of the problem—and indeed it was. Starting in the 1980s, as profit margins for newspapers and magazines soared, journalism grew increasingly corporatized. Media companies catered more to advertisers than to readers; subscription numbers were secondary to success. The stories we told reflected that shift in approach.

It was a detour from which we never returned …

… it would be a mistake, and shortsighted, to frame the need to repair the relationship between the press and the general public as mainly a business problem. It is that, but journalism is also an enterprise in civic duty. If we are unwilling to engage with people about how they see us, we fail to perceive the world as it is, and we’re unable to do our jobs.

The surreal circus of the past two years has thrown up a smoke screen of fear and antagonism, convincing some of us that we need to batten down the hatches and wait it out. The outside world is a Trump rally, and members of the press are cordoned off, muttering about the losers out there lobbing insults at us.

That is not a path to securing our business, our profession, or our pride in our work. We’ll do so only by becoming immersed in the world, not staying apart from it; by imagining alternative ways to develop a picture of a community; by seeking to understand and, painful though it might be, adjusting our perspective.

Freedom and the Media: A Downward Spiral
By Sarah Repucci

In some of the most influential democracies in the world, large segments of the population are no longer receiving unbiased news and information. This is not because journalists are being thrown in jail, as might occur in authoritarian settings. Instead, the media have fallen prey to more nuanced efforts to throttle their independence. Common methods include government-backed ownership changes, regulatory and financial pressure, and public denunciations of honest journalists. Governments have also offered proactive support to friendly outlets through measures such as lucrative state contracts, favorable regulatory decisions, and preferential access to state information. The goal is to make the press serve those in power rather than the public.

The problem has arisen in tandem with right-wing populism, which has undermined basic freedoms in many democratic countries. Populist leaders present themselves as the defenders of an aggrieved majority against liberal elites and ethnic minorities whose loyalties they question, and argue that the interests of the nation—as they define it—should override democratic principles like press freedom, transparency, and open debate.

Among Free countries in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, 19 percent (16 countries) have endured a reduction in their press freedom scores over the past five years. This is consistent with a key finding of Freedom in the World—that democracies in general are undergoing a decline in political rights and civil liberties. It has become painfully apparent that a free press can never be taken for granted, even when democratic rule has been in place for decades.

Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary and Aleksandar Vučić’s administration in Serbia have had great success in snuffing out critical journalism, blazing a trail for populist forces elsewhere. Both leaders have consolidated media ownership in the hands of their cronies, ensuring that the outlets with the widest reach support the government and smear its perceived opponents. In Hungary, where the process has advanced much further, nearly 80 percent of the media are owned by government allies. …

Cultivation of progovernment media is spreading to neighboring states. The leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria, until recently part of that country’s ruling coalition, was caught on video attempting to collude with Russians to purchase the largest national newspaper and infuse its coverage with partisan bias. Score declines linked to economic manipulation of media—including cases in which the government directs advertising to friendly outlets or encourages business allies to buy those that are critical—were more common across Europe over the past five years than in other parts of the world. Such tactics of influence and interference are a relatively recent phenomenon on the continent, which has generally displayed strong support for press freedom since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago.

In Israel, one of the few democracies in the Middle East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly excoriated investigative reporters and now faces corruption charges for allegedly offering regulatory favors to two major media firms in exchange for positive coverage. Although Netanyahu has resisted efforts to formally indict and try him on these charges, the evidence suggests that the prime minister was willing to sacrifice press freedom in order to maintain political power. Many voters apparently accepted this tradeoff in the April 2019 elections, putting Netanyahu’s party and its allies in a position to form a new ruling coalition.

India, the world’s most populous democracy, is also sending signals that holding the government accountable is not part of the press’s responsibility. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has supported campaigns to discourage speech that is “antinational,” and government-aligned thugs have raided critical journalists’ homes and offices. The media have become widely flattering of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won reelection last month, amid allegations that the government issues directives on how the press should cover his activities and intimidates journalists who push back. The government has also been selective in the allocation of television licenses, effectively excluding unfriendly outlets from the airwaves.

In perhaps the most concerning development of recent years, press freedom has come under unusual pressure in the United States, the world’s leading democratic power. Although key news organizations remain strong and continue to produce vigorous reporting on those in office, President Donald Trump’s continual vilification of the press has seriously exacerbated an ongoing erosion of public confidence in the mainstream media. Among other steps, the president has repeatedly threatened to strengthen libel laws, revoke the licenses of certain broadcasters, and damage media owners’ other business interests. The US constitution provides robust protections against such actions, but President Trump’s public stance on press freedom has had a tangible impact on the global landscape. Journalists around the world now have less reason to believe that Washington will come to their aid if their basic rights are violated.

US efforts to jail Assange for espionage are a grave threat to a free media
By Alan Rusbridger

Do you remember the Collateral Murder video – the one that showed US air crew in Apache helicopters killing people as though playing computer games, laughing at the dead after slaughtering a dozen people, including two Iraqis working for the Reuters news agency? Do you remember how the US military had lied about what happened in that incident in July 2007 – first claiming that all the dead were insurgents, and then that the helicopters were responding to an active firefight? Neither claim was true. Do you recall that Reuters had spent three years unsuccessfully trying to obtain the video?

Was it in the public interest that the world should have eventually seen the raw footage of what happened? You bet. Was it acutely embarrassing for the US military and government? Of course. Was the act of revelation espionage or journalism? You know the answer.

We have two people to thank for us knowing the truth about how those Reuters employees died, along with 10 others who ended up in the crosshairs of the laughing pilots that day: Chelsea Manning, who leaked it, and Julian Assange, who published it. But the price of their actions has been considerable. Manning spent seven years in jail for her part in releasing that video, along with a huge amount of other classified material she was able to access as an intelligence analyst in the US army. Assange has been indicted on 17 new counts of violating the Espionage Act, with the prospect that he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

As editor of the Guardian, I worked with Assange when we jointly (along with newspapers in the US and Europe) published other material Manning had leaked. Vanity Fair called the resultant stories “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years… they have changed the way people think about how the world is run”. The stories were, indeed, significant – but the relationship with Assange was fraught. We fell out, as most people eventually do with Assange. I found him mercurial, untrustworthy and dislikable: he wasn’t keen on me, either. All the collaborating editors disapproved of him releasing unredacted material from the Manning trove in September 2011. Nevertheless, I find the Trump administration’s use of the Espionage Act against him profoundly disturbing.

Whenever you read about journalists harming national security, massive alarm bells should start ringing. Think no further than Richard Nixon trying to prosecute the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, for harming national security in 1971. Ellsberg, an intelligence analyst, found that the Vietnam war had been prosecuted on the basis of a web of lies and thought the public deserved to know. To Nixon, Ellsberg’s commitment to the truth was treason. He reached for the Espionage Act.

Today Ellsberg is celebrated as a principled whistleblower – but he came close to being jailed for his courage. That the New York Times was free to publish the leaked papers was down to judges. Murray Gurfein, a federal judge, refused an injunction, saying: “The security of the nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, an ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.” Gurfein’s ringing judgment was subsequently endorsed by the supreme court.

Rally to Support Julian Assange, Even If You Hate Him
By Trevor Timm

The general issue of press freedom has been in the news quite a bit, mostly around Trump’s hostile relationship with reporters. But coverage of the Trump administration’s leak investigations haven’t gotten similar coverage. Should journalists be interpreting leak prosecutions as a direct threat to their own rights?

Press coverage of leak prosecutions with respect to under both Obama and Trump has been inferior, terrible, generally not useful. With respect to Obama, it took a long time for everyone to realize what he was doing, and that’s the press’ fault — they paid little attention to it at first.

With respect to Trump, he’s already prosecuted five sources of journalists so far. The news stories on those leakers have been totally inferior, and the punishments given to those leakers has been outrageous. The press has sort of covered them saying “well if you leak you’ll be thrown in jail, and that’s that.” That’s bad.

The second thing that is bad is that many in the press don’t seem to realize that every leak case presents jeopardy to them — as the “leakee” to the leak. That should be an incentive to cover these cases more comprehensively. Certainly it should be in the back of every journalist’s mind as these prosecutions go forward. The journalist community should be vigilant with respect to future prosecutions of sources. And we must remember the just-departed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, said he would make it a priority to prosecute leaks.

But the prosecution of Assange goes a step further. He’s not a source, he is a publisher who received information from sources. The danger to journalists can’t be overstated.

The indictment of Assange is a blueprint for making journalists into felons
By Glenn Greenwald

The historical context for the First Amendment’s press freedom guarantee was the advent of the printing press, which empowered any citizen to speak out against, or reveal information about, political authorities. It was the right to engage in that activity that the Constitution’s framers sought to protect — not just for a small group called “journalists” but for all citizens.

Indeed, the First Amendment’s “press freedom” guarantee was available to everyone precisely because it was a reaction to the British Crown’s attempt to limit who possessed this right by licensing who is and is not a “journalist,” as Burger wrote for the Supreme Court in 1977.

Of course, even if the court had not established, over and over, that the act of publishing information in the public interest is protected no matter who does it, much of WikiLeaks’ work is obviously journalism. Many of WikiLeaks’ publications, particularly the 2010 blockbuster stories which the Trump administration is trying to criminalize, fall squarely within anyone’s definition of “the free discussion of governmental affairs,” as a 1966 Supreme Court decision put it. Indeed, WikiLeaks won prestigious journalism awards around the world for those stories, becoming a sought-after journalistic partner by the world’s most influential media outlets. The 2010 stories helped bring about highly consequential reforms: Former New York Times editor Bill Keller credits release of the diplomatic cables with sparking the Arab Spring by revealing systemic corruption on the part of Tunisia’s ruling regime. Others say those documents helped end the Iraq War by exposing such horrific abuses by U.S. forces that the Iraqi government’s intention to extend its authorization for U.S. troops to remain on Iraqi soil became politically untenable.

Justifying Assange’s prosecution on the grounds that he is “not a journalist” reveals a grand, dark irony: To declare that publishing relevant materials about powerful actors is a right possessed only by those designated by the government to be “real journalists” is itself an obvious threat to press freedom. That was the historical danger the First Amendment sought to avoid.

Is there anyone who trusts Trump (who has dismissed an entire cable outlet and several newspapers as “Fake News”), or the federal judiciary — or any politician — to sit in judgment of who does and does not merit this vague honorific, without which publishers can be jailed?

Federal Police raid ABC headquarters over Afghan Files stories
By Lorna Knowles, Elise Worthington and Clare Blumer

ABC managing director David Anderson said it was “highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way”.

“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and Defence matters,” he said.

“The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.”

ABC editorial director Craig McMurtrie described the raid as a “very unwelcome and serious development”.

“This was outstanding reporting … it was clearly in the public interest and sometimes difficult truths have to be told,” he said.

“We will be doing everything we can to limit the scope of this and we will do everything we can to stand by our reporters.”

Australia’s hunt for leakers has journalists feeling exposed
By Kate Shuttleworth

“It’s not just about the media,” said John Lyons, the executive news editor at the Australian Broadcasting Corp., the country’s main public television and radio outlet.

“It’s about any person out there who wants to tell the media about a bad hospital, or a school that’s not working, or a corrupt local council. The message from the [Australian Federal Police] to all of those people is: Watch out, because we will be able to find out who you are and we will come after you.”

Australia has no constitutional protection for freedom of speech. There is, however, a deterrent to whistleblowers and other sources. It is known as Section 70, which makes it a crime for any public official to share information without lawful authority.

Outcry grows as eight journalists summoned by French intelligence services
By France 24

This series of summonses has provoked widespread outcry from journalists and press freedom activists. In a statement released Wednesday, the editorial offices of more than 30 different outlets said that “military secrecy cannot be opposed to the right to information, which is essential for a proper public debate; nor can it be held over journalists as a sword of Damocles to deter them from investigating and publishing”.

Journalists’ unions also expressed their support for the reporters under investigation. The SNJ-CGT denounced another “intolerable turn of the knife against journalism and freedom of information”, while the CFDT-Journalistes said the procedure “tacitly aimed to stifle journalists in the exercise of their mission to inform the public”.

The National Union of Journalists (SNJ), for its part, asked: “Will the DGSI start summoning all journalists who reveal information that those in power don’t like?”

In France, media worry about press freedom
By Deutsche Welle

Pauline Ades-Mevel, a spokeswoman at Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders, says the events add up to an attack on investigative journalism. “The fact that the secret services are questioning journalists is a problem, but it becomes a huge problem when a lot of journalists are being questioned in such a short time,” she said.

She explained that the court cases were costing the journalists time and resources, which they then couldn’t devote to further investigations. She added that this was also likely to scare off potential sources and have a chilling effect on other investigative journalists: “They’ll think twice before investigating certain stories.”

What’s more, the charges come in a wider context, explains Jean-Marie Charon, a media specialist and researcher at Paris-based university EHESS. He thinks France is going backwards regarding press freedom.

“There have been quite a few laws over the past few years that strengthen the arsenal in the fight against terrorism and also protect trade secrets. These laws increasingly restrict how journalists can work,” he said.

He added that journalists had also been targeted during the recent “yellow vest” protests, demonstrations that were first triggered by a new fuel tax and then turned into a revolt against the political elite.

“The police beat journalists or took away or damaged their material in 105 cases. All this — the charges, the new laws and the crackdown on journalists — sends the message that there are areas that journalists just shouldn’t cover,” Charon said.

Glenn Greenwald becomes focus of Brazil press freedom debate
By Anna Jean Kaiser

Several weeks after publishing explosive reports about a key member of Brazil’s far-right government, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald was called before a congressional committee to face hostile questions.

“Who should be judged, convicted and in prison is the journalist!” shouted congresswoman Katia Sastre, an ally of President Jair Bolsonaro.

And by some accounts that wasn’t an empty threat: A conservative website reported that federal police had requested that financial regulators investigate Greenwald’s finances. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and his Brazilian husband also say they have been receiving detailed death threats, calls for his deportation and homophobic comments in an increasingly hostile political environment.

Greenwald, an attorney-turned-journalist who has long been a free-speech advocate, has found himself at the center of the first major test of press freedom under Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1 and has openly expressed nostalgia for Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship — a period when newspapers were censored and some journalists tortured.

“It’s a very concerning moment for press freedom in Brazil, especially those covering something so divisive as politics. We’ve seen an administration that vocally criticizes journalists with an open anti-press rhetoric,” said Natalie Southwick, the Central and South American program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Brazil Supreme Court Minister Rules to Protect Press Freedom for Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept
By Trevor Timm

In a win for all Brazilian journalists, Mendes’s stirring opinion went far beyond the case at hand and invoked a powerful and broad defense of journalists’ rights. “The immediate right of free speech is the right to obtain, produce and disseminate facts and news by any means,” Mendes wrote. “The constitutional secrecy of the journalistic source makes it impossible for the State to use coercive measures to constrain professional performance and to impede the form of reception and transmission of what is brought to public knowledge.”

The Growing Threat to Journalism Around the World
By A. G. Sulzberger

This isn’t just a problem for reporters; it’s a problem for everyone, because this is how authoritarian leaders bury critical information, hide corruption, even justify genocide. As Senator John McCain once warned, “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”

To give you a sense of what this retreat looks like on the ground, let me tell you a story I’ve never shared publicly before. Two years ago, we got a call from a United States government official warning us of the imminent arrest of a New York Times reporter based in Egypt named Declan Walsh. Though the news was alarming, the call was actually fairly standard. Over the years, we’ve received countless such warnings from American diplomats, military leaders and national security officials.

But this particular call took a surprising and distressing turn. We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out. The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.

Unable to count on our own government to prevent the arrest or help free Declan if he were imprisoned, we turned to his native country, Ireland, for help. Within an hour, Irish diplomats traveled to his house and safely escorted him to the airport before Egyptian forces could detain him.

We hate to imagine what would have happened had that brave official not risked their career to alert us to the threat.

Eighteen months later, another of our reporters, David Kirkpatrick, arrived in Egypt and was detained and deported in apparent retaliation for exposing information that was embarrassing to the Egyptian government. When we protested the move, a senior official at the United States Embassy in Cairo openly voiced the cynical worldview behind the Trump administration’s tolerance for such crackdowns. “What did you expect would happen to him?” he said. “His reporting made the government look bad.”

‘We’re Almost Extinct’: China’s Investigative Journalists Are Silenced Under Xi
By Javier C. Hernández

While it was once sometimes permissible to report on corrupt politicians, journalists now can generally cover only officials who have already been placed under investigation by the government. Reporters joke that rather than exposing new cases of corruption, they have been relegated to “beating up dead tigers,” a term used to describe already disgraced officials.

When a ferry crashed in the Yangtze River in central China in 2015, killing 442 people, Zhan Caiqiang and his colleagues at Southern Metropolis Daily wrote a 10,000-character article about how bad decisions by officials had contributed to the disaster. But propaganda officials prohibited their story from being published, he said.

“We couldn’t do the stories we wanted to,” said Mr. Zhan, who now works in public relations. “Society is moving farther and farther away from journalism.”

Economic considerations have also contributed to the disappearance of in-depth reporting. Many news outlets in China, like those elsewhere in the world, are struggling with steep losses in print advertising revenue and have eliminated investigative reporting teams, which typically require more time and resources and produce fewer stories.

As traditional news outlets shed staff, the rise of online media in China once inspired optimism about the future of in-depth reporting. But Mr. Xi’s campaign has also targeted online news outlets, with the government ordering many to close or shift away from critical reporting.

Q Daily, a news site in Shanghai founded in 2014, was known for running feature stories on social issues, including problems facing rural migrants in big cities.

But the authorities have repeatedly shut down Q Daily over the past year, including in late May. The government has accused it of illegally “conducting original reporting” and harming public opinion.

Shut down social media if you don’t like terrorism?
By Joshua Tucker

Social scientists use the phrase “moral hazard” to describe situations in which an automatic reaction to an event that is designed to mitigate the consequences — however well-intentioned it may be — could have the opposite effect. The classic example is insurance: If I buy fire insurance for my house, I may not spend extra money for more costly but safer materials while building the house, thus paradoxically making it more likely that the house will burn down.

Shutting down social media in the aftermath of a terrorist attack may create a similar set of unintended consequences. If terrorists assume that governments are likely to shut down social media platforms after an attack, that might make carrying out such an attack seem that much more appealing to the terrorist group.

Why? Let’s assume that shutting down social media costs harms economic activity in that country — or simply makes the government less popular. Suddenly, a potential attacker might see an added benefit of creating further chaos, via more widespread economic or political disruption.

More generally, we think of nondemocratic regimes cutting off social media, not democratic ones. What’s the broader impact if democratic regimes begin to ban social media in the aftermath of terrorist attacks?

For starters, nondemocratic regimes probably would seize the opportunity to justify similar actions when it suits them. After all, if democratic regimes are willing to shut off access to these platforms because they pose a threat to national security, who is to argue that nondemocratic regimes are not justified in doing the same thing?

Even within democratic societies, it is worth considering the long-term effect of what it means to cut off access to news — however vulnerable to manipulation and disinformation those news sources may be — in times of crisis. If the justification is that social media platforms can lead to the dissemination of potentially harmful information, is the next argument that it might also be necessary to cut off access to traditional media in the immediate aftermath of a national trauma?

Journalism is the conversation. The conversation is journalism.
By Jeff Jarvis

This is about respecting more than journalism. It is about maintaining democracy:

Republics require conversation, often cacophonous conversation, for they should be noisy places. That conversation has to be informed, of course, and the press has a role in supplying that information. But the kind of information required can be generated only by public conversation; there is simply no substitute for it. We have virtually no idea what it is we need to know until we start talking to someone. Conversation focuses our attention, it engages us, and in the wake of conversation we have need not only of the press but also of the library. From this view of the First Amendment, the task of the press is to encourage the conversation of the culture — not to preempt it or substitute for it or supply it with information as a seer from afar. Rather, the press maintains and enhances the conversation of the culture, becomes one voice in that conversation, amplifies the conversation outward, and helps it along by bringing forward the information that the conversation itself demands.

We say we in the press are guardians of the First Amendment as we are guarded by it.

5 key takeaways about the state of the news media in 2018
By Michael Barthel

… Digital ad revenue has grown exponentially, but a majority goes to Facebook and Google rather than to publishers. Revenue from ads placed on digital platforms – counting all platforms, not just news sites – rose by 23% in 2018, and now makes up nearly half (49%) of all ad revenue in the U.S., according to eMarketer estimates. And when it comes to display ad revenue – a form of digital advertising that include banners, videos and other advertisements that news organizations and other websites typically run alongside their content – half of all digital revenue went to just two tech companies: Facebook (40%) and Google (12%). Overall digital ad revenue has tripled since 2011, the earliest year tracked, while digital display revenue has grown by almost five times over the same period.

This growth in digital ad revenue has not been enough to make up for the decline in traditional ad revenue for some sectors. About a third of newspaper ad revenue (35%) now comes from digital, according to an analysis of SEC filings, but total ad revenue continues to fall. And while the digital-native news sector is on the rise – its newsroom workforce has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, according to BLS data – this growth hasn’t replaced the loss of employment at newspapers.

Traffic to news websites seems to have leveled off. Unique visitors to the websites of both newspapers and digital-native news sites showed no growth between the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018, the second year in which there was no notable growth, according to Comscore, a cross-platform audience measurement company. From 2014 to 2016, traffic rose steadily for both these sectors in the fourth quarter.

Time spent on these websites has declined as well: The average number of minutes per visit for digital-native news sites is down 16% since 2016, falling from nearly two and a half minutes to about two per visit. The decreases in website audience and time spent per visit come as Americans increasingly say they prefer social media as a pathway to news.

Five things everybody needs to know about the future of Journalism
By Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Meera Selva

Established news media tend to be at the centre of online discussions of, for example, elections, and often drive the agenda.

But we have moved from a world where media organisations controlled both content and channels and we came to news directly by going to a specific broadcaster or publisher, to a world increasingly characterised by “distributed discovery”, where media organisations still create content, but people access it through platform channels like search engines, social media, and news aggregators.

In 2018, two-thirds of online news users surveyed across 37 different markets worldwide identified distributed forms of discovery as their main way of accessing and finding news online.

The automated serendipity of social media feeds and search engine results and incidental exposure (where people come across news while doing other things online) drive people to more and more diverse sources of information.

While echo chambers exist, where highly motivated minorities self-select into insular news diets and like-minded communities, fears of algorithmically generated filter bubbles currently seem misplaced.

Empirical research consistently finds that search engines and a wide range of different social media including both Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube demonstrably drive people to use more different sources of news, including more diverse sources and sources they do not seek out of their own volition.

Americans Agree: Social Media Is Divisive (But We Keep Using It)
By John D. McKinnon and Danny Dougherty

The survey of 1,000 people, conducted March 23-27, surfaced feelings about many features of technology that permeate daily life.

On average, Americans say a 14-year-old is old enough to have his or her own smartphone.

But in a potentially worrisome development for the internet economy, almost three quarters of respondents said they believe the trade-off that underpins the huge sector—consumers receiving free services but giving up detailed data about their online behavior—is unacceptable.

And a solid majority of respondents said social-media services such as Facebook and Twitter do more to divide Americans than bring them together.

Sizing Up Twitter Users
By Stefan Wojcik and Adam Hughes

Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall. Twitter users also differ from the broader population on some key social issues. For instance, Twitter users are somewhat more likely to say that immigrants strengthen rather than weaken the country and to see evidence of racial and gender-based inequalities in society.

Although less pronounced than these differences in age, Twitter users also tend to have higher levels of household income and educational attainment relative to the general adult population. Some 42% of adult Twitter users have at least a bachelor’s degree – 11 percentage points higher than the overall share of the public with this level of education (31%). Similarly, the number of adult Twitter users reporting a household income above $75,000 is 9 points greater than the same figure in the general population: 41% vs. 32%. But the gender and racial or ethnic makeup of Twitter users is largely similar to the adult population as a whole.

The median Twitter user posts just two times a month, but the most prolific 10% of Twitter users in terms of tweet volume produce a median of 138 tweets monthly. In fact, this analysis estimates that the top 10% of tweeters are responsible for 80% of the tweets created by all U.S. adults on Twitter.

Members of the top 10% of tweeters also have distinct attitudes, behaviors and personal characteristics compared with those who use the platform less often. These prolific tweeters are more likely to be women: 65% are, compared with 48% of the bottom 90% of tweeters. And these most active tweeters are much more likely than others to say they post about political issues. Fully 69% of the top 10% most prolific tweeters say they have tweeted about politics, compared with 39% of Twitter users generally. And 42% say they have tweeted about politics in the last 30 days, compared with just 13% of other users.

About three-in-ten U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online
By Andrew Perrin and Madhu Kumar

Overall, 81% of Americans say they go online on a daily basis. That figure includes the 28% who go online almost constantly, as well as 45% who say they go online several times a day and 9% who go online about once a day. Some 8% go online several times a week or less often, while 10% of adults say they do not use the internet at all.

Roughly three-in-ten Americans – and 48% of those ages 18-29 – go online ‘almost constantly’Younger adults are at the vanguard of the constantly connected: Roughly half of 18- to 29-year-olds (48%) say they go online almost constantly and 46% go online multiple times per day. By comparison, just 7% of those 65 and older go online almost constantly and 35% go online multiple times per day.

Some 36% of adults with a college education or more go online almost constantly (and 93% go online daily), compared with 23% of adults with a high school education or less. At the same time, 34% of Hispanic adults report using the internet almost constantly, compared with 25% of black adults and 26% of white adults. The share of Hispanics who are almost constantly online has risen 15 points since 2015.

While 34% of adults with an annual household income of $75,000 or more use the internet almost constantly, this is true for just 23% of those living in households earning less than $30,000. Adults who live in urban and suburban areas are also more likely to say they go online almost constantly than those who live in rural areas.

Twitter’s Flawed Solution to Political Polarization
By Christopher A. Bail

The link between social media and political polarization, however, presents a classic chicken-or-egg question: Do the accounts we follow on platforms such as Twitter shape our political views, or do we mostly follow accounts that reflect our views? We cannot know whether social media is a cause or a symptom of our deeply divided politics, unless, of course, we conduct a controlled experiment.

In a study that was published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, my colleagues and I did just that. We surveyed more than 1,200 Twitter-using Republicans and Democrats about their political views. Then we paid half of them to follow for one month a bot we created that retweeted messages from elected officials and other opinion leaders from the other political party.

Instead of reducing political polarization, being exposed to opposing ideas increased it. Republicans who followed a Democratic bot for one month expressed social policy views that were substantially more conservative at the conclusion of the study. Democrats who followed a Republican bot exhibited very slight increases in liberal attitudes about social issues, but those effects were not statistically significant.

Why did some social media users’ political views become more entrenched after we disrupted their echo chambers? One possibility is the structure of Twitter itself. Social psychologists have long argued that positive, intimate contact between members of rival groups across an extended period can produce compromise. But that is not what Twitter offers. Its character limits — combined with the anonymous, spontaneous nature of so many exchanges on the platform — simply may not be conducive to mutual understanding.

No single solution will reduce political polarization on social media. But a first step should be for Twitter to experiment with removing its character limits. Allowing people to voice their opinions in detail will not improve the civility of discourse by itself, but it may facilitate a better competition of ideas and increase the possibility for Democrats and Republicans to understand one another.

Second, as our research indicates, Twitter should not force its users to view messages from a political party they oppose. Instead, it should create an alert system that makes people aware when they are being exposed predominantly to one point of view. The most pernicious effect of social media echo chambers may be that most people are unaware of how much their political views are influenced by selective exposure to information.

How to Cover 2020: Assume Nothing and Beware of Twitter
By Michael M. Grynbaum

Most political journalists spend a lot of time on Twitter tracking the real-time thoughts of pundits, activists, campaign operatives and reporters like themselves.

Most speakers here said that was not a great idea.

“You have to be skeptical of what you’re seeing and reading on Twitter and applying it to the electorate,” said Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief. “If you think you understand what’s motivating voters because you’re reading it on Twitter, you may be completely wrong.”

Elite conversations are nothing new in politics, going back to the days when columnists like Robert Novak wielded huge power. But Twitter’s rise coincided with a vogue for “tipsheet journalism,” in Mr. Hamby’s phrase: the who’s-up-who’s-down reporting that prizes tidbits over deeper dives.

“Even in the press, some of us in recent years scoffed at shoe-leather reporting: We have data now; we have so many elite voices who are so smart,” Mr. Hamby said. “We lost sight of some very fundamental old-school habits of good political journalism.”

Twitter is the crystal meth of newsrooms
By David Von Drehle

Too many of us covered Twitter’s reaction to Trump, instead of covering the ideas and impulses of the voters he was reaching. Whether by instinct or intention, Trump stoked the addiction by fueling Twitter with red meat and steroids.

Now the problem is full-blown. Respected journalists can spend a week debating the expression on a 16-year-old boy’s face in a video snippet of uncertain provenance and unknown context.

They can assert that “the world” was rattled by a minor confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial, proving only how deeply they’ve confused the bot-infested echo chamber of Twitter with the world at large.

Ricky Gervais on Provocation, Picking Targets and Outrage Culture
By David Marchese

Has social media changed the way the public perceives your work? Yes, and here’s an example: 20 years ago, if you saw something on TV that offended you and you wanted to let someone know, you would’ve had to get a pen and paper and write, “Dear BBC, I’m bothered.” But you didn’t do it because it was too much trouble. Now with Twitter, you can just go, “[Expletive] you!” to a comedian who’s offended you. Then a journalist will see that and say, “So-and-so said a thing and people are furious.” No. The rest of us don’t give a [expletive] and wouldn’t have heard about it if it hadn’t been made a headline. Everything is exaggerated. But everything’s also an illusion. No one would talk to you in the street like they do on Twitter. They’d never come up and say, “Your articles stink.” They’d never do that because they’re normal, but they’re not normal on Twitter because there’s no nuance, no irony, no conversation there.

So why should we take it seriously? You don’t. If you ignore it on Twitter, it didn’t happen. It’s like going into a toilet stall and arguing with graffiti. If you don’t go there, it doesn’t exist.

We Need a Word for Destructive Group Outrage
By Cass R. Sunstein

The English language needs a word for what happens when a group of people, outraged by some real or imagined transgression, responds in a way that is disproportionate to the occasion, thus ruining the transgressor’s day, month, year or life.

We might repurpose an old word: lapidation.

Technically, the word is a synonym for stoning, but it sounds much less violent. It is also obscure, which makes it easier to enlist for contemporary purposes.

What makes lapidation possible? A lot of the answer is provided by the process of “group polarization,” which means that when like-minded people speak with one another, they tend to go to extremes.

Suppose that people begin with the thought that Ronald Sullivan probably should not have agreed to represent Harvey Weinstein, or that Al Franken did something pretty bad. If so, their discussions will probably make them more unified and more confident about those beliefs, and ultimately more extreme.

A key reason involves the dynamics of outrage. Whenever some transgression has occurred, people want to appear at least as appalled as others in their social group. That can transform mere disapproval into lapidation.

When people lapidate, they think that they are achieving something important. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t. They often succeed in expressing their moral commitments without actually achieving anything.

True, lapidators may succeed in ruining a reputation or forcing a resignation. That may be justified and important, even essential. But if social change is the goal, the immense amount of time and emotional energy expended on lapidation is often better spent elsewhere.

For its victims, lapidation is a horror, a kind of living nightmare. In some cases, they receive death threats. Even when their security is not at risk, they carry a stamp of shame. They may never fully recover. Too often, that is a grievous wrong.

We shouldn’t lapidate lapidators. But we might remind them of the words of a great opponent of lapidation: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Our Culture of Contempt
By Arthur C. Brooks

So what can each of us do to make things better? You might be tempted to say we need to find ways to disagree less, but that is incorrect. Disagreement is good because competition is good. Competition lies behind democracy in politics and markets in the economy, which — bounded by the rule of law and morality — bring about excellence. Just as in politics and economics, we need a robust “competition of ideas” — a.k.a. disagreement. Disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth.

What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better. And that starts when you turn away the rhetorical dope peddlers — the powerful people on your own side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful. Unless a leader is actually teaching you something you didn’t know or expanding your worldview and moral outlook, you are being used.

How to Avoid the Social Media Outrage Trap
By Zaid Jilani

Sophia Moskalensko, a researcher who studies radicalization, says a phenomenon called “pluralistic ignorance” helps drive outrage on social media.

Pluralistic ignorance is a situation where members of a group may privately reject an idea, but they believe most of the other members of the group believe that idea, so they decide to accept it. Since our social media networks are likely to consist of people we tend to agree with, we feel compelled to be angry when we see all of them angry about something.

“When we’re online and we encounter some piece of political theater…we see people all outraged about it, and they’re using expletives and they’re using explosive metaphors, we’re thinking, ‘Wow, everybody is feeling this way about this,’” says Moskalensko. “Over time people shift their opinions to more closely resemble what they feel is the social norm.”

Conformity and the Dangers of Group Polarization
By Cass R. Sunstein

Group polarization is not a social constant. It can be increased or decreased and even eliminated by certain features of group members or their situation.

First, extremists are especially prone to polarization. It is more probable that they will shift, and it is probable that they will shift more. When they start out at an extreme point and are placed in a group of like-minded people, they are likely to move especially far in the direction with which they started. There is a lesson here about the sources of terrorism and political violence in general. And because there is a link between confidence and extremism, the confidence of particular members also plays an important role; confident people are both more influential (the “confidence heuristic”) and more prone to polarization.

Second, if members of the group think they have a shared identity and a high degree of solidarity, there will be heightened polarization. One reason is that if people feel united by some factor (for example, politics or religious convictions), dissent will be dampened. If individual members tend to perceive one another as friendly, likeable, and similar to them, the size and likelihood of the shift will increase. The existence of affective ties reduces the number of diverse arguments and also intensifies social influences on choice.

One implication is that mistakes are likely to be increased when group members are united mostly through bonds of affection and not through concentration on a particular task; it is in the former case that alternative views will be less likely to find expression. Another implication is that people are less likely to shift if the point of view or direction advocated is being pushed by unlikeable or unfriendly group members. A sense of “group belongingness” affects the extent of polarization. In the same vein, physical spacing tends to reduce polarization; a sense of common fate and intra-group similarity tends to increase it, as does the introduction of a rival “outgroup.”

Over time, group polarization can be fortified because of “exit,” as members leave the group because they reject the direction in which things are heading. If exit is pervasive, the tendency to extremism will be greatly aggravated. The group will end up smaller, but its members will be both more like-minded and more willing to take extreme measures, and that very fact will mean that internal discussions will produce more extremism still. If the strongest loyalists are the only people who stay, the group’s median member will be more extreme, and deliberation will produce increasingly extreme movements.

We live in an era in which groups of people—on the Left, on the Right, in university departments, in religious institutions—often end up in a pitch of rage, seeing fellow members of the human species not as wrong but as enemies. Such groups may even embark on something like George Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate.

Social Censorship: The First Offender Model
By Scott Alexander

In c. 1969, people were reluctant to speak out in favor of gay rights; in 2019, people are reluctant to speak out against them. Some of that is genuinely changed minds; I don’t at all want to trivialize that aspect. But some of it seems to have just been that in 1969, it was common knowledge that the anti-gay side was well-coordinated and could do the massive-retaliation thing, and now it’s common knowledge that the pro-gay side is well-coordinated and can do the massive retaliation thing. The switch involved a big battle and lots of people massively retaliating against each other, but it worked.

Maybe everyone else already realized something like this. But it changes the way I think about censorship. I’m still against it. But I used to have an extra argument against it, which was something like “If eugenics is taboo, that means there must be near-universal opposition to eugenics, which means there’s no point in keeping it taboo, because even it it wasn’t taboo eugenicists wouldn’t have any power.” I no longer think that argument holds water. “Taboo” might mean nothing more than “one of two equally-sized sides has a tenuous coordination advantage”.

The strongest argument against censorship is still that beliefs should be allowed to compete in a marketplace of ideas. But if I were pro-censorship, I might retort that one reason to try to maintain my own side’s tenuous coordination advantage is that if I relax even for a second, the other side might be able to claw together its own coordination advantage and censor me. This isn’t possible in the “one side must be overwhelmingly more powerful” model of censorship, but it’s something that the “tenuous coordination advantage” model has to worry about. The solution would be some sort of stable structural opposition to censorship in general – but the gay rights example shows that real-world censors can’t always expect that to work out for them.

Can Outrage Be a Good Thing?
By Victoria Spring

Our tendency to view outrage-the-emotion as a behavior that can be “right” or “wrong” has some pretty bad downsides. If outrage is something that can be moralized, that means we can get mad at people for experiencing it. And instead of being upset about a moral transgression, the condemnation of that transgression starts to be seen as the “real” immorality. Take for example the entrenched tendency for majority group members to respond with defensiveness and anger when they’re accused of prejudice. The accuser’s outrage starts to be seen as somehow worse than the prejudice that inspired it. Discounting the accuser’s anger protects the accused from accountability—after all, “faux” outrage hardly deserves a respectful response—while redirecting blame toward the victim instead of the perpetrator.

And unfortunately, this moralization of outrage tends to be more frequently wielded against marginalized people, making it even more dangerous. To start with, certain groups are actually perceived as angrier in general than other groups. Take for example the stereotype of the “angry Black woman.” Black women are perceived as expressing inappropriate anger more frequently than people from other groups, potentially contributing to mental health treatment disparities. Black men aren’t exempt—according to political scientists, stereotypes about Black men and uncontrollable anger shape the way Black politicians have to present themselves in the public eye, because even mild anger expressed by a Black man will be perceived as extreme.

This doesn’t just apply to Black people, though. Research suggests that marginalized people in general are held to higher moral standards than majority group members. Specifically, this work found that marginalized people were expected to be more tolerant of immigrants—and if they weren’t, they were judged as more immoral than majority group members who were equally intolerant. In other words: moral outrage about immigration is judged more harshly when it’s being expressed by minority group members.

‘Identity is a pain in the arse’: Zadie Smith on political correctness
By Claire Armitstead

The writer Zadie Smith laid into identity politics in a headline session at the 14th Hay Cartagena festival, insisting novelists had not only a right, but a duty to be free.

Asked how she felt about cultural appropriation, she told an audience of nearly 2,000 at the festival in Colombia on Friday: “If someone says to me: ‘A black girl would never say that,’ I’m saying: ‘How can you possibly know?’ The problem with that argument is it assumes the possibility of total knowledge of humans. The only thing that identifies people in their entirety is their name: I’m a Zadie.”

She conceded that the assertion of a collective identity was sometimes necessary “to demand rights”, but cited the dismay of her husband – the poet and novelist Nick Laird – at finding himself increasingly categorised. “He turned to me and said: ‘I used to be myself and I’m now white guy, white guy.’ I said: ‘Finally, you understand.’ But the lesson of that is that identity is a huge pain in the arse. The strange thing to me is the assumption [of white people] that their identity is the right to freedom.”

She went on to question the role of social media in policing personal development. “We are being asked to be consistent as humans over great swathes of time. People are searching through social media. But everyone is changing all the time.”

What George Grote Can Teach Us Today
By James Kierstead

The first point that Grote’s career teaches us – and by far the most important one – is that we don’t have a particularly good record of recognizing, ex ante, which ideas are going to turn out to be considered good ones in the long run. During Grote’s lifetime, democracy was seen as dangerous and even barbaric, the secret ballot was seen as low and dishonourable, and atheism was widely seen as a form of immorality. We now see democracy as a tremendous good, the secret ballot as a necessary ingredient, and the freedom of conscience as a key ingredient in any genuinely liberal society.

But the point isn’t simply that Grote was right and his critics wrong. The point is that a good number of the ideas that we now take not only as obviously true, but also as a force for good in the world – a good number of these ideas may well look pretty odd (and even rather reprehensible) in a few generations’ time. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t develop or hold ideas, of course – having some views rather than others is inevitable as we face up to the problems that confront us as a society. But it does mean that we should be careful about being too sure that the views that are currently in the ascendant are necessarily the right ones. And that, in turn, should encourage us to be open-minded and receptive to those who have something to say that strikes us as unorthodox – and even irritating, shocking or dangerous.

Putting the Political Back in Politically Correct
By Jonny Thakkar

What are we to make of the Platonic ideal of a society in which all cultural production, from the most elevated work of art to the most ordinary conversation, is ethically and politically salutary? We might be attracted by the underlying logic: If we’re shaped by our culture, and our culture is generated by a complex web of individual actions, then progress will depend on the character of those actions — the personal is political. On the other hand, we might be repelled by the lack of playfulness and spontaneity in a society where art and sport, tragedy and comedy, furniture and embroidery must all answer to ethical and political demands. In the liberal-democratic version of Platonism, these demands would be imposed horizontally rather than vertically: citizen-to-citizen rather than ruler-to-subject. Yet that makes the social pressure only more intense, since even intimate spaces would offer no respite from citizenly obligation. Perhaps friends should let friends say inappropriate things? At any rate, a culture of thoroughgoing moralism tends also to be a culture of thoroughgoing hypocrisy.

Given how rapidly social norms have already changed within our lifetimes, how can we be sure that today’s certainty won’t become tomorrow’s anathema?

It turns out, then, that those who take themselves to be fighting for ethical and political progress ought to be fostering a culture in which critics feel free to challenge their beliefs and ideals. And since that would be an environment in which people can express themselves without fear of being punished for saying the wrong thing, it follows that those who call others out prematurely or ungenerously ought themselves to be called out. They are standing in the way of progress. In rebuking them we would not be lamenting PC culture but rather seeking to improve it. Let the scolds be scolded, and let justice roll down like waters.

Posted in Games.


0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.



Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.