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Culture war games: power squared

Iphigenia in Forest Hills
By Janet Malcolm

In “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of American journalists as persons of “low social status, [whose] education is only sketchy, and [whose] thoughts are often vulgarly expressed.” He went on to note that “the hallmark of the American journalist is a direct and coarse attack, without any subtleties, on the passions of his readers; he disregards principles to seize on people, following them into their private lives and laying bare their weaknesses and their vices.” Over the years, the social status and the education level of journalists have risen, and some journalists write extremely well. But the profession retains its transgressiveness. Human frailty continues to be the currency in which it trades. Malice remains its animating impulse.

Nick Davies: “This isn’t a story about journalists behaving badly—it’s a story about power”
By Jonathan Derbyshire

JD: This book, like your previous one, Flat Earth News, is about the dysfunctions of journalism in this country. How do you see the connection between them?

ND: The connection is the one I describe in the opening chapter of this book: while I was on the radio talking about the first book, Stuart Kuttner made this daft remark [that phone hacking had happened only once] which provoked the second. Once that happened, and once I began to deal with the source who I call “Mr Apollo,” the story became so deliciously attractive that I couldn’t walk away from it. But this book isn’t really a story about journalists behaving badly—it’s a story about power.

If you look at the first story we published—the one about Gordon Taylor—we said there and then that [the revelations] raised questions for the leader of the biggest political party in the country, which had just hired Andy Coulson; for the biggest police force in the country, the biggest news group in the country and also for the press regulator [the Press Complaints Commission]. So from the word go you can see that it’s got extraordinary implications. And it’s weird because it actually starts with this story about Prince William hurting his knee and leaving a message saying he needs to see a doctor. From such small beginnings you get a story with such destructive power.

Leveson inquiry: the essential guide
By Dan Sabbagh

“Power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot through the ages,” complained Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin in 1931. He was referring to press campaigns run by the owners of the Daily Express and Daily Mail, the lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, who wanted the Tories to support free trade throughout the British empire. But if that controversy has long since faded, Baldwin’s famous saying has not, because the debate about the power of the press has persisted.

Newspapers in England date back to the early 17th century, a time of conflict framed by the civil war. A freer period of publication during the conflict was followed by a period of licensing adopted by Cromwell and followed during the Restoration. However, licensing ended in 1695 when parliament decided against renewing the relevant act, paving the way for a free press. Berrow’s Worcester Journal, Britain’s longest-surviving newspaper, dates back from this time, appearing occasionally after 1690 and regularly from 1709. There has been no statutory regulation of the press since, although radio and television broadcasters have long been licensed – partly because the transmission spectrum is scare and needs to be managed, and partly due to the power perceived to be inherent in those media.

Newspapers rapidly grew in number, and gradually national newspapers emerged, with the Times being founded in 1785. Expansion of the press continued until the 1950s, when sales peaked, its dominance gradually being eroded by the popularity of television and the competing BBC and ITV network. Under the postwar Labour government the first royal commission, headed by Sir William Ross, recommends the establishment of the Press Council. Incremental changes followed: a second royal commission in the 1960s recommended the appointment of lay members to the Press Council. But none of this had much impact on an increasingly aggressive tabloid culture. At their worst some papers displayed a cavalier regard for accuracy, as seen in the notorious Hillsborough coverage of Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun, but also in exposing politicians’ sexual and other indiscretions.

Ex-Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes makes phone-hacking claim against Daily Mail owner
By Jim Waterson

Hughes ran to be the Lib Dem leader in 2006 only to have his campaign collapse amid tabloid coverage of his private life and relationships, which led to him being outed as bisexual against his will. He declined to comment on the detail of his own legal case.

However, convicted phone hackers Greg Miskiw and Glenn Mulcaire have previously told the website Expose.News that they targeted Hughes’s voicemail on behalf of the Mail on Sunday in early 2006. They alleged that Mulcaire not only listened to Hughes’s personal messages on behalf of the newspaper but blagged the personal details of a friend by pretending to be a Royal Mail worker.

Mulcaire told the website: “I remember going on the phone call to Simon Hughes’s male friend pretending to be a Special Delivery office manager. This was because the Mail on Sunday had a photographer outside. It was to make sure he was in, so that the Mail on Sunday could get a picture when he came out.”

The outlet has also previously published correspondence from Miskiw, who oversaw widespread phone hacking during his time at the News of the World. The emails, sent while Miskiw was working in a freelance capacity, purport to show him updating an executive at the Mail on Sunday on attempts to track down Hughes.

Miskiw, who died recently after expressing his regret at his phone-hacking activities, claimed: “On behalf of the Mail on Sunday, I asked Glenn Mulcaire to use ‘dark arts’ on Simon Hughes in order to track down any boyfriend that Hughes may have been seeing – it was a fishing exercise.”

Hughes is a veteran of the legal battles over phone hacking. He has already received two separate financial settlements from News UK after he alleged his voicemails were illegally intercepted by the company’s journalists.

In 2021 Hughes received a substantial sum in damages after claiming his phone had been hacked by the Sun during a time that the tabloid was being edited by Rebekah Brooks, the current News UK chief executive. The company continues to deny his accusation that any phone hacking took place at the Sun but decided to settle rather than fight the case in open court.

Piers Morgan’s Twitter account abuses queen and Ed Sheeran in apparent hack
By Kevin Rawlinson and agency

Piers Morgan’s Twitter account has been wiped of much of its content, amid reports it was hacked.

The former Good Morning Britain (GMB) presenter, 57, who has 8.3 million followers on the social media site, had no profile picture, banner image or posts on Tuesday afternoon. Some tweets containing still and video images remained, as did records of tweets his account had liked.

According to reports, his account shared posts overnight containing false information, racial slurs and abusive messages directed at the late Queen Elizabeth II and the singer Ed Sheeran.

Rogue New York Post employee tweets sexist and racist attacks on company’s account
By Ramon Antonio Vargas

Readers across the US woke up to fake Post website articles discussing how the New York Republican gubernatorial challenger Lee Zeldin had pledged to force himself on the Democratic incumbent, Kathy Hochul – as well as how Texas’s far-right governor, Greg Abbott, had ordered border patrol agents to execute undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, the Post’s Twitter feed boosted a fabricated report purporting to quote Zeldin as he made racist comments about New York City’s Black mayor, Eric Adams, as well as fake editorial columns calling for the assassinations of the progressive Bronx-raised congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joe Biden and the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

The Post’s administrators regained control of their website and Twitter account relatively quickly and took down the inflammatory screeds, which were posted by someone identifying themselves as “Thrax”, a handle used in similar prior cases. The Post later issued statements blaming the mess on “unauthorized conduct” by an employee who had been fired.

The statements did not name the dismissed employee.

An initial statement from the outlet had only said: “The New York Post has been hacked. We are currently investigating the cause.”

A number of social media users wryly professed that they didn’t even suspect the Post might have been hacked when the articles in question first surfaced.

New York Post Reporter Who Wrote False Kamala Harris Story Resigns
By Michael M. Grynbaum

The article splashed across the cover of Saturday’s New York Post seemed designed to enrage Republicans who railed against the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

Under the tabloid-ready headline “KAM ON IN,” The Post, which is controlled by the conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch, claimed that copies of a children’s book written by Vice President Kamala Harris were provided at taxpayer expense in a “welcome kit” for unaccompanied migrant children at a shelter in Long Beach, Calif.

The story whipped around conservative media and elicited denunciations from leading Republicans, including the party chairwoman. A reporter for the Murdoch-owned Fox News, which published its own online article about the claims, asked about it at a televised White House press briefing.

But the claims were untrue.

The Post later issued brief corrections, but only after its falsehoods had been amplified at face value by leading Republican lawmakers and cable news stars.

On Tuesday, the author of the original Post article, Laura Italiano, wrote on Twitter that she had resigned from the paper, describing the Harris article as “an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against.” She added, “I’m sad to leave.”

“This Was Devastating to Everybody”: Inside the New York Post’s Blowup Over a Bogus Story at the Border
By Joe Pompeo

The imbroglio unfolded in the wake of a recent leadership change. The new top brass is Keith Poole, imported from Murdoch’s British tabloid operation. Poole is credited with supercharging The Sun’s flailing website, and is now tasked with charting the Post’s digital domination. Previously, Poole worked for more than a decade at the rival Daily Mail, whose massive online mojo is the envy of competing tabloids everywhere. “If they see something at the top of the Mail, they’ve gotta get it too,” a former Post journalist said. “Overall, I think that’s kind of what got to Laura, and the fact that she was getting hammered over this story.” Another one of Italiano’s erstwhile colleagues told me, “What happened to her is making me sick. I think she became the latest victim of this insane culture-war moment, where the right is desperately searching for something nuts to go at Biden about, and the left is completely punishing and unforgiving.”

Guardian and Daily Mail editors unite to demand action over legal bullying of media
By Charlotte Tobitt

National newspaper editors from across the political spectrum have urged the UK Government to crack down on intimidating legal tactics known as SLAPPs.

SLAPPs, which stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, refer to lawsuits targeting journalists, news organisations, whistleblowers or other groups putting out information in the public interest that are deemed meritless and being used to bully them into silence, including by dropping a story.

Libel, copyright, data protection and misuse of private information laws are all increasingly abused as SLAPPs, critics of the practice say. The cases that get heard in court are said to be just the “tip of the iceberg” as many succeed in silencing journalists through the fear of racking up substantial costs.

Recent high-profile SLAPP cases have included Russian oligarchs such as then-Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich targeting former FT Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton over her book Putin’s People (ultimately settled), a Kazakh mining giant’s case against journalist Tom Burgis, the FT and his book publisher Harper Collins that was thrown out by a judge, and Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s win using the public interest defence after being sued by Brexit donor Arron Banks. All three have signed the open letter.

Burgis, whose book Kleptopia contained the relevant allegations, told the Anti-SLAPP Conference hosted by the Foreign Policy Centre and Justice for Journalists Foundation in London on Monday that lawyers representing claimants targeting the media have become increasingly powerful, resulting in stories being spiked “every day because the journalists are too scared to do them”.

“Their editors are too scared to run them. And because London law firms whose senior partners wield power equivalent to that of a Fleet Street editor in deciding what we get to read and what we don’t get to read are making just those decisions every day on behalf of clients whose interests are completely inimical to democracy.”

Doreen Lawrence, Prince Harry and others launch legal action against Daily Mail publisher
By Jim Waterson and Vikram Dodd

Doreen Lawrence and Prince Harry are among a list of famous figures launching legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail over the alleged misuse of their private information, including an accusation relating to the placing of listening devices in private homes.

Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Liz Hurley and Sadie Frost have also issued claims. Their lawyers issued a statement claiming they have “compelling and highly distressing evidence” they have been the “victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers.

The group claimed this could be the “tip of the iceberg” and there may be many more alleged victims after the legal papers were filed at the high court in London on Thursday.

The group’s allegations of illegal activity involving the publisher of the Mail, Mail on Sunday and MailOnline include:

  1. The hiring of private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside people’s cars and homes.
  2. The commissioning of individuals to surreptitiously listen in to, and record, people’s live, private telephone calls while they were taking place.
  3. The payment of police officials, with allegedly corrupt links to private investigators, for sensitive inside information.
  4. The impersonation of individuals to obtain medical information from private hospitals, clinics, and treatment centres by deception.
  5. The accessing of bank accounts, credit histories and financial transactions through illicit means and manipulation.

Twitter said it fixed ‘verification.’ So I impersonated a senator (again).
By Geoffrey A. Fowler

On Tuesday, @SenatorEdMarkey briefly went viral on Twitter. Gisele Barreto Fetterman, the wife of Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), thanked @SenatorEdMarkey in a tweet that garnered 140,000 views.

The problem is, @SenatorEdMarkey is actually me, not the real Sen. Edward J. Markey. It’s a test of Twitter’s $7.99 per month Blue “verification” service I made with the permission of the real Democrat from Massachusetts. I wouldn’t blame anyone for being confused: My test account has the senator’s name and photo and a blue check mark that says it is “verified.”

But Twitter, it seems, isn’t verifying much of anything.

This is the second time I’ve been able to impersonate the senator. Back in November, when Twitter first began selling its iconic blue check marks to anyone for a fee, I showed how easy it was to buy official-looking status with an impostor account called @realEdMarkey. Musk, who bought Twitter in October, got into a Twitter fight with Markey about it. Then Musk shut down Blue and promised that in a new-and-improved version “all verified accounts will be manually authenticated” before they’re given the authority of a check mark.

After Blue 2.0 (my term for it) launched on Dec. 12, I made another faux Markey and applied for verification. Some of Twitter’s new requirements slowed down the process — and might dissuade some impatient impersonators — but the company never asked to see a form of identification. Last week, up popped a blue check mark on my @SenatorEdMarkey account. Oops! I did it again.

Project Veritas and the Line Between Journalism and Political Spying
By Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti

Project Veritas has long occupied a gray area between investigative journalism and political spying, and internal documents obtained by The New York Times reveal the extent to which the group has worked with its lawyers to gauge how far its deceptive reporting practices can go before running afoul of federal laws.

The documents, a series of memos written by the group’s lawyer, detail ways for Project Veritas sting operations — which typically diverge from standard journalistic practice by employing people who mask their real identities or create fake ones to infiltrate target organizations — to avoid breaking federal statutes such as the law against lying to government officials.

The documents show, for example, Project Veritas operatives’ concern that an operation launched in 2018 to secretly record employees at the F.B.I., Justice Department and other agencies in the hope of exposing bias against President Donald J. Trump might violate the Espionage Act — the law passed at the height of World War I that has typically been used to prosecute spies.

“Because intent is relevant — and broadly defined — ensuring PV journalists’ intent is narrow and lawful would be paramount in any operation,” the group’s media lawyer, Benjamin Barr, wrote in response to questions from the group about using the dating app Tinder to have its operatives meet government employees, potentially including some with national security clearances.

In a separate July 2017 memorandum, Mr. Barr emailed a representative of the group that the criminal statute involving false statements to federal officials “continues to be an expansive, dangerous law that inhibits Veritas’s operations.”

The documents give new insight into the workings of the group at a time when it faces potential legal peril in the diary investigation — and has signaled that its defense will rely in part on casting itself as a journalistic organization protected by the First Amendment.

The Times provided copies of some of the legal memos to Bill Grueskin, a professor at the Columbia Journalism School and former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and executive editor at Bloomberg News.

Mr. Grueskin, who has written about Project Veritas, said that some of Mr. Barr’s memos provided “pretty good advice,” particularly about when it is permitted to record phone conversations and other tactical recommendations.

He said that the undercover nature of Project Veritas’s work was more problematic.

“It opens you up to the charge that you’ve been intentionally deceptive and you lose your moral standing,” Mr. Grueskin said. “Every newsroom I’ve ever worked in has basically said undercover journalism was unacceptable. I’ve never had a reporter tell me he wanted to pose as somebody they were not.”

She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operative
By Miranda Green, Mario Ariza and David Folkenflik

Television news producer Kristen Hentschel was doing precisely what journalists should do on a searing hot day in Stuart, Fla., in July 2018: She confronted a politician with unwelcome questions.

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site. Florida designates the species as threatened.

As far as the candidate, Toby Overdorf, knew, there were no dead tortoises.

At the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm’s internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel’s work, labeling the payments “for Florida Crystals, FPL.” (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

Both companies could have benefited from her efforts to undermine Overdorf and his promises to resolve environmental issues in the district he was vying to represent.

Interviews for this story and Matrix ledgers show Hentschel traded on her work for ABC News at least three times to trip up Florida politicians whose stances on environmental regulations cut against the interests of major Matrix clients. Internal Matrix financial records originally sent anonymously to the Orlando Sentinel and shared with Floodlight show that since 2016, the firm has paid Hentschel at least $14,350.

According to two people at ABC News with knowledge, Hentschel was not, in fact, reporting for ABC on any of those subjects. “If she was working on these stories, she was not authorized to cover them for ABC News,” one of them says. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive network matters.

David Westin, president of ABC News from 1997 to 2010, says he never came across an instance in which a journalist for the network was simultaneously doing advocacy.

“It just goes to the very heart of why people no longer have the same confidence and trust in the news media as they once did,” says Westin, now an anchor for Bloomberg TV. “They suspect this is going on anyway, and for it to actually go on confirms their worst suspicions.”

In recent months, Matrix has also been accused of interfering in the workings of democracy in Alabama and Florida by seeking to influence ballot initiatives, running ghost candidates and offering a lucrative job to a public official if he resigned. As Floodlight and NPR have revealed, Matrix secretly maintained financial ties to a half-dozen political news sites and tried to ensure favorable coverage for clients.

What Nick Davies Found Out
By Ken Auletta

Senior Murdoch executives paid former employees who participated in the illegal hacking in order to keep them quiet. Clive Goodman, the royal editor of News of the World, received two hundred and thirty thousand pounds (more than three hundred thousand dollars), plus his legal fees; Glenn Mulcaire, the phone-hacking specialist at News of the World, received eighty thousand and fifty pounds. They settled with the hacking victim Gordon Taylor and two other litigants for a total of about a million pounds in return for their silence. The public-relations executive Max Clifford, another hacking victim, received just over a million pounds.

Put another way, it was a coverup. Davies reported that News International, the unit to which the four newspapers reported, deleted three hundred million emails from the time the Guardian and Davies started exposing the scandal, only ninety million of which were recovered by investigators.

Davies highlights the ring kissing and cowardice of politicians, but he also takes aim at the press, whose shortcomings were a subject of his previous book, “Flat Earth News.” He does not spare his news colleagues for the stories they fail to cover or distort. This is a book, he writes, “about the abuse of power and the secrets and lies that protect it,” things that the citizens of a democracy rely on an independent press to expose. Yet much of the press abdicated, because, he writes, “news organizations which might otherwise have exposed the truth were themselves part of the abuse, and so they kept silent, indulging in a comic parody of misreporting, hiding the emerging scandal from their readers like a Victorian nanny covering the children’s eyes from an accident in the street.”

Phone hacking: Glenn Mulcaire was paid more than £400,000 by NoW
By Lisa O’Carroll

Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had an “exceptional” arrangement with the News of the World allowing him to earn more than £400,000 over six years without questions being asked about his activities, an Old Bailey jury has heard.

The jury in the phone-hacking trial was told on Thursday that Mulcaire’s first contract with the paper in 2000 earned him about £92,000 a year, and was awarded at a time when senior executives were being told to cut back or face “severe consequences”.

Andrew Edis QC told the jury that it would have to consider why this was, and consider whether the editors of the paper during Mulcaire’s employment, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, and the managing editor Stuart Kuttner, knew that he was being asked to hack phones by the paper’s news desk. The jury was told that Kuttner authorised 221 payments to Mulcaire totalling £413,527.

“You are going to have to take a view on how much pressure they were [under] at the News of the World to get stories, so they strayed into criminality in order to do it, and also how much the editor was involved in the whole process,” said Edis.

Bullying and hypocrisy – Andy Coulson’s reign at the News of the World
By Nick Davies

This was the biggest-selling paper in the country – 3.5m copies every Sunday. It was probably the biggest-selling paper in the western world. It had the biggest budgets, the biggest impact. Nobody beat the News of the World. Which was why the new cabinet now displayed the biggest prize in British journalism – the award for Newspaper of the Year, 2004/5.

It is an odd thing about newspapers, that they live by exposure, yet they keep their own worlds concealed. A little of the truth about Coulson’s newspaper begins to emerge in evidence provided by one of his former staff – hundreds of notes and emails and memos that his executives wrote for each other in 2005 as they strove to repeat the triumphs of the previous 12 months.

As the weeks go by, the messages disclose an apparently endless line of men and women who have collected some fragment of human interest and are now offering it for sale (almost always for sale). As the messages flow on, the commercial side of this auction takes second place to something else more striking, something more human and more secret – a casual treachery. At the very least, these informants are betraying those they have come across through their work: a hotel porter who says he has got his hands on paperwork to prove that two TV presenters have just secretly spent the night together; a prison worker who reckons he can prove that an old heroin addict in one of his cells is the secret father of a singer in a girl band.

At worst, they are volunteering to sell the secrets of those who most trust them – their friends, lovers, family members. Some of them try to make sure of their sale by offering evidence to prove their story.

Everything is for sale. Nobody is exempt. What begins to emerge is the internal machinery of an industry that treats human life itself – the soft tissue of the most private, sensitive moments – as a vast quarry full of raw material to be scooped up and sifted and exploited for entertainment.

Andy Coulson Sentenced to 18 Months in Jail for Phone Hacking
By Alexis Flynn

Lawyers for the journalists, arguing in mitigation, said their clients had mistakenly understood British press guidelines and believed that phone hacking was sometimes permitted when it was in the public interest.

Judge Saunders also sentenced onetime News of the World news editor Greg Miskiw and the paper’s former chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, to six months in jail each. He handed down a suspended sentence of four months to ex-reporter James Weatherup. Judge Saunders also delivered a suspended, six-month sentence to Glenn Mulcaire, a former private investigator who worked for the paper.

“All the defendants that I have to sentence, save for Mr. Mulcaire, are distinguished journalists who had no need to behave as they did to be successful,” Judge Saunders said. “Those achievements now count for nothing,” he said. Their careers and reputations were “irreparably damaged,” he said.

Hack Attack review – Nick Davies’s gripping account of the hacking affair
By Henry Porter

When Nick Davies watched Andy Coulson in the dock waiting to be sentenced last month, he felt a twinge of sympathy for the man whose downfall, among other things, he had worked so hard to achieve. It was the anniversary of the publication by the Guardian of the Milly Dowler story, but that was not what came to Davies’s mind. Instead, he recalled the tape recording made by David Blunkett exactly 10 years ago this weekend.

“I remember Blunkett’s voice,” writes Davies in Hack Attack, his gripping account of the phone-hacking scandal, “full of panic and fear as he pleaded for his privacy; and the sheer mechanical coldness of Coulson as he insisted on his right to convert this man to a headline. I remember all the others who suffered the same fate, left behind like roadkill as Coulson roared off into his gilded future.”

It is the heartlessness with which the News of the World and the Sun broke people’s lives to push newspaper sales and enforce Rupert Murdoch’s writ that is so shocking and why it is now difficult to feel much sympathy for Coulson. Davies might also have remembered in that moment the hypocrisy of the people who worked on those papers, the fact that Andy Coulson, a married man, had a long affair with his boss, Rebekah Brooks (the demonic pillow talk between these two was sadly never properly explored in the court case), and that former News of the World journalists, while setting about their victims in the paper, described some of their own office parties as “a model of drug-fuelled sexual adventures”.

One lesson of this book is that when people such as Coulson, the News of the World‘s news desk editor, Greg Miskiw, or the paper’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, looked in the mirror they suffered not a trace of unease about their behaviour, whether it was straight hypocrisy, lying, bullying or wrecking someone’s life. This was not a matter of law but one of morality, and to that degree all the defendants in the recent trial, and many more who were never charged, are guilty of serving a pitiless regime that went unchecked for decades.

Parliament, the police and the press regulators were for the most part fearful, supine or just bent and that was why Murdoch came within a whisker of capturing BSkyB and even more influence in British national life.

Quite apart from those inside News International – James Murdoch, the comically brattish son, or Rebekah Brooks, who claimed that the Guardian‘s coverage “had substantially misled the public” and the affair “would end with the Guardian‘s editor Alan Rusbridger on his knees begging for mercy”– there were many willing helpers on the touchline: Boris Johnson, a lunching companion of Brooks, who called the Guardian‘s reporting “codswallop”, Alex Salmond, who offered to lobby for the Sky takeover, Jeremy Clarkson, who gave Brooks constant succour, and the rightwing media columnist on the Independent, Stephen Glover, who wrote of Davies that he was “the sort of journalist who can find a scandal in a jar of tadpoles”.

The point about Davies and, for that matter, Alan Rusbridger is that they go after really big fish that would terrify Glover – WikiLeaks, phone hacking and the NSA/GCHQ story in just the last few years. Incidentally, Davies is fascinating about what drives an investigative reporter; in his case, it was mistrust of authority after having been hit a lot as a child. Who knows what pushed the Labour MP Tom Watson to stick his neck out, or the lawyers Charlotte Harris, Mark Lewis and Mark Thompson to line up against Murdoch’s power and legal resources, which, by the way, Davies believes had a real impact during the trial. They all have something of a rebel streak in them, but also a decent certainty that they were dealing with liars and bullies who had to be stopped.

Ryan Holiday on Gawker: “These Are Nasty People”
By Alex Shephard

Thiel, in his public statements about the case, has argued that he ultimately moved to bankrupt Gawker because of a Valleywag post in 2007 that outed him as gay. But you present a more complicated set of motivations.

There’s a line, I can’t remember who said it: There’s always a reason and a real reason. In this case, it’s like four or five of those. The simple reason is that he’s a billionaire and he didn’t like what this outlet was publishing. The real reason is that they harmed him in a non-partisan but cruel and thoughtless way. The deeper level is that maybe there’s some economic motivation, maybe it’s raw power—a fight of wills. On an even deeper level it’s someone with the sense that “this is a pivot point and I’m going to take advantage of it—I can pivot history.”

Rumor plays a big role in political journalism and business journalism. Much of what we know about the inner workings of the Trump administration is rumor. In business journalism, people who are trying to, say, short stocks often try to spread rumors. But Thiel seemed to be fixated on Gawker. Do you think that could have been because the site, to some extent, democratized rumor—that it wasn’t stockbrokers or political powerbrokers spreading rumors in media but … regular people?

Edward Jay Epstein wrote a book in the 1970s about journalism that I found fascinating. One of the things that he writes that has always stuck with me is something like, “Journalists are dependent on sources and sources are inherently self-interested.” So whether you’re talking to The New York Times or if you’re reading a random piece of gossip about a celebrity, someone’s always got an agenda. One of the things that Gawker did that I think was particularly reckless was that it was indifferent to that agenda. The reason they don’t stop and think about publishing the Hulk Hogan tape is that their job is just to publish things, not to ask about the source of the information.

Gawker was dangerous because they would act like what they were doing was about transparency or truth, but was really subject to their own biases and their own manipulations. Its similar to how we were all optimistic about WikiLeaks but WikiLeaks has been corrupted by foreign governments, right? Thiel’s fear as a powerful person was: “What could these people do to me? What exposure do I have to the vulnerabilities this presents? A rumor could take Facebook stock down or something about my personal life could be [leveraged].” But then as a thinker-philosopher type he thought, “I have the resources to do something about this. Maybe I should!”

You are very critical of Gawker for not recognizing the conspiracy that it was facing. Why?

The final post on Gawker is “How It Works.” The running theme of the whole site—the way that they justified their existence—was that they were the truth-tellers, they said the things that other people were afraid to say, they dug into the sordid details that other people were afraid to dig into. As Thiel said to me (and he admitted it was histrionic, but there’s an element of truth in it), “What does it say about a media outlet that is supposedly dedicated to investigative journalism that it can’t investigate a conspiracy that’s happening to it in the present moment?”

The stories about Gawker’s investigative prowess were probably more marketing than anything else. What they really enjoyed was when these things fell in their lap: An anonymous tip or something juicy. Even in the case of the Hulk Hogan story, Gawker tried to present it like they were presenting this expose, this thing that was very much in the news—this thing that everyone wanted to know about. But the truth was that this arrived anonymously to them from a source, who was giving it to Gawker because he was trying to shake down Hulk Hogan. This lawyer was trying to use Gawker as a catspaw to embarrass Hogan and bring him to the negotiating table.

This argument that Gawker really understood how power works is preposterous given that they didn’t notice the conspiracy that was being wielded against them and that they were unwittingly being used by other powerful people with varying agendas—they couldn’t even see that. This story is about the ignorance of power and the consequences of that, as well as the understanding of power and its consequences.

One thing that fascinates me is the internet’s fascination with Elon Musk. It sort of mirrors my parents’ generation’s adoration of Warren Buffett. The guys are fucking sharks! These guys are apex predators amongst the apex predators and no one gets there being nice. The whole point of capitalism is that it’s nasty and brutal and there’s pain in it but what you get in exchange for this Faustian bargain is an iPhone and growth and increased life expectancy. You don’t become Elon Musk if you don’t have to win all the time and you don’t exert your will. That’s why they all love Ayn Rand! They read that differently than most journalists do.

This Man Helped Peter Thiel Demolish Gawker
By Ryan Mac

While many believe that Thiel’s decision-making was driven largely by the publication of a December 2007 article titled “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people,” the situation was more nuanced. The Gawker reporter who wrote that story, Owen Thomas, previously wrote that a Thiel representative “assured me that he had no issue with the post,” while Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, said that following the post, the tech investor went “on a broader media charm offensive.”

“All I know is that he was meeting off-the-record with Gawker bloggers years after we put on the screen the widely known fact that the Valley investor was gay,” Denton told BuzzFeed News. “Before the lawsuits were launched, he wooed. Something changed.”

According to two sources, Thiel met with former Gawker editor Choire Sicha in May 2008 at a Midtown Manhattan apartment. Sicha, who declined to comment for this story, was introduced to Thiel by famous New York lawyer Eddie Hayes, who hoped that the former Gawker staffer might help the venture capitalist improve his relationship with the outlet. Sicha suggested that Thiel meet with reporters, and also listened to a plan for Thiel to donate to journalistic causes. In late June, Thiel pledged $250,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“As a true believer in the critical importance of free speech, I am delighted to support CPJ’s fight for the rights of journalists around the world,” Thiel was quoted as saying in CPJ’s 2008 annual report.

Thiel, however, remained conflicted about Gawker Media. The next spring, he spoke openly about its Silicon Valley–focused publication, Valleywag, which he compared to al-Qaeda in one interview. Following that comment, Thiel met with then–Gawker editor Ryan Tate in August 2009, reportedly quipping at that meeting, “See? I’m willing to negotiate with terrorists.”

Slate Star Codex and Silicon Valley’s War Against the Media
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus

Since the 2016 Presidential election, a contingent of the media has been increasingly critical of Silicon Valley, charging tech founders, C.E.O.s, venture capitalists, and other technology boosters with an arrogant, naïve, and reckless attitude toward the institutions of a functional democracy, noting their tendency to disguise anticompetitive, extractive behavior as disruptive innovation. Many technologists and their investors believe that media coverage of their domain has become histrionic and punitive, scapegoating tech companies for their inability to solve extremely difficult problems, such as political polarization, that are neither of their own devising nor within their ability to solve. The Valley’s most injured, aggrieved, and single-minded partisans don’t want to be judged by the absurdity of Juicero, the much-ridiculed luxury-juicing startup, or the fraud of Theranos, or the depredations of Uber. As Paul Graham pointed out, in a 2017 tweet, it was unfair to condemn the entirety of the tech sector based on a few bad actors. “Criticizing Juicero is fine,” he wrote. “What’s intellectually dishonest is criticizing SV by claiming Juicero is typical of it.” (The obvious irony—that people like Graham nevertheless feel free to write off the entirety of “the media” on a similarly invidious basis—seems lost on many of them.)

Vice obtained leaked audio, from an invite-only app called Clubhouse, in which Srinivasan, who seems to believe that any critical coverage of a technologist must reflect a mistaken assumption, likened the media to a foreign interest: reliance on mainstream reporting, he said, is “outsourcing your information supply chain to folks who are disaligned with you.”

But “disaligned” how? One software developer tweeted, “I’ve now heard from multiple YC founders who decided not to talk to NYT tech journalists. They were already on the fence, NYT’s treatment of Scott Alexander sealed the deal. More will follow. Everyone is finally realizing that media corporations are our competitors.” Was this all actually about competing business models—an economic fight between those who produce the news and those who profit from its distribution? On Wednesday night, Srinivasan was yet again in an agitated state about another Times story, invoking an Atlantic article, by Tyler Cowen and the billionaire Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison, to urge his peers to start its own media operation, one that wouldn’t merely write articles about, say, attempts to go to Mars but organize the collective energy to get there. This new “decentralized tech media” would not be a commercial enterprise but “pure activism by technological progressives.” Or his colleagues could just volunteer to repair existing publications. “Feels like tech pieces would benefit from pre- or at least post-publication peer review by experts in the field, namely the investors and engineers and founders”—in other words, the subjects of stories should be allowed to edit them.

Pity the Billionaire
By Jacob Silverman

Marc Andreessen — a pioneer of the web browser, a Facebook board member, and a top venture capitalist — is worth an estimated $1.7 billion. His VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, controls billions more in capital and is a major force in guiding the next generation of well-heeled start-ups. Regularly lionized as a titan of the tech-mogul class, both an OG innovator and an astute investor, Andreessen is helping to lead the web3 charge as his firm plunks down billions on crypto companies. He seems to live well: In the last six-plus months, he’s spent $255 million on three homes in Malibu. He ticks some of the other popularity metrics: a million Twitter followers, a regular on the conference and speaking circuit, a member of the Internet Hall of Fame. He’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats and Republicans, and he has the ear of fellow billionaires including Elon Musk. Andreessen is a big deal — a tech, business, and political power player — in whatever sense that still matters.

For Andreessen, it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. This putative titan of industry has spent the past week tweeting about how he and some of his fellow billionaires are less powerful than one might think. In fact, they might not even count as “elites,” that most hallowed signifier of political and economic influence. “The elite ruling class in our society is based on power, way more than money,” Andreessen tweeted over the weekend, perhaps from one of his several mansions. “Our oligarchic elite ruling class freaks out about Elon precisely to the degree they think he’s not onboard with their program.”

In 2014, Tom Perkins, a billionaire co-founder of Kleiner Perkins, a major VC firm, compared San Francisco’s treatment of the rich to an early episode in Nazi Germany’s genocide of the Jewish people. In a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal, he wrote, “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” Given a chance to walk back his comments, Perkins apologized for the Kristallnacht reference but stood by the Nazi comparison. At the time, Andreessen denounced Perkins, who died two years later, calling him an industry relic who was also “the leading asshole in the state.”

While it might be unfair to draw a one-to-one comparison, Andreessen and his shit-posting buddy Elon Musk are displaying some of the same traits of the ornery rich guy with a persecution complex and tendency toward histrionics that underwrote Perkins’s outburst. And like Perkins, Andreessen and Musk seem to lack much political perspective — that is, if we are to take them at their word. It simply goes against any reasonable notion of what power means that the richest man in the world, one who can troll and bully his way to the captain’s seat of a major communications platform, is not counted as a member of the “oligarchic elite ruling class.” Musk draws down billions in government subsidies and contracts. His every utterance, especially the really dumb ones, has the potential to move markets and make headlines. (He is also, again, the richest human alive.)

Yet one of the few things Twitter is good for is offering a venue for publicly mocking the powerful. Sometimes Marc Andreessen, billionaire thought leader, might benefit from hearing he’s full of shit, which is perhaps why he maintains an extensive block list that includes many journalists he’s never spoken to. (A quote recently highlighted by Andreessen: “Elites crave separation from the masses.”)

The neo-libertarian idea behind Musk’s Twitter
By Derek Robertson

Antonio García Martínez, an author and tech entrepreneur, summed up this mindset and its grievances well in a Twitter thread that declared Musk’s takeover a “revolt by entrepreneurial capital against the professional-managerial class regime that otherwise everywhere dominates (including and especially large tech companies).” In other words: A revolt by billionaires against … their own employees.

This positions, in Martínez’s grievance-bearing parlance, the “HR regime, the ESG grifters, the Skittles-hair people with mouse-clicking jobs who think themselves bold social crusaders rather than a parasitic weight around any organization’s neck,” against another Twitter gadfly’s hypothetical “100 passionate libertarian engineers” with equity in the company, capable of turning it around overnight by the sweat of their brow and sheer self-interest — and who, implicitly, believe they’re capable of graduating from “employee” to Musk-like moguldom overnight through hard work and a lucky break.

A Political Theory of King Elon Musk
By Ross Douthat

Musk claims to want Twitter to serve as a digital town square. But that seems like a category error: Social media includes aspects of a town-square experience, but fundamentally it’s a larger parallel reality, a prototype of the immersive virtual world that Mark Zuckerberg has so far failed to build. It’s a place where people form communities and alliances, nurture friendships and sexual relationships, yell and flirt, cheer and pray. And all this happens transnationally, the system spreading itself across borders while policing who can cross its own.

So there’s a sense in which Twitter is a new kind of polity, a place people don’t just visit but inhabit. And for a polity it’s crucial who sets the rules of citizenship, who gets banished or ostracized or dumped in Twitter jail. The furious and enthusiastic reactions to Musk’s takeover resemble the furious and enthusiastic reactions to presidential races because in both cases the leadership change really affects how people experience their daily lives.

With the crucial difference, though, that no one yet has a compelling idea of what a social media democracy would look like. So instead of electoral choices, the options are governance of the kind that Twitter used to have, with a clerical class enforcing rules and norms somewhat opaquely, based on the theology of current progressivism, or the personalized governance it has now, with Czar Elon I issuing amnesties while explaining that Alex Jones will remain forever exiled because the czar has personal reasons to hate anyone who exploits the death of children.

If that’s the choice, theories of monarchy and oligarchy are intensely relevant to virtual politics, even if they’re overstretched as theories of the real-world American republic. That goes for Marxist theorizing as well as well as Yarvin’s reactionary analysis: Just as his progressive “Cathedral” can potentially exert greater power over Twitter than over America, so too can a right-wing billionaire or “boss” class more plausibly dominate a virtual polity than a real one.

The Reactionary Prophet of Silicon Valley
By Chris Lehmann

In a sanely configured political-media sphere, Curtis Yarvin—the blogger formerly known as “Mencius Moldbug”—would be confined to the fringe Internet discussion boards that originally helped him spring to intellectual life. But Yarvin, the dean of the so-called neoreactionary movement among the Silicon Valley Neteratti, is having another breakout moment, as the restive, grievance-fueled American right careens toward the 2022 midterms. Over at Vox, Andrew Prokop has published an extensive interview with and intellectual profile of Yarvin, who has long and loudly argued that democracy is an outmoded conceit that the American system is well rid of. The next phase of political evolution, he contended in his now-dormant blog Unqualified Reservations and in sporadic commentary since, involves a grateful embrace of dictatorship and/or monarchy, so that the real forces running the world can get the job done without all the pointless and messy shadow play of mass consensus.

Corey Pein documented this strain of Yarvin’s thought in one of the earliest exposés of the neoreactionary movement, which I was proud to help publish in my former capacity as an editor at The Baffler:

“I am not a white nationalist, but I do read white-nationalist blogs, and I’m not afraid to link to them…I am not exactly allergic to the stuff,” Yarvin writes. He also praises a blogger who advocated the deportation of Muslims and the closure of mosques as “probably the most imaginative and interesting right-wing writer on the planet.” Hectoring a Swarthmore history professor, Yarvin rhapsodizes on colonial rule in Southern Africa, and suggests that black people had it better under apartheid. “If you ask me to condemn [mass murderer] Anders Breivik, but adore Nelson Mandela, perhaps you have a mother you’d like to fuck,” Yarvin writes.

His jargon may be novel, but whenever Mencius Moldbug descends to the realm of the concrete, he offers familiar tropes of white victimhood. Yarvin’s favorite author, the nineteenth-century writer Scot Thomas Carlyle, is perhaps best known for his infamous slavery apologia, “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” “If there is one writer in English whose name can be uttered with Shakespeare’s, it is Carlyle,” Yarvin writes. Later in the same essay Yarvin calls slavery “a natural human relationship” akin to “that of patron and client.”

Yarvin’s fascist enthusiasms have migrated into the mainstream right thanks largely to the support of billionaire PayPal cofounder and original Facebook backer Peter Thiel, another 1990s-bred pseudo-intellectual of the Valley right, who famously announced in his own burst of Yarvinite glee in 2009 that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Thiel has been as good as his word, bankrolling secessionist projects on the right like the Seasteading Institute while also funding Yarvin’s own start-up, Tlon. Thiel also generously donates to hard-right political candidates; at the height of his on-again, off-again infatuation with Trump, he landed a speaking spot at the 2016 GOP national convention. Via his PAC, Thiel has racked up $15 million in donations to each of the Masters and Vance campaigns in this year’s primary cycle alone, but their subsequent campaign woes have prompted the wan Bloomberg News headline “Thiel-Backed Candidates Struggle to Connect with Donors Not Named Peter Thiel.”

Peter Thiel, Major U.S. Political Donor, Is Said to Pursue Maltese Citizenship
By Ryan Mac and Justin Scheck

Peter Thiel, the billionaire and Republican political patron, has declared the two-bedroom apartment that he rents himself as his address while he works toward a goal he has pursued for about a year: becoming a citizen of the tiny island nation of Malta, according to documents viewed by The New York Times and three people with knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Thiel, 55, is in the process of acquiring at least his third passport even as he expands his financial influence over American politics. Since backing Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the technology investor has become one of the largest individual donors in the midterm elections next month, spending more than $30 million on more than a dozen right-wing Congressional candidates who have decried globalization and pledged to put America first.

Mr. Thiel has long expressed deep dissatisfaction with what he perceives as America’s decline, railing against bureaucracy and “a completely deranged government” ruled by elites. To address that, he has funded fellowships to push people to drop out of school and start businesses and supported political candidates who would push the country in his preferred direction.

All along, Mr. Thiel has also hedged his bets. That includes obtaining foreign passports — Mr. Thiel was born in Germany and holds American and New Zealand passports — that would let him live abroad. He has sought to build a remote compound in a glacier-carved valley in New Zealand, and supported a “seasteading” group that aims to build a city on floating platforms in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of national governments.

Malta, located in the Mediterranean between Europe and North Africa, has been a destination for traders and crusaders for centuries. Outside powers controlled it until 1964; since it gained independence from Britain, it has struggled to build a sustainable economy. The island, which has little industry and few natural resources, joined the European Union in 2004.

Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister who resigned in 2019 amid protests about corruption and the murder of a journalist who was critical of his government, called the passport program “an insurance policy” for wealthy individuals “where they feel there is a great deal of volatility.”

“It’s straightforward,” he said. “You pay into a national fund, and the national fund uses that money for infrastructure and for social housing.”

Malta’s fast track for citizenship by investment, or what’s more commonly known as “golden passports,” can take from 12 to 16 months, according to Henley & Partners, a consultancy that developed the Maltese program and helps clients obtain passports around the globe.

“We traditionally have had many Americans looking at that, and of those, quite a lot are from the tech sector,” said Christian Kaelin, Henley’s chairman.

Mr. Thiel has laid the groundwork for life outside the United States for years. In 2011, he obtained a New Zealand passport after donating 1 million New Zealand dollars to an earthquake relief fund in the country.

There is “no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand,” he wrote in his passport application, which the local government released in 2017 after reporting from The New Zealand Herald. The news provoked outrage that lawmakers were selling citizenship.

What Is It About Peter Thiel?
By Anna Wiener

Thiel was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1967, and first came to the United States as an infant. The family moved to Cleveland in 1968, but later relocated to what was then South West Africa, where Thiel’s father, a chemical engineer, oversaw the development of a uranium mine near Swakopmund. They returned to the U.S. when Thiel was still a young child, settling in Foster City, a middle-class suburb in the Bay Area. Chafkin describes Thiel’s upbringing as Christian and writes that his parents were eventual “fanatical Republicans.” (Thiel denies claims that his parents were Evangelical or Republican.) Thiel, meanwhile, became an archetypal nineteen-eighties geek—a talented student, chess player, and science-fiction enthusiast who was bullied by his peers.

Thiel arrived at Stanford in 1985. He played speed chess, discovered Ayn Rand, and gravitated toward the work of Girard, a professor at the school. Thiel was particularly taken with Girard’s concept of mimetic desire. “Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind,” Girard wrote. “We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.” Mimetic desire involves a surrender of agency—it means allowing others to dictate one’s wants—and, the theory goes, can foster envy, rivalry, infighting, and resentment. It also, Girard wrote, leads to acts of violent scapegoating, which serve to preclude further mass conflicts by unifying persecutors against a group or an individual. Thiel would later use this framework to develop his own theories about politics, tech investing, and culture.

He started a hedge fund, Thiel Capital, with money raised from family and friends, and then, in 1998, met a young cryptographer, Max Levchin, and invested in his startup. Within a year, Thiel was the C.E.O. of Levchin’s company, Confinity, which offered a money-transfer service called PayPal. For Thiel, the service had revolutionary potential: a digital wallet, he said, could lead to “the erosion of the nation-state.”

For a time, PayPal shared a floor with another digital-payment company,, founded by Elon Musk. Like, PayPal began to offer incentives to new customers—ten dollars to every new user, and ten dollars for every new user referred. PayPal was not registered as a bank, and did not collect information about its users; as a result, Chafkin writes, it could be used for illicit transactions that many banks and credit-card companies did not tend to support (porn, gambling), and which the company later banned. Meanwhile, Levchin created an eBay bot that contacted sellers, expressed interest in their wares, and then asked that they implement PayPal in order to be paid. (The company donated the items that it bid for and won to the Red Cross.) Thanks to these ethically dubious techniques—which might now be referred to as “growth hacking”—PayPal’s user base boomed.

By early 2000, PayPal and X had roughly the same market share, and both were losing money. After some discussion, the two companies merged under the X name, with Thiel as the executive vice-president and Musk as the C.E.O. According to Chafkin, Thiel disappeared from the company after the 2000 market crash. (Thiel denies quitting at this time.) But, months later, while Musk was on his honeymoon, a group of senior PayPal employees launched a coup, ousting Musk by threatening to resign, and having Thiel instated as the C.E.O. Citing sources close to the negotiation, Chafkin writes that, a year after the takeover, as PayPal prepared to go public, Thiel offered the company’s board an ultimatum: he wanted more equity or he would quit. (Thiel denies any ultimatum.) The board granted him the equity. Shortly after PayPal began trading, in 2002, Thiel flipped the company, selling it to eBay for one and a half billion dollars. As soon as the acquisition closed, he issued a press release announcing his resignation. Rather than continuing to lead PayPal, Thiel planned to start another hedge fund.

Dodge the rules, skirt the law, shiv your business partner, abandon your friends: Chafkin argues that the Silicon Valley edition of this playbook was written at PayPal.

The social contract had proved inadequate, Thiel argued; because “the West” had become secular, rational, and capitalist, there was seemingly no ideologically consistent mode of retaliation for September 11th. Thiel hypothesized that Schmitt, a legal scholar and member of the Nazi Party, would have called for “a new crusade”; such a response was incoherent, however, in a secular culture that disavowed its own violent nature. Thiel quoted Strauss, who wrote that the United States owed its greatness “not only to her habitual adherence to the principles of freedom and justice, but also to her occasional deviation from them.” Acknowledging such deviations was considered “politically incorrect,” Thiel wrote, but the U.S. could still use invisible, unaccountable, extralegal, and extrajudicial channels of transnational power. Finally, he drew on Girard’s mimetic theory to lend his ideas greater urgency: countries, racing to acquire nuclear weapons for mimetic reasons of “prestige,” were raising the likelihood of “unbounded apocalyptic violence.” The “destiny of the postmodern world,” Thiel concluded, would be either “the limitless violence of runaway mimesis, or the peace of the kingdom of God.”

In 2009, he wrote an essay for Cato Unbound, an online libertarian journal published by the Cato Institute, in which he stated that he no longer believed “freedom and democracy are compatible,” and that “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries” and the extension of voting rights to women had “rendered the notion of a ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” (Following backlash to the essay, Thiel put out an addendum of sorts: “While I don’t think any class of people should be disenfranchised, I have little hope that voting will make things better.”)

Around this time, Chafkin writes, Thiel began reading essays by Curtis Yarvin, a computer programmer and blogger who uses the pen name Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin often wrote on “formalism,” a theory that argues against democracy and in favor of a federal government structure that operates more like a corporation or dictatorship. These views later crystallized into what has been called “neo-reaction.” This ideology, Chafkin claims, holds that climate science is fraudulent, that inflationary currencies are “diabolical,” and that genetic differences predispose certain groups to “mastery” and others to slavery. Thiel, Chafkin writes, “subscribed to the first two views, if not the third.” (Thiel denies subscribing to any such views.)

“Science and technology are natural allies,” Thiel wrote, “to an eschatological frame in which God works through us in building the kingdom of heaven today, here on Earth—in which the kingdom of heaven is both a future reality and something partially achievable in the present.” (In a letter to the editor, one reader responded with gentle horror: “Christians, as I understand the faith, have no illusions about a ‘New Jerusalem’ in the here and now, or our capacity or wisdom to construct one,” he wrote.)

Most prominent Silicon Valley executives have historically identified as liberal, but one might ask whether their companies and products have actually advanced progressive values or causes; today, privately owned platforms touted as democratizing are arguably among the most centralized and anti-democratic.

Would You Ditch All This Chaos for a Country in the Cloud?
By Anthony Lydgate

Earlier this year, Srinivasan synthesized his thoughts into a book called The Network State, which is meant to provide some of the equipment and coaching you need to cut loose from this doomed schooner.

In the opening essay, for instance, he writes: “We want to be able to peacefully start a new state for the same reason we want a bare plot of earth, a blank sheet of paper, an empty text buffer, a fresh startup, or a clean slate.”

Srinivasan sometimes cites the example of the CD, which got unbundled into the MP3, which got rebundled into the Spotify playlist. “That’s the cycle that happens in computing,” he says. “That happens in history. It happens in technology. And I think it’s also happening here with nations and with states and so on.”

The weary giants of flesh and steel came down with what Srinivasan calls “civilizational diabetes,” and Covid has delivered the coup de grâce. The end won’t be pretty, he predicts. The gerontocracy will hoard power. The dreams of the masses for a happier, safer future will be frustrated. Crises will go unsolved. Potential will curdle into despair. But in the face of it all, Srinivasan tells Ferriss, he is here to teach us how to be “square-jawed Chads.”

Government by the internet, for the internet, and of the internet—a new birth of freedom in the cloud. Srinivasan’s book, published on the anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence, is a how-to guide for building startups, where the thing being started up is a new society. His own cloud country, if he were to found one (which may be more of a “when”), would be based on three ideals: “infinite frontier, immutable money, eternal life.” He has called this his “bumper sticker that expands into a PhD thesis.” It’s also his Twitter bio.

The one time I spoke with him, in a refereed conversation he insisted take place on Clubhouse, he compared my profession to that of the East German secret police.

I am what Srinivasan calls a “corporate journalist.” I am an editor at WIRED, which is owned by a media company called Condé Nast, which is owned by a media company called Advance Publications, which is hereditarily owned by the Newhouse family (may they live forever and ever, amen). Srinivasan believes that media companies have “set out to compete with tech companies,” jealous that their (our) old-guard influence is waning at a time when Silicon Valley is attracting “all these users” and “all this money.” And because Srinivasan has founded and funded a number of tech companies, much of what a journalist writes about him—or anyone in the industry—should be understood as emerging from a sense of “wounded amour propre.”

How do a bunch of beta English majors expect to win a fair fight with Silicon Valley alphas? We don’t, of course. So we sit up here on the parapets of the First Amendment, this château we inherited along with every other goddamn thing, and take potshots at the hardworking civilization-builders down below. As Srinivasan has said, “Necessity is the mother of defamation.”

Srinivasan seems to respect our craft in the same way an exorcist respects Satan’s. We are quite good at what he calls “surveillance journalism.” We know how to “befriend and betray” our subjects, he says, how to sweet-talk them into embarrassing sound bites. We use the word “subjects” because we consider them—as we consider you—to be beneath us. And what do we do, finally, when we have gathered enough kompromat on you? We deploy it like malicious code. We “install software into the brains of your social network and make them turn on you,” Srinivasan says. Which is why it’s important to find out which periodicals your friends care about.

Reader, the Subject is right about us. We will stop at nothing. We’ll spam your acquaintances with interview requests. When almost none of them respond, and most of the ones who do say no, and most of the ones who say yes don’t want to be quoted by name, we’ll turn the weapons of Big Tech on itself. We’ll have an AI transcribe days’ worth of your podcast interviews. We’ll learn enough Python, kind of, to scrape your tweets, though we won’t be able to figure out what to do with the resulting JSON file, and our wounded amour propre will prevent us from asking for help. We’ll search doggedly through your old Hacker News comments. We’ll take up residence in the Internet Archive. We’ll mercilessly consider comments you’ve made in their historical and social context. We’ll come into possession of some emails you wrote and waffle over whether to quote from them, not wishing to be the subject (there’s that word again!) of a retaliatory lawsuit.

The technocratic liberalism of the Obama era and the platform economies of Big Tech have been enjoying a nerdish cross-country romance for several years. Even jaundiced corporate journalists have occasionally caught feelings for all the talk of hackathons and network effects and health care economics.

But signs of an eventual, acrimonious unbundling have also been swirling for some time. Lehman Brothers went overboard in 2008, and then the global economy went grasping after ringbolts. Six weeks later Satoshi Nakamoto introduced Bitcoin and the idea, both threatening and beguiling, of a trustless decentralized financial system unencumbered by big banks and regulators alike. In The Wall Street Journal, Marc Andreessen issued his famous dictum that “software is eating the world.” (Other verbs he used to describe what tech was doing to the existing order included “take over,” “invade,” “eviscerate,” and “crush.”) Occupy Wall Street happened. Peter Thiel, after publishing an essay that questioned whether “freedom and democracy are compatible,” began making donations to Ted Cruz, a Tea Party insurgent running for Texas senator. Steve Jobs died. The writer Rebecca Solnit referred to Google’s private buses as “the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.”

As Srinivasan’s business profile has grown, his political ideas have undergone a few twists of the corkscrew. In the years to come, he’ll talk especially about a book called The Sovereign Individual, recommended to him by Thiel. He appreciates its “strength-to-weight ratio,” how each line rewards exegesis. The authors—James Dale Davidson, an American investor, and William Rees-Mogg, a British baron and longtime editor of The Times of London—argue that as digital technology makes wealth increasingly hard to tax, the nation-state will dissolve. Governments and industries will topple. Millions of “losers” and “neo-Luddites” and “left-behinds” will find themselves unemployed, or worse. But in the end, a tiny “cognitive elite” will escape the “tyranny of place” and build a global meritocracy in cyberspace. They will live wherever they please, associate with whomever they please, and keep every tax-sheltered cent they earn. Davidson and Rees-Mogg call this new realm of opportunity “Bermuda in the sky with diamonds.” (Thiel wrote the preface to the 2020 edition.)

Exit, Srinivasan explains, is taking your business elsewhere. It’s emigrating, unbundling, hitting the Back button on your browser. “Voice” is staying and speaking up. It’s citizens voting in elections, customers writing letters to the CEO. Voice and Exit are “modulated” by Loyalty, meaning that if you’re more loyal to something you’re less likely to eye the door.

The United States, Srinivasan explains, has been powerfully shaped by Exit. It’s “not just a nation of immigrants.” It’s also “a nation of emigrants.” The Puritans fled religious persecution; the revolutionaries fled a tyrant king; the Western pioneers fled the “East Coast bureaucracy”; the huddled masses fled pogroms, Nazism, Communism, the American embassy in Saigon. Exit is about “alternatives,” Srinivasan says. It’s about reducing “the influence of bad policies” over people’s lives without “getting involved in politics,” without “lobbying or sloganeering.”

And what other choice is there? The problem, Srinivasan explains, is that Silicon Valley is mired in a battle with what he calls the Paper Belt, “after the Rust Belt of yore.” The Paper Belt includes the entertainment industry (represented by LA), higher education (Boston), finance and media (New York), and government (DC). Against these incumbents, Silicon Valley has been the ultimate garage guy. The tech industry “arose out of nowhere,” Srinivasan says, “and by accident we’re putting a horse head in all of their beds. Right? We are becoming stronger than all of them combined.”

What he’s describing instead, and will keep describing for the next nine years, is an “opt-in society, ultimately outside the US, run by technology.”

The Valley is already moving this way, Srinivasan goes on. Larry Page has talked about a special zone being set aside for unregulated experimentation. Andreessen has predicted that the world will see “an explosion” in the number of countries. Thiel has proposed colonizing the ocean; Elon Musk, colonizing Mars. To partake in the “Ultimate Exit,” Srinivasan says, you could buy a private island or even just telecommute. His final tip to the Startup Schoolers is that if they want to think big, they should build technology “for what the next society looks like.”

But when you strip off the techno-cruft—the promises of a new civilization engineered on a new stack, one that privileges decentralization, devolution of power, and the sovereignty of every individual and/or central processing unit—you see that the essential political philosophy here is pretty antiquated. I don’t know what to call it. Cosmopolitan feudalism? Enlightened tribalism? Corkscrew cliquism? It reflects a belief that the main failure of contemporary society is that the wrong people hold the power. It addresses the problem by unbundling society and then rebundling it to ensure that none of those people ever bother you again.

The self-proclaimed kingdom that doesn’t recognise Germany
By Jenny Hill

The “Königreich Deutschland” (Kingdom of Germany) is a self-proclaimed independent state – complete with its own self-appointed king.

Peter the First, as he prefers to be known, receives us in a rather gloomy wood-panelled hall.

It’s about a decade since his coronation – there was a ceremony, complete with orb and sceptre – and the foundation of his so-called kingdom, which mints its own money, prints its own ID cards and has its own flag.

He’s what’s known in Germany as a “Reichsbürger” (Citizen of the Reich), one of an estimated 21,000 people who are defined by the country’s intelligence agencies as conspiracy theorists who don’t recognise the legitimacy of the post-war German state.

They’ve risen to prominence this week, with the arrest of 25 people in raids on Reichsbürger suspected of plotting to storm the German parliament building, the Reichstag, in a violent overthrow of the government.

King Peter says he has no such violent intentions.

But he does believe the German state to be “destructive and sick”.

“I have no interest in being part of this fascist and satanic system,” he says.

He felt, he said, that he had no choice but to found his kingdom, having tried, unsuccessfully, to run as a mayor and a member of the German parliament.

“People who are corrupt, criminal or willing to be used thrive in the German system and those with an honest heart, who want to change the world for the better, in the interests of the common good, don’t have a chance.”

His real name is Peter Fitzek, and his activities have brought him into frequent conflict with the German law.

Germany doesn’t recognise the kingdom or its documents: Mr Fitzek has several convictions for driving without a licence and running his own health insurance programme. He also went to prison for several years for embezzling his citizens’ money but the conviction was later quashed.

The regional intelligence service, which has been watching him and his kingdom for nearly two years, told us they regarded it as a threat. They liken it to a cult which exposes people to conspiracy theories and extremist ideology.

The Prince, the Plot and a Long-Lost Reich
By Erika Solomon and Katrin Bennhold

Last week the Waidmannsheil lodge, a three-hour drive south of Berlin in the state of Thuringia, was one of 150 targets raided by security forces in one of postwar Germany’s biggest counterterrorist operations. By Friday, 23 members of the cell had been detained across 11 German states and 31 others placed under investigation. The police discovered troves of arms and military equipment as well as a list of 18 politicians and journalists deemed to be enemies.

Prince Heinrich XIII, 71, a well-off descendant of a 700-year-old noble family, may seem an unlikely ringleader of such a terrorist plot. But, prosecutors say, he was designated by his co-conspirators to become head of state in a post-coup regime.

The group of co-conspirators around Heinrich XIII included current and former soldiers from the elite special forces, police officers, army reservists and others with links to the military who had worked out concrete plans and even prospective dates for a coup, officials said.

The prince recruited support not only in far-right circles close to the military. He also sought allies among fellow aristocrats, traveling to Austria and Switzerland to court German-speaking nobility for donations to finance his plot, officials familiar with his travels said.

The Myth of Libertarian Exit
By Jacob Bruggeman

Imagine if Ayn Rand had written a novel that imported the basic attitudes and ambitions from her famous protagonist John Galt into a steel-willed detective who gallivanted around the Caribbean in an attempt to turn a coup d’état into the stateless society of tomorrow. Her protagonist would probably resemble a collage of the real-life adventurers, financiers, ex–CIA agents, abject European nobles, and gunsmiths who mounted several profit-driven attempts at “exit projects,” or plans to create stateless and market-oriented micronations in the decolonizing world of the late 20th century. In his new book, Adventure Capitalism: A History of Libertarian Exit, from the Era of Decolonization to the Digital Age, author and professor of history Raymond B. Craib demonstrates how Rand’s vision of “Galt’s Gulch,” the libertarian safe haven in Atlas Shrugged, actually served as a source of inspiration for so-called exit projects. But unlike Rand’s bestselling novel, every exit project has flopped.

The repeated failure of these projects, from immigrant Michael Oliver’s attempt to create a micronation on the Minerva Reefs, to Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute, will likely prompt readers of Adventure Capitalism to nod in agreement as they learn that Murray Rothbard, don of radical libertarian theory and an inspiration for Oliver, derided exit projects as “cockamamie stunts.” Rothbard instead advised the founders of would-be micronations to “come back to the real world and fight for liberty at home.”

Few heeded Rothbard’s call to check the aspirations of political imagination with a dose of political reality. Peter Thiel, for example, took the position that the libertarian project requires “an escape from politics in all its forms.”

JB: … You conclude the book with Thiel’s Seasteading Institute and a garden variety of exit projects in cyberspace, outer space, and charter cities carved out of small countries with novel legal forms like Employment and Economic Development Zones. You highlight how the philosophical contradictions and moral tensions that bedeviled Oliver’s projects are not bugs, but central features of exit projects and libertarian thought more broadly. …

RC: It is fairly easy to identify contradictions (or, less generously, hypocrisies) in these projects. Many of their promoters are beneficiaries of state programs and publicly-funded institutions and initiatives; they have no qualms about doing business with illegal states. They seem tone-deaf to the moral, ethical, and legal implications of how they operate, despite championing “moral experiments.” As you suggest, these are more than bugs or glitches. They point to something more profound, and that is that these new country exit projects are new forms of capitalist state-making, often with strong colonial undertones.

Critics of Paul Romer’s “charter cities” idea—which served as the foundation for the Employment and Economic Development Zones in Honduras—repeatedly noted the structural similarities between his idea and previous forms of colonial practice and ideology. The most astute critics of his project were the majority of Hondurans themselves who opposed such projects and saw immediately the family resemblance to colonialism, having lived with the long history of US neocolonialism.

By the end of the book, I raise the possibility that exit projects are not, in some ways, about “exit” at all, but rather are of a new phase in capitalist accumulation. Austerity and IMF structural adjustment in the late 1970s and after led to a huge transfer of public monies and resources into a small set of private hands, typically through nepotistic, unethical, and illegal channels. Now it is the state apparatus itself that is increasingly being privatized—military contractors outnumber military personnel in war zones; state university budgets get a pittance from state coffers and depend increasingly on tuition dollars and private alumni donations; Bitcoin bros are promising cash-strapped governors paradise if they can purchase and run the electrical grid. Exit projects are already around us in forms of dramatic social (if not quite yet sovereign territorial) secession.

Peter Thiel helped build big tech. Now he wants to tear it all down.
By Elizabeth Dwoskin

New reporting shows Thiel has set his sights on transforming American culture — and funding its culture wars — through what his associates refer to as “anti-woke” business ventures. These include a right-wing film festival, a conservative dating app founded by a former Trump administration ally and a firm, Strive Asset Management, that will “pressure CEOs to steer clear of environmental, social and political” causes, said Vivek Ramaswamy, the firm’s co-founder. One example is oil companies “committing to reduce production to meet environmental goals.”

More such investments are coming, the people said — though Thiel himself isn’t sure of the endgame.

“Peter deeply believes that there is huge opportunity in creating a parallel economy,” said Ramaswamy, a former biotech CEO and author of “Woke, Inc.: Inside America’s Social Justice Scam.”

“Serving Americans who are disaffected from corporate America today would be the backbone of the next generation of major companies — and almost nobody is going after that opportunity in a serious way,” he said.

Elon Musk’s Twist On Tech Libertarianism Is Blowing Up On Twitter
By Derek Robertson

One might read the word “monarchist” and think we’ve traveled a great distance afield from libertarianism within the span of a single paragraph, but the worlds collide more often than one might think. The writer John Ganz recently compared the philosophy shared by Yarvin and GOP mega-donor Peter Thiel to the apartheid-era South African concept of “baasskap,” in which “highly-competent, technical managers with a crystalline vision, the engineers,” rule without dissent or democracy over a subservient population.

It’s a mistake to outright equate, as some liberals have, Musk’s woolly, unpredictable libertarianism with Thiel’s hardest-of-hard-right ideology. The former might have made a favorite game, if not now a large part of his business empire, out of “owning the libs,” but he’s expressed nothing like Thiel’s hands-on obsession with shaping American political life (unless you count tangling with the National Labor Relations Board). But the two share a fundamental commitment to a sort of aggrieved, hyperindividualistic view of their rightful place in the world, namely at the top: To borrow a slogan from another era of industrial hero-worship, “Silicon Valley makes, the world takes.”

Peter Thiel Embodies Silicon Valley’s Conservative Past and Dystopian Future
By Paris Marx

The industry we know as “Silicon Valley” was born before the personal computer or the internet. It was the product of significant public funding funneled into the San Francisco Bay Area during World War II and the Cold War to keep up with the Nazis and later the Soviet Union. As Chafkin writes, “Silicon Valley, in its purest form, was the military-industrial complex,” and a particularly conservative culture came with it.

Neoliberalism took advantage of countercultural skepticism of government to reframe the tech industry around the free market and entrepreneurialism instead of the military-industrial complex — obscuring its history even as a new wave of public funds was being deployed to counter the Japanese challenge to US technological supremacy in the 1980s.

This continued with the growth of the internet, which, despite being the product of military research, was seized on by cyberlibertarians as a new realm of personal expression free from the influence of the state. In 1996, Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Perry Barlow, purporting to address the governments of the world, declared “the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.” Meanwhile, Wired embraced Republicans who wanted to limit government oversight of the internet, even placing social conservatives like Newt Gingrich and George Gilder on its cover in the mid-1990s. These early cyberlibertarians were vehemently opposed to state authority but didn’t express a similar concern over the corrupting influence of corporate power.

The “Atari Democrats” also embraced the libertarian promise of a deregulated tech sector and privatized the internet in 1995. Al Gore, who was pushing the project as vice president, promoted the internet as a means of enhancing personal freedom, echoing cyberlibertarian rhetoric and themes. However, this wasn’t the pose he always struck. In 1989, he argued before the Senate that the internet would be an experiment in nation-building, saying, “The nation which most completely assimilates high-performance computing into its economy will very likely emerge as the dominant intellectual, economic, and technological force in the next century.”

Gore’s early comments reveal that even as the internet was being framed as a libertarian paradise, its global expansion served US state power and its economic interests. But that was buried by marketing departments and a friendly press that was happy to build the brand-friendly narrative of personal empowerment and disruption for the public good.

Decades later, in the face of an unprecedented digital surveillance apparatus, tech companies fighting for contracts with ICE and the US military, and the growing mountain of scandals in the industry, those framings are increasingly being exposed for the lies they always were.

Chafkin writes that, especially after 9/11, Thiel was “no longer much of a libertarian, if he’d ever been one in the first place.” He’d originally positioned PayPal as an anti-establishment innovation that would give everyone their own Swiss bank account and “unilaterally strip governments of the power to control their own money supplies.” But he later complied with financial regulations and worked with the FBI to find money launderers — the same people whom he had described as personal Swiss bank account–holders. He benefited handsomely from the collaboration.

As he became a more prominent right-wing political figure by backing Trump, appearing at the 2019 National Conservatism conference, and funding so-called right-wing populist candidates like Josh Hawley and J.D. Vance, his companies also became more closely entwined with the US government. Thiel had invested in SpaceX and cofounded Palantir, two companies that rely heavily on lucrative public contracts, and even went so far as to sue the US government to gain access to them. Palantir, in particular, is a data-mining company that works with both major corporations and the US military and intelligence community.

In 2019, Thiel took to the pages of the New York Times to argue for tech companies to work more closely with the US military. He criticized decades of US policy toward China and called out Google for opening an AI lab in China as it canceled an AI contract with the Pentagon — effectively accusing it of helping the enemy. In seeking to stoke a Cold War nationalism centered around opposition to China, Chafkin explains, Thiel wants “to bring the military-industrial complex back to Silicon Valley, with his own companies at its very center.”

And he’s not the only tech executive who feels this way — just the first to come out and say it, paving the way for the others. In February 2020 Eric Schmidt, whom Thiel once called “Google’s minister of propaganda,” wrote his own Times op-ed calling for the United States to take China’s technological threat more seriously. “For the American model to win,” he wrote, “the American government must lead.” A few months later, Zuckerberg positioned Facebook in opposition to China in front of US lawmakers, while other companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, have continued to fight for major contracts with the US military.

Regardless of whether they identify as liberal or conservative, the tech industry’s leaders are embracing the military-industrial complex. Thiel is not an outlier; he’s just a few paces ahead.

Regardless of the particulars, counterposing themselves against an opponent has always served the business interests of the leading companies and executives of the Valley. Whether it was early computing enhancing the United States’ capacity to defeat foreign military and economic adversaries, the personal computer empowering the individual, the internet challenging state power, PayPal taking down the financial establishment, or similar assertions being deployed about cryptocurrencies today, these “disruption” narratives are ultimately marketing pitches that enable companies to profit — in many cases by avoiding and shaping regulations to their benefit.

In August 2020, Thiel told Die Weltwoche that COVID-19 had created an opening. “Changes that should have taken place long ago did not come because there was resistance. Now the future is set free.” But the future desired by Thiel is one that involves less democracy, more restrictive immigration measures, and a tech industry even more aligned with the interests of the US government. Tech’s libertarian age is waning, but its future could be even worse.

Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt: It can be ‘very difficult’ for Google’s search algorithm to understand truth
By Catherine Clifford

In the United States’ current polarized political environment, the constant publishing of articles with vehemently opposing arguments has made it almost impossible for Google to rank information properly.

So says billionaire Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday.

“Let’s say that this group believes Fact A and this group believes Fact B and you passionately disagree with each other and you are all publishing and writing about it and so forth and so on. It is very difficult for us to understand truth,” says Schmidt, referring to the search engine’s algorithmic capabilities.

“So when it gets to a contest of Group A versus Group B — you can imagine what I am talking about — it is difficult for us to sort out which rank, A or B, is higher,” Schmidt says.

Ranking is the holy grail for Google. And when topics have more consensus, Schmidt is confident in the algorithm’s ability to lower the rank of information that is repetitive, exploitative or false. In cases of greater consensus, when the search turns up a piece of incorrect or unreliable information, it is a problem that Google should be able to address by tweaking the algorithm, he says.

“I view those things as bugs as a computer scientist, so if you are manipulating the information and then our system is not doing a good enough job of properly ranking it … as a computer scientist, I can tell you, this stuff can be detected,” says Schmidt.

The problem comes when diametrically opposed viewpoints abound — the Google algorithm can not identify which is misinformation and which is truth.

“Election Denial” for Me, But Not for Thee: YouTube Censors TK-Produced Videos, Again, Despite Factual Accuracy
By Matt Taibbi

In late September videographer Matt Orfalea made a pair of videos for TK. One, Memory Holed: “The Election Was Hacked,” was a simple montage of Democratic politicians, media officials, and enforcement officials saying the 2016 election was, among other things, “illegitimate,” “rigged,” “hacked,” and a “cyber 9/11.”

The second, Memory Holed, Part II: The “Rigged” Election, was a similar exercise, with one exception: it compared the post-2020 statements of Donald Trump to the post-2016 statements of Democratic partisans. When Trump tells Chris Wallace, “I have to see,” when asked if he’d concede an election, Orfalea shows Hillary Clinton saying, “No, I would not,” when asked in 2017 — after her loss — if she’d contest the results. He shows Trump later saying he’ll of course respect the results, “if I win,” and Hillary Clinton saying Joe Biden should not concede “under any circumstances,” essentially exact analogs.

YouTube initially tried to demonetize both videos. After a fuss they reversed the decision about the first. Now they’ve taken a more drastic step, not only deleting the second video but two earlier rough-cut versions that were never even shown to the public but lived on his site. (This is another mad feature of the content moderation era: you can be censored and punished for pre-publication thinking). They also gave Orfalea a strike, leaving him two away from being removed from the site, which would essentially put him out of business.

YouTube’s decision claims the second video “contains claims that past US presidential elections were rigged or stolen, and our election integrity policy prohibits content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches occurred in US presidential elections.” Moreover, “countervailing views, which we refer to as EDSA context, on those remarks are not provided in the video, audio, title, or description.”

As to YouTube’s letter, if indeed their “election integrity policy” prohibits content that advances false claims that “past US presidential elections were rigged or stolen,” then YouTube really should be taking down the first video as well …

This video after all is packed with clips of people like Karine Jean-Pierre saying the 2016 election was “stolen,” Joe Biden saying “I absolutely agree” Trump is an “illegitimate president,” Kamala Harris saying “you’re absolutely right” Trump didn’t really win in 2016, and even Jimmy Carter saying “Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016.” Old pal Keith Olbermann proclaimed the public wouldn’t stand for this “bloodless coup” called voting, Chris Hayes said Trump “cheated,” and a conga line of officials from Adam Schiff to Elizabeth Warren insisted foreigners had “hacked our elections.”

These videos made what we believe to be a powerful and legitimate point about the framing of the last two presidential elections. The first is that despite Hillary Clinton’s reluctant capitulation on Election Night in 2016, the Democratic Party as a whole as well as key officials in the government never recognized Donald Trump as a legitimate president. Clinton in fact spent four years leading a public relations campaign insisting that a) she actually won in 2016 b) Trump only won because of fraud and actual vote tampering and c) Democrats going forward should not recognize his victory should he win a second time.

Our view is that whether it’s Stop the Steal or Russiagate, denying a president’s legitimacy because you believe a conspiracy theory is the same behavior, and should be treated the same way. YouTube by administering a strike to Orfalea is sending a message that you may leave videos of Hillary Clinton saying “we know that they were into voting rolls” (they being the Russians), or Olbermann warning “It will not be a peaceful change of power!” or the current president and vice-president agreeing their predecessor “didn’t really win,” all without YouTube’s required Surgeon General-type warning called “EDSA” (YouTube’s clunky acronym for “Educational, Documentary, Scientific, or Artistic” context). In other words, you may leave up such statements without pointing out they’re unproven, incorrect, or irresponsible.

This is a de facto endorsement of such behavior when committed by certain people. When others do exactly the same thing, it’s conspiracy theory, incitement, even insurrection.

How a Mistake by YouTube Shows Its Power Over Media
By Adam Satariano

Every hour, YouTube deletes nearly 2,000 channels. The deletions are meant to keep out spam, misinformation, financial scams, nudity, hate speech and other material that it says violates its policies.

But the rules are opaque and sometimes arbitrarily enforced — or mistakenly enforced, in Novara’s case. Policy experts say Novara’s experience is indicative of the thorny free speech issues YouTube faces as the world’s largest online video service.

After an outcry online, YouTube restored Novara’s channel in a few hours, saying that it had been removed in error. But other independent journalists, activists and creators on YouTube often don’t have similar success, particularly in countries like Belarus, Russia and Turkey where YouTube is under pressure from authorities to remove opposition content and where the company does not have as much language or cultural expertise. Roughly 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute globally in different languages.

“It’s impossible to get our minds around what it means to try and govern that kind of volume of content,” said Evelyn Douek, senior research fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “YouTube is a juggernaut, by some metrics as big or bigger than Facebook.”

In its email on Tuesday morning, YouTube said Novara was guilty of “repeated violations” of YouTube’s community guidelines, without elaborating. Novara’s staff was left guessing what had caused the problem.

YouTube typically has a three-strikes policy before deleting a channel. It had penalized Novara only once before, after a news segment with scenes from an anti-vaccination rally — and YouTube later reversed that decision. Novara’s last show released before the deletion was about sewage policy, which hardly seemed worthy of YouTube’s attention.

One of the organization’s few previous interactions with YouTube was when the video service sent Novara a silver plaque for reaching 100,000 subscribers.

An editor, Gary McQuiggin, filled out YouTube’s online appeal form. He then tried using YouTube’s online chat bot, speaking with a woman named “Rose,” who said, “I know this is important,” before the conversation crashed.

Angry and frustrated, Novara posted a statement on Twitter and other social media services about the deletion. “We call on YouTube to immediately reinstate our account,” it said. The post drew attention in the British press and from members of Parliament.

Within a few hours, Novara’s channel had been restored.

Facebook and Twitter Dodge a 2016 Repeat, and Ignite a 2020 Firestorm
By Kevin Roose

Since 2016, when Russian hackers and WikiLeaks injected stolen emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign into the closing weeks of the presidential race, politicians and pundits have called on tech companies to do more to fight the threat of foreign interference.

On Wednesday, less than a month from another election, we saw what “doing more” looks like.

Early Wednesday morning, the New York Post published a splashy front-page article about supposedly incriminating photos and emails found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of Joseph R. Biden Jr. To many Democrats, the unsubstantiated article — which included a bizarre set of details involving a Delaware computer repair shop, the F.B.I. and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — smelled suspiciously like the result of a hack-and-leak operation.

To be clear, there is no evidence tying the Post’s report to a foreign disinformation campaign. Many questions remain about how the paper obtained the emails and whether they were authentic. Even so, the social media companies were taking no chances.

Within hours, Twitter banned all links to the Post’s article, and locked the accounts of people, including some journalists and the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who tweeted it. The company said it made the move because the article contained images showing private personal information, and because it viewed the article as a violation of its rules against distributing hacked material.

On Thursday, the company partly backtracked, saying it would no longer remove hacked content unless it was shared directly by hackers or their accomplices.

Facebook took a less nuclear approach. It said that it would reduce the visibility of the article on its service until it could be fact-checked by a third party, a policy it has applied to other sensitive posts. (The move did not seem to damage the article’s prospects; by Wednesday night, stories about Hunter Biden’s emails were among the most-engaged posts on Facebook.)

Critics on all sides can quibble with the decisions these companies made, or how they communicated them. Even Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said the company had mishandled the original explanation for the ban.

But the truth is less salacious than a Silicon Valley election-rigging attempt. Since 2016, lawmakers, researchers and journalists have pressured these companies to take more and faster action to prevent false or misleading information from spreading on their services.

Zuckerberg tells Rogan FBI warning prompted Biden laptop story censorship
By David Molloy

Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook restricting a story about Joe Biden’s son during the 2020 election was based on FBI misinformation warnings.

The New York Post alleged leaked emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop showed the then vice-president was helping his son’s business dealings in Ukraine.

Zuckerberg told Rogan: “The background here is that the FBI came to us – some folks on our team – and was like ‘hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert. We thought there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election, we have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump that’s similar to that’.”

He said the FBI did not warn Facebook about the Biden story in particular – only that Facebook thought it “fit that pattern”.

But Zuckerberg acknowledged that there remained disagreement about the story, which he said was a “hyper-political issue”.

“Depending on what side of the political spectrum [you’re on], you either think we didn’t censor it enough or we censored it way too much.”

“I didn’t get into this to basically judge these things. I got into this to design technology that helps people connect,” he told Rogan.

“This whole thing that is arbitrating what is OK and what is not – I obviously have to be involved in that because, at some level, I run the company and I can’t just abdicate that.

“But I also don’t think that as a matter of governance you want all of that decision making vested in one individual.”

How a billionaires boys’ club came to dominate the public square
By Michael Scherer and Sarah Ellison

“This is almost becoming like junior high school for billionaires,” Brookings Institution scholar Darrell M. West said of the new information magnates. “The issue is we are now very dependent on the personal whims of rich people, and there are very few checks and balances on them. They could lead us in a liberal, conservative or libertarian direction, and there is very little we can do about that.”

Nearly all of these executives, including Musk, claim benevolent motivations, and many, like Bezos who owns The Post, have established firewalls of editorial independence that protect against their direct influence on articles such as this one. But the power to fund, shape and hire leaders that decide what is shared and what is covered has nonetheless become the subject of its own political conflict. Partisans find themselves celebrating the autonomy of the rich men who they see as serving their interests, while simultaneously objecting to the unchecked power of those who don’t.

Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project, said the key challenge presented by individual control social media and journalism is, at root, about scale.

“We are talking about a small handful of people who now exercise extraordinary control over the boundaries of our discourse,” Wizner said. “The importance for media and journalism is that there be a diverse ecosystem that represents the interests of many, not just of the few.”

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Twitter Files?
By Ross Barkan

Twitter has the power, as was revealed in 2020, to determine how far news travels. The files showed how Twitter deliberated over banning certain accounts (Donald Trump’s being the biggest) and ultimately suppressed—through the removal of links and even the blocking of direct messages—reporting by the New York Post on Hunter Biden’s laptop, which turned out to be a valid news story, in the sense that the younger Biden’s laptop was real and so were all of its contents. Most liberals did not care, because it was October 2020 and the defeat of Trump mattered more than any commitment to free speech principles; the locking of the account of a daily newspaper in New York City for weeks on end simply did not register as a crisis with a vital election looming. The reasoning was autocratic: For the greater good, a few must suffer, especially if their views are undesirable. (The Twitter Files held other smaller, if notable, revelations, including that the Stanford epidemiologist Jay Bhattacharya was placed on an internal backlist, his tweets artificially suppressed, because he was a critic of Covid-19 lockdowns.)

It is simply not enough to say Twitter is a private company and it can do what it wants. As the progressive California congressman Ro Khanna pointed out, this is the kind of answer that gets you an A on a high school exam but fails to account for the obligation a private entity of enormous consequence has to the public. Public discourse occurs on private platforms, but these platforms—in their scale and reach—behave like public utilities. The telephone company can’t stop a neo-Nazi from ever placing a phone call. Con Edison can’t shut off a Proud Boy’s electricity if he’s still paying his bills.

These debates have been scrambled so much along ideological lines—with the right wing disingenuously appropriating civil liberties rhetoric, while the left appropriates the arguments of censorious cultural conservatives—that honest debate feels impossible. If there is any principle to glean from this morass, it’s that less regulation, suppression, and censorship of speech is better than more. Before Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, social media moderation was not a cause that particularly animated the left. In fact, Barack Obama’s exploitation of Facebook in 2008 was regarded in almost mythical terms: the handsome young candidate seizing the tools of the future for the benefit of the commonweal. Trump’s victory was ascribed to his campaign’s embrace of Facebook misinformation, the fake news that poisoned the minds of so many voters.

Twitter and the rest of the Internet are simply too big for anyone—whether Musk or the left-leaning tech workers recently purged from the company—to properly regulate when it comes to the flow of speech. There’s an absolute danger in allowing a select few human beings to decide, rapidly and arbitrarily, what is “good” speech or “bad.” Liberals didn’t care in 2020 because the New York Post is Rupert Murdoch’s toy. But what if a future Republican administration pressures Musk or anyone to start locking the account of The New York Times? The Washington Post? The possibilities for abuse are endless. The Twitter Files, at the minimum, should push us closer to reckoning with the gravity of these unsettling questions.

Journalists Mobilize Against Free Speech
By Armin Rosen

American journalism once thought of itself as being inherently and institutionally pro free speech. Visitors to the Newseum, the media industry’s temple of self-glorification on Constitution Avenue in Washington, were once greeted with the First Amendment inscribed across 74 vertical feet of lofty marble. The Newseum has been closed since late 2019, its operators having discovered the hard way that the public doesn’t share the media’s heroic level of regard for itself.

The museum was an anachronism in more ways than one: The idea that journalists themselves look upon the constitutional right to free expression with quasi-religious awe is nearly as quaint as the idea the media could be the basis for a major D.C. tourist attraction. A publicly beloved press that earnestly believes in free speech now feels like it belongs to some fictive era of good feelings. These days, the American public distrusts the media more than it ever has.

Confronted with this crisis of legitimacy, today’s corporate media increasingly advances ideas that would delight would-be power trippers of any party—like establishing novel forms of government control over what you can see, read, and hear and identifying people with a broad range of unpopular or unapproved views as domestic terrorists.

The lone and very much welcome note of balance comes from Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who observes that censorship “goes with the tide against what’s popular in any given moment.” Today, people considered part of the radical right are targeted. “Tomorrow,” she cautions, “the tide might be against opposition activists.”

For the rising, pro-censorship voices in media and beyond, history has no tides, just correct answers. What objection will today’s anti-speech intellectuals mount if someone in power decides they’re the ones who have it all wrong?

Twitter Suspends Accounts of Half a Dozen Journalists
By Mike Isaac and Kate Conger

Twitter suspended the accounts of roughly half a dozen prominent journalists on Thursday, the latest change by the social media service under its new owner, Elon Musk.

The moves came a day after Twitter suspended more than 25 accounts that tracked the planes of government agencies, billionaires and high-profile individuals, including that of Mr. Musk. Many of the accounts were operated by Jack Sweeney, a 20-year-old college student and flight tracking enthusiast who had used Twitter to post updates about the location of Mr. Musk’s private plane using publicly available information.

After his suspension from Twitter, Mr. Sweeney turned to Mastodon, an alternative social network. After Mastodon used Twitter to promote Mr. Sweeney’s new account on Thursday, Twitter suspended Mastodon’s account. As some journalists shared the news of Mastodon’s suspension, their own accounts were suspended.

Après Twitter, the Deluge?
By Rishi Iyengar

Things inside Twitter have gone from bad to worse since Musk took over the company and laid off more than half of its global workforce, with reports of unpaid rent, a data center shutdown, and service outages around the world. 

Musk himself has repeatedly cast doubt on Twitter’s viability, previously floating the possibility of bankruptcy and likening the platform to a plane about to crash. 

Twitter’s demise “would be terrible for freedom of expression and for the dissemination of political speech and alternative views,” said Yaman Akdeniz, a digital rights campaigner and law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University. Akdeniz uses his own country, Turkey, as an example, where Twitter fills “an important vacuum” for independent speech. 

“Turkey will have an extremely crucial general elections during 2023, and although I am not sure how much Musk cares about freedom of expression outside the U.S., the platform remains as the most important platform for political debate,” he said. “So, I believe, a world without Twitter would be initially devastating for freedom of expression.”

EXCLUSIVE Twitter sees jump in govt demands to remove content of journalists, news outlets
By Sheila Dang and Elizabeth Culliford

In its transparency report published on Wednesday, Twitter said verified accounts of 199 journalists and news outlets on its platform faced 361 legal demands from governments to remove content in the second half of 2020, up 26% from the first half of the year.

The company said globally it received over 14,500 requests for information from July 1 to Dec. 31, and it produced some or all of the information in response to 30% of the requests.

Such requests can include governments or other entities asking for the identities of people tweeting under pseudonyms.

Twitter also received more than 38,500 legal demands to take down various content, down 9% from the first half of 2020, It complied with 29% of the demands.

Twitter’s chaos could make political violence worse outside of the U.S.
By Shannon Bond

In a blog post published Thursday, the company said its policies had not changed and it remained “committed to providing a safe, inclusive, entertaining, and informative experience for everyone.”

“Our Trust & Safety team continues its diligent work to keep the platform safe from hateful conduct, abusive behavior, and any violation of Twitter’s rules,” the post, signed by “The Twitter Team,” said. “The team remains strong and well-resourced, and automated detection plays an increasingly important role in eliminating abuse.”

But automation is not perfect: this week, Twitter’s software failed to detect newly posted videos of the 2019 attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The company only removed the clips after it was alerted by the New Zealand government, according to The Guardian.

Automated systems also require human input to reflect the cultural and linguistic challenges of a company that operates around the world.

Twitter bans astronomer for posting video of meteor shower it classed as ‘intimate content’
By Gareth Corfield

When Mary McIntyre saw that the Perseid meteor shower was due to pass over Oxfordshire this summer, she could not resist the temptation to photograph the shooting stars.

Yet computer algorithms decided something altogether different had caught the astronomer’s eye when she was banned from Twitter, after bots decided her video featured “intimate content”.

An automated message sent to her by Twitter in August said the short video clip was banned under the social media site’s rules prohibiting the sharing of intimate images without the participant’s consent.

Posting moving images of the shooting star and its fiery tail caused Ms McIntyre to be locked out of her Twitter account, which has 6,500 followers, for nearly 14 weeks.

“It’s just crazy … I don’t really want it on my record that I’ve been sharing pornographic material when I haven’t,” the astronomer, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, told the BBC.

Luckily for Ms McIntyre, news media interest in her account saw it restored on Thursday …

‘Opening the gates of hell’: Musk says he will revive banned accounts
By Taylor Lorenz

Elon Musk plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned Twitter accounts — to the alarm of activists and online trust and safety experts.

After posting a Twitter poll asking, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?” in which 72.4 percent of the respondents voted yes, Musk declared, “Amnesty begins next week.”

The Twitter CEO did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The poll garnered more than 3 million votes.

The mass return of users who had been banned for such offenses as violent threats, harassment and misinformation will have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many questioned how such a resurrection would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of separating out users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

“Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring booting Twitter off the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to state how dangerous this will be.”

‘Bravo’: Nancy Mace praised after confronting trans activist over tweets
By Ewan Palmer

Rep. Mace got into an exchange with Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic and transgender woman, during a hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform discussing the links between white supremacy and anti-LGBTQ extremism.

During the proceedings, Mace asked Caraballo and five other witnesses testifying whether they believe “rhetoric on social media” is a problem and a threat to our democracy, to which the Republican received six yeses in response.

Mace then asked if rhetoric targeting “officials with violence for carrying out their constitutional duties” should also be considered a threat to democracy, to which the congresswoman also received six yeses.

Mace then showed an image of one of Caraballo’s tweets from June 25 which she posted after the Supreme Court overturned the historic abortion ruling Roe v. Wade.

“The 6 justices who overturned Roe should never know peace again. It is our civic duty to accost them every time they are in public,” Caraballo tweeted. “They are pariahs. Since women don’t have their rights, these justices should never have a peaceful moment in public again.”

Elsewhere during the hearing, Mace recounted her own experiences with being physically confronted in person as a result of online rhetoric.

“I know something about being accosted. The night of January 5, I was physically accosted on the streets of D.C. in Navy Yard by a constituent of mine,” Mace said.

“I fervently blamed rhetoric—rhetoric on social media, rhetoric at public events—for being physically accosted. I carry a gun everywhere I go when I am in my district and at home, because I know personally, that rhetoric has consequences.”

Suspect in congressional shooting was Bernie Sanders supporter, strongly anti-Trump
By Jose Pagliery

James T. Hodgkinson, the man identified as shooting a Republican member of congress and four others on Wednesday morning, was a small business owner in Illinois who defined himself publicly by his firm support of Bernie Sanders’ progressive politics – and his hatred of conservatives and President Donald Trump.

This is based on CNN’s review of Hodgkinson’s Facebook profiles, public records, and three years of impassioned letters to his local newspaper.

“Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” he posted on his personal Facebook page on March 22.

“Republicans are the Taliban of the USA,” he posted in February.

Hodgkinson, 66, was married and lived in Belleville, Illinois. He started his own company, JTH Inspections, in 1994 and conducted home inspections and mold/air-quality testing.

But he quit that job on New Year’s Eve last year, according to one of his two Facebook profiles. Illinois state records show that he dissolved his company on January 10.

Federal law enforcement identified Hodgkinson as the shooter who attacked Rep. Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer and members of the congressional police force, Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia. Hodgkinson died following a gun battle with police, authorities said.

What we know about David DePape, the man accused in the Pelosi home invasion, attack
By Andrew Blankstein, Tom Winter, Antonio Planas and Tim Stelloh

The suspect accused of violently attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband early Friday appeared to have far-reaching and at times contradictory political positions, according to an early dive into his background.

While a motive for the attack against 82-year-old Paul Pelosi was unclear Friday evening, a picture of the suspect, identified by San Francisco police as 42-year-old David DePape, began to emerge.

Blog posts that are being investigated in connection with DePape describe someone with sprawling and contradictory views, multiple senior law enforcement officials familiar with the case told NBC News. The posts take aspects of liberal anti-establishment ideas to more recent posts that espouse positions typically associated with far-right extremism, the sources said.

He appeared to operate a website on which he wrote a wide variety of posts touching on almost all manner of modern conspiracy thinking: aliens, Jewish people, communism, vaccines, voter fraud and many other topics.

Radicalization’s path: In case studies, finding similarities
By Heather Hollingsworth, Kathy Gannon and Eric Tucker

No two ideologues are identical. No two groups are comprised of monolithic clones. No single light switch marks the shift to radicalism. The gulf between different kinds of extremists — in religious and political convictions, in desired world orders, in how deeply they embrace violence in the name of their cause — is as wide as it is obvious.

But to dwell only on the differences obscures the similarities, not only in how people absorb extremist ideology but also in how they feed off grievances and mobilize to action.

But strip away the ideologies for a moment, says John Horgan, a researcher of violent extremism. Instead, look at the psychological processes, the pathways, the roots, the experiences.

Moral outrage. A sense of injustice. A feeling that things can only be fixed through urgent, potentially violent action.

Those tend to motivate people who gravitate toward extremism, according to Horgan, who directs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University. He says such action is often seen as necessary to ward off a perceived impending threat to one’s way of life — and to secure a better future.

“Those similarities you will find repeated across the board, whether you’re talking about extreme right-wing militias in Oklahoma or you’re talking about a Taliban offshoot in northwest Pakistan,” Horgan says.

The world views driving extremist groups may feel fantastical and outrageous to society at large. But the true believers who consume propaganda and align themselves with like-minded associates don’t see it that way. To them, they possess inside knowledge that others simply don’t see.

“There’s a contradiction, because they are committed insiders but part of their insider status is defined by pitting themselves against an outsider whose very existence is said to threaten their own,” Horgan says. “They pride themselves on being anti-authoritarian. Yet conformity is what binds them together.”

Salman Rushdie wasn’t the first novelist to suffer an assassination attempt by someone who hadn’t read their book
By Jonathan Bate

Hadi Matar, the man charged with the attempted murder of the distinguished novelist Salman Rushdie, admitted that he had only “read like two pages” of “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie’s 1988 novel that angered fundamentalist Muslims around the world. Iran’s former Supreme Leader, Ayatalloh Ruhollah Khomeini, who announced a fatwa calling on all Muslims to murder Rushdie in 1989, hadn’t read it at all.

“The Satanic Verses” wasn’t the first – and won’t be the last – novel to provoke the rage of a fanatic who has no grasp of literature’s nuances.

In 1922, an Austrian writer named Hugo Bettauer published a novel set in Vienna called “The City Without Jews.” It sold a quarter of a million copies and became known internationally, with an English translation issued in London and New York. A silent movie adaptation, which has recently been recovered and restored, appeared in the summer of 1924. The following spring, a young Nazi burst into Bettauer’s office and shot him multiple times. The author died of his wounds two weeks later.

The ingenious twist in the novel is that once the Jews have been expelled, the economy and culture of Vienna collapse: no bankers, no tailors or hoteliers, no theater, no newspapers. The exiles return to a regal welcome and all ends well. The book is a simple but immensely powerful satire on antisemitism, which holds the reader’s attention by focusing the story on a handful of well-sketched characters.

But the novel and movie stirred the wrath of the incipient Austrian Nazi movement.

Writers seem to be especially vulnerable in polarized times when beliefs harden into dogma and those who hold opposing views are demonized.

… religious and political fundamentalists have no time for play, for questioning, doubt and curiosity.

Charlie Hebdo: Here’s why Gene Weingarten wrote today’s sly ‘Muhammad’ strip of ‘Barney & Clyde’
By Michael Cavna

Today’s strip is in response to the January massacre at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, during which a dozen people, including five cartoonists, were killed by Islamic extremists. To strip away any doubt about their strip’s context, the Weingartens also reproduce the first post-attack Charlie Hebdo cover, which features an apologizing caricature of Muhammad — as the French publication confirmed of that image in January.

“As soon as the massacre happened, Dan and I knew we wanted to do something on it in ‘Barney & Clyde’ — something in solidarity with the dead, but also with a significant message for the living,” says Gene Weingarten, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and humor columnist for The Washington Post Magazine. “It had to be something we could offer not just to The Washington Post, but to our syndicated clients, as well. That meant figuring out a way to address the horror in a way newspaper editors could feel was not pointlessly provocative.”

As the Weingartens weighed what creative approach to take, the very question of representational reality came to the fore.

“Ultimately, we found ourselves looking at the issue semiotically,” says Gene Weingarten, who co-writes the strip with his son. “We kept coming back to the infantile absurdity of a group of people reacting with tooth-gnashing anger and even deadly violence to something as unthreatening as lines drawn on paper — as thin and silly as a cartoon of someone the artist claimed was a certain eighth-century religious figure.

“The idea: We’d draw a figure that was possibly Muhammad, but label it ‘Not Muhammad,’ and he’d be walking to what was definitely a mountain, but it would be labeled, ‘Not a mountain,’ ” Weingarten the Elder tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “And the painting would be signed, “Not by Rene Magritte” — which was definitely true — it was either by Cynthia Pillsbury [the strip’s 11-year-old girl], or by David Clark, depending on how you looked at it.

“So we had deliberately combined a truth, a lie and a maybe,” Weingarten continues. “And over it all was the epistemological question asked by Magritte in his famous ‘This is not a pipe [Ceci n’est pas une pipe]’ painting: Is a representation of a pipe actually a pipe? Who is to define truth? The artist? The viewer? Who is in charge of reality?”

Where Religion and Neoliberal Diversity Tactics Converge
By Alexander Jabbari

A frieze on the north wall of the U.S. Supreme Court depicts Muhammad wielding a scimitar with his right hand and clutching a Quran in his left. Erected in 1931, the frieze became the subject of controversy in 1997, when a coalition of Muslim groups led by CAIR called for its removal.

The Supreme Court refused the request, noting that the sculpture of the prophet was “a well-intentioned attempt … to honor Muhammad.” His inclusion alongside other great “lawgivers” of history like Moses and Confucius had been intended as an inclusive gesture. Other American Muslims recognized this from the start; the executive director of the American Muslim Council called the depiction an honor and insisted that “you have to take it in historical context.”

Eventually, a fatwa on the matter was sought from the prominent Islamic scholar Taha Jabir al-Alwani.

A main principle within Islamic jurisprudence contends that acts ought to be judged by intentions (in Arabic, al-umur bi-maqasidiha), which is rooted in a well-known hadith or prophetic saying stating that “actions are according to intentions” (innama al-aʿmal bi-l-niyyat).

In his 28-page response, al-Alwani declared the depiction permissible, calling it a “positive gesture.” Alongside more technical justifications drawing from the Quran and hadith (the textual sources of Sunni Islamic law), he emphasized the positive value Western culture gives to pictorial expression and the importance of the inclusive message behind the frieze, concluding that it “deserves nothing but appreciation and gratitude from American Muslims.”

How did we get from judging actions by intentions to “it doesn’t matter the intent”?

Clearly, much has changed from 1997 to late 2022. Most obvious is the heightened Islamophobia that followed the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent U.S. campaign against terrorism.

Tensions were further inflamed in response to the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy, which sparked protests around the world, and the 2015 shooting at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris. In the aftermath of these incidents, reports circulated widely claiming that Islam forbids any depiction of the prophet. Journalists framed these cases as if any depiction of the prophet was enough to offend Muslims. But none of the Western museums whose Islamic art collections feature devotional portraits of Muhammad made by Persian or Turkish Muslims had been targeted with protests or censure. Crucial context had often been left out of the story: The cartoons that inspired protests and terror attacks specifically intended to mock and insult. They depicted the prophet with a bomb for a turban, or nude with genitalia exposed.

The lack of nuance in reports about these controversies would soon come to be embraced by Islamic authorities themselves. Historically, the Islamic tradition has encompassed a diverse range of positions on the question of depicting the prophet, including both acceptance and prohibition. But, as the Islamic art historian Christiane Gruber describes, the cartoon controversies led to a hardening of Sunni Islamic legal reasoning on iconism. Considerations of context and intent gave way to new fatwas issuing blanket condemnation of all depictions of the prophet — even Muslim devotional ones.

The messy business of weighing context and parsing intentions is simplified in favor of a black-and-white absolutism that is easier to navigate and control. Lost in the balance, of course, is the collective responsibility to think deeply.

The rise and fall of cancel culture in comedy
By Sonaiya Kelly

It used to be that letters to the editor and the watercooler were the only places to share our opinions. But today, in our chronically online era, social media’s influence has allowed the voices of the dissenters to be incessant, accessible and amplified.

“Social media creates the illusion that hostility is greater because you’re scrolling all day,” said former stand-up comic and comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff. “Whereas in the old days, we would read the newspaper once a day and then throw [it] out. Today [with] the social media equivalent, we’re never throwing out the newspaper.”

Back in the analog days, “If 100 people wrote to complain, [publications] would just publish one letter,” said Nesteroff. “Today, because there’s no editor, you’ll see all 100 of those letters in the form of a tweet. Where there used to be a filter, now all 100 complaints reach your eyeballs. The effect is this illusion that there’s way more irrational, angry people than previous generations. It’s not true, they were always there.”

In stand-up comedy, where immediate public feedback is delivered in the form of applause or heckling, the stakes have always been particularly high.

Man who attacked Dave Chappelle at Netflix festival sentenced to 270 days in jail
By Edward Segarra

A man who attacked comedian Dave Chappelle onstage in May is learning that physical assault is no laughing matter.

Isaiah Lee, who stormed the stage during Chappelle’s performance at the Netflix Is a Joke festival in Los Angeles on May 3 and tackled the comic to the ground, has pleaded no contest to battery and entering a restricted area during a live event, Ian Thompson, chief of communications and strategic outreach for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, told USA TODAY in an email Thursday.

Lee was sentenced to 270 days in county jail, Thompson added.

Lee told the New York Post in May that the comedian’s set was “triggering” for him. He also denied having the weapon drawn when he approached Chappelle.

“I identify as bisexual … and I wanted him to know what he said was triggering,” Lee told the outlet. “I wanted him to know that next time, he should consider first running his material by people it could affect.”

In Year-End Report, Chief Justice Roberts Addresses Threats to Judges’ Safety
By Adam Liptak

At the end of a wrenching year at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. devoted his annual report on the state of the federal judiciary to threats to judges’ physical safety.

“The law requires every judge to swear an oath to perform his or her work without fear or favor, but we must support judges by ensuring their safety,” he wrote. “A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear.”

Chief Justice Roberts recounted the bravery of a judge in 1957, three years after a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in Brown that segregated public schools violated the Constitution.

“Not everyone was convinced,” the chief justice wrote. Among the officials opposed to the Brown ruling was Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas, who ordered the state’s National Guard to prevent Black schoolchildren from entering Central High School in Little Rock.

Lawyers for the students, including Thurgood Marshall, who had argued the Brown case and would join the Supreme Court in 1967, went to federal court and appeared before Judge Ronald N. Davies, who ordinarily sat in Fargo, N.D., and was visiting to fill in for a judge who had fallen ill.

“Judge Davies had no idea what cases he would draw upon his arrival,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “But when it came time to rule in the school desegregation litigation, Davies did not flinch.”

The chief justice quoted from Judge Davies’s decision in favor of the students: “I have a constitutional duty and obligation from which I shall not shrink. In an organized society, there can be nothing but ultimate confusion and chaos if court decrees are flaunted.”

Timothy Davies, the judge’s son, told The New York Times that his father had not found the case difficult.

“He always said those decisions could be made by anyone who could read or write,” Timothy Davies said. “The law was clear, and there was nothing to decide.”

Judge Davies’s decision was not the end of the matter. To enforce it in the face of an angry mob, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called in the 101st Airborne to protect the Black students’ right to attend school.

That was a triumph for the rule of law, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, as well as a reminder that judges cannot take their physical security for granted.

“Judicial opinions speak for themselves, and there is no obligation in our free country to agree with them,” the chief justice wrote. “Indeed, we judges frequently dissent — sometimes strongly — from our colleagues’ opinions, and we explain why in public writings about the cases before us. But Judge Davies was physically threatened for following the law.”

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that he welcomed legislation recently enacted to protect judges and their families.

“I want to thank the members of Congress who are attending to judicial security needs — these programs and the funding of them are essential to run a system of courts,” he wrote.

The new law, the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, was named after the son of Judge Esther Salas, of the Federal District Court in New Jersey. He was killed in 2020 when he answered the door to his mother’s home in what was meant to be an attack on her.

FBI chief expresses alarm at “crazy” rise in politically driven violence in U.S.
By Rebecca Falconer

FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concern at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday at growing violence in the U.S. related to politically divisive domestic issues that are now “almost a 365-day phenomenon.”

Details: “I feel like everyday I’m getting briefed on somebody throwing a molotov cocktail at someone for some issue,” he said. “It’s crazy,” added Wray, noting that there had been an “uptick” in violence related to abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The bottom line: “I don’t care what side of the issue you are on,” Wray said of divisive issues. “You don’t get to use violence or threats of violence.”

Twitter suspends @ElonJet account that tracked owner Elon Musk’s private plane
By Madeline Halpert & Marita Moloney

Elon Musk says he is taking legal action against the holder of a Twitter account that tracks his private jet, arguing it put his son at risk.

“Last night, car carrying [his son] lil X in LA was followed by crazy stalker (thinking it was me), who later blocked car from moving and climbed onto hood,” he tweeted.

He added that any account revealing people’s real-time locations will be suspended “as it is a physical safety violation”.

Mr Sweeney denied the incident was related to his account when asked by the BBC.

Mr Musk had long taken issue with the @ElonJet account, and once reportedly offered Mr Sweeney $5,000 to delete it.

Mr Sweeney told US media outlets that Mr Musk ultimately told him it did not feel right to pay to have the account shut down.

And a month ago, Mr Musk pledged to keep it running even though it was a “direct personal safety risk”.

But Mr Musk tweeted on Wednesday evening: “Any account doxxing real-time location info of anyone will be suspended, as it is a physical safety violation. This includes posting links to sites with real-time location info.”

Twitter’s Help Center has tweeted an updated media policy that begins: “You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission.”

Since taking the helm at Twitter, Mr Musk has made a host of changes to its moderation practices.

Chaos on Twitter Leads a Group of Journalists to Start an Alternative
By Joseph Bernstein

It’s one thing to hope for a better community online, and another, very different one, to build it. Just ask the users and administrators of, which was started by journalists concerned over the direction of Twitter.

It’s a server just for journalists — or more accurately, the people the administrators of deem to be journalists. That has led to accusations (on Twitter, where else?) that the server is an attempt by the moderators to “gatekeep their peers.”

Regardless, any attempt to turn into a walled garden, free from the issues of Twitter, is probably doomed to fail: The conflicts that have at times inflamed Twitter have already caused problems for Mr. Davidson and his team.

On Nov. 18, the journalist Mike Pesca, who hosts the popular news podcast “The Gist,” posted a link to a Times story about health concerns associated with the puberty-blocking drugs sometimes prescribed to transgender youths, writing, “This seemed like careful, thorough reporting.”

In response, Parker Molloy, a journalist who writes the Substack newsletter “The Present Age,” accused Mr. Pesca of anti-trans bigotry, and then posted angrily at Mr. Davidson for not removing the post.

“@adamdavidson’s decision not to take action on anti-trans content isn’t inspiring confidence and I totally understand why other places are doing instance-level blocking,” she wrote on (Instance-level blocking refers to the ability, on Mastodon, for one server to block content from another.)

Zach Everson, one of the administrators, responded that he agreed with Ms. Molloy, then added, “Banning someone for posting a link to an NYT article sets a precedent that we really need to work through.”

On Saturday, suspended Mr. Pesca, who was informed via a text message from Mr. Davidson, a longtime friend. (The two are currently writing an exchange of letters hosted on Substack, about the nature of cancel culture.) According to Mr. Pesca, Mr. Davidson told him he had been suspended for referring to Ms. Molloy as an “activist,” which was dismissive. The suspension “seemed arbitrary and ad hoc,” Mr. Pesca said in an interview; Ms. Molloy didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

“We want to be a place for passionate engaged discussion,” said Mr. Davidson, who recused himself from the decision because of his relationship with Mr. Pesca. “But we don’t want to be a place where people insult each other.”

Also on Saturday, Ms. Molloy appeared on a different Mastodon server, and announced that she, too, had been suspended from for her posts.

“Did it break their rules over there? Yes, so they were certainly in their rights to suspend me from there,” she wrote. And then, in a subsequent post she wrote, “I mostly just want to be left alone.” (Later, Ms. Molloy posted an apology to Mr. Pesca.)

‘I Caught Lightning in a Bottle. I Will Be One of the Last People to Leave Twitter.’
By Nancy Scola

In much of the world, Twitter seems a bit silly. Even inside the metaphorical Beltway, people will admit to it being an ego-boosting dopamine-dispensing machine if not an insular, often-toxic time suck. The truth, though, is that Washington takes Twitter very seriously. Twitter is a place where all the worlds that make up Washington — the politicians, the policy experts, the press, academics, activists, and others — gather. And in an increasingly remote age, Twitter does much of the work that physical meeting spaces once did in Washington.

Talk to just about anyone in politics, and they make plain that one of Twitter’s key uses is simply getting themselves, their boss, their issue in front of a powerful audience: the press. If you’re trying to reach Americans, says one Senate Democratic staffer, “one way is to spend a million dollars on TV ads.” Another way, says the aide, is to “talk to the people who talk to people” — that is, reporters. “Twitter is good for that.”

That Twitter is soaked through with journalists isn’t accidental. Twitter, in its struggle to grow its user base after it launched in 2006, actively cultivated reporters and other media figures and encouraged them to tweet, incentivizing them (at least in the pre-Musk days) in part through the sort of bulk-verification it otherwise gives to sports teams and talent agencies. It worked: Today, some 70 percent of journalists say Twitter is the social platform they use first- or second-most in their jobs. That’s helped usher in a new era in news media and a new era of Washington.

Since the number of reporters on Twitter ballooned, that dynamic has become integrated into the way Capitol Hill, for its part, operates; the good press secretary knows how to stuff a catchy quote into a tweet, pre-packaged to induce pick-up by political reporters. It’s a skill that can rescue from the wilderness the hundreds of rank-and-file members of Congress who might struggle to fill a press conference.

On Twitter, every representative and senator is one click away from just about every reporter in the country, which can make them a force to be reckoned with — including those who are, on paper, several rungs above them in the congressional hierarchy.

“With all due respect to reporters,” says another Senate Democratic aide (like the first, unwilling to go on record to talk inside-baseball more frankly), “reporters are not Americans.” That is, the aide argues, journalists’ thinking on many issues isn’t reflective of the rest of the American population’s, meaning it takes special effort to know how they’ll react to national events.

Understanding their world view, says the aide, is made hugely easier through Twitter, saying that they parse how reporters are tweeting about issues from abortion to Russia to inflation — more valuable than what gets printed in their publications because it’s before their editors have gotten their hands on it. That, says the aide, can help press staffers decide to which journalists to direct “care and feeding” to get them to see issues their way before they go to print.

Twitter is the go-to social media site for U.S. journalists, but not for the public
By Mark Jurkowitz and Jeffrey Gottfried

More than nine-in-ten journalists in the United States (94%) use social media for their jobs, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of reporters, editors and others working in the news industry. But the sites that journalists use most frequently differ from those that the public turns to for news.

Among journalists, Twitter clearly ranks at the top of the list for work-related tasks. Around seven-in-ten U.S. journalists (69%) say it is the social media site they use most or second most for their job. Twitter is followed by Facebook at 52% and, far lower on the list, by Instagram (19%), LinkedIn (17%) and YouTube (14%). None of the other sites asked about in the survey – Reddit, WhatsApp, TikTok, Discord, Twitch and Snapchat – were named by more than 4% of the journalists surveyed.

A different lineup emerges for the public. Among Americans overall, Facebook is the most widely used social media site for news, with 31% of U.S. adults saying they go there regularly for news. YouTube is the second-most frequently used site, with 22% of the public regularly getting news there. Fewer adults (13%) say they regularly get news on Twitter, despite the platform’s widespread use among journalists. Overall, a little under half of U.S. adults (48%) say they often or sometimes get news from social media sites.

Journalists’ use of social media sites also varies by what they identify as the political composition of their audience. Journalists who say they work at an outlet whose audience leans right politically are much more likely than those with left-leaning audiences to say Facebook is one of their top two social media sites for their work (67% vs. 45%). Conversely, journalists who say their organization has a left-leaning audience are twice as likely as those who say their organization has a right-leaning audience to use Instagram (24% vs. 12%).

The differences for Twitter are not as large, but three-quarters of journalists who say they work at an outlet with a politically left-leaning audience say it is one of the sites they most commonly use, compared with 66% of journalists whose organization’s audience tilts to the right politically.

Joe Kahn is now editing the New York Times. Don’t expect a revolution.
By Jeremy Barr

Joe Kahn took over as executive editor of the New York Times on Tuesday, replacing the legendary Dean Baquet, but readers may not notice an immediate difference.

“I wouldn’t say that there’s going to be some sort of sharp break in the type of stories we’re most excited about or the tone of coverage,” Kahn said.

He also shares Baquet’s strong belief that Times journalists need to de-prioritize Twitter. Part of that is an exhortation to spend less time sending tweets; but a bigger concern is that too many journalist have come to see the Twitter audience as a proxy for the public. Increasingly, he fretted, some Times journalists “don’t even want to engage in certain kinds of stories because they anticipate the reaction that they’ll get from writing on, reporting on, a story that tends to be a lightning-rod type issue on Twitter.”

Musk reinstates some reporters on Twitter. But their companies never left.
By Jeremy Barr and Sarah Ellison

Despite Musk’s claim last month that Twitter is the “biggest click driver on the internet by far,” one recent study from social-analytics company DataReportal found that it was responsible for less than 8 percent of total social media referrals for the month of November 2021.

Media organizations typically do not share detailed data on their web traffic. But a 2016 report using data from the social-analytics firm found that only 1.5 percent of publisher traffic came from Twitter. “Twitter has outsized influence,” concluded a report from Nieman Lab, “but it doesn’t drive much traffic for most news orgs.”

Meanwhile, media managers have struggled with how to establish standards of behavior for their journalists on social media, where the temptation can be to slip into feistier, or more casual, or more opinionated conversation than would be allowed in their own professional writing — or to tailor their stories for their particular Twitter audiences.

“The really insidious part of Twitter is that it’s very easy for even very good journalists to mistake the reaction that they’re getting on Twitter for the impact or the reaction that their reporting or that their work in general is getting,” said Joseph Kahn, executive editor of the New York Times, in an interview with The Post in June.

Now, the unpredictability of Twitter under Musk’s ownership is further complicating the equation for media bosses.

“It’s a battle between the reputational impact of supporting a volatile platform that is simultaneously reinstating dangerous accounts while censoring legitimate journalists, and a journalistic responsibility to remain active to counterbalance rampant misinformation and disinformation,” said one network executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers
By Jacob Siegel

In the past five years, a cadre of fact-checkers has marched through the institutions of journalism and installed itself in the U.S. media as a privatized, quasi-governmental regulatory agency. What’s wrong with facts, you say? Fueled by a panic over misinformation, the fact-checking industry is shifting the media’s primary obligation away from pursuing the truth and toward upholding vague notions of public safety, which it gets to define. In the course of this transformation, journalists are being turned into rent-a-cops whose job is to enforce an official consensus that is treated as a civic good by those who benefit from—and pay for—its protection.

Has any story ever been more energetically fact-checked than Hunter Biden’s laptop? The news broke just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, and was so effectively buried by accusations of disinformation and social media bans that it became synonymous with the power of the new truth regulating bureaucracy. Shortly after the first reports of the laptop, The New York Times‘ Kevin Roose modestly acknowledged the role that misinformation journalists like him had played in pressuring tech companies to take “more and faster action to prevent false or misleading information from spreading … in order to prevent a repeat of 2016’s debacle.”

And it worked! Only it turns out, as The New York Times now acknowledges, that the original reporting silenced by the fact-checkers was accurate. What was it about again? Oh yes, the evidence of corrupt business dealings involving then-candidate Joe Biden, his family, and a Ukrainian energy company. A Times article from last week on an ongoing Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden notes in passing that emails relevant to the investigation “were obtained by The New York Times from a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. Biden in a Delaware repair shop. The email and others in the cache were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.”

Fact-checking trades on readers’ respect for older journalistic values like objectivity without acknowledging the role of the prestige media in deliberately undermining those values by implicating them in the continuance of racism, sexism, and other toxic bigotries. The result is a familiar yet peculiar double game: If an article points out that a network of bureaucratic and educational activists are inculcating the notion that math is racist, that claim is right-wing hysteria. But when a journalist determines that crack pipes are innocuous, that is fact-checking.

During the 2020 election, “fact-checks” were repeatedly used as blunt weapons to neutralize information that was potentially damaging to Joe Biden—Hunter’s laptop being the most egregious example, but only one of many. During the Democratic primary campaign, Biden was routinely attacked for having contributed to mass incarceration with his 1994 crime bill. “That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in this country” then-presidential candidate Kamala Harris told reporters in 2019 when she was running against Biden. The following year, after Biden clinched his party’s nomination, an Instagram post by a left-wing Bernie Sanders supporter that accused him of contributing to mass incarceration was marked “False” with a label warning users: “Independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact.”

Fact-checking didn’t originate as a partisan Democratic plot against reality, though. It became a necessary feature of the new journalistic industrial complex in order to inoculate large tech platforms from government regulatory pressure and the threat of “private” lawsuits from the NGO sector. In other words, it was a concession by tech companies to the not-so-subtle threat that if they didn’t start censoring themselves, they might get their windows—or their monopolies—broken by the state. In that framework, at least, fact-checking is just as potentially dangerous to Democrats under a Republican-controlled White House and Congress as it is to Republicans when Democrats rule Washington.

Yet in reality, when it comes to benefiting from state censorship, Democrats and Republicans are not created equal. Another driving force behind the growth of the fact-checking complex is the necessity of enforcing loyalty to progressive ideas that can’t survive on their own. Stripped of their specialized language and social and bureaucratic context, key articles of Progressive Church faith are repulsive to most ordinary voters, regardless of gender or race. That is true of the racialized approach to education that was just roundly rejected by San Francisco parents in recent school board elections. It is also true of calls to defund the police, to teach transgender ideology to kindergarteners, and of approaches to addiction that appear to promote continued drug use. Policies that Biden administration officials would have boasted about in front of an audience of academics and public health administrators sound different—meaning, crazy—to people who have not been socialized to accept professional class bullshit. That’s where the fact-checkers come in with their tin badges and unearned air of authority. They can declare that a story is not merely mistaken or overwrought but dangerously defective—because we, the fact-checkers, paid by the tech giants and NGOs that are in turn funded by a seemingly endless tide of dark money from billionaires who want to be woke, or at least buy a woke insurance policy, said so.

Because the U.S. state now routinely exercises its power through administrative decrees, rather than through laws passed by the elected representatives of the people, it must rely on subcontracted nonofficials to enforce compliance with its dictates. This method of governance relieves policy makers of any obligation to build broad majorities that support their ideas. … if they believed they had the truth on their side, we might expect to see the people who champion these policies arguing for their merits and convincing a coalition of voters to support them. Instead, we see the opposite: the naked use of power and coercion to stifle arguments by people who believe they have a mandate of heaven, and the truth is whatever they say it is.

The New Gatekeepers
By MichaelL Lind

The term “entryism” has been associated with the Trotskyist denomination of Marxism since the 1930s, when the exiled Leon Trotsky urged his followers in Britain to infiltrate the Labour Party and influence it from within, rather than form their own small, ineffectual party. But the tactic is not limited to the political left. In the United States there have been cases in which Protestant fundamentalists ran for local school boards as moderates and then, once they had majorities on the board, used their power for goals like teaching “creation science” along with evolutionary biology.

The center left of the political spectrum has historically been vulnerable to entryism by small, radical sects of zealots. Today’s illiberal radicals, like yesterday’s communists, have profited from a “no enemies to the left” policy among liberals.

The various streams of identity politics that feed into today’s radical ideology are not new. Indeed, they have existed on the margins of politics and intellectual life for generations. As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, “political correctness” was ridiculed into irrelevance everywhere except on university campuses and a handful of sectarian left institutions. What exactly is it that changed in the structure of American institutions so that the new entryists were able to successfully infiltrate and capture so many major organizations and professions in the 2010s, after such tactics had repeatedly been tried and failed before?

Control of three gateways in particular has been critical to the success of woke entryism. The three gateways are college education, professional accreditation, and commercial services, particularly new online media platforms like Twitter, sales platforms like Amazon, and financial platforms like PayPal. All three wield variants of the same power: the power to exclude people from the economy. Good Trotsky-style entryists that they are, woke activists, knowing that they would be defeated in free elections and in open public debates, have sought to infiltrate institutions to control key chokepoints or gateways, which empower them to be gatekeepers.

Today, unlike a generation ago, young Americans typically must pass through three gateways, in order to be economically successful. They must obtain college diplomas; they must join professional accrediting organizations; and they must be able to do business via platforms in the marketplace.

Waiting for people at each gateway, like trolls under a bridge in a fairy tale, are woke leftists, who demand that they recite the in-group passwords before they are allowed to pass through the gates. What makes these gateways particularly vulnerable to capture by disciplined, zealous entryists in the United States is the fact that they are mostly private and unregulated.

In the 1990s—which wasn’t all that long ago—only about a quarter of American men and 18% of American women completed four or more years of college. By 2021, it was 36.7% of men and 39.1% of women. Even as the B.A. has been dumbed-down by academic bureaucrats, who are now eliminating SATs and other objective measurements of academic merit, it has become increasingly necessary to have a B.A. or a higher degree to get a decent job, if only because employers use it as a screening credential. Meanwhile, private sector membership in trade unions, which once won living wages and benefits for high school-educated workers, has collapsed from a third to around 6% of the private sector workforce—lower than it was under President Herbert Hoover, before the New Deal.

The increasing polarization of the American class system along educational lines, along with a massive oversupply of college graduates for too few jobs that actually require college degrees, breeds conformity and submission in undergraduates. In the 1990s, you could mock your politically correct professor or classmates and go on to a successful career in law, medicine, business, or even the academy. In the 2020s, if you mock your politically correct professor or classmates, you can be put through Kafkaesque trials and Maoist reeducation on campus, and the mark on your permanent record can prevent you from getting into a good professional school.

Students who dissent from enforced woke orthodoxies on campus run the very real danger of summary punishment by university administrators for a very wide variety of potential crimes, which will be adjudicated by those very same authorities. These crimes can range from holding incorrect opinions about racial essentialism (you’re supposed to be for it) or the existence of multiple genders (there is no exact number, gender being a subjective and elastic concept).

In addition to acceptable opinions, the code of wokeness mandates questions of personal manners and behavior unrelated to education, like the need for men to obtain institutionally prescribed forms of “affirmative consent” before attempting to make potentially unwanted advances toward women—a rule that appears to lean hard on the otherwise nonexistent gender binary. In such a Mad Hatter-like environment, it’s only rational for college students to keep any skeptical or heterodox opinions they might harbor to themselves, and to ritually recite whatever nonsense the campus DEI commissar imposes that week as a litmus test of ideological orthodoxy.

The next gate is the professional gateway—and here again, we find that our entryists have seized the sentry positions and imposed new passwords. The AMA recently issued a glossary of Woke Newspeak, instructing medical doctors to say “equity” instead of “equality” and “systemically divested” instead of “poor.”

Last year, the AMA Board of Trustees passed a resolution demanding that sex cease to be noted in all future birth certificates, on the theory that a boy might have been born by accident in a girl’s body or vice versa, and that the individual might not realize he or she was in the wrong body until decades later. Yes, this is the American Medical Association, not the American Association of Astrologers.

If you publish a book critical of the new gender ideology, Amazon may disappear it, the way it disappeared Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally. Inexplicably, Amazon sells Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters—but then, despotic power is more frightening when it is arbitrary.

And if you run for office, you may find yourself banned or suspended by social media platforms. As of Aug. 15, 2022, Ballotpedia listed seven elected officials who had been banned or suspended by Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube—all Republicans. In addition to Donald Trump, the list includes Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, suspended by Twitter for 14 days in 2021 for “targeted misgendering or deadnaming transgender individuals,” and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a medical doctor, suspended by YouTube for seven days for allegedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

Piece by piece, woke activists are assembling a private version of China’s social credit system, which can cut off individuals who run afoul of ideological orthodoxy from acquiring educational credentials, practicing a trade, or engaging in political speech. While Trotskyist entryists spent decades trying to infiltrate and influence social democratic parties and trade unions, woke entryists in only a decade and a half have captured many of the leading communications, sales, and financial platforms in modern society, along with professional associations and universities. Leon Trotsky would be impressed.

Elected officials answer to citizens. Corporations and nonprofits answer only to their boards of directors and shareholders or donors. And as entities that can exist and do business only because of government charters, corporations and nonprofits must follow rules promulgated by representatives of the people.

Will anti-woke governments commit abuses in responding to the abuses of woke companies and nonprofits? No doubt they will sometimes. But if they do, their misdeeds will be easily identified and have clear remedies, unlike the hidden decisions of vast private bureaucracies. Abusive legislators and governors can be voted out of office, unlike the obscure individuals who belong to Facebook’s self-regulating bureaucracy.

In other eras, and in other countries, public tyranny has indeed been a major threat to individual freedoms. In the United States, in the third decade of the 21st century, the private tyranny of universities, professional associations, and tech platforms is a greater threat than the tyranny of an oppressive state.

Say What You Will?
By David Luban

Twenty years ago, John Perry Barlow, an Internet theorist and activist, issued a manifesto on behalf of “Cyberspace, the new home of Mind,” declaring that governments “have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.” It’s easy to see why Internet pioneers, with their famously libertarian convictions, saw cyberspace as providing remarkable freedom: the network has communities but no leaders, and every voice has access.

Today, Garton Ash argues, Barlow’s utopian picture is essentially false. The Internet is jointly ruled by governments and giants like Google and Facebook—the “big dogs” and “big cats” of cyberspace. Garton Ash borrows this imagery from Jonathan Zittrain. We, netizens of the world, are the mice. The big dogs and cats decide which websites the mice can access, which content gets removed, and which items appear on the crucial first page of our Google searches.

Sometimes the big dogs and big cats gang up on the mice, for example when Internet companies cooperate with government in data mining for national security. Garton Ash calls this “power squared,” or P2 for short, and he finds it perilous. Big dogs, big cats, P2—these are facts of life that shape the political economy of free speech today. Internet and telecommunications companies secretly cooperated with US intelligence agencies—sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not—and the Snowden revelations made this cooperation the most notorious example of P2. But Garton Ash also points to less-well-known examples, including Western companies selling surveillance and censorship technologies to oppressive regimes.

How protesters in China bypass online censorship to express dissent
By Manuela López Restrepo

Chinese social media platforms like Wechat, Sina Weibo, and Douyin are heavily censored and monitored for rule-breaking content. They also require new users to link their national ID information to any accounts they create. As a result, Webster says users have had to become creative in expressing any views critical of the Chinese government.

One method of getting around social media censors is by communicating with people outside of the country, sending them videos, photos, and other materials that would otherwise be wiped from Chinese platforms. Once those materials are posted to a non-censored platform like Twitter, users in China would then be able to re-import and reshare them, using oblique language and rotating, editing or flipping the videos to bypass filters.

This was well evidenced with the widespread popularity of a social media user dubbed ‘Teacher Li’, a Chinese painter based in Italy, who has been posting information and updates sent to him throughout the protests on Twitter.

“This sort of repertoire of navigating censorship that is a practiced and developed pattern over probably about 20 years now, is what we usually call the cat-and-mouse game of people trying to express something that is deemed undesirable by either the platforms or the authorities,” Webster said.

Another tactic has removed the need for words entirely, transforming a blank sheet of office paper into a powerful political message.

How Do You Protest in the Face of Censorship? An Empty Sign.
By Jody Rosen

Of course, protesters may still face harsh consequences, especially those who dared to voice broader critiques of China’s authoritarianism. But their criticisms linger in all that white paper, blank signs that carry echoes of ideas from across decades and centuries. There is the famous paradox of John Cage: “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.” There’s the blank page in Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy,” and the white-on-white paintings of Robert Ryman — artworks whose eloquent emptiness is pregnant with possibility, expressing the ineffable. The blank sign, for the protester who wields it and the government that disdains it, is full of potential: It is a tabula rasa, upon which every imaginable complaint, exhortation, remonstration, provocation, taunt, threat and irrefutable truth might someday be inscribed. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that those things are already written there — figuratively, at least — in invisible ink. The signs say nothing; they speak volumes.

Schmidt: Censorship could vanish within a decade
By Charlie Osborne

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt apparently believes it’s possible for censorship as we know it to end within a decade.

Speaking at Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday, Schmidt said that in countries such as China and North Korea — where the Internet is restricted and free speech can result in severe punishment — the better use of encryption and tech innovations could eventually lead to connecting everyone and preventing spying, whether the powers that be like it or not. According to Schmidt:

First they try to block you; second, they try to infiltrate you; and third, you win. I really think that’s how it works. Because the power is shifted.

I believe there’s a real chance that we can eliminate censorship and the possibility of censorship in a decade.

According to Reuters, Schmidt recounted his trip in January to North Korea and acknowledged that his attempts to loosen restrictions on the flow of information into that country failed.

While on the trip, his daughter Sophie summed up the country as “like The Truman Show, at country scale.”

In light of the U.S. National Security Agency documents provided by leaker Edward Snowden, surveillance can obviously be found closer to home as well.

Documents released by the former NSA contractor suggested that Google is one of several companies that has had its data tapped by the U.S. agency for intelligence gathering.

The Signal App and the Danger of Privacy at All Costs
By Reid Blackman

Like Messages on your iPhone, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Signal uses end-to-end encryption, making it impossible for the company to read the contents of user messages. But unlike those other companies, Signal also refrains from collecting metadata about its users. The company doesn’t know the identity of users, which users are talking to one another or who is in a group message. It also allows users to set timers that automatically delete messages from the sender’s and receiver’s accounts.

The company — an L.L.C. that is governed by a nonprofit — is founded on the belief that it needs to combat what it calls “state corporate surveillance” of our online activities in defense of an uncompromisable value: individual privacy. Distrustful of government and large corporations and apparently persuaded that they are irredeemable, technologists look for workarounds.

One should always worry when a person or an organization places one value above all. The moral fabric of our world is complex. It’s nuanced. Sensitivity to moral nuance is difficult, but unwavering support of one principle to rule them all is morally dangerous.

The way Signal wields the word “surveillance” reflects its coarsegrained understanding of morality. To the company, surveillance covers everything from a server holding encrypted data that no one looks at to a law enforcement agent reading data after obtaining a warrant to East Germany randomly tapping citizens’ phones. One cannot think carefully about the value of privacy — including its relative importance to other values in particular contexts — with such a broad definition.

What’s more, the company’s proposition that if anyone has access to data, then many unauthorized people probably will have access to that data is false. This response reflects a lack of faith in good governance, which is essential to any well-functioning organization or community seeking to keep its members and society at large safe from bad actors.

The FBI vs. Comedians
By James Freeman

There may be tough calls when the constitutional right to free speech comes into conflict with the legitimate exercise of governmental authority to defend the country or protect victims of violent crime. But the FBI’s interventions at Twitter don’t appear to be among them. Documents recently released by Twitter via journalist Matt Taibbi appear to show that without presenting any specific allegations of crimes, the bureau was pressuring a private company to help silence U.S. citizens engaged in political satire. How is this possibly compatible with the First Amendment?

Mr. Taibbi recently published on Twitter emails the law-enforcement agency sent to Twitter employees including one saying that “FBI San Francisco is notifying you of the below accounts which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service” and then listing specific user handles.

Has Congress authorized the FBI to be the enforcer of Twitter’s terms of service? If the House or Senate ever does contemplate such an odd legislative project, surely there are a few civil libertarians left in the Congress who would flag the risk that the social media company would simply become an agent of federal abuse.

As any other person or business who receives a request from the FBI would tend to do, the Twitter crew took such communications seriously, and ended up suspending some accounts, according to Mr. Taibbi.

Where’s the justification for these FBI intrusions into the moderating of online speech?

J. Edgar Hoover, Public Enemy No. 1
By Margaret Talbot

Hired at the Department of Justice in 1917, Hoover hunkered down and never left. He had held a previous job as a clerk at the Library of Congress, a two-year stint that sparked his zeal for collecting and classifying information. At Justice, he was assigned to the Bureau of Investigation, then a relatively poky subdepartment known to the public, if it was known at all, for sniffing out violations of the 1910 Mann Act. That changed when Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, began watching political subversives—anarchists, socialists, strike organizers, the occasional mail bomber, and not a few pacifists who grumbled into their liberty cabbage about Wilson or his war. In 1919 and early 1920, Palmer ordered a notorious series of raids, banging on doors to arrest and, when possible, deport suspected radicals to Russia, Eastern Europe, or Italy. Palmer picked the young Hoover to head the new Radical Division, which organized these raids. He took to the work with enthusiasm, meticulously filling the cabinets at headquarters with thousands of index cards on troublemakers across the country.

It was “an unprecedented experiment in peacetime political surveillance” that marked Hoover for life, Gage writes. When he and Palmer were challenged by civil libertarians, a new category that rose up partly in response to the raids, it “brought out an ugly, vindictive side to Hoover’s personality—one that had always been there, perhaps, but that had been controlled by a steady diet of praise and success.” Now he established a habit that he would retain for the rest of his life, of turning critics into enemies—and investigating them as such. His righteousness, combined with bureaucratic acumen and political savvy, won the admiration of his superiors. In 1924, he became the acting and then the permanent director of what was still called the Bureau of Investigation. There were those who warned that he’d been tainted by the excesses of the Palmer Raids; Felix Frankfurter, the future Supreme Court Justice, was one of them. But Hoover was entrenched and wily, and he struck a modern note—rejecting rough stuff like the third degree for interrogating wrongos, and upholding forensic innovations, such as a national repository of fingerprints. He was what we might now call data-driven.

At times, Gage argues for Hoover as a tragic figure—a man who started out with a dedication to public service and certain narrow commitments to doing things expertly and aboveboard, but who allowed his idealistic professionalism to wane and his mission to be corrupted. Yet much that she writes about cuts against that interpretation. Hoover may indeed have been dedicated to government work and its possibilities (an orientation that we do not, as Gage says, associate with contemporary conservatism). From the Palmer Raids to COINTELPRO, however, he was never able to understand campaigns to expand social or racial or gender equality as anything other than criminal conspiracies, ginned up by foreign agents and their dupes. As a result, Gage concludes, “Hoover did as much as any individual in government to contain and cripple movements seeking social justice, and thus to limit the forms of democracy and governance that might have been possible.” That is a devastating assessment.

FBI Conducted Potentially Millions of Searches of Americans’ Data Last Year, Report Says
By Dustin Volz

The Federal Bureau of Investigation performed potentially millions of searches of American electronic data last year without a warrant, U.S. intelligence officials said Friday, a revelation likely to stoke longstanding concerns in Congress about government surveillance and privacy.

An annual report published Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that the FBI conducted as many as 3.4 million searches of U.S. data that had been previously collected by the National Security Agency.

Senior Biden administration officials said the actual number of searches is likely far lower, citing complexities in counting and sorting foreign data from U.S. data. It couldn’t be learned from the report how many Americans’ data was examined by the FBI under the program, though officials said it was also almost certainly a much smaller number.

The report doesn’t allege the FBI was routinely searching American data improperly or illegally.

The disclosure of the searches marks the first time a U.S. intelligence agency has published an accounting, however imprecise, of the FBI’s grabs of American data through a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that governs some foreign intelligence gathering. The section of FISA that authorizes the FBI’s activity, known as Section 702, is due to expire next year.

The number of searches of American data doesn’t correspond to the number of Americans who may have had their personal information examined.

An individual’s name, telephone number, email addresses and social security number can all be searched, sometimes repeatedly, and each instance of each term would count as a search. Searches of U.S. information can pertain to data about U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and U.S. companies. And searches can yield a mix of metadata and content of collected communications.

One source of the discrepancy between the 3.4 million figure and the potentially much lower quantity of searches of Americans’ data: Sometimes FBI analysts perform large searches of hundreds or thousands of terms, and if just one term in the batch is associated with an American or U.S. entity, all the terms would be counted as a potential search of U.S. data, officials said.

Section 702 was passed into law in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to enable the U.S. to spy on non-Americans overseas. The NSA uses the Section 702 program to collect intelligence from international phone calls and emails about terrorism suspects, cyber threats and other security risks.

Data on Americans is often vacuumed up as well, for example when a foreign spy is communicating with someone in the U.S. or when two overseas targets are talking about an American.

Some congressional lawmakers have asked the FBI to disclose how often it taps into that data to look at U.S. information, arguing that doing so amounts to a backdoor search on Americans that dispenses with requirements to obtain a warrant. U.S. intelligence officials have broadly defended Section 702 as among the most valuable national-security tools at their disposal.

AP seeks answers from US gov’t on tracking of journalists
By Ben Fox

The Associated Press sought answers Monday from the Department of Homeland Security on its use of sensitive government databases for tracking international terrorists to investigate as many as 20 American journalists, including an acclaimed AP reporter.

In a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, AP Executive Editor Julie Pace urged the agency to explain why the name of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Martha Mendoza was run through the databases and identified as a potential confidential informant during the Trump administration, as detailed in a report by Homeland Security’s inspector general.

“This is a flagrant example of a federal agency using its power to examine the contacts of journalists,” Pace wrote. “While the actions detailed in the inspector general’s report occurred under a previous administration, the practices were described as routine.”

The DHS investigation of U.S. journalists, as well as congressional staff and perhaps members of Congress, which was reported by Yahoo News and AP on Saturday. It represents the latest apparent example of an agency created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks using its vast capabilities to target American citizens.

Internal Documents Show How Close the F.B.I. Came to Deploying Spyware
By Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman

During a closed-door session with lawmakers last December, Christopher A. Wray, the director of the F.B.I., was asked whether the bureau had ever purchased and used Pegasus, the hacking tool that penetrates mobile phones and extracts their contents.

Mr. Wray acknowledged that the F.B.I. had bought a license for Pegasus, but only for research and development. “To be able to figure out how bad guys could use it, for example,” he told Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, according to a transcript of the hearing that was recently declassified.

But dozens of internal F.B.I. documents and court records tell a different story. The documents, produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by The New York Times against the bureau, show that F.B.I. officials made a push in late 2020 and the first half of 2021 to deploy the hacking tools — made by the Israeli spyware firm NSO — in its own criminal investigations. The officials developed advanced plans to brief the bureau’s leadership, and drew up guidelines for federal prosecutors about how the F.B.I.’s use of hacking tools would need to be disclosed during criminal proceedings.

It is unclear how the bureau was contemplating using Pegasus, and whether it was considering hacking the phones of American citizens, foreigners or both. In January, The Times revealed that F.B.I. officials had also tested the NSO tool Phantom, a version of Pegasus capable of hacking phones with U.S. numbers.

The F.B.I. eventually decided not to deploy Pegasus in criminal investigations in July 2021, amid a flurry of stories about how the hacking tool had been abused by governments across the globe.

Breaking the News: New York Times Journalist Ben Hubbard Hacked with Pegasus after Reporting on Previous Hacking Attempts
By Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Siena Anstis, Bahr Abdul Razzak, and Ron Deibert

Hubbard was repeatedly subjected to targeted hacking with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. The hacking took place after the very public reporting in 2020 by Hubbard and the Citizen Lab that he had been a target. The case starkly illustrates the dissonance between NSO Group’s stated concerns for human rights and oversight, and the reality: it appears that no effective steps were taken by the company to prevent the repeated targeting of a prominent American journalist’s phone.

The hacking of a New York Times’ reporter adds to a long list of documented cases of journalists being targeted or hacked using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware:

  1. In December 2020, the Citizen Lab published a report outlining how the personal phones belonging to 36 journalists, producers, anchors, and executives at Al Jazeera, and a personal phone of a journalist at London-based Al Araby TV, were hacked with Pegasus spyware.
  2. Amnesty International’s Security Lab verified that Sevinc Vaqifqizi, a freelance journalist for independent media outlet Meydan TV, had his phone infected with Pegasus in early 2021.
  3. Amnesty also confirmed that the devices of Siddharth Varadarajan and MK Venu, co-founders of India’s the Wire, were infected with Pegasus as recently as June 2021.
  4. On August 2, 2021, French intelligence investigators confirmed that forensic traces associated with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware had been detected on three French journalists’ phones.
  5. In September 2021, the Citizen Lab confirmed that the phone of Dániel Németh, a photojournalist working out of Budapest, was also hacked with Pegasus spyware, with the forensic analysis independently verified by Amnesty’s Security Lab.
  6. Prior Citizen Lab research has documented targeted espionage against journalists and civic media using Pegasus spyware in cases involving Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

The extensive and routine abuse of Pegasus spyware to hack journalists is a direct threat to press freedom worldwide, and is contributing to a growing chilling climate for investigative journalism.

A Hacked Newsroom Brings a Spyware Maker to U.S. Court
By Ronan Farrow

Roman Gressier, an American journalist working for the Salvadoran news outlet El Faro, spent the spring of 2021 in his small, dorm-like apartment outside the capital. He was twenty-six, and had recently moved to San Salvador to pursue his long-standing ambition of working for El Faro, one of Central America’s foremost news organizations. Breaking a string of stories documenting corruption and malfeasance in the administration of El Salvador’s populist President, Nayib Bukele, El Faro has become a leading source of accountability in Central American media—and a source of frustration to Bukele.

One story, which Gressier translated into English, covered the U.S. State Department’s decision to place Bukele’s chief cabinet minister on a list of corrupt officials. Around the time that story was published in El Faro, Gressier’s iPhone 11 was hacked for the first of at least four times, according to analysis conducted by the watchdog group Citizen Lab. His device was infected with Pegasus, spyware developed by the Israeli technology company NSO Group. Pegasus seizes control of a target’s phone, providing access to its photos, messages, and other data. It allows the software’s operator to turn on the device’s camera and microphone, and use it as a listening device. The infections can be effected using “zero click” exploits, which do not require the phone’s user to take any action, and can eliminate obvious evidence that the spyware was even installed.

In a lawsuit filed today in federal court in San Jose, Gressier will become the first U.S. citizen whose phone was infected by Pegasus to sue NSO Group for damages, according to lawyers representing him at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Gressier is one of fifteen El Faro employees who are plaintiffs in the suit. They allege that NSO’s development and use of Pegasus violate the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and, because of the location of Apple’s servers, a similar California statute. They also ask the court to order NSO to disclose where any stolen data is stored and to delete it. “This will be the first case brought by journalists who are the victims of Pegasus attacks against NSO Group specifically in the United States,” Carrie DeCell, an attorney with the Knight Institute, told me. “The story of the attacks against these reporters is just bone-chilling.” (In NSO’s statement, the spokesperson said that the company “is confident that its legal arguments, which are public record, will ultimately prevail in court.”)

Individuals who allege that they have been hacked have sued NSO in countries outside of the United States. In the U.K. in recent years, several plaintiffs have begun litigation against both NSO Group and the Saudi Arabian and Emirati governments, and suits announced this year in Hungary, Thailand, and France are ongoing. In 2019 and 2021 respectively, WhatsApp and Apple sued NSO in U.S. court, alleging that the Israeli company had abused their systems to hack users.

The attorneys representing Gressier and the other journalists said they hope that the new lawsuit will put pressure on international investors connected to NSO Group. In 2019, NSO took on a vast amount of debt as part of a leveraged-buyout deal in which a London-based private-equity firm, Novalpina, acquired a seventy-per-cent stake. The Financial Times reported that the creditors Credit Suisse and Jefferies, which were underwriters of an initial five-hundred-million-dollar loan that facilitated that buyout, as well as an American hedge fund, Senator, had urged NSO to sell more of its spyware, even amid mounting international condemnation. Credit Suisse, Jefferies, and Senator said that they are not major creditors to NSO and that they do not direct the firm’s operations. An American firm, BRG Asset Management, a subsidiary of Berkeley Research Group, currently manages the fund that owns a majority stake in NSO Group, though a source there told me that NSO in the past year “withdrew any pretence of co-operation” and that the two entities have “effectively no contact.” DeCell, the lawyer, said of the new lawsuit, “We hope it really deters any investors around the world, but particularly U.S. investors, from continuing to fund spyware manufacturers, whether it’s in an advisory capacity or they’re in more direct control.”

The lawyers also hope to clarify how existing laws apply to the digital threats to press freedom posed by the burgeoning, multi-billion-dollar spyware industry. “There’s very little case law. There are very few cases in U.S. courts that have raised these kinds of issues,” Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute, told me. “We see this kind of targeting not as a problem only for the political dissident and the journalist and the human-rights activist but as a problem for human rights and democracy more broadly.”

NSO Group’s business is founded on secrecy; it has refused to publicly identify its clients. In the statement, the company said it sells its software only to “legitimate government agencies” for use in state intelligence and law-enforcement efforts, and maintained that its tools “have proven to save thousands of lives around the world.” It claimed that the firm “cannot know who the targets of its customers are.” Yet it cites its own “rigorous and unique compliance policies” and says it has “terminated contracts when misuse was found.”

Head of Israeli Cyber Firm NSO Group Reaffirms Company Commitment to Spyware
By Byron Tau and Dustin Volz

NSO Group is also facing a number of landmark legal challenges from American tech companies in U.S. federal court. Meta Platforms Inc., which owns Facebook and the messenger service WhatsApp, sued NSO in 2019 over what it alleged was a breach of its servers to install NSO malware on target devices. In addition, Apple has filed a separate suit in 2021 asking a court to permanently prohibit NSO Group from penetrating iPhones and other Apple devices.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month ruled that Meta’s lawsuit could proceed against NSO, rejecting the company’s argument that it had immunity on the grounds that all its customers were governments, which typically can’t be sued in U.S. courts.

Mr. Shohat said that if NSO Group doesn’t pursue contracts, the decades-old international spyware market will become dominated by companies less interested in playing by any rules, including by firms in countries that are adversarial to the U.S., such as Russia and China.

“Someone has to fill the vacuum,” he said.

U.S. says it ‘hacked the hackers’ to bring down ransomware gang
By Sarah N. Lynch and Raphael Satter

The FBI revealed on Thursday it had secretly hacked and disrupted a prolific ransomware gang called Hive, a maneuver that allowed the bureau to thwart the group from collecting more than $130 million in ransomware demands from more than 300 victims.

At a news conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said government hackers broke into Hive’s network and put the gang under surveillance, surreptitiously stealing the digital keys the group used to unlock victim organizations’ data.

They were then able to alert victims in advance so they could take steps to protect their systems before Hive demanded the payments.

Hive’s servers were also seized by the German Federal Criminal Police and the Dutch National High Tech Crime Unit.

“Intensive cooperation across national borders and continents, characterized by mutual trust, is the key to fighting serious cybercrime effectively,” said German police commissioner Udo Vogel in a statement from police and prosecutors in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, who assisted in the probe.

Reuters was not immediately able to locate contact details for Hive. It is unclear where they were geographically based.

The takedown of Hive is distinct from some of the other high-profile ransomware cases the U.S. Justice Department has announced in recent years, such as a cyber attack in 2021 against the Colonial Pipeline Co.

In that case, the Justice Department seized some $2.3 million in cryptocurrency ransom after the company had already paid the hackers.

The Spyware Threat to Journalists
By Steve Coll

… the Justice Department has for years legally collected the phone and e-mail records of American journalists—at times secretly, by subpoenaing service providers. Federal prosecutors operate under guidelines issued by the Attorney General. These rules came about following the exposure of unhinged abuses of power during the Nixon years. (In 1972, the Nixon operatives E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy met with a C.I.A. physician to discuss assassinating the investigative reporter Jack Anderson, possibly by smearing the steering wheel of his car with LSD, in the hope that, while high, he would have a fatal accident.) But, over time, the Justice Department has become less restrained. During the Obama Administration, the department, under the Espionage Act of 1917, prosecuted more cases involving leaks of classified information to reporters and the public than during all previous Administrations combined. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Trump Administration’s Justice Department secretly seized phone records of reporters at the Post, the Times, and CNN.

Strengthening First Amendment protections at home will surely help. Yet the problem of malign surveillance of journalists and dissidents abroad seems inseparable from the much wider assaults on citizen privacy that are intrinsic to much of our daily online life. When dictators abuse spyware, they are merely adapting digital marketing techniques of consumer “targeting” pioneered by Silicon Valley for the age of ubiquitous, indispensable smartphones.

The Autocrat in Your iPhone
By Ronald J. Deibert

The consequences of the spyware revolution are profound. In countries with few resources, security forces can now pursue high-tech operations using off-the-shelf technology that is almost as easy to acquire as headphones from Amazon. Among democracies, the technology has become an irresistible tool that can be deployed with little oversight; in the last year alone, security agencies in at least four European countries—Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Spain—have been implicated in scandals in which state agencies have been accused of deploying spyware against journalists and political opposition figures. A global market for spyware also means that forms of surveillance and espionage that were once limited to a few major powers are now available to almost any country, and potentially to even more private firms. Left unregulated, the proliferation of this technology threatens to erode many of the institutions, processes, and values on which the liberal international order depends.

The spyware revolution has emerged as a byproduct of a remarkable convergence of technological, social, and political developments over the past decade. Smartphones and other digital devices are vulnerable to surveillance because their applications often contain flaws and because they continually transmit data through insecure cellular and Internet networks. Although manufacturers of these technology platforms employ engineers to find and patch vulnerabilities, they tend to prioritize product development over security. By discovering and weaponizing “zero days”—software flaws that are unknown to their designers—spyware firms exploit the inherent insecurity of the digital consumer world.

But the extraordinary growth of the spyware market has also been driven by several broader trends. First, spyware takes advantage of a global digital culture that is shaped around always-on, always-connected smartphones. By hacking a personal device, spyware can provide its operators with a user’s entire pattern of life in real time. Second, spyware offers security agencies an elegant way to circumvent end-to-end encryption, which has become a growing barrier to government mass surveillance programs that depend on the collection of telecommunications and Internet data. By getting inside a user’s device, spyware allows its operators to read messages or listen to calls before they have been encrypted or after they have been decrypted; if the user can see it on the screen, so can the spyware. A third factor driving the industry’s growth has been the rise of digitally enabled protest movements. Popular upheavals such as the color revolutions in former Soviet states in the first decade of this century and the Arab Spring in 2010–11 took many autocrats by surprise, and the organizers often used phones to mobilize protesters. By offering an almost godlike way to get inside activist networks, spyware has opened up a powerful new method for governments to monitor dissent and take steps to neutralize it before large protests occur.

Finally, the spyware industry has also been fueled by the growing privatization of national security. Just as governments have turned to private contractors for complicated or controversial military operations, they have discovered that they can outsource surveillance and espionage to better-equipped and less visible private actors. Like soldiers of fortune, advanced spyware companies tend to put revenues ahead of ethics, selling their products without regard to the politics of their clients—giving rise to the term “mercenary spyware”—and like military contractors, their dealings with government security agencies are often cloaked in secrecy to avoid public scrutiny. Moreover, just as military contractors have offered lucrative private-sector careers for veterans of military and intelligence agencies, spyware firms and government security services have been building similarly mutually beneficial partnerships, boosting the industry in the process. Many senior members of NSO Group, for example, are veterans of Israeli intelligence, including the elite Military Intelligence Directorate.

The proliferating use of spyware against political and civil society targets in advanced democracies is concerning enough. Even more threatening, however, may be the ways in which the technology has allowed authoritarian regimes to extend their repression far beyond their own borders. In past decades, autocrats faced significant barriers to repressing citizens who had gone into exile. With spyware, however, an operator can get inside a political exile’s entire network without setting foot inside the target’s adopted country, and with very few of the risks and costs associated with conventional international espionage.

As protections for privacy rights, freedom of the press, and independent courts, come increasingly under threat in many countries, it will likely become even easier for corrupt firms or oligarchs to deploy mercenary spyware without accountability.

The more that spyware is incorporated into everyday intelligence gathering and policing, the harder it will be to rein it in. More ominously, spyware may soon acquire even more invasive capabilities by exploiting wearable applications, such as biomedical monitors, emotional detection technology, and Internet-connected neural networks currently in development. Already, many digital applications aim to drill deeper into the subliminal or the unconscious aspects of users’ behavior and gather data on their health and physiology.

Should the use of mercenary spyware continue to grow unchecked, the risks for democracy will become acute. If elites in any country can use this technology to neutralize legitimate political opposition on any point on earth, silence dissent through targeted espionage, undermine independent journalism, and erode public accountability with impunity, then the values on which the liberal international order is built may soon be no more secure than the passwords on our phones.

Most Americans Feel They’ve Lost Control Of Their Online Data
By Mary Louise Kelly

LEE RAINIE: Americans are all over the place when it comes to privacy. The most fundamental level, when you ask them the straight-on question, do you care about it or not, they do care. When you then talk to them about specific tradeoffs, they’re a little bit more in a transactional frame of mind. I’m going to give up a little bit of personal information. What am I going to get in return? But the one thing I think that’s predominant in our data now is that Americans are confused about what’s happening. They don’t exactly know what’s being collected. They don’t know what’s being done with it once the data are collected. And they’re totally freaked out about the number of data breaches that have occurred.

Data brokers raise privacy concerns — but get millions from the federal government
By Alfred Ng

The idea was simple and appealing: Give citizens a single, easy-to-use webpage to access all kinds of federal services, from passport renewal to small-business loans.

The site,, launched in 2017 and got backing from the Biden administration in an executive order last December. As of this week, it’s connected to more than 20 government agencies, including the Small Business Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, the Social Security Administration and NASA.

But when citizens enter their personal information to register for the site, it’s not the federal government that validates it — it’s a group of private-sector data brokers, companies that are increasingly under scrutiny for collecting, storing and selling massive amounts of information on Americans without their knowledge.

As the data broker industry has come into Washington’s sights, it has been pushing back against a proposed law that would limit its ability to harvest millions of people’s information and give citizens a right to block all third parties from collecting it.

“You have this situation where there are plenty of people in the government who really are interested in protecting people’s privacy and making sure that Americans’ data are not abused — but at the same time, you have federal government agencies who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars propping up the ecosystem that helps abuse and collect all of that data,” said Justin Sherman, a data brokerage researcher at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Data used for fraud prevention can be beneficial, but without regulations on data brokers, or limits on what that collection of information can be used for, privacy experts raise concerns that the federal government is benefiting an industry without any legal limits on how it can use the personal information it collects about people.

One reason data brokers have become so essential to the government is a decades-old federal law designed to protect citizens’ privacy.

The Privacy Act, passed in 1974, limits the government’s use and sharing of records between federal agencies. The law prevents federal agencies from sharing people’s information with each other, with exceptions for purposes like law enforcement investigations or routine, disclosed uses. This requires agencies to be clear in advance about what they use collected data for.

But these limitations don’t apply to private industries, which allows data brokers to gather the same information from multiple agencies and sell it right back to the federal government, as well as law enforcement agencies and advertisers.

It also doesn’t apply to state agencies. One result of that loophole is a massive database of citizen information is managed by a private nonprofit called the National Law Enforcement Telecommunication System, or NLETS. Managed by law enforcement officials across multiple states, it shares access to up to 45,000 federal, state and local government agencies for public safety purposes.

The workaround still creates a national database of Americans’ data for law enforcement use, but not for citizen services like

If the U.S. built its own national, federally accessible database of every American’s identity, it would open up a new set of concerns: Would it violate the Privacy Act? Would Congress find any kind of consensus on how to amend the law, or establish restrictions to ensure that data brokers couldn’t take advantage of it, or that government agencies don’t abuse the system themselves?

“I love the idea of taking business away from data brokers, but what are you going to replace it with?,” said Bob Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant who reviewed federal agencies’ privacy plans when the Privacy Act first passed. “Are you going to create a new monster?”

Google CEO Eric Schmidt Dismisses the Importance of Privacy
By Richard Esguerra

Yesterday, the web was buzzing with commentary about Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s dangerous, dismissive response to concerns about search engine users’ privacy. When asked during an interview for CNBC’s recent “Inside the Mind of Google” special about whether users should be sharing information with Google as if it were a “trusted friend,” Schmidt responded, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

In a talk about privacy given to the American Library Association, EFF Fellow Cory Doctorow highlights the error in logic that leads to short-sighted conceptions of privacy like Schmidt’s:

We have an unfortunate tendency to conflate personal and private with secret and we say, “Well, given that this information isn’t a secret, given that it’s known by other people, how can you say that it’s private?” And we can in fact say that there are a lot of things that are [not] in secret that are in private. Every one of us does something private and not secret when we go to the bathroom. Every one of us has parents who did at least one private thing that’s not a secret, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

So this decision — this determination — over when and under what circumstances your personal information is divulged tracks very closely to how free and how much power you have in a society. When you look at really stratified societies, particularly the great totalitarian empires of the last century, the further up the ladder you go, the more raw power you wield, the more raw power you have over this disclosure of your personal information. And the further down the ladder you go, the less power you have.

Google blackballs reporters, CNET – Aug. 5, 2005
By Jennifer Westhoven

The CNET story, dated July 14, focused on privacy concerns since Google is amassing such enormous amounts of data about people. It reported that some analysts fear it is becoming a great risk to privacy, because it would be a tempting target for hackers, “zealous government investigators, or even a Google insider who falls short of the company’s ethics,” the article said.

How Google Protected Andy Rubin, the ‘Father of Android’
By Daisuke Wakabayashi and Katie Benner

Mr. Rubin was one of three executives that Google protected over the past decade after they were accused of sexual misconduct. In two instances, it ousted senior executives, but softened the blow by paying them millions of dollars as they departed, even though it had no legal obligation to do so. In a third, the executive remained in a highly compensated post at the company. Each time Google stayed silent about the accusations against the men.

The New York Times obtained corporate and court documents and spoke to more than three dozen current and former Google executives and employees about the episodes, including some people directly involved in handling them. Most asked to remain anonymous because they were bound by confidentiality agreements or feared retribution for speaking out.

How CNET got banned by Google
By Elinor Mills

I’d met Google co-founder Sergey Brin in 1999 when he gave me a desk-side demo of the simple and fast Google search site. By the mid-aughts, the company had come a long way, going public in 2004. The hugely popular Google search was raking in ad revenue, but the fact that Google knew all of our web searches and the content of Gmails had some people worried about privacy risks. I decided that for my first big feature in my new job I’d do a deep dive into Google’s services to see if the concerns were justified. The resulting article — published Aug. 3, 2005, under the headline “Google balances privacy, reach” — would be the high-water mark of my journalism career. It certainly wasn’t a wash for Google, either. The company’s extreme reaction to my story prompted widespread criticism, led to a mini backlash and served as a case study in how not to deal with the media over perceived bad press.

My story opened with a rundown of things that a short Google search had revealed about Schmidt, such as his net worth, his home town, his fundraiser for Al Gore that Elton John performed at, and his trip to Burning Man. The day after the article was published, Ard got a call from a top corporate communications spokesman at Google complaining that the article was unfair and violated Schmidt’s privacy. He demanded that we remove it. When editors refused, the spokesman said that as a result, Google wouldn’t be talking to CNET for a year.

Leaked Document Says Google Fired Dozens of Employees for Data Misuse
By Joseph Cox

Google fired dozens of employees between 2018 and 2020 for abusing their access to the company’s tools or data, with some workers potentially facing allegations of accessing Google user or employee data, according to an internal Google document obtained by Motherboard.

The document provides concrete figures on an often delicate part of a tech giant’s operations: investigations into how the company’s own employees leverage their positions to steal, leak, or abuse data they may have access to. Insider abuse is a problem across the tech industry. Motherboard previously uncovered instances at Facebook, Snapchat, and MySpace, with employees in some cases using their access to stalk or otherwise spy on users.

The document says that Google terminated 36 employees in 2020 for security-related issues. Eighty-six percent of all security-related allegations against employees included mishandling of confidential information, such as the transfer of internal-only information to outside parties.

Multiple Snap employees reportedly accessed user data improperly — including location information, phone numbers, and saved Snaps
By Nick Bastone

Years ago, multiple Snap employees improperly accessed user information through internal tools, giving them the ability to spy on individuals using the video and messaging service, according to a Motherboard report on Thursday.

The data look-up system — known internally as “SnapLion” — was originally built by the company to help fulfill requests from law enforcement officers (or LEOs) who needed user information for things like court orders or subpoenas, according to the report. “LEO,” the acronym for law enforcement officer and name of the cartoon character “Leo the Lion,” eventually helped the data tool get its name, “SnapLion.”

But according to sources and correspondence obtained by Motherboard, multiple Snap employees abused their access to user data at the time. In some instances, that access would have included the ability to look up location information, saved Snaps, and personal information such as phone numbers and email addresses.

Instagram Fined $402 Million in EU for Allegedly Mishandling Children’s Data
By Sam Schechner

Instagram is being hit with the second-largest European Union privacy fine for allegedly mishandling data about children, ramping up the bloc’s enforcement of its privacy law against big technology companies.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission said Monday that it fined Instagram owner Meta Platforms Inc. 405 million euros ($402 million) in a long-running investigation that had looked at minors who operated business accounts on the service, potentially exposing more of their contact information than if they operated a personal account.

A Facebook engineer abused access to user data to track down a woman who had left their hotel room after they fought on vacation, new book says
By Sarah Jackson

A Facebook engineer abused employee access to user data to track down a woman who had left him after they fought, a new book said.

Between January 2014 and August 2015, the company fired 52 employees over exploiting user data for personal means, said an advance copy of “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination” that Insider obtained.

The engineer, who is unnamed, tapped into the data to “confront” a woman with whom he had been vacationing in Europe after she left the hotel room they had been sharing, the book said. He was able to figure out her location at a different hotel.

Another Facebook engineer used his employee access to dig up information on a woman with whom he had gone on a date after she stopped responding to his messages. In the company’s systems, he had access to “years of private conversations with friends over Facebook messenger, events attended, photographs uploaded (including those she had deleted), and posts she had commented or clicked on,” the book said. Through the Facebook app the woman had installed on her phone, the book said, the engineer was also able to see her location in real time.

Facebook employees were granted user data access in order to “cut away the red tape that slowed down engineers,” the book said.

“There was nothing but the goodwill of the employees themselves to stop them from abusing their access to users’ private information,” wrote Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, the book’s authors. They added that most of the employees who abused their employee privileges to access user data only looked up information, although a few didn’t stop there.

Most of the engineers who took advantage of access to user data were “men who looked up the Facebook profiles of women they were interested in,” the book said.

Facebook told Insider it fired employees found to have accessed user data for nonbusiness purposes.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, was first made aware of the problem in September 2015, when Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer at the time, raised the issue with him. In a presentation to Zuckerberg and the company’s top executives, Stamos said engineers had abused the access “nearly every month,” the book said.

At the time, more than 16,000 employees had access to users’ private data, the book said. Stamos suggested tightening access to fewer than 5,000 employees and fewer than 100 for particularly sensitive information such as passwords. He proposed requiring employees to submit formal requests for access to private data but received pushback from executives.

TikTok’s Chinese owner fires workers who gathered data on journalists
By Drew Harwell

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance said Thursday it had fired four employees after an internal investigation found they had accessed data on two journalists and other U.S. users while attempting to track down a company leak, a revelation that could further inflame doubts in Washington over the company’s Chinese roots.

In an attempt to identify who had shared internal documents with journalists from BuzzFeed and the Financial Times, workers on a ByteDance internal-audit team — two in China, two in the U.S. — pulled the reporters’ IP addresses and other data as well as that of people they’d connected with over TikTok, the investigation found.

The workers tried to use the IP addresses — numbered codes assigned to every internet-connected device that can give a rough estimate of a person’s location — to see whether the journalists and their associates had been in contact with ByteDance employees, the investigation found. The attempt did not identify the source of the leaks.

Erich Andersen, ByteDance’s general counsel, said the company’s Global Legal Compliance team brought in an external law firm to help investigate claims made in an October news report alleging the company had inappropriately gathered users’ location data.

The investigation, Andersen said, found that employees in ByteDance’s internal-audit department had carried out a “misguided plan” this summer to use TikTok user data to examine whether the journalists had made contact with current employees by pulling their IP addresses.

ByteDance’s attempt to use internal data to out journalists’ sources follows similar attempts from the U.S. tech giants Uber and Facebook, who used location data and other information to find employees and contractors they suspected had shared information with journalists.

A woman is ordered to repay $2,000 after her employer used software to track her time
By Juliana Kim

A growing number of companies are using technologies to monitor its staff while they work from home. Employers see it as a tool to ensure workers aren’t slacking off and improve efficiency. Workers and privacy advocates, however, say this kind of tracking is intrusive and worry that it will normalize workplace surveillance, even when people return to the office.

Former Twitter Employee Convicted of Charges Related to Spying for Saudis
By Kalley Huang and Kate Conger

A former Twitter employee was convicted on Tuesday by a jury in federal court of six charges related to accusations that he spied on the company’s users for Saudi Arabia.

While at Twitter, Ahmad Abouammo, 44, managed media partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa. He developed relationships with prominent individuals in the region, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars and a luxury watch from a top adviser to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. In return, prosecutors said, he shared the personal user information of dissidents with Saudi officials.

Mr. Abouammo repeatedly looked up personal information for the Twitter user behind an account known as Mujtahidd, as well as for other dissidents, prosecutors said. The Mujtahidd account is critical of Saudi leadership and has more than two million followers on Twitter. Prosecutors said Saudi representatives had paid $300,000 to Mr. Abouammo for the information.

Lawyers for Mr. Abouammo described him as merely a Twitter employee who had been doing his job. Other media-partnerships managers at Twitter also developed close relationships with influential people who used the platform and provided white-glove service, helping them become verified on Twitter and handling their complaints about impersonators and troublesome accounts, Mr. Abouammo’s defense argued.

Blue-Check Havoc: Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover Fuels a Media Meltdown
By Joe Pompeo

Some journalists are painstakingly deleting all of their DMs and asking contacts to do the same because, well, who knows what could happen with that? I received one such request the other day, and when I asked the person on the other end whether I should also consider a mass DM purge, they told me they were doing it because they’d been asked by several people to delete their DMs.

Twitter to pay $150 million fine over deceptively collected data
By Cat Zakrzewski

Federal regulators Wednesday announced that Twitter will pay a $150 million fine to settle allegations that it deceptively used email address and phone numbers it had collected to target advertising, in one of the largest privacy settlements federal regulators have reached with a tech giant.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department said the company also will be banned from profiting off the “deceptively collected” data and be required to notify the more than 140 million users who were affected that it used their phone numbers and email addresses for advertising, according to a news release about the settlement. And the company will be required to implement and maintain a new privacy program that will require the company to review the security risks of new products.

Twitter first announced in 2019 that it “inadvertently” mishandled users’ email and phone numbers for advertising purposes, one in a string of data privacy and security mishaps at the company. More recently in 2020, the company suffered a data breach that targeted high-profile politicians and billionaires, including Elon Musk.

Federal regulators penalized Facebook in 2019 for a similar situation.

The regulators’ complaint alleges that Twitter began asking people to provide emails and phone numbers in 2013, to help them reset accounts or enable two-factor authentication. Between 2014 and 2019, as millions shared those details, the company never told them that it would be matching those email addresses and phone numbers with data from data brokers to serve ads, the complaint alleges.

Hackers leak email addresses tied to 235 million Twitter accounts
By Joseph Menn

Records of 235 million Twitter accounts and the email addresses used to register them have been posted to an online hacking forum, setting the stage for anonymous handles to be linked to real-world identities.

That poses threats of exposure, arrest or violence against people who used Twitter to criticize governments or powerful individuals, and it could open up others to extortion, security experts said. Hackers could also use the email addresses to attempt to reset passwords and take control of accounts, especially those not protected by two-factor authentication.

“This database is going to be used by hackers, political hacktivists and of course governments to harm our privacy even further,” said Alon Gal, co-founder of the Israeli security company Hudson Rock, who spotted the posting on a popular underground marketplace.

The records were probably compiled in late 2021, using a flaw in Twitter’s system that allowed outsiders who already had an email address or phone number to find any account that had shared that information with Twitter. Those lookups could be automated to check an unlimited list of emails or phone numbers.

In its previous statement, Twitter said it fixed the flaw when it learned of it but did not say how long the process took. The report from January 2022 came during a chaotic month when the company fired both of its top security officers.

One of them, Peiter Zatko, had been arguing internally that Twitter was grossly unprepared to fend off hacking attempts, and he later filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and testified about the deficiencies in Congress.

While 235 million published records ranks among the largest breaches anywhere, it is only the latest in a stretch of security disasters at Twitter dating back more than a decade. Frequent account takeovers led to a 2011 settlement with the FTC that Zatko said the company has been violating.

While Elon Musk previously used Zatko’s testimony about poor security practices in a failed attempt to get out of buying the company, he has since laid off many of its security staffers.

Former Google exec: Antitrust enforcement is key to online privacy
By Ashley Gold

Antitrust action is desperately needed to reel in the practices of Big Tech companies, especially around privacy, Google’s former head of advertising said Tuesday.

Driving the news: Competition in tech is needed to ensure people are able to have private online experiences, because large companies like Google will never truly care about user privacy, Sridhar Ramaswamy said during an onstage interview with Axios in Toronto at the Collision Conference.

What they’re saying: “Big tech would like nothing better than to portray themselves as the saviors of our country, as the defender of democracy, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Ramaswamy said.

  1. Ramaswamy pointed to the U.S. Justice Department’s ongoing case against Google as a promising development for other browsers seeking to reach customers on their smartphones without tracking them across the internet: “It is going to unleash competition. They have no interest in privacy because their business is built on mass collection and exploitation of information.”

Big Tech Has Spent $36 Million on Ads to Torpedo Antitrust Bill
By John D. McKinnon , Ryan Tracy and Chad Day

Advocacy groups bankrolled by big technology companies have poured at least $36.4 million into TV and internet ads opposing antitrust legislation that would bar dominant tech platforms from favoring their own products and services, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

By comparison, groups supporting the antitrust legislation have spent about $193,000, according to a Journal analysis of data collected by AdImpact, an ad-tracking service.

The spending marks one of the biggest ad campaigns by the powerful tech industry in recent years and reflects its fear of the disruptive potential of tougher antitrust laws.

Many of the ads are running in lawmakers’ home states and districts. They aim to convince voters that easing antitrust standards would contribute to inflation, weaken America’s hand versus China or hurt consumers and small businesses by disrupting popular online services such as Amazon Prime or Google Maps.

Google and Meta Embrace Full-Court Strategy Against Media Ad Revenue Sharing Proposal
By Lee Fang

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, a bipartisan bill, would be the first piece of legislation to fundamentally challenge the business model for social media giants, forcing them to give major journalistic organizations a cut of their ad revenue.

As lawmakers consider whether to attach the measure to end-of-the-year spending packages, Google and Meta are pouring money into two, seemingly contradictory messages in an effort to defeat it.

The full-court strategy plays on left- and right-wing concerns about social media: According to the messaging, the JCPA is simultaneously a legislative proposal backed by liberals to “silence conservative voices” and a far-right effort that will fund pro-Trump voices that are the source of “dangerous misinformation.”

The JCPA, which was modeled on a novel 2021 Australian law, would provide a legal exemption to antitrust rules for media outlets to collectively bargain with Silicon Valley platforms for a slice of the advertising revenues they help generate.

Proponents argue that Google and Facebook’s domination over the online advertising industry has decimated the traditional news business model. While social media companies report profits in the billions of dollars, the news industry has seen the destruction of over 70 daily and 2,000 weekly news outlets since 2004. One Pew Research Center survey, taken before the pandemic, found that U.S. newsrooms had shed 30,000 positions since 2008, a number that has likely grown over the last two years.

Proponents of the JCPA point to the relative success of the Australia model, which led to AU$200 million in revenue sharing with news publishers. Many publications large and small have reported success from the deal, including The Guardian, which increased its newsroom in Australia by 50 journalists following a negotiated deal.

“I think it’s a lot of astroturfing,” said Jon Schweppe, the director of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, a right-leaning watchdog group that warns against the influence of the tech industry. “These guys, the big tech companies, are brilliant at doing the double talk to both sides at once.”

Local news faces a political future as the JCPA falls foul of lobbyists
By Emily Bell

Google and Meta are both very active and wealthy lobbyists, who targeted the provisions of the Bill in both this and former iterations. Surprisingly perhaps many journalists and some journalism trade groups also went on the record to oppose the bill, such as the Local Independent Online News publishers, who work closely with Google to distribute their journalism program funds. A fair number of the trade and civil society organizations opposing the legislation are themselves recipients of at least some funding or close commercial partnerships from Google or Meta over the past five years. The lack of clarity in who funds which organization makes the evaluation of potential legislative fixes in the US particularly difficult to gauge.

Ex-Google boss helps fund dozens of jobs in Biden’s administration
By Alex Thompson

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google who has long sought influence over White House science policy, is helping to fund the salaries of more than two dozen officials in the Biden administration under the auspices of an outside group, the Federation of American Scientists.

The revelation of Schmidt’s role in funding the jobs, the extent of which has not been previously reported, adds to a picture of the tech mogul’s growing influence in the White House science office and in the administration – at a time when the federal government is looking closely at future technologies and potential regulations of Artificial Intelligence.

“Schmidt is clearly trying to influence AI policy to a disproportionate degree of any person I can think of,” said Alex Engler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in AI policy. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in investment toward advancing AI capacity in government and not much in limiting its harmful use.”

“Eric Schmidt appears to be systematically abusing this little-known set of programs to exert his influence in the federal government,” said Katie Paul, the director of the Tech Transparency Project which published a report Tuesday on Schmidt and the IPA program. “The question is, on whose behalf is it? Google, where he’s still a major shareholder? Is it to advance his own portfolio of investments–artificial intelligence and bioengineering or energy? The public has a right to know who is paying their public servants and why.”

Schmidt has argued that he is not motivated by making money but rather a sincere conviction that the 21st century will largely be defined by which countries have the most advanced artificial intelligence capabilities.

As a result, Schmidt has become increasingly involved with the Pentagon in recent years. Schmidt chaired the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board from 2016 to 2020. He is also an investor in and sits on the board of the AI-focused defense contractor Rebellion Defense which has won a number of contracts from the Biden Pentagon.

Controversial Data-Mining Firm Palantir Vanishes From Biden Adviser’s Biography After She Joins Campaign
By Murtaza Hussain

In the run-up to the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is putting together a foreign policy team for a potential future administration. Among those described as being part of the team is Avril Haines, former deputy director of the CIA during the Obama administration. According to an NBC News report from last week, Haines has been tapped to work advising on policy, as well as lead the national security and foreign policy team.

In addition to her past national security work and impressive presence in the D.C. think tank world, Haines has in the past described herself as a former consultant for the controversial data-mining firm Palantir. Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.

Co-founded by a far-right, Trump-supporting tech billionaire, Palantir, whose business has benefited from a slew of government contracts, has been accused of aiding in the Trump administration’s immigration detention programs in the U.S. and helping the Trump administration build out its surveillance state.

“Palantir’s information technology systems have given the Trump administration the ability to carry out mass deportations that have been tearing apart and terrorizing our immigrant communities,” said Yasmine Taeb, senior policy counsel at Demand Progress, a group that marshals support for causes ranging from human rights to transparency.

The ties to the Trump administration aren’t the only aspect of Palantir’s history that raises questions. The company has also been accused in the past of plotting to intimidate journalists involved in reporting documents released by WikiLeaks. And Palantir has also provided services to police — another move that appears to put the company out of step with the current political moment. The company also aided the National Security Agency by creating the tools to facilitate worldwide spying.

Palantir Extends Controversial Defense Contract That Google Abandoned
By Lizette Chapman

Palantir, co-founded by conservative billionaire Peter Thiel, has made support of the US and its allies core to the company’s identity. Thiel has attacked Palantir rival Google for eschewing work with military applications. Palantir’s latest deal is part of a program previously known as Project Maven, which made headlines in 2018 after employees at Alphabet Inc.’s Google objected to developing AI capabilities for the Defense Department. Google ditched the contract and Palantir took the lead, using AI and machine learning to improve existing video recognition software and analysis to increase the accuracy of actions like drone strikes.

Partly founded with seed money from the Central Intelligence Agency following the Sept. 11 attacks, Palantir has deep nationalistic roots. Thiel and Chief Executive Officer Alex Karp labeled Google’s abandonment of Project Maven as anti-American, and Palantir famously foreswore doing business in China and other countries not allied with American interests.

Earlier this week, Palantir announced another deal with the US, renewing its contract with Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The latest contract is worth $95.9 million over a five-year period, the company said. Palantir has received criticism for its work with ICE in the past.

The deals further expand Palantir’s footprint within the US government. The company’s revenue from the public sector eclipses its revenue from its commercial clients.

How the algorithm tipped the balance in Ukraine
By David Ignatius

Palantir, which began its corporate life working with the CIA on counterterrorism tools, has many critics. That’s partly because its biggest funder, from the start, has been co-founder Peter Thiel, a successful tech investor who has also been a strong supporter of Donald Trump and other MAGA Republicans. Karp, by contrast, has supported many Democratic candidates and causes.

The critics have argued that Palantir’s powerful software has been misused by government agencies to violate privacy or serve questionable ends. For example, The Post wrote in 2019 that Palantir’s software was used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help track undocumented immigrants, which led to protests from some of the company’s employees. Tech community activists have asked whether Palantir is too close to the U.S. government and can “see too much” with its tools.

Karp responded to criticism of the company in an email to me last week: “Silicon Valley screaming at us for over a decade did not make the world any less dangerous. We built software products that made America and its allies stronger — and we are proud of that.”

And Ukraine has shifted the political landscape in Silicon Valley. For Karp and many other technology CEOs, this is “the good war” that has led many companies to use their tools aggressively. This public-private partnership is one of the keys to Ukraine’s success. But it obscures many important questions: How dependent should countries be on entrepreneurs whose policy views could change? We can applaud the use of these tools in “good” wars, but what about bad ones? And what about private tools being turned against the governments that helped create them?

Twitter Is Said to Have Struggled Over Revealing U.S. Influence Campaign
By Kate Conger and Sheera Frenkel

In response to a 2017 request from the Pentagon, Twitter kept online a network of accounts that the U.S. military used to advance its interests in the Middle East, according to internal company emails that were made public on Tuesday by The Intercept, a nonprofit publication.

A counterterrorism division at Twitter knew about the arrangement, but others did not, five people with knowledge of the matter said. When it became more widely known within the company, executives rushed to undo it. But they struggled with whether to publicly disclose the military-run Twitter accounts, the people said.

Some of the accounts were removed, but others remained online for years. Twitter eventually disclosed the U.S. influence campaign this year.

The situation was unusual because Twitter normally removes and publicly discloses influence campaigns conducted by governments. Social media companies have taken a strong line against state-backed influence campaigns since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when Russia misused Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to influence American voters. But in this case, Twitter’s transparency efforts moved slowly and the company showed deference to the U.S. government.

The internal documents published by The Intercept were provided by Twitter under its new owner, Elon Musk. Mr. Musk has made an archive of documents available to select journalists to scrutinize the decisions of the company’s previous leaders. He did not respond to a request from The New York Times for access to the files.

Twitter allows governments to operate accounts on its platform so long as the accounts clearly state who is running them. Accounts that masquerade as civilians are forbidden. Some of the accounts in the Pentagon’s 2017 request were clearly labeled government-run, three people who participated in discussions said, while others were not.

Twitter executives then removed some of the military accounts that were not clearly labeled, three people involved in the discussions said.

But while the company regularly disclosed other state-backed influence campaigns in transparency reports, executives hesitated in this case, the people said. Some feared they could violate national security laws by speaking publicly about the takedown of the campaign, they said.

In August, Twitter announced that it had removed several accounts that promoted U.S. foreign policy interests abroad, the first time it had disclosed such a campaign. Accounts linked to the campaign were also removed from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Facebook Allows Praise of Neo-Nazi Ukrainian Battalion If It Fights Russian Invasion
By Sam Biddle

Facebook will temporarily allow its billions of users to praise the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit previously banned from being freely discussed under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, The Intercept has learned.

The policy shift, made this week, is pegged to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and preceding military escalations. The Azov Battalion, which functions as an armed wing of the broader Ukrainian white nationalist Azov movement, began as a volunteer anti-Russia militia before formally joining the Ukrainian National Guard in 2014; the regiment is known for its hardcore right-wing ultranationalism and the neo-Nazi ideology pervasive among its members. Though it has in recent years downplayed its neo-Nazi sympathies, the group’s affinities are not subtle: Azov soldiers march and train wearing uniforms bearing icons of the Third Reich; its leadership has reportedly courted American alt-right and neo-Nazi elements; and in 2010, the battalion’s first commander and a former Ukrainian parliamentarian, Andriy Biletsky, stated that Ukraine’s national purpose was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].” With Russian forces reportedly moving rapidly against targets throughout Ukraine, Facebook’s blunt, list-based approach to moderation puts the company in a bind: What happens when a group you’ve deemed too dangerous to freely discuss is defending its country against a full-scale assault?

According to internal policy materials reviewed by The Intercept, Facebook will “allow praise of the Azov Battalion when explicitly and exclusively praising their role in defending Ukraine OR their role as part of the Ukraine’s National Guard.” Internally published examples of speech that Facebook now deems acceptable include “Azov movement volunteers are real heroes, they are a much needed support to our national guard”; “We are under attack. Azov has been courageously defending our town for the last 6 hours”; and “I think Azov is playing a patriotic role during this crisis.”

The materials stipulate that Azov still can’t use Facebook platforms for recruiting purposes or for publishing its own statements and that the regiment’s uniforms and banners will remain as banned hate symbol imagery, even while Azov soldiers may fight wearing and displaying them. In a tacit acknowledgement of the group’s ideology, the memo provides two examples of posts that would not be allowed under the new policy: “Goebbels, the Fuhrer and Azov, all are great models for national sacrifices and heroism” and “Well done Azov for protecting Ukraine and it’s white nationalist heritage.”

In a statement to The Intercept, company spokesperson Erica Sackin confirmed the decision but declined to answer questions about the new policy.

Azov’s formal Facebook ban began in 2019, and the regiment, along with several associated individuals like Biletsky, were designated under the company’s prohibition against hate groups, subject to its harshest “Tier 1” restrictions that bar users from engaging in “praise, support, or representation” of blacklisted entities across the company’s platforms. Facebook’s previously secret roster of banned groups and persons, published by The Intercept last year, categorized the Azov Battalion alongside the likes of the Islamic State and the Ku Klux Klan, all Tier 1 groups because of their propensity for “serious offline harms” and “violence against civilians.” Indeed, a 2016 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that Azov soldiers had raped and tortured civilians during Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

The exemption will no doubt create confusion for Facebook’s moderators, tasked with interpreting the company’s muddled and at time contradictory censorship rules under exhausting conditions. While Facebook users may now praise any future battlefield action by Azov soldiers against Russia, the new policy notes that “any praise of violence” committed by the group is still forbidden; it’s unclear what sort of nonviolent warfare the company anticipates.

Pentagon opens sweeping review of clandestine psychological operations
By Ellen Nakashima

The Pentagon has ordered a sweeping audit of how it conducts clandestine information warfare after major social media companies identified and took offline fake accounts suspected of being run by the U.S. military in violation of the platforms’ rules.

Frustrated with perceived legal obstacles to the Defense Department’s ability to conduct clandestine activities in cyberspace, Congress in late 2019 passed a law affirming that the military could conduct operations in the “information environment” to defend the United States and to push back against foreign disinformation aimed at undermining its interests. The measure, known as Section 1631, allows the military to carry out clandestine psychological operations without crossing what the CIA has claimed as its covert authority, alleviating some of the friction that had hindered such operations previously.

“Combatant commanders got really excited,” recalled the first defense official. “They were very eager to utilize these new authorities. The defense contractors were equally eager to land lucrative classified contracts to enable clandestine influence operations.”

The State Department and CIA have been perturbed by the military’s use of clandestine tactics. Officers at State have admonished the Defense Department, “Hey don’t amplify our policies using fake personas, because we don’t want to be seen as creating false grass roots efforts,” the first defense official said.

One diplomat put it this way: “Generally speaking, we shouldn’t be employing the same kind of tactics that our adversaries are using because the bottom line is we have the moral high ground. We are a society that is built on a certain set of values. We promote those values around the world and when we use tactics like those, it just undermines our argument about who we are.”

US secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest and undermine government
By Associated Press

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a US government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the US government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the US Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in US humanitarian aid.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.

Documents show the US government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAid document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

Officials at USAid realized however, that they could not conceal their involvement forever — unless they left the stage. The predicament was summarized bluntly when Eberhard was in Washington for a strategy session in early February 2011, where his company noted the “inherent contradiction” of giving Cubans a platform for communications uninfluenced by their government that was in fact financed by the US government and influenced by its agenda.

Documents Show How the US Government Used Social Media to Intervene in Venezuela
By Tim Gill and Christian Lewelling

Following the death of Socialist former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the National Democratic Institute — an independent arm of the US government created to fund and support political parties abroad in a more formal manner than the Central Intelligence Agency — funded members of the Venezuelan opposition to use the social media giant to mobilize their supporters and draw followers of the Socialist government “across the aisle.” We recently received US government documents from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that illustrate how the government developed a program focused on using Facebook to assist the Venezuelan opposition in municipal elections in 2013 and legislative elections in 2015. The documents show, in other words, that the US government is actively using social media to meddle in other countries’ elections.

Activists across the world have used Facebook, Twitter, and other online mediums to transmit messages, coordinate protests, and even take down governments. Given the importance of Facebook in particular, there has been increased pressure to regulate messaging on the site. US lawmakers, for instance, have decried the company for failing to crack down on alleged disinformation campaigns from Russia designed to sow chaos and influence elections in the United States. In addition, many have denounced the corporation’s failure to crack down on Trump-supporting activists who claimed the 2020 elections were fraudulent and used the site to organize the January 6 rebellion in Washington, DC.

In the wake of the Facebook Papers, US lawmakers have reignited their criticisms of the tech giant.

Beginning in October 2013, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — a government agency created by the Reagan administration — provided nearly $300,000 for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for a program titled Venezuela: Improved Training and Communications Skills for Political Activists. The NDI was also founded under the Reagan administration, as the international arm of the Democratic Party, alongside its GOP counterpart, the International Republican Institute. Both groups, however, often work alongside one another and support many of the same actors and objectives abroad.

The NED remains the parent agency of both groups and receives nearly all of its funding from taxpayers. Though the NED and NDI claim their independence from the US government, they must both report their activities to Congress, which remain subject to FOIA requests.

In the program’s description, the NED claims that the Venezuelan government has sought to control the country’s “mass media,” using it as a tool to coerce its citizens. As a result, the NED reports that opponents and “political activists have particular challenges in communicating with citizens as well [as] organizing and mobilizing supporters.” Alternatively, the NED describes social media as “less vulnerable to government restrictions and . . . a useful tool for independent political activists in Venezuela to disseminate messages and organize.”

First, the NDI planned and hosted “a seminar outside Venezuela on the use of technology and social media for citizen outreach and engagement.” In addition, the NDI created a “Virtual Toolbox” hosted on a respective site titled Red Innovación, a site also funded by the NED, offering “online customized capacity-building course on a range of issues relating to political innovation.” The site and its courses remain active.

Following municipal elections in December 2013, NDI staff hosted a “strategy review session” with members of the opposition “to develop longer-term strategies to maintain contact with citizens and improve their ability to communicate and disseminate information using ICTs.” In addition, the NDI hired a consultant “to provide ongoing coaching for program participants.”

Following the implementation of its program, the NDI discussed its results on its website. Indeed, they deemed this program a case study in success.

The Venezuelan government has undoubtedly become more authoritarian under Maduro. The question that these newly obtained documents raise, however, is not whether Maduro is “good” or “bad” but whether or not US taxpayers should be funding and training Venezuelan opposition members to use Facebook for their right-wing political campaigns.

Indeed, the outrage over alleged Russian intervention in US electoral campaigns hasn’t ceased. Why, then, is it permissible for the US government to engage in explicitly partisan behavior abroad?

Biden puts Venezuela in the axis of lesser evils
By Stephen Kinzer

For years the United States has piled economic sanctions on Venezuela. They were first imposed during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, an anti-imperialist firebrand who once told the United Nations General Assembly that President George W. Bush was “the devil.” Since Chavez died in 2013 and was replaced by Nicolás Maduro, we have intensified our sanctions. President Obama declared them necessary because Venezuela — bankrupt, without a functioning navy, and more than 1,000 miles from our shores — posed an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

After Maduro won dubious reelection in 2019, the US State Department announced that we no longer recognized him and would henceforth consider an opposition congressman, Juan Guaidó, to be Venezuela’s true president. We cajoled more than 50 countries into recognizing this nonexistent government. The Justice Department then accused Maduro of narco-terrorism, described him as “former president of Venezuela,” and offered $15 million for information leading to his capture.

In 2020 “President” Guaidó enjoyed a hero’s welcome in Washington. He was given a bipartisan ovation at the State of the Union ceremony. President Trump embraced his “righteous battle for freedom.” Meanwhile, sanctions on Venezuela were tightened yet again. Economic collapse plunged millions of Venezuelans into poverty and set off a flood of migration. A squad of 60 armed men, including two Americans with military backgrounds, was intercepted while trying to storm a beach near Caracas, hoping to stage a coup. Nothing worked.

Last month the US Treasury Department issued a license to an American oil company — Chevron — allowing it to work in Venezuela. American banks will also release $3 billion in frozen Venezuelan assets.

The money will be used to pay for food and other aid for poor Venezuelans, in a program administered by the United Nations. This arrangement emerged from talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition figures. They reached a comparable agreement five years ago, brokered by Spain, but the United States scuttled it. We were still in no-negotiation mode and wanted the opposition to settle for nothing less than regime change. Now we’re pushing them in the opposite direction. It’s a welcome return to diplomacy, even if the underlying reason is lust for oil.

Bashing Venezuela has been part of the foreign policy catechism in Washington for a generation. It was always an odd passion, more suited to the days of the Monroe Doctrine and the Cold War than to today. Some of it stems from our long history of slapping down defiant governments in Latin America. Yet our back-and-forth with Venezuela also reflects a central contradiction in Western foreign policy.

During World War II President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill promised that after the war, the West would “respect the right of all peoples to choose the government under which they will live.” Since then, however, Western powers have lashed out repeatedly when other countries chose governments we disliked.

A ‘Nothingburger’ Letter About Ukraine, the Backlash and Washington’s New Groupthink
By Peter Beinart

During the last Cold War, fears of appearing soft on communism cowed progressive legislators into silence as the United States descended into war in Vietnam. After the attacks of Sept. 11, many Democrats acquiesced to the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq because they feared being called soft on terrorism. When it comes to Russia and China, another climate of conformity is now taking hold. Unless challenged, it could eventually bring disaster as well.

In June 1964, President Lyndon Johnson told Senator Richard Russell that Americans will “forgive you for anything except being weak.” Two months later, that fear led even congressional liberals to overwhelmingly support the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized Johnson’s disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War.

Like the war on terrorism, cold wars create their own cancel culture. They encourage politicians to swallow their doubts as conflicts escalate. They make compromise and cooperation with America’s adversaries appear dishonorable.

The greatest current threat to wise American foreign policy isn’t polarization. It’s groupthink.

Progressives’ Ukraine Letter Was Right (and Pointless)
By Eric Levitz

The Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the White House Monday in which the liberal legislators advised Joe Biden to seek a diplomatic resolution in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Yet the letter was almost universally condemned for selling out Ukraine. Signatories began distancing themselves from the remarks within hours of their publication. By Tuesday afternoon, progressives had formally withdrawn the letter. House progressives claimed that it was drafted in late June and that its publication this week had not been approved by all signatories. CPC chair Pramila Jayapal claimed the letter had been released by her staff without approval, though there is some reason to doubt this being the case. Further, while the letter may initially have been drafted in June, it must have been updated ahead of its release as the existing text refers to recent Russian actions in Ukraine.

The Press and the Cold War
By Allen Weinstein

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions.

“It was a time of evil,” Dalton Trumbo reminisced during a recent speech on the McCarthy era, “and no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil … it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims…. That is why none of us—right, left, or center—emerged from that long nightmare without sin.” Trumbo, one of the “Hollywood Ten,” spoke on behalf of those like himself who were victimized by the movie industry’s anti ‐ Communist blacklist, but his remarks apply to all those Americans a generation ago who lost jobs, were summoned before Congressional committees, sent to jail or harassed publicly for their present or former radical associations.

Most cold war revisionists have concentrated on American foreign policy, but some younger scholars holding this perspective have begun examining the domestic cold war, largely in order to apportion blame for such developments as the Truman loyalty program, Congressional Redbaiting, the rise and fall of Joe McCarthy, and the role of American journalism in the cold war.

One of the writers in question, James Aronson, continues to wage the battles of that past: Aronson, an unreconstructed old left newspaperman and former editor of the National Guardian, assailsthe American press for complicity in the cold war.

“Should a newspaper like the National Guardian,” he asks, “[have been subjected] to continuing harassment that … included three Congres … sional investigations and the exile [deportation] of its founding editor?” His most provocative sections describe indignities suffered during the McCarthy era by radical cr ex‐radical newsmen, victims such as Aronson himself and Cedric Belfrage, the National Guardian’s deported editor. Most American newspapers failed to cover adequately or to condemn the plight of such journalists. Moreover, many papers, The Times among them, summarily dismissed staff members who refused to cooperate with Congressional Redhunters.

[As a result of the investigations of the Eastland Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, which in 1955 singled out The Times for particular attention, The Times decided that any employe in a position of editorial or news responsibility who did not cooperate with The Times regarding disclosure to The Times of past Communist party affiliation would be dismissed.

[Under this policy, three employes who cooperated with The Times were retained as Times employes even though they did not cooperate with the Eastland Subcommittee and consequently were cited ‘for contempt. Of 23 Times employes called before the Eastland Subcommittee, only three —who refused to cooperate both with The Times and the Eastland Subcommittee — were dismissed by. The Times.—Editor.]

The stringent loyalty program that Truman initiated was aimed at neutralizing Republican criticism, gaining bipartisan congressional support in foreign policy, and placating Catholic Democrats. Moreover, to increase his credibility within the G.O.P. camp, he relied heavily on conservative Republicans to administer the program, men inclined to believe the worst about an accused employe, with or without proof.

The loyalty program proved an utter fiasco. Republicans continued to pound away at the problem of “Communism‐ingovernment,” especially after the collapse of Nationalist China in 1949. Moreover, as: Philip M. Stern noted in his recent study of the Oppenheimer case, of the nearly five million Federal employes screened from 1947 to 1952, only 560, “about one one‐hundredth of one per cent—were … ‘removed or denied Federal employment on grounds relating to loyalty.” The New Deal‐Fair Deal bureaucracy had proven, in Stern’s phrase, “99, and 99/100 per cent ‘pure’.” Although Harper considers Truman’s crude and ineffective system basically a “sane” one, “The Politics of Loyalty” provides unwitting support for the argument that no major threat to America’s internal security existed that might have justified the loyalty program.

Neither Truman nor any of the covey of spy‐hunters who belonged to committees such as the House Un‐American Activities Committee served as ringmaster for the age of suspicion. That role was played by Joe McCarthy, the junior Senator from Wisconsin, whose “typical presentation,” observes Robert Griffith, consisted of “charges minus proof.” In his “The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate,” Griffith agrees with previous writers that McCarthy was ‘basically a charismatic front‐man for that substantial segment of Republican politicians bent on exploiting the “Reds‐ih‐government” issue: “he entered a full‐dress debate in which the sides were already chosen, the issues drawn, and the slogans manufactured.” McCarthy raked the mucky archives of earlier Republican spy‐hunters, under whose tutelage he perfected the technique of guilt‐by‐association.

Griffith, a historian at the University of Georgia, has written a splendid account of McCarthy’s Senate career. He spends too much time, however, condemning not only McCarthy but the upper chamber itself for failing “to exercise those restraints necessary to halt McCarthy’s excesses.”

Although Griffith lambasts the Senate for tolerating McCarthy’s feverish antics, he recognizes that “the real key to McCarthy’s continued power [was] not the ranting of [fellow‐] demagogues, but the fear and irresolution of honorable men.”

Why Is the Wartime Press Corps So Hawkish?
By Mark Hannah

Armed conflict has a way of bringing out both the best and the worst in U.S. journalism. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, war correspondents have courageously delivered battlefield news reports that lay bare Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutality. Yet many journalists and commentators—most of whom live comfortably removed from the front lines—have lately been calling on the United States to escalate its involvement in dangerous ways. Leading national security journalists have openly suggested that the U.S. military simply bomb Russian convoys or enact a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would require shooting down Russian planes. The White House press corps has barraged the White House press secretary with questions, practically goading the president to intervene. Some frame the war as a matter of existential importance for U.S. security, comparing failure to intervene with appeasing former Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

These calls for the United States to join the fight seem especially shocking and glib, considering the serious dangers of conflict between two nuclear-armed powers. As the Atlantic Council’s Damir Marusic explains, even minor skirmishes can escalate to nuclear exchanges terrifyingly fast. Given these risks, U.S. President Joe Biden has been understandably cautious—a trait that doesn’t always play well in a polarized news culture. Fox News invited a Ukrainian official to characterize the president making the no-fly zone decision as “afraid” and a Republican senator to call it “heartless.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board thinks Putin has “succeeded in intimidating Mr. Biden” with the threat of nuclear escalation. Meanwhile, the American people are not fully informed on the details or likely consequences of such an action. Polling finds Americans supportive of a no-fly zone at first glance, with support for the idea dropping like a rock once pollsters explain it would almost certainly result in an honest-to-goodness shooting war with Russia.

This all matters because the editorial choices made by news organizations have a genuine ability to push political decision-making in an unduly hawkish direction. Journalists’ ability to shape public opinion is particularly strong in foreign-policy debates for two reasons. First, foreign policy tends to be perceived as less important by voters than domestic issues, so public views on foreign affairs are less strongly held and more easily swayed. Second, unlike economic challenges like inflation, most voters have no direct exposure to international issues in their daily lives and largely depend on news coverage to form opinions on foreign affairs.

This creates perverse incentives for policymakers. Obama and Trump both wanted to end the war in Afghanistan, but both were likely deterred by the media firestorm and subsequent political blowback (which Biden ultimately experienced). With each of the major news networks devoting an average of 24 minutes of coverage per year to Afghanistan in the four years before the fall of Kabul, continuing the war was as politically easy as it was strategically foolish. Members of Congress are sensitive to media narratives as they constantly campaign for reelection, and this puts further constraints on presidential decision-making. Put simply, a pro-war bias makes wars easy to start and hard to end.

Where does such a bias come from? First, national security coverage largely relies on official and military sources that, like a man with a hammer who always sees a nail, are likely to favor intervention. When the president withdrew troops from Afghanistan, many of the people criticizing his decision on TV were the very national security professionals who were involved (and thus invested) in perpetuating that war. This reliance on official sources by the U.S. press is a concept academics call “indexing,” and it limits the range of debate. There are alternative models. French news, for example, relies more heavily on civil society voices, so it tends to consist of a wider range of perspectives.

Second, national security reporting is especially dependent on government sources, since it often requires access to active combat zones and sensitive information. Relationships with such sources can make or break a career, and publicly opposing a military position can endanger access.

Third, in an attempt to make complicated geopolitical topics intelligible to a wide audience, journalists and analysts tend to force global events into clear moral frameworks with clear-cut heroes and villains.

But actions with morally righteous intentions often devastate the people they aim to help. Just as Libyans and Iraqis are worse off today than they were before they were liberated from the scourge of former Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi or former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, it’s unclear whether more U.S.-supplied weapons on the battlefield will help Ukrainians prevail or prolong their suffering.

‘Nearly Every War Has Been The Result Of Media Lies’: Julian Assange, State-Corporate Media And Ukraine
By David Cromwell

The Guardian recently joined with the New York Times, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel in publishing an open letter calling on US President Joe Biden to end Assange’s prosecution. It has been ten years since Assange sought refuge in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. After being dragged from the embassy by police in April 2019, Assange has been locked up in the harsh regime of Belmarsh prison, suffering from failing physical and mental health. Indeed, according to then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, Assange is literally a victim of torture. In 2020, the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, published a letter from Doctors for Assange, with 216 signatories from 33 countries, drawing urgent attention to ‘the ongoing torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.’

Political writer Thomas Scripps noted that the open letter from the five newspapers:

‘makes clear that Assange has been the victim of a monstrous campaign of state persecution, costing him years of his life and good health, for revealing state criminality, designed to set a chilling example for others.’

But what took them so long to speak out? Scripps observed:

‘The conduct of these newspapers over the past decade has been thoroughly reprehensible. Their efforts to poison public opinion against Assange, to give credence to the false claims and accusations made against him, facilitated the American state’s persecution of this principled and courageous journalist.’

Australian journalist John Pilger, who has done so much to raise public awareness of Assange’s plight, was scathing:

‘The editors of the Guardian, NY Times etc. finally speak up for Julian #Assange — weasel words and 10 years late. Ten years after the Guardian made public WikiLeaks’ secret password and launched a campaign of vilification against a truthteller.’

He added:

‘The Guardian, which has played a major role in the persecution of Julian #Assange, is now scurrying for cover with a call for him to be freed. But even its weasel statement repeats malign fiction about his failure to redact files.’

Pilger was referring to the oft-repeated smear that the WikiLeaks co-founder recklessly endangered the lives of informants when publishing information that exposed US war crimes. In fact, Assange was extremely careful in redacting names, and he was effectively thrown to the wolves by both the Guardian and the New York Times.

Why speak out now in defence of Assange, ten years too late? The likely concern is that a US show trial would expose the newspapers’ own nefarious role in providing cover for US war crimes, as well as in enabling the persecution of Assange.

Misreporting Manafort: A Case Study in Journalistic Malpractice
By Alan MacLeod

In what has been described as potentially the biggest story of the year, the Guardian’s Luke Harding (11/27/18) reported last week that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, held a series of secret talks with WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange. These meetings were said to have occurred inside the Ecuadorian embassy between 2013 and 2016. The report also mentions that unspecified “Russians” were also among Assange’s visitors. The scoop, according to the newspaper, could “shed new light” on the role of WikiLeaks’ release of Democratic Party emails in the 2016 presidential election.

The story was picked up across the US, including by USA Today (11/27/18), the Washington Post (11/27/18), Bloomberg (11/27/18), Yahoo! News (27/11/18), The Hill (11/27/18) and Rolling Stone (11/27/18). One CNN analyst (11/27/18) analyst excitedly commented that the news was “hugely significant” and “could be one of the two missing links to show real interference and knowledge of Russian involvement” in the election.

However, there were serious problems with the report. Firstly, the entire story was based upon anonymous intelligence sources, sources that could not tell the newspaper exactly when the meetings took place.

Furthermore, the Ecuadorian embassy is one of the most surveilled buildings in the most surveilled city in the world, and was under 24-hour police guard and monitoring, costing the UK government over £11 million between 2012 and 2015. The embassy also had very tight internal security, with all visitors thoroughly vetted, required to sign in and leave all their electronic devices with security. Is it really possible any figure, let alone Donald Trump’s campaign manager, could walk in for a series of secret meetings without leaving record with Ecuador, or being seen by the media or police?

As the story crumbled, Politico (11/28/18) put forward a bizarre explanation for the event, written by an anonymous ex-CIA officer, who argued that Russian intelligence had likely planted the story as a means to discredit Harding and the Guardian, noting that, if it is all false, “the most logical explanation is that it is an attempt to make Harding look bad.” Thus, Trump, WikiLeaks and Russia’s vast “disinformation network” would be able to deride the press as purveyors of “fake news.” It appears not to have occurred to the CIA alum that the story could have been planted to discredit WikiLeaks, Russia or Manafort (and by extension, Trump).

Barr Pressed Durham to Find Flaws in the Russia Investigation. It Didn’t Go Well.
By Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner

During the Russia investigation, the F.B.I. used claims from what turned out to be a dubious source, the Steele dossier — opposition research indirectly funded by the Clinton campaign — in its botched applications to wiretap a former Trump campaign aide.

The Durham investigation did something with parallels to that incident.

In Mr. Durham’s case, the dubious sources were memos, whose credibility the intelligence community doubted, written by Russian intelligence analysts and discussing purported conversations involving American victims of Russian hacking, according to people familiar with the matter.

The memos were part of a trove provided to the C.I.A. by a Dutch spy agency, which had infiltrated the servers of its Russian counterpart. The memos were said to make demonstrably inconsistent, inaccurate or exaggerated claims, and some U.S. analysts believed Russia may have deliberately seeded them with disinformation.

Ping!! How Those Trump/Russia Stories Got Shopped to the Media
By Barry Meier

Reporters get information from all kinds of people. Still, journalists have been far too willing for far too long to conceal the roles of private operatives and spies-for-hire in articles in exchange for getting “scoops.” News organizations, recent events suggest, may want to revise that arrangement.

AP fired a reporter after a dangerous blunder. Slack messages reveal a chaotic process.
By Max Tani

A 10-minute miscommunication on Slack between journalists at the Associated Press resulted in an erroneous report last week that appeared momentarily to bring tensions between NATO and Russia to their highest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Last Tuesday, AP posted a news alert saying that a “senior U.S. intelligence official says Russian missiles crossed into NATO member Poland, killing two people,” and noting that leaders in Poland were “holding an emergency meeting due to a ‘crisis situation.’”

The report, which would have represented a Russian missile striking a member of NATO, immediately sparked fear of a dramatic escalation of tensions between the US and Russia.

But national security officials said the report was false, and the Associated Press retracted the piece a day later. On Monday, it fired James LaPorta, the national security reporter for the wire service who got the initial tip that set the story in motion.

The central miscommunication came when LaPorta wrote that his source had been vetted by Nixon. AP decided that this constituted a violation of the organization’s policies, which require sources to be vetted every time.

But LaPorta didn’t say Nixon had approved the source for that story. His ambivalence about publishing the item at all, and the fact that he said he was not present to write the story, left the decision in his editor’s hands. They hit publish. The Slack exchange shows no indication that editors considered the geopolitical ramifications of the report. And there’s no indication they sought a second source.

Printing fake news, this editor helped push America into World War I
By Robert G. Kaiser

War magnifies the appetites of news consumers and creates journalistic stars, blessing them with fame and fortune. So it was for the man who called himself John Revelstoke Rathom, now a barely remembered figure who briefly loomed large in American journalism in the second decade of the 20th century. Rathom’s entertaining and duplicitous career, most famously as the editor of the Providence Journal in Rhode Island, is the subject of Mark Arsenault’s “The Imposter’s War: The Press, Propaganda and the Newsman Who Battled for the Minds of America.”

At the Journal, Rathom attracted attention by publishing vivid news stories and editorials critical of what he called clandestine efforts by the Central Powers, led by Germany and Austria-Hungary, to discourage American involvement in the war that those countries had launched against Britain, France and their allies in July 1914. Rathom’s Journal claimed numerous “exclusives” about the nefarious scheming of Germans and Austrians intent on keeping America out of the war. As was common at the time, other papers republished the Journal stories that were deemed unique.

So New York Times readers, for example, got used to a line at the top of those sensational Journal stories that promised: “The Providence Journal will say tomorrow …” The stories often exposed German propaganda that sought American neutrality and schemes that interfered with American factories producing goods that could help the British war effort. Sometimes the articles were accurate and factual, sometimes totally invented.

When the war broke out in 1914, public opinion in America opposed U.S. involvement, but over time opinion shifted strongly against Germany and its allies. Americans were angered by German aggressiveness, especially U-boat attacks on nonmilitary shipping in the Atlantic, most famously the 1915 sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. A German torpedo sank the ship, killing 1,198 passengers and crew members, including more than 120 Americans. From then on, American sympathy for the British-French cause increased, and when Wilson, a popular president reelected in 1916, came out in favor of American entry, he enjoyed broad support. Wilson didn’t need Rathom’s help to sell the war, though he did welcome it.

In the end the lesson of this colorful story is a familiar one: Prominent phonies and fakers usually get their comeuppance eventually. Officials in the Justice Department, angered by Rathom’s stories, editorials and public speeches that implied they were negligent in failing to disrupt the German intelligence operations in America, brought him down, ultimately compelling him to confess that he had invented the sources and the stories that made him famous.

When this confession was released to the public, Rathom’s bloated reputation collapsed. Newspapers seemed particularly eager to distance themselves from a fallen colleague who had recently been a leading member of their fraternity. His inventions, wrote the New York World, had “few parallels in the annals of mendacity.”

Journalists grapple with the media’s role in losing the trust of the public
By Jon Ward

“If our business is first and foremost about reflecting the world accurately [and] if our likely readers … don’t trust us, then we can’t accomplish our job,” Rutenberg said.

Rutenberg also noted that the issue of how the media and big tech companies handled the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop in 2020 had been “a theme running through” the day’s multiple conversations.

Goldberg, in an earlier panel, put the Hunter Biden laptop story into a broader context. To prove his point about the media’s mistreatment of conservatives, Goldberg recalled the Dan Rather “Memogate” scandal in the fall of 2004. Rather, a veteran CBS News anchor, reported on documents purporting to show that President George W. Bush had received political favors to avoid getting drafted into combat service in Vietnam. The documents were later shown to be inauthentic.

In retrospect, Goldberg said, that mistake helped reveal a pervasive double standard on display in the media coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop, whose contents are alleged to have contained evidence of potentially illegal business dealings. In the laptop case, the approach used by the media and big tech was to be skeptical of a story that could hurt a Democratic presidential candidate just before an election. Equally, with Memogate, Rather and CBS News were insufficiently skeptical of a story that could have boosted the support for a Democratic presidential candidate just before an election.

“Have more conservatives in your editorial rooms,” Goldberg said when asked what media institutions need to do better. “Dan Rather would not have climbed up the jackass tree and fell down, hitting every branch on the way, over the Memogate story, if they just had one person in the room who didn’t want that story to be true, right?”

“It was too good to check, and so everyone was all in on saying, ‘We’ve got the story, we’re going to nail George W. Bush,’” Goldberg said. “And if you had just one person in the room who says, ‘I really don’t want this story to be true,’ and they’d asked painful questions, ‘60 Minutes’ wouldn’t have done that.”

Goldberg also mentioned the media’s coverage of the allegations of sexual assault made against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“You had all sorts of people starting from the position that his accusers were telling the truth, even though they could not verify any of it,” Goldberg said. He noted that the media’s lack of skepticism toward and the elevation of accusations against Kavanaugh from a number of women who later backtracked or admitted their accusations had been fabricated is something that has “united the right, to this day.”

Hayes summed it up this way: “You see that, and it becomes a pattern. You get to the point where conservatives say, ‘I don’t trust any of it.’”

Americans’ Trust In Media Remains Near Record Low
By Megan Brenan

At 34%, Americans’ trust in the mass media to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly” is essentially unchanged from last year and just two points higher than the lowest that Gallup has recorded, in 2016 during the presidential campaign.

Just 7% of Americans have “a great deal” of trust and confidence in the media, and 27% have “a fair amount.” Meanwhile, 28% of U.S. adults say they do not have very much confidence and 38% have none at all in newspapers, TV and radio. Notably, this is the first time that the percentage of Americans with no trust at all in the media is higher than the percentage with a great deal or a fair amount combined.

Partisans remain sharply divided in their views of the media, with most Democrats versus few Republicans trusting it. These divisions are entrenched and show no signs of abating.

Journalists Sense Turmoil in Their Industry Amid Continued Passion for Their Work
By Carrie Blazina, Amy Mitchell, Mark Jurkowitz and Jacob Liedke

More than half of journalists surveyed (57%) say they are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the prospect of press restrictions being imposed in the United States. And about seven-in-ten journalists (71%) say made-up news and information is a very big problem for the country, higher than the 50% of U.S. adults who say the same. At the same time, four-in-ten journalists say that news organizations are generally doing a bad job managing or correcting misinformation.

A large majority of journalists say they come across misinformation at least sometimes when they are working on a story, and while most say they are confident in their ability to recognize it, about a quarter of reporting journalists (26%) say they have unknowingly reported on a story that was later found to contain false information.

The survey asked journalists what they think is the best approach to coverage when a public figure makes a false statement. By two-to-one, journalists are more likely to say the best approach is to “report on the statement because it is important for the public to know about” (64%) rather than to “not report on the statement because it gives attention to the falsehoods and the public figure” (32%).

A little over half of journalists surveyed (55%) say that in reporting the news, every side does not always deserve equal coverage, greater than the share who say journalists should always strive to give every side equal coverage (44%).

On the other hand, journalists express wide support for another long-standing norm of journalism: keeping their own views out of their reporting. Roughly eight-in-ten journalists surveyed (82%) say journalists should do this, although there is far less consensus over whether journalists meet this standard. Just over half (55%) think journalists are largely able to keep their views out of their reporting, while 43% say journalists are often unable to.

When asked what one word they think the public would use to describe the news industry these days, journalists overwhelmingly give negative responses, with many predicting that the public would describe the news media as “inaccurate,” “untrustworthy,” “biased” or “partisan.”

Moreover, just 14% of journalists surveyed say they think the U.S. public has a great deal or fair amount of trust in the information it gets from news organizations these days. Most believe that Americans as a whole have some trust (44%) or little to no trust (42%).

When a similar question was posed to the general public, 29% of U.S. adults say they have at least a fair amount of trust in the information they get from news outlets, while 27% say they have some trust and 44% have little to none.

This disconnect between journalists and the public also comes through when each group is asked about the job news organizations are doing with five core functions of journalism: covering the most important stories of the day, reporting the news accurately, serving as a watchdog over elected leaders, giving voice to the underrepresented, and managing or correcting misinformation.

In all five areas, journalists give far more positive assessments than the general public of the work news organizations are doing. And on four of the five items, Americans on the whole are significantly more likely to say the news media is doing a bad job than a good job. For example, while 65% of journalists say news organizations do a very or somewhat good job reporting the news accurately, 35% of the public agrees, while 43% of U.S. adults say journalists do a bad job of this.

Similarly, while nearly half of journalists (46%) say they feel extremely or very connected with their audiences, only about a quarter of the public (26%) feels that connection with their main news organizations.

I stopped reading the news. Is the problem me — or the product?
By Amanda Ripley

Wasn’t it important to be informed? Quitting the news felt like quitting the world.

Then one day a journalist friend confided that she was avoiding the news, too. Then I heard it from another journalist. And another. (Most were women, I noticed, though not all.) This news about disliking news was always whispered, a dirty little secret. It reminded me of the scene in “The Social Dilemma,” when all those tech executives admitted that they didn’t let their kids use the products they had created.

And that gets to the heart of the problem here: If so many of us feel poisoned by our products, might there be something wrong with them?

Last month, new data from the Reuters Institute showed that the United States has one of the highest news-avoidance rates in the world. About 4 out of 10 Americans sometimes or often avoid contact with the news — a higher rate than at least 30 other countries. And consistently, across all countries, women are significantly more likely to avoid news than men. It wasn’t just me and my hypocrite journalist friends after all.

If We Can Report on the Problem, We Can Report on the Solution
By David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg

Tina: We journalists have been conditioned to believe that “news” actually means “bad news,” and that you can’t talk about solutions without falling into public relations. Back in 2015, I wrote about the Ebola vaccine’s startlingly rapid development. Everyone knew about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. But I was shocked by the number of readers who had no idea there was a successful vaccine. There’s a successful treatment for Ebola now, too — how many people know about that? Here’s a lesson: if we report on the epidemic, we should report on the cure.

David: I do think that, today in particular, people need journalism — not feel-good news, but rigorous reporting — that helps them see pathways to a better future.

Americans are avoiding the news. What can journalists do?
By Dorey Scheimer and Meghna Chakrabarti

David Bornstein: “The question is, how do we hold our institutions accountable without leading to hopelessness and disengagement? That’s a big question. How do we do it? We want to maintain that watchdog thing and keep the teeth of the watchdog sharp. And what we’ve actually found is that solutions journalism actually increases accountability. It shows what’s possible. It shows levels, it benchmarks success for a community in a way that it makes a current level of performance unacceptable. So it’s actually an accountability mechanism.

“So that’s the way it aligns with the journalists’ incentives. When it comes to the actual institutional incentives, news increasingly is having to stand on its own two economic feet around the country. More and more news organizations have to try to get funding directly from the communities in the form of subscriptions, or memberships or local foundation grants from the community foundations in many cases, or sponsorships.

“So the community has a real interest saying, What’s the value of this news product? Can you genuinely show me that this news is helping our community to become the community that we aspire to become? And it’s hard to argue if you’re only pointing out the problems for the 50th time that you’re doing that. But if you are bringing in information that helps people understand what their options are, and doing it in a rigorous way, you can make the case that this is a feedback system that’s telling … [the whole story]. We’re doing the diagnosis, and we’re also looking at what are potential treatment options. And we don’t have a horse in this game. We’re not advocating, we’re not trying to pick winners. We’re sampling some of the ideas that are out there in the world. There’s many others.”

WCSJ: Flat Earth News with Nick Davies – a discussion on the breaking of journalism
By Ed Yong

The notion of journalism as truth-telling may be met with surprise and denial by many of you, and Davies would probably sympathise. He has been a journalist for over 30 years and in his mind, things have changed. “News media should be reliable sources of truth”, he says, “but they are riddled with stories that appear to be true but actually aren’t upon checking.” The situation is a lot like the widespread belief that the Earth was flat – a concept that was taken as fact until some serious checking was done. Hence, the name of the book.

The key question then becomes why we produce stories with “falsehood, distortion and propaganda”? He says, “There are certainly a lot of lazy hacks out there – some of them are drunk as well. But that’s a relatively small factor.” To Davies, it’s a “structural problem”. Modern journalism has been saddled with a structure that is likely to produce inaccurate stories. As he so eloquently put it, “Newsrooms are taken over by corporations that have injected logic of commercialism and rejected the logic of journalism.”

Corporations (Rupert Murdoch’s name was mentioned more than once) have ignited two main problems – they have reduced the time that journalists have and they have increased their workload. “So instead of making contacts, finding stories and checking facts, more and more journalists sit at desks and recycle press releases from world of PR and wire news. Not only do we recycle, but we do it without checking properly.”

Commercialism also affects the way that journalists think about their work – they go for quick writes, safe sources, safe stories and things that everyone else is writing. These structural problems also serve to crush the spirit of new talent. “There are a lot of energetic, talent people who come into journalism but if you work for an organisation that genuinely doesn’t allow you to do your job properly, the talent can get frustrated.”

Davies has commissioned studies into this phenomenon and he read out some stats to illustrate the scope of the problem. The average national reporter in the UK is now filing three times more space than in 1995, so they only have a third of the time per story. The researchers took a sample of UK home news stories from the respectable broadsheets and found that only 12% showed evidence of thorough fact-checking, while 54% were wholly based on PR.

The problem is worse for international coverage. There are 80 countries with no news bureau from two main agencies, Reuters and the Press Association, including surprising ones like New Zealand, Canada and Saudi Arabia. And yet many news outlets rely entirely on these agencies for their international coverage, so only very sensational (and usually bad) events from these places get through. In an era of 24-hour radio and TV news, we are filling them with less and less stuff

So what’s the answer? Davies offers none, and he’s pessimistic on the matter. “It’s naive to assert that all problems have solution. It’s entirely possible that the collection of problems is fatal. We might be in the same position as arrow-makers who were very successful until the advent of bullets. Maybe our business model is broken forever.”

Holiday gloom at The Washington Post
By Erik Wemple

What Publisher Fred Ryan announced at a town hall event on Wednesday — those are layoffs. “In the coming year we will be eliminating a number of positions,” said Ryan, who explained it was important to align The Post’s editorial offerings with readers’ interests. The cutbacks, he later emphasized in a staff email, wouldn’t exceed “a single-digit percentage of our workforce.” A 9-percent layoff would reduce The Post’s newsroom by about 100 staffers.

The announcement bewildered Post employees who had crowded into the paper’s fourth floor conference space for the year-end meeting. It arrived as a harsh coda to a series of upbeat presentations on bold initiatives, including ambitious climate coverage, an innovative news-delivery product, and changes afoot in the opinions section. Never bury the lead in a crowd of journalists.

Adding to a sense of whiplash: Early this year, the paper announced a newsroom expansion of 70-plus journalists, featuring 41 editors and fortifications in the spheres of health and wellness, technology, climate, national and international news. “We are placing big bets on a few new areas of coverage in line with our news mission,” noted Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.

Still, the cutbacks don’t come straight out of the blue. The New York Times reported last summer that Ryan had spoken with masthead leaders about the possibility of cutting 100 positions. Sector-wide weakness in ad revenue along with falling subscriptions — The Post had dipped from the 3 million paying digital subscribers that it had touted in 2020 — forced the reckoning, noted the Times.

There is a broader context, named Donald Trump. The Post’s journalism and business model soared when the real estate mogul came down the escalator in June 2015 to announce his presidential bid. Traffic and subscriptions proliferated, as did new hires to handle the sensational story.

The Washington Post will conduct layoffs, its publisher says at contentious town hall
By Oliver Darcy

In recent weeks, CNN laid off hundreds of staffers, newspaper chain Gannett cut 200 employees, NPR said it will need to find $10 million in savings, and other news organizations have explored the need to trim budgets and freeze hiring.

Ryan’s Wednesday town hall had been hotly anticipated in the newsroom after the decision to cut the Sunday magazine. The Washington Post Guild had challenged Ryan to answer a number of questions.

“After brutal layoffs, we want answers about WaPo’s future,” the Guild tweeted ahead of the internal event. “Democracy Dies in Darkness, right?”

Newspapers are disappearing where democracy needs them most
By Nancy Gibbs

Every couple of weeks you can read about another newspaper shutting its doors, or moving from daily to weekly, or hollowing out its newsroom until it’s little more than a skeleton staff bulked up with j-school students. Study the maps made by Penny Abernathy, visiting professor at Northwestern University and an expert on dwindling sources of news, and you can see the dead zones — the 200 or so counties with no local paper. About 1,600 other counties have only one.

Local news is the oxygen of democracy, the most trusted source for the most essential information, and we’ve long known why dying newsrooms damage communities. But look at the maps again, and another alarming picture comes into focus: The very places where local news is disappearing are often the same places that wield disproportionate political power.

This phenomenon affects Americans living far away from the news deserts. Demographers predict that by 2040, one-third of Americans will pick 70 percent of the Senate.

Think of a typical voter in South Dakota, with its single congressional district and, of course, two senators for a population of about 895,000. Thanks to the Senate’s structural bias toward less-populated states, that gives each of the nearly 600,000 registered voters in South Dakota about 28 times more power in that body than each of the 17 million voters in Texas. When it comes to electing presidents, that South Dakota voter carries twice the weight in the electoral college as their Texas counterpart.

But with all that added clout for shaping the composition of Congress and, less directly, the Supreme Court and the White House, the voters in about half of South Dakota’s 66 counties have only a single weekly newspaper. Seven counties have no newspaper at all.

Fewer knowledgeable local reporters means less accountability, leading to higher public spending, lower social cohesion, fewer people voting or running for office, less ticket-splitting and more polarization as people rely on national news sources.

If you weaken the connection between voters and their representatives, you empower their donors, lobbyists and conflict entrepreneurs.

Partisan players are well aware of the opportunity presented when a local paper dies. Potemkin sites that mimic authentic newsrooms have popped up across the country, more than 1,300 in all; they have the look and feel of reliable information sources, but their content is often partisan noise, produced by dark-money-funded propaganda factories. A single purveyor, Metric Media, claims to post more than 5 million stories a month. All kinds of disinformation and conspiracy theories find the desiccated news deserts to be fertile ground.

We are dealing with a disruption of the entire ecology of information at the very moment when 78 percent of Americans say we can no longer agree even on basic facts. Local news is a crucial piece of a larger problem, and we can’t truly understand the forces threatening democracy without reckoning with that larger environment — both the disappearance of critical sources of essential information and the swelling of information streams that contaminate our public space.

A newspaper vanished from the internet. Did someone pay to kill it?
By Paul Farhi

One day in early June, a swath of Charlottesville’s history all but vanished from the internet.

Thousands of stories reported by the Hook — a defunct local paper whose online archives nevertheless had continued to inform historians, residents and public officials — disappeared. Anyone trying to read old stories about the university town’s sagas, scandals and sundry crimes was greeted by the same error message: “Sorry!”

In many ways, the erasure of the alternative weekly, whose print and online journalism included matters such as nightlife listings as well as deep investigative work, isn’t unusual. Historians have long warned about the decay of digital news archives, which are increasingly falling victim to mishandling, indifference, bankruptcies and technical failures.

But some of the Hook’s founding journalists suspect the archive didn’t simply expire from natural causes. They think someone paid to kill it.

Despite the promise of the internet age for preserving published information, digital archives often disappear. The breakdowns and takedowns have obliterated the work of small newspapers, magazines, blogs, zines and other troves of information. Even some Supreme Court opinions have deteriorated from “link rot,” with hyperlinks in the justices’ citations now taking readers to dead pages.

The collective loss, in cultural and historical terms, is literally incalculable. “We really don’t find out what’s missing until someone goes looking for something and finds out it’s not there,” said Deborah Thomas, a preservationist who oversees the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America,” a digital gateway to thousands of newspapers dating to the 1770s. “Sometimes that [discovery] takes years, sometimes decades.”

Archives, Thomas notes, are repositories of “our intellectual output. Whether it’s written or on film or audio or online, it’s how we mark our history.”

The Hook’s founder, Hawes Spencer, rues the sudden demise of his old paper’s historical record. But after months of investigation with his former newsroom colleagues, he is convinced that the archive’s erasure wasn’t an accident.

“My fear is that it’s a catch and kill,” he said, referring to the practice — infamously used by the National Enquirer to bury stories about Donald Trump — of buying exclusive rights to information to keep it hidden from the public.

67 journalists, media workers killed on the job this year
By Associated Press

Russia’s war in Ukraine, chaos in Haiti and rising violence by criminal groups in Mexico contributed to a sharp spike in the number of journalists killed doing their work in 2022, according to a new report released Friday.

The International Federation of Journalists says that 67 journalists and media staff have been killed around the world so far this year, up from 47 last year.

The Brussels-based group also tallied 375 journalists currently imprisoned for their work, with the highest figures in China including Hong Kong, in Myanmar and in Turkey. Last year’s report listed 365 journalists behind bars.

With the number of media workers killed on the rise, the IFJ and other media rights groups have called on governments to take more concrete action to protect journalists and free journalism.

“The failure to act will only embolden those who seek to suppress the free flow of information and undermine the ability of people to hold their leaders to account, including in ensuring that those with power and influence do not stand in the way of open and inclusive societies,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement.

Shireen Abu Akleh, Trailblazing Palestinian Journalist, Dies at 51
By Raja Abdulrahim and Ben Hubbard

Shireen Abu Akleh originally studied to be an architect but could not see a future for herself in the field. So she decided to go into journalism instead, becoming one of the best-known Palestinian journalists.

“I chose journalism to be close to the people,” she said in a short reel shared by Al Jazeera soon after she was killed on Wednesday by gunfire in the West Bank. “It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.”

A Palestinian American, Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was a familiar face on the Al Jazeera network, where she spent 25 years reporting, making her name amid the violence of the Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada, which convulsed Israel and the occupied West Bank beginning in 2000.

She was shot in the head in the West Bank city of Jenin, Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Health Ministry said, blaming Israeli forces for her death. The Israeli military said on Twitter that “Palestinian armed gunfire” might have been responsible.

‘They silenced her’: The fight for justice for Shireen Abu Akleh
By Annette Ekin

Israel has shifted its narrative on the killing of Abu Akleh, initially blaming a Palestinian gunman, before months later saying there is a “high possibility” she was “accidentally hit” by Israeli fire. Israel says it will not launch a criminal investigation.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera Network,” Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday, using the acronym for the Israeli armed forces.

A Reporter’s Baffling Murder and a Crisis of Press Freedom
By Mark Bowden

In her book “In the Mouth of the Wolf,” Katherine Corcoran investigates the murder of a fellow reporter in Mexico, offering a chilling and nuanced look at press freedom in a country persistently rated among the most dangerous in the world for journalists. At least 12 have been killed there so far this year.

Regina Martínez was beaten and strangled in her home in Xalapa in April 2012, one of six journalists murdered in Mexico that year. She was a fiercely independent woman, 48 years old, who had exposed human rights abuses and government corruption in her home state of Veracruz for decades.

Corcoran, who was then the Mexico and Central America bureau chief for The Associated Press, had never met Martínez apart from one phone conversation, but she felt a deep connection. Both women had begun their careers in the 1980s, inspired by the role of journalists in exposing government betrayal and failure. For Corcoran, the work had led to ever more exciting and lucrative opportunities. She was managing a team investigating extrajudicial killings by the Mexican Army. Her work was important and exciting, and with her A.P. credentials and American citizenship, plus vacations home, she could pursue it in relative safety and comfort.

Martínez, on the other hand, lived her work. Writing for Mexican newspapers and magazines that often challenged and criticized powerful interests, she had no protection from the cartel leaders and government officials stung by her reporting. She labored for small wages and accumulated powerful enemies.

What follows is a murder mystery but also, more important, a portrait of a nation where no one knows what to believe, or whom to trust.

“A society without truth is a scary place to live,” Corcoran writes.

With those in power free to manufacture false narratives to serve their ends — and fully backed by law enforcement — journalists who don’t wish to live as targets, as Martínez did, become complicit in ways small and large. They report what they are told to report and ignore what they are told to ignore.

Martínez and other murdered reporters are only a small share of an extraordinary toll, but as Corcoran makes clear, the impact of their loss is enormous. “In the Mouth of the Wolf” shows the consequences of a press corps ruled by terror and derided by the powerful: news organizations devoted to propaganda, a nation where citizens can no longer discern or even understand the difference between activism and journalism. When journalists are afraid to report honestly, society grows morally and intellectually rudderless.

In Mexico, a reporter published a story. The next day he was shot dead
By Sarah Kinosian

It is a pattern of fear and intimidation playing out across Mexico, as years of violence and impunity have created what academics call “silence zones” where killing and corruption go unchecked and undocumented.

“In silence zones people don’t get access to basic information to conduct their lives,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “They don’t know who to vote for because there are no corruption investigations. They don’t know which areas are violent, what they can say and not say, so they stay silent.”

How Free Is the Press in the Birthplace of Democracy?
By Lauren Markham and Lydia Emmanouilidou

On a Saturday morning last November, Stavros Malichudis, a Greek journalist, made a cup of coffee and began scrolling Facebook, where he came across a bombshell exposé by the left-leaning news outlet EFSYN: According to the article, the centralized Greek intelligence service was closely monitoring the activities of people doing work related to refugees, and even tapping their phones. Mr. Malichudis was stunned.

As he read, he noticed that some of the details appeared strangely familiar. A journalist of interest to the intelligence services, the article revealed, had been reporting on a young refugee from Syria imprisoned on the Aegean island of Kos. Mr. Malichudis was in the process of reporting just such a story.

He contacted the EFSYN reporters, who confirmed that the unnamed journalist in the story was, in fact, him. According to their reporting, the Greek National Intelligence Service, or EYP — the equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency — was monitoring his activities for the news outlet Solomon and had wiretapped his phone. Having secured a two-month surveillance warrant from a prosecutor, authorities were free to listen to any of his personal or professional calls. (Government officials did not respond to a request for comment on the wiretapping.)

The surveillance against journalists has caused Greece to drop from 70th to 108th place in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom report — the lowest ranking in all of Europe.

In spite of the newsworthiness of the wiretapping and spyware scandals, it continues to be covered mainly by the newer, smaller Greek news outlets and the international press.

“For seven months, we were alone,” Eliza Triantafillou, an investigative journalist, told a European Parliament committee investigating the use of spyware during a hearing in September. She has broken several stories about Predator and spyware in Greece for Inside Story. “Two very small media outlets, with very limited resources … And for all the big media — newspapers, radio, TV — the story did not exist,” she said.

In an interview, Ms. Triantafillou said that she believed the key challenge in contemporary Greek media was a lack of financial independence, which “year by year is deteriorating.” Longstanding media companies in Greece tend to receive government funding, and are owned by wealthy businesspeople with other interests — like those who run a shipping company, a telecommunications company and a bank. In the view of independent journalists, that means it’s difficult to report any story critical of the government, these businesses or their close associates.

The financial precariousness of journalism in Greece compounds the problem of journalistic independence. During the Greek debt crisis beginning in late 2009, and again during the pandemic, newsrooms faced significant budget cuts and mass layoffs. During the Covid pandemic, the federal government allocated 20 million euros for a public health advertising campaign and distributed the funds largely to news organizations that championed their causes, excluding others.

While many Greeks seem to believe journalism is essential for democracy, few seem willing to pay for it. In the aftermath of the economic crisis in Greece, average circulation of national political newspapers dropped dramatically, to 216,500 in 2011 from 400,000 in 2005. Between 2011 and 2021, sales of daily newspapers declined by 74 percent, according to annual data published by the Hellenic Statistical Authority.

It doesn’t help matters that Greek journalists are also working in a landscape of massive public distrust — which also tanks advertising revenue and circulation numbers, further destabilizing the industry. According to a recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only 27 percent of Greeks said they felt they could trust the news generally.

Yet just 7 percent of Greeks said the country’s media were free from undue government influence, and 8 percent from commercial interests — the lowest rates in the 46 countries the report surveyed. A 2016 European Commission survey found that only 12 percent believe Greek media provide information free from political or commercial pressure. According to a recent report by the Media Freedom Rapid Response network in Europe, “Press freedom in Greece continued its marked deterioration” this year.

Because of this negative perception of journalism, Mr. Malichudis told us, “When I meet someone at the bar and, over a beer, and I say I’m a journalist, I feel that I need to explain: but I’m OK. You know? I’m OK.”

The Pentagon congratulates the New York Times for doing its work
By Erik Wemple

The New York Times last week received a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for a series exposing the Pentagon’s failure to minimize civilian casualties in overseas airstrikes or even police its own failures in this critical area.

Then it reeled in a higher honor.

“I also would be remiss if I didn’t also congratulate the staff of the New York Times for the Pulitzer that they won in their coverage of civilian casualties caused by the United States military and military operations,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the next day.

No misattribution there: That was indeed the Pentagon spokesman lauding the Times for reporting that eviscerated the Defense Department’s handling of a central component of its modern arsenal. Nor was Kirby’s tribute a political stunt to highlight failures of the previous administration, as the Times series covered mismanagement spanning the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. “That coverage was — and it still is — not comfortable, not easy, and not simple to address,” Kirby said.

Matt Purdy, Times deputy managing editor for investigative and enterprise reporting, says, “When the target of your reporting compliments your story, your first reaction is ‘Damn, what did we miss?’ ”

Among the newspaper’s wide-ranging revelations:

  1. Hundreds of civilian deaths have gone uncounted because of Pentagon failures;
  2. the Defense Department was negligent, at best, in investigating reports of civilian casualties;
  3. the Pentagon hadn’t acknowledged a March 2019 strike that killed civilians in Baghuz, Syria, even though a military analyst said in an internal chat at the time of the bombing: “We just dropped on 50 women and children” (the Times reported this week on an investigation into that strike);
  4. a U.S. military strike against an alleged Islamic State operation near the Kabul airport on Aug. 29, 2021, killed 10 civilians, though there was no Islamic State operation afoot, according to a Times investigation that forced the Pentagon to admit a “tragic mistake”;
  5. and a culture of impunity coddles airstrike personnel.

“Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action,” Azmat Khan, an investigative reporter for the New York Times Magazine, wrote in one of the Pulitzer-winning pieces.

Despite the Pentagon’s kind words this month, Khan says she was “stonewalled on a number of occasions.” She had to sue for records; it took “months and months” to get access to the Qatar-based nerve center that commands air operations in 21 nations, and she struggled to nail down information about airstrikes in Afghanistan.

Whereas the Pentagon issued monthly releases on coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, it provided no such resource for Afghanistan, leaving Khan with few records to pursue. “I got a call once from an official” in Afghanistan, says Khan, who’d requested an embed with troops on the ground that was never granted. The official told her, “ ‘We don’t have any kinetic activity. We don’t do airstrikes.’ ” But her reporting told her that was “not true … I was being lied to,” says Khan.

Journalists pounce on information vacuums, and Khan won a Pulitzer by filling in gaps the military left in its wake. That doesn’t mean the system is working. Journalists can do only so much. “I don’t think this should be my job,” Khan says.

Nick Davies, a journalist who investigated his own
By David McKnight

When journalists justify what they do, they invariably say: “We hold governments to account. We act in the public interest.” It justifies the most noble investigative journalism. It is a sacred catechism taught in journalism schools.

But the same public interest arguments are also trotted out by the types of journalists who hacked mobile phones to produce sex scandals for Rupert Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.

All of this makes The Guardian’s Nick Davies a very unusual journalist. Davies did what few other journalists do. He undertook investigative journalism on journalists themselves. For this, says Davies, the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, jailed for hacking, called him a “traitor”.

Hack Attack is an indictment of journalism yet it is also a vindication of journalism in the public interest. Such journalism relies on good sources and some of Davies’ best sources were journalists who had worked on News of the World and could explain how to undermine the rampart of lies erected around Murdoch’s newspaper.

Apart from tracking down inside sources, Davies also refused to follow the normal rules of journalism. One such rule is that journalists must obsessively follow the news, tuning in each day and each hour to hear the latest developments.

He warns journalists to avoid getting sucked into the daily news agenda. This habit simply produces the kind of consensus about “facts” that led to the invasion of Iraq. Standing aside from the eternal news churn is vital for independent thinking and independent journalism. “Think for yourself,” he advises.

News outlets stand by their midterm debacle
By Erik Wemple

As election returns rolled in on Nov. 8, a slow-motion realization settled in among Americans who had paid even casual attention to political news that a much-talked-about red wave of Republican midterm dominance wasn’t happening. In the end, Democrats retained their Senate majority and Republicans just barely took the House.

The supposed “red wave” wasn’t some concoction of the GOP cheerleaders on Fox News; it bounded into widespread respectability through reporting by mainstream outlets. What do they have to say about their reporting?

They stand by it.

Which is to say: Major media outlets promoted an inaccurate depiction of the national political mood heading into Election Day, and they have no stated regrets about it. And if they’re holding discussions on improving the coverage, they don’t care to disclose them.

Lane wrote in an email that the red-wave expectations “probably resulted from historical determinism, excessive faith in numerical indicators of public sentiment and good old fashioned herd mentality.”

Gene Weingarten: Raising stupidity to an art form
By Gene Weingarten

Nincompoopery can become art in those ways — via single, acute events — or in my way, which is more chronic, and comes as something of a lifetime achievement award. It’s a Nincompotpourri of Nincompoopery. For example, I have a cellphone but still pay Comcast for a land line in my home. I never use the land line except to call my cellphone to see where I have most recently mislaid it.

Gene Weingarten: You can’t make me eat these foods
By Gene Weingarten


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Indian cuisine is based on one spice, curry, and that Indian food is made up only of curries, types of stew. In fact, India’s vastly diverse cuisines use many spice blends and include many other types of dishes. The article has been corrected.

Indian food. The Indian subcontinent has vastly enriched the world, giving us chess, buttons, the mathematical concept of zero, shampoo, modern-day nonviolent political resistance, Chutes and Ladders, the Fibonacci sequence, rock candy, cataract surgery, cashmere, USB ports … and curry. If you like Indian curries, yay, you like one of India’s most popular class of dishes! If you think Indian curries taste like something that could knock a vulture off a meat wagon, you do not like a lot of Indian food. I don’t get it, as a culinary principle. It is as though the French passed a law requiring a wide swath of their dishes to be slathered in smashed, pureed snails. (I’d personally have no problem with that, but you might, and I would sympathize.)

Washington Post columnist apologizes for insulting Indian cuisine in a piece about food he won’t eat
By Kerry Flynn

Weingarten tweeted an apology on Monday and acknowledged that his column was “insulting.”

“From start to finish plus the illo, the column was about what a whining infantile ignorant d—head I am,” Weingarten tweeted. “I should have named a single Indian dish, not the whole cuisine, & I do see how that broad-brush was insulting. Apologies.(Also, yes, curries are spice blends, not spices.)”

After this story was published, Weingarten told CNN Business that he thought “people would not take this column seriously because I was not taking myself seriously.”

“That was a miscalculation, and what I do realize that I did not realize before — I should have — was that the item on Indian food was different from all the others,” he added. “All the others were specific foods. Even tongue in cheek, I was not condemning an entire ethnic cuisine, and I think that made it stand out. I do understand why people are upset by it.”

The Sun apologises over Jeremy Clarkson’s Meghan column
By BBC News

The Sun newspaper says it regrets publishing a Jeremy Clarkson column about the Duchess of Sussex and is “sincerely sorry”.

More than 20,000 complaints were made to the press regulator after the broadcaster wrote last week that he hated Meghan “on a cellular level”.

He later asked for the column to be removed from the Sun’s website.

The Sun said columnists’ opinions were their own, but as a publisher “with free expression comes responsibility”.

The piece became the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (Ipso) most complained-about article.

Ipso said it had received more than 17,500 complaints by 09:00 GMT on Tuesday – which rose to 20,800 by 17:00.

In place of the article, the Sun’s website now has a copy of a tweet from Clarkson in which he said he was “horrified to have caused so much hurt” and “would be more careful in future”.

Open letter signed by 16,000 calls for BBC apology over trans article
By BBC News

More than 16,000 people have signed an open letter calling on the BBC to apologise for an online news article about trans women and lesbians.

The piece, published on Tuesday, quoted lesbians who felt “pressured into sex by some trans women”.

The letter described the article as “incredibly dangerous” and said it had used a “deeply flawed study”.

The BBC said it must “ensure debate and make sure a wide a range of voices are heard”.

Twitter Said It Restricted Palestinian Writer’s Account by Accident
By Joseph Cox and Emanuel Maiberg

On Tuesday Twitter temporarily restricted the account of Palestinian-American writer Mariam Barghouti, who was on the ground in the West Bank reporting on protests against the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

“We took enforcement action on the account you referenced in error. That has since been reversed,” a Twitter spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.

During the temporary restriction, Barghouti’s bio and several of her recent tweets were replaced with the message “@MariamBarghouti’s account is temporarily unavailable because it violates the Twitter Media Policy.”

Barghouti told Motherboard in a Twitter direct message that Twitter asked her to delete some of her tweets.

“To be frank I’m not sure which tweets, I was at a demonstration being chased by Israeli military jeeps along with hundreds of Palestinians near Ramallah,” she told Motherboard.

Twitter repeatedly refused to clarify to Motherboard what specific part of the company’s terms of service Twitter initially believed that Barghouti had breached.

Barghouti, who is based in Ramallah in the West Bank, has been published in Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, and other publications. On Sunday she published an opinion piece on Al Jazeera titled “Why American politicians cannot say the words ‘Israeli apartheid’.”

Left-Wing Journalist Katie Halper Has Been Fired for Calling Israel an Apartheid State
By Branko Marcetic

The Intercept reported today that Halper, a popular left-wing podcaster and cohost of Useful Idiots with Matt Taibbi, was earlier this week let go from Rising, the Hill’s political morning program, for which Halper had been doing a once-weekly weekend show for the past three years. After taping a monologue, this time covering the recent controversy over Rashida Tlaib’s comments about Israeli apartheid, Halper was at first told her “Radar,” as the monologues are known on the show, was being delayed while it underwent a review.

Before long, Halper was informed it wouldn’t run at all by Hill editor in chief Bob Cusack, who told her it was “not in our sweet spot of coverage.” When Halper asked him explicitly if the segment was being nixed because it was about Israel, he confirmed that that was the “rationale,” and that the Hill’s focus is largely on domestic, not foreign, policy. Soon, she was told by an executive in an email that they wouldn’t need her to record a show the next day. “We wish you all the best,” was the sign-off.

It’s not clear what Cusack was referring to when he said that the Hill doesn’t cover foreign policy. In the past week alone, Rising’s other cohosts have run segments on the Brazilian election, Italy’s new neofascist prime minister, the South Korean president’s hot mic scandal, and multiple segments on the war in Ukraine. And while Halper’s monologue was largely devoted to laying out the evidence for Tlaib’s labeling of Israel as an apartheid state, it had a domestic element, too, given what a major flashpoint it became in US politics and the intraparty factional war among Democrats, with establishment, pro-Israel officials piling on the socialist Tlaib in concert.

Halper is far from the first left-wing commentator to be fired for pro-Palestinian speech. Marc Lamont Hill lost his position at CNN for a speech calling for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea,” while Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson lost the regular column he had written for the Guardian for four years after sarcastically tweeting that Congress “is not actually permitted to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel.” This month, a report Facebook itself had commissioned determined the company’s censorship policies “have had an adverse human rights impact” on Palestinians, thanks to the company’s double standard on “moderating” Palestinian posts versus Israeli ones.

Israel’s Got Major Problems, but It’s Not an Apartheid State
By Anat Kamm

Israel is not an “apartheid state.” According to Merriam-Webster, apartheid is a “racial segregation” and specifically, “a former policy of segregation and political, social and economic discrimination against the nonwhite majority in the Republic of South Africa.”

This definition is easy to dissolve: Israel does not have a racial segregation implemented by law. It’s an easy fact to check.

There are Arab citizens—citizens with full, equal rights—in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as in the Israeli court system, including the Supreme Court. There are Arab doctors, professors, policemen, teachers, and countless other professions, working side by side with Jews. Not all of them consider themselves Palestinians, and it is not for Halper (or anyone else) to define their national identity for them. And there are many Druze and Bedouins, who are part of the Arab population in Israel, who serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Calling Israel an apartheid state also flattens a complicated, but crucial, issue: it does not distinguish between the state of Israel within the Green Line—Israel’s eastern border prior to the 1967 Six Day War—and the occupied West Bank.

At this point, I should make it clear that I am no apologist for the Israel government, or the violence it has inflicted on the Palestinian people.

I spent more than two years in prison after leaking classified documents that exposed some of Israel’s wrongdoings in the West Bank.

No one can say I don’t support the Palestinian struggle for independence, nor can anyone accuse me of not advocating—at the cost of my own freedom—for the end of the immediate end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. And I’m fortunate and proud to work for a news outlet, Haaretz, that advocates on a daily basis—within Israel—to end the occupation, both in its news coverage and in its opinions sections.

Yes, there’s discrimination and racism against Arabs in Israel. Landlords are reluctant to rent out their apartments to Arab students; “mixed” relationships are, sadly, still controversial and often face widespread disapproval; and a Knesset member who threatens—proudly—to deport the Arab citizens after the upcoming election is growing more popular, mostly among the young voters. And they are worthy of forceful, unequivocal condemnation. But even taken collectively, they do not equate to apartheid.

What’s most wrong with calling Israel an apartheid state, aside from just being inaccurate, is the damage to the possible cooperation with people within Israel who are on your side and want to end the occupation. When you’re making everybody part of the problem, it’s hard for us to be part of the solution—either because we don’t feel welcome, or if we are explicitly told so.

There are many people in Israel who support the two-state solution, who fight against racism and want to live just, peaceful lives. Don’t make us accomplices to a crime that isn’t really happening. Let’s focus on the one that does.

Harvard Reverses Course on Human Rights Advocate Who Criticized Israel
By Jennifer Schuessler and Marc Tracy

The incident was the latest flare-up in the ongoing debate about when criticism of Israel shades into antisemitism, and when charges of antisemitism, in turn, are used to shut down criticism.

Whether Human Rights Watch is fair to Israel has long been a source of contention, inside and outside the organization. In a 2009 opinion essay in The Times, Robert Bernstein, one of the group’s founders, charged that its criticisms of Israel were “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

With its 2021 report, titled “A Threshold Crossed,” Human Rights Watch became the first major international human rights group to apply the term “apartheid” to Israeli conduct. Six months later, Amnesty International followed suit in its own report. (In 2022, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic issued a similar, less-noticed report.)

The report did not characterize Israel, as some (including some Israeli groups) have, as “an apartheid state.” It used the term to refer not to the Israeli government’s character, but to specific discriminatory policies in the occupied territories, which it said met the definition of “the crime of apartheid” laid out in internationally ratified legal prohibitions adopted by the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.

Roth said the point of the report, which he had “personally spent a lot of time editing,” was not to equate Israel with the racist former regime in South Africa but to apply legal definitions. And it reflected the reality, he said, that the peace process was “dead.”

Scientific American Retracted Pro-Palestine Article Without Any Factual Errors
By Murtaza Hussain

Sabreen Akhter felt an urge to help in whatever way she could. Like many people around the world this May, Akhter was following news of war in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli bombardment was exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in the territory. Scanning her social media feed, Akhter, a doctor from Chicago, made contact with a few other health care professionals across the United States who had also been posting news online about the crisis.

Akhter set up a call to discuss what they could do, on behalf of their profession, for Palestinians. They settled on the idea of writing an article together as a group of medical workers concerned about the medical situation in Gaza and pitching it to Scientific American, where Akhter had published in the opinion section in the past.

On June 2, following an extensive editing and fact-checking process with the publication, the article ran in Scientific American under the headline “As Health Care Workers, We Stand in Solidarity with Palestine.”

Less than two weeks later, on June 11, the article was removed from Scientific American’s website without warning. A short editor’s note appeared in its place. “This article fell outside the scope of Scientific American and has been removed,” the note said. That same day, an editor from the publication emailed Akhter and the others, informing them of the retraction and apologizing for any “confusion” caused by the initial decision to publish the article.

Since the retraction, the authors of the article, which has since been posted online as a PDF, have faced a wave of harassing emails and messages.

Journalists demanding more action against online harassment
By David Bauder

Online harassment is hardly unique to journalists. But the visibility of reporters makes them particularly vulnerable to attack, said Viktorya Vilk, program director for digital safety and free expression at the literary and human rights organization PEN America.

News organizations were often quick over the past decade to press their journalists to build social media profiles, recognizing it as important to their brands, but slow to see its dangers, said Vilk, who has worked with more than a dozen media outlets on this issue.

Felicia Sonmez terminated by The Washington Post after Twitter dispute
By Paul Schwartzman and Jeremy Barr

Sonmez, who worked for The Post from 2010 to 2013 before rejoining the newspaper in 2018, was scheduled to play a key role Thursday night in reporting on the House select committee’s televised hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to a Post editor involved with the coverage.

But in a Thursday afternoon termination letter first reported by the New York Times and viewed by a Post reporter, The Post told Sonmez that she was fired “for misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”

Sonmez on Friday used her Twitter account to call attention to a colleague, David Weigel, for retweeting a sexist joke.

“Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!” Sonmez tweeted in response.

She also complained about Weigel’s retweet on an internal message board.

Weigel apologized for the retweet and deleted it from his account. The Post subsequently suspended him without pay for a month for violating its social media policies. (The Post did not confirm Weigel’s suspension, citing the privacy applied to personnel decisions.) In the ensuing days, Sonmez continued to use her Twitter account to focus on the incident, retweeting criticism of Weigel and contending that Post management enforces social media policies inequitably.

Over the weekend, Jose A. Del Real, another Post reporter, asked Sonmez to cease her criticisms, tweeting, “Felicia, we all mess up from time to time. Engaging in repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague is neither a good look nor is it particularly effective. It turns the language of inclusivity into clout chasing and bullying.”

Del Real later tweeted that his back-and-forth with Sonmez prompted a “barrage of online abuse directed by one person but carried out by an eager mob.”

Sonmez then posted screenshots of Del Real’s tweets and wrote: “It’s hard for me to understand why The Washington Post hasn’t done anything about these tweets.”

As a result of the feuding, Buzbee on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of warning the staff in an email against “attacking colleagues either face to face or online.”

“Respect for others is critical to any civil society, including our newsroom,” Buzbee wrote, referring to The Post’s social media policy, which requires employees to be “constructive and collegial.” Buzbee also directed staffers to communicate directly with co-workers to raise concerns.

Washington Post’s New Leader, One Year In: Mean Tweets, Internal Battles, Finding Direction
By Max Tani

The Post has also become increasingly guarded about staff leaking information. When leadership circulated a new draft of the social media policies, staff were required to use their Washington Post IDs to access the document, and could not download it. The new document also urged staff against revealing internal communications, including email and Slack messages.

According to a copy of the draft guidelines seen by POLITICO, the Post declared that hashtags like “#defundthepolice and #stopthesteal” should be avoided, while others like #blacklivesmatter and #pride are allowed. Posts that “celebrate identity and recognize marginalized people’s humanity are not political advocacy,” according to the guidelines. But the paper cautioned staff from using similar language in tweets because “they could easily be construed as voicing an opinion and should be avoided.”

The paper’s policies also urged staff against criticizing colleagues publicly on social media, saying that even when facing online harassment, “these sorts of attacks do not give Post journalists license to violate this policy in retaliation.”

Being a journalist in the U.S. is becoming more dangerous
By Jason Rezaian

Traditionally journalists have wanted to stay away from the center of the stories they cover. Most of us would like nothing more than to do our jobs of chronicling and analyzing events with some measure of privacy. But that’s becoming impossible.

The pressure is on to make our work stand out, as success is increasingly linked to web traffic. And as journalists’ profile and perceived influence rise online, leaders with authoritarian mindsets, and their followers, see the reach and independence as a threat to their power.

Many journalists have endured years of online harassment and abuse in silence. The industry has become desensitized to these attacks, accepting them as an occupational hazard. We see the opportunity to inform a wide audience as a privilege that comes with responsibility — and you have to have thick skin, we tell ourselves.

The stakes, though, keep getting higher as our society becomes more polarized.

Wordle answer changed to avoid fraught word, NY Times says
By David Bauder

The New York Times moved swiftly to change Monday’s answer to its daily Wordle puzzle out of fear that it would be seen as some sort of commentary on the debate over abortion rights.

The game, which became a sensation late last year and was bought by The Times in January, gives users six tries to guess a different five-letter word each day.

Yet The Times scrambled when it discovered that Monday’s word, which had been entered into Wordle’s computer program last year, was “fetus.”

Wordle Finally Has an Editor
By Everdeen Mason

Wordle’s gameplay will stay the same, and answers will be drawn from the same basic dictionary of answer words, with some editorial adjustments to ensure that the game stays focused on vocabulary that’s fun, accessible, lively and varied.

An Interview With The New York Times Company CEO Meredith Kopit Levien
By Ben Thompson

It was funny last quarter because one of the analysts was accusing you of having highly elevated churn because your average revenue per user was down, and I think your answer was “No it’s because we have so many new games subscribers”.

MKL: Games come in at a lower price and so many people are subscribing, you’re going to have some number of them churn out. That’s just right. It’s going really well, but it fits right into that essential subscription idea, which is in news and beyond news, The New York Times can be valuable to tens of millions of people in their daily lives whatever is happening in the news cycle.

MKL: Let me say, The Times would not be The Times if we weren’t the destination for the best journalistic talent there is in large number. Our aim is to be a place where the world’s best, most creative journalists want to come and do the best work of their careers. We’re very, very focused on that, and I think that manifests in a number of ways.

I’ve got this incredible story of a pretty well known reporter who does a lot of enterprise and investigative work at The Times, writing me after an earnings call and saying, “I just want to appreciate the business result, and I want to connect that business result to the fact that I was on X number of continents and Y number of forms of transportation, very expensively, to pursue a story that’s still going on because we’re succeeding as a business.”

Bloomberg News Killed Investigation, Fired Reporter, Then Sought To Silence His Wife
By David Folkenflik

Six years ago, Bloomberg News killed an investigation into the wealth of Communist Party elites in China, fearful of repercussions by the Chinese government. The company successfully silenced the reporters involved. And it sought to keep the spouse of one of the reporters quiet, too.

“They assumed that because I was the wife of their employee, I was the wife,” the author and journalist Leta Hong Fincher tells NPR. “I was just an appendage of their employee. I was not a human being.”

Fincher is married to the journalist Mike Forsythe, a former Beijing correspondent for Bloomberg News who now works at The New York Times. In 2012, Forsythe was part of a Bloomberg team behind an award-winning investigation into the accumulation of wealth by China’s ruling classes.

The Chinese ambassador warned Bloomberg executives against publishing the investigation. But Bloomberg News published the story anyway. Afterward, Forsythe received what he and Fincher considered death threats relayed through other journalists. He and Fincher moved their family to Hong Kong, believing it to be safer.

Even so, the reporting team pursued the next chapter, focusing on Chinese leaders’ ties to the country’s richest man, Wang Jianlin. Among those in the reporters’ sights: the family of new Chinese President Xi Jinping. The story gained steam throughout 2013.

In emails sent back to Bloomberg’s journalists in China seen by Fincher, senior news editors in New York City expressed excitement.

And then: radio silence from headquarters. That story never ran.

After the first investigative project ran in 2012, the Chinese authorities had searched Bloomberg’s news bureaus, delayed visas for reporters and ordered state-owned companies not to sign new leases for Bloomberg’s primary product: its terminals.

The terminals are the lucrative basis of Mike Bloomberg’s personal fortune — recently estimated at more than $50 billion, making him one of the richest people in the world. Subscribers pay $20,000 annually for each terminal, which provides specialized financial data and analysis.

If Bloomberg makes its money on terminals, it gains prestige and greater name recognition from its news division. Many of its stories, predominantly on business and finance, appear first on the terminal.

At the time the story was being pursued, China was seen as a growing market and a strategic priority, according to three former Bloomberg executives.

In late 2013, Bloomberg News suspended Forsythe, accusing him of leaking word of the controversy to other news outlets. The company would later fire him. He soon landed at The New York Times.

Forsythe declined to comment for this story. In leaving the company, he signed a nondisclosure agreement that bars him from speaking publicly about his time at Bloomberg News. Others from the China investigative team would leave the company in the years that followed, each having first signed an agreement not to disparage the company. In at least one case, a journalist signed the nondisparagement deal in part to prevent the loss of a month’s pay.

Lawyers for Bloomberg News pressured someone else to sign a nondisclosure agreement: Forsythe’s wife, Fincher.

They threatened to force Forsythe and Fincher to pay back the tens of thousands of dollars spent to move their family to Hong Kong after the death threats. Bloomberg also threatened to sue to make the couple pay the company’s legal costs, pushing the dollar amount well into the six figures.

Last month, a Bloomberg corporate spokeswoman told The New York Times that Forsythe stole “Bloomberg L.P. intellectual property and gave it to his wife.” The spokeswoman, Natalie Harland, said that Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg News never pressured anyone to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Legal documents reviewed by NPR contradict that claim, showing Bloomberg LP’s muscular efforts to obtain a nondisclosure contract from Fincher. In letters to Fincher’s Hong Kong lawyers, Bloomberg LP’s attorneys insisted that she sign an agreement that includes, among other items, a promise she would never criticize the company or its officers. Bloomberg’s lawyers also explicitly stated they reserved the right to sue her in court.

Fincher ultimately ended up hiring a pair of elite Hong Kong lawyers who had previously represented a famous American whistleblower: Edward Snowden. And Bloomberg LP relented and let it go.

More than a year later, the Times would publish Forsythe’s expose about billionaire Wang Jianlin and the close relatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Several people who know Forsythe, including Fincher, say it took that long to publish because he had to painstakingly re-report the elements of the story he had previously documented with the Bloomberg team.

My Tumultuous Time at the New York Times
By Jill Abramson

As executive editor of the Times, I had the best ringside seat to the digital transformation of what I still consider to be the one indispensable news organization in the world. People desperately need reliable information for democracy to survive, but there seemed to be no reliable business model to sustain it. Legacy newspapers like the Times and the Washington Post were struggling to become digital first and to find new revenue. That meant hammering holes in the wall that long separated news and business.

Sulzberger surprised many by picking a new CEO from outside the company, Mark Thompson from the BBC, who came in with a new strategy for generating new digital revenue. Print advertising was falling off a cliff, so generating income from new digital products was urgent.

I knew that Thompson, as head of news and business at the BBC, was used to being in charge of everything from programming to news to business strategy. That blending was becoming common in the news business. I was told he said that there was no job at the Times he believed he couldn’t do, including mine. He clearly had the publisher’s ear. I desperately wanted the Times to survive and make money, but I did not believe that the business side should be involved in some areas I viewed as news. I never saw, either as managing or as executive editor, a bright line being crossed, but I was always on edge and felt that a trespass was looming. (A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher, and the Times’ spokesperson, Eileen Murphy, say my concern was unwarranted.)

I was determined to deepen the Times’ footprint in long investigative journalism, which was time-consuming, expensive, and was disappearing in many newsrooms. Some online readers didn’t want long articles, our new competitors’ success showed. (Our success with a beautifully designed, long digital narrative, “Snowfall,” showed that wasn’t entirely true.) But I was torn away from the journalism I cared about most by the business crisis. I struggled to stay on top of our investigation of Apple’s business practices in China and David Barboza’s exposé of the vast wealth secretly acquired by family members of China’s rulers.

Our China stories both won Pulitzers. Apple was upset with its portrayal, but the Chinese took retribution on the Times hours after the story on the princelings went up on the web. The Chinese ambassador had come to the Times before the story was published and threatened consequences. Although he had just sunk millions to launch a new Mandarin website that was generating good revenue, Sulzberger approved publication despite the prospect of losing a lucrative market. Hours after the story was published in English and Mandarin, China blocked the two websites the Times maintained in China and denied new visas to our correspondents.

Though he had been unflinching in publishing the story, months later, without my knowledge, Sulzberger, with input from Chinese officials, was drafting a letter from the Times all but apologizing for our original story, which the Chinese believed was an effort to interfere with internal politics. I found out when someone involved leaked me a draft because he was worried the Times was about to do something embarrassing. The draft I saw was objectionable and said we were sorry for “the perception” that the story created. I showed it to Baquet, who agreed it was a disaster. He encouraged me to confront the publisher, which was my inclination, too.

I told Sulzberger I needed to talk to him privately, and we repaired to a Starbucks. I reached into my bag and produced my copy of the letter. He seemed startled that I had it, and he kept saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” He tried to slip the letter into his folder, but I snatched it back. He agreed not to send it until it could be reworded once again, this time with input from Baquet and me. In the end, in my view, the letter was still objectionable. The word sorry remains in the final draft of the letter that I have. The Times says my account is inaccurate and that the letter was not an apology for the story.

James Bennet was right
By Erik Wemple

Controversy over an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) consumed the New York Times in June 2020 and claimed the job of then-editorial page editor James Bennet. Two-and-a-half years later, Bennet has shared some thoughts about the episode — and, in particular, the role of Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger.

“He set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,” Bennet recently told Ben Smith of Semafor. “This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.”

Many Times staffers, however, forwent the rigor of argumentation and tweeted out the following line — or something similar — to express their disgust: “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” The formulation came from the internal group Black@NYT and received the blessing of the NewsGuild of New York as “legally protected speech because it focused on workplace safety,” Smith, then the Times’s media columnist, reported at the time.

The “danger” tweets — along with a letter from Times employees slamming the op-ed — landed with impact. Although Sulzberger initially defended publication as furthering the “principle of openness to a range of opinions,” he bailed on that posture within hours. By the afternoon after publication, the paper had determined that the piece failed to “meet our standards,” according to a statement.

As Sulzberger flip-flopped, an astonishing up-is-down moment unfolded at the paper’s upper reaches. Whereas media outlets typically develop arguments to defend work that comes under attack, the opposite scenario played out over the Cotton op-ed: Top Times officials, according to three sources, scrambled to pulverize the essay in order to vindicate objections rolling in from Twitter. A post-publication fact-check was commissioned to comb through the op-ed for errors, according to the sources, even though it had undergone fact-checking before publication. The paper’s standards desk spearheaded work on an editor’s note.

Deputy editorial page editor James Dao, who pushed for publication of the piece, spent more than an hour on the phone with a Cotton aide that Thursday night to inventory alleged problems. Dao, says the aide, was pointedly unenthusiastic about the pursuit. “It sounded like he had a gun to his head and he had to find something,” the aide — who is no longer with Cotton’s office — told this blog.

Yet a more pathetic collection of 317 words would be difficult to assemble. In his recent comments, Bennet called the Times note a misguided effort “to mollify people.” But Bennet didn’t write the bloated, italicized nostra culpa, according to informed sources — it was a committee product headed by the standards desk, with extensive involvement from Sulzberger himself, sources say.

Sulzberger seemed disappointed upon being told that the post-publication fact-check hadn’t punctured the op-ed, according to a source involved in the process.

The Twitter chain claiming “danger” to Times staffers suffered from the same journalistic failings leveled at the op-ed. It was an exercise in manipulative hyperbole brilliantly calibrated for immediate impact. “I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times,” Bennet told Smith — an apparent reference to his days reporting for the Times in the Middle East, where he narrowly escaped being kidnapped in 2004.

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked about 30 Times staffers whether they still believe their “danger” tweets and whether there was any merit in Bennet’s retort. Not one of them replied with an on-the-record defense. Such was the depth of conviction behind a central argument in l’affaire Cotton.

What broke the New York Times?
By Batya Ungar-Sargon

… the hunt for insufficiently antiracist Americans has become its own genre. The Times has run articles declaring that wine and surfing are racist, and that it’s time to ‘decolonise botanical collections’ by ridding them of ‘structural racism’. It even ran an article about a 15-year-old girl who used the ‘N-word’ when she bragged about passing her driving test in a private video to a friend — which another student got his hands on and saved for three years until he could use it to get her kicked out of college.

Stories like this seem to attract an unlimited audience in the way stories of crime once did for Joseph Pulitzer’s papers. That’s because articles that offend the woke person are crime stories for the affluent: stories of people just like themselves who commit crimes of thought or speech, and lose everything when they fall on the wrong side of the reigning orthodoxy. As the Twitter mob pursues small infractions as avidly as it does large ones, and as the etiquette keeps shifting, who dares trust their own ability to judge right from wrong?

It’s how you know we’re in a moral panic: only the mob has the right to judge you. And too many journalists have ceded them that right. Indeed, a huge number of the mob are journalists — journalists from the most important newspapers in the country and the world, all tweeting the exact same meaningless sentence repeatedly. People who had been hired to think for themselves now mindlessly repeat a dogma like their jobs depended on it.

Well, they do.

Progressive America Needs a Glasnost
By Jonathan Chait

The motive for many progressives to follow these stifling conventions was sympathetic. If you believe systemic racism and inequality are the greatest crisis in America, which I do, and you also believe the racism of the Republican Party is far more dangerous than any excesses on the left, which I also do, then you might hesitate to admit to anything that might be used by Republicans to discredit the cause of racial justice. Yet that hesitation allows the most unreasonable people on the left to rope the whole progressive movement into indefensible and self-discrediting positions.

When institutions adopt illiberal norms of debate that make it impossible to challenge an accusation of racism or sexism, they open themselves inevitably to abuse.

The Left’s Fever Is Breaking
By Michelle Goldberg

It’s no secret that many left-wing activist groups and nonprofits, roiled by the reckonings over sexual harassment and racial justice of the past few years, have become internally dysfunctional.

In June the Intercept’s Ryan Grim wrote about the toll that staff revolts and ideologically inflected psychodramas were taking on the work: “It’s hard to find a Washington-based progressive organization that hasn’t been in tumult, or isn’t currently in tumult.” Privately, I’ve heard countless people on the professional left — especially those over, say, 35 — bemoan the irrational demands and manipulative dogmatism of some younger colleagues. But with a few exceptions, like the brave reproductive justice leader Loretta Ross, most don’t want to go on the record. Not surprisingly, many of Grim’s sources in the nonprofit world were anonymous.

That’s why the decision by Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, to speak out about the left’s self-sabotaging impulse is so significant. Mitchell, who has roots in the Black Lives Matter movement, has a great deal of credibility; he can’t be dismissed as a dinosaur threatened by identity politics. But as the head of an organization with a very practical devotion to building electoral power, he has a sharp critique of the way some on the left deploy identity as a trump card. “Identity and position are misused to create a doom loop that can lead to unnecessary ruptures of our political vehicles and the shuttering of vital movement spaces,” he wrote last month in a 6,000-word examination of the fallacies and rhetorical traps plaguing activist culture.

Destructive left-wing purity spirals are at least as old as the French Revolution. Jo Freeman’s classic essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” about how resistance to formal leadership in second-wave feminism led to passive-aggressive power struggles, has remained relevant since it was published in the early 1970s.

“On balance, I think social media has been bad for democracy,” Mitchell told me. It’s a striking statement, given the organizing work he did in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., where social media played a major role in galvanizing protest. But as Mitchell wrote in his essay, social media platforms reward shallow polemics, “self-aggrandizement, competition and conflict.” These platforms can give power to the powerless, but they also bestow it on the most disruptive and self-interested people in any group, those likely to take their complaints to Twitter rather than to their supervisors or colleagues. The gamification of discourse through likes and retweets, he said, “flies in the face of building solidarity, of being serious about difference, of engaging in meaningful debate and struggle around complex ideas.”

Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History
By Ryan Grim

In the eyes of group leaders dealing with similar moments, staff were ignoring the mission and focusing only on themselves, using a moment of public awakening to smuggle through standard grievances cloaked in the language of social justice.

Twitter, as the saying goes, may not be real life, but in a world of remote work, Slack very much is. And Twitter, Slack, Zoom, and the office space, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former executive directors of advocacy organizations, are now mixing in a way that is no longer able to be ignored by a progressive movement that wants organizations to be able to function. The executive directors largely spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of angering staff or donors.

“Most people thought that their worst critics were their competitors, and they’re finding out that their worst critics are on their own payroll,” said Loretta Ross, an author and activist who has been prominent in the movement for decades, having founded the reproductive justice collective SisterSong.

“We’re dealing with a workforce that’s becoming younger, more female, more people of color, more politically woke — I hate to use that term in a way it shouldn’t be used — and less loyal in the traditional way to a job, because the whole economic rationale for keeping a job or having a job has changed.” That lack of loyalty is not the fault of employees, Ross said, but was foisted on them by a precarious economy that broke the professional-social contract.

The everything bubble has popped, and millennials may not like what happens next. Get ready for the mindset shift of ‘retro capitalism’
By Nick Lichtenberg

A few years ago, a small but influential group of academics and economists started arguing that capitalism was morphing into something darker, that we were recreating a modern version of the economic oppression of the pre-industrial middle ages.

Technofeudalism,” they argued, was late capitalism’s dystopian and unexpected sequel. The center of economic power seemed to have moved from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, and the sexiest stocks were the big tech “FAANGs.” The billionaires in control of these firms seemed to own everything from train transportation to news organizations to the entertainment industry. What if technology’s economic and cultural dominance had perverted free-market capitalism and sent the economy from a state of progress to a regress instead? Had we all just become peasants with iPhones?

From Adam Smith through Friedrich Hayek, history’s biggest boosters of the market economy stressed its potential to liberate the individual. But in a technofeudal economy where you can’t afford a house, your every move online is being tracked and monetized, and you don’t really have the choice to opt out of the online sphere, how free can you be?

Have the barons of the modern techno age changed our lives for the better? The decline of living standards and creeping death of the middle class over the last generation argue otherwise.

In 2022 the sun began to set on technofeudalism.

As it turns out, all the tech wealth in the world has been no match for the hoary tools of traditional capitalism, especially central banks: Labor shortages, wonky supply chains, inflation and energy crises are all distinctly retro economic problems that require retro capitalist solutions. The long dominance of risk assets has been laid low by the most aggressive worldwide hiking of interest rates in financial history. Consider the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index, down more than a third after a year of carnage for risk-asset tech stocks.

The end of the era of quantitative easing has exposed technofeudalism as a central banking bubble all along: Tech stocks were inflated by decades of VC speculation that gave rise to even riskier investments—most notably crypto, which shrank by more than two-thirds this year from a peak of $3 trillion-plus.

It’s becoming clear that the 2020s aren’t roaring—but they also aren’t a road to serfdom. It’s a rude awakening for my generation, and for anyone who made their living off late capitalism-adjacent sectors for the last two decades. How will we replace the “good jobs” of the 2000s—computer engineer, product manager, VC partner, even crypto trader—in the era of retro capitalism? Former techies used to doubling their salary with equity compensation will have to accept a lower standard of living. We might have to make do with one or two pairs of sneakers, instead of 18.

WeWork and Counterfeit Capitalism
By Matt Stoller

The goal of Son, and increasingly most large financiers in private equity and venture capital, is to find big markets and then dump capital into one player in such a market who can underprice until he becomes the dominant remaining actor. In this manner, financiers can help kill all competition, with the idea of profiting later on via the surviving monopoly.

Engaging in such a strategy used to be illegal, and was known as predatory pricing. There are laws, like Robinson-Patman and the Clayton Act, which, if read properly and enforced, prohibit such conduct. The reason is very basic to capitalism. Capitalism works because companies that thrive take a bunch of inputs and create a product that is more valuable than the sum of its parts. That creates additional value, and in such a model companies have to compete by making better goods and services.

What predatory pricing does is to enable competition purely based on access to capital.

At first, with companies like Walmart and Amazon, predatory pricing can seem smart. The entire retail sector might be decimated and communities across America might be harmed, but two day shipping is convenient and Walmart and Amazon do have positive cash flow. But increasingly with cheap capital and a narrow slice of financiers who want to copy the winners, there is a second or third generation of companies asking Wall Street to just ‘trust me.’

As euphoria in capital markets takes hold, predatory pricing scheme come to entirely wastes capital on money losing enterprises, and eventually these companies become Soviet-style generators of white elephants and self-dealing. The men and women who run them have to be charlatans, because they are storytellers justifying losses.

Ken Auletta: Elizabeth Holmes ‘gave me gobbledygook’
By Dylan Croll

In 2014, the writer Ken Auletta profiled Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of the biotech startup Theranos, for the New Yorker. Holmes claimed the company had revolutionary technology that could run sophisticated medical tests on patients with just one drop of blood.

Though Auletta mostly took Holmes at her word, one odd detail caught his attention. She couldn’t explain how her blood-testing device worked.

“I asked her six different times,” Auletta remembered on a recent episode of Influencers with Yahoo Finance’s Editor-in Chief, Andy Serwer. “I said, ‘Tell me what happens to the nanotainer of drops of blood when you put it in your machine.’ And six different times she gave me gobbledygook.”

Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 while still just a student at Stanford University. At 19 years old, she dropped out of school to concentrate on the start-up full time. She collected over $700 million from venture capitalists and ultimately grew the company to a staggering $9 billion valuation, according to Forbes.

Widely praised for her achievements, she appeared on the cover of the New York Times Style Magazine and Fortune, among others. Meanwhile, she gained the support of powerful men like George Shultz, the former Secretary of State, who sat on Theranos’ board and Henry Kissinger, whose estate lawyer helped the company gather nearly $400 million in investments, according to reporting by Bloomberg.

Year of the tech grifter: will Silicon Valley ever learn from its mistakes?
By Kari Paul

Seven years separated the downfall of FTX and Theranos, but the forces underpinning their ascent are familiar. After the success of early tech founders like Mark Zuckerberg of Meta and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, investors are often looking for the next big name to get behind, leading to a “culture of genius-worshipping”, said Yesha Yadav, a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

But with FTX marking yet another blow to founder worship, the industry faces another reckoning.

“It is going to be very difficult now for Silicon Valley to continue justifying this cult of personality, which fuels the ability for people to fake it until they make it because it allows for basic checks and balances to not be present,” Yadav said.

Historically there has been a culture of “fear of missing out” in Silicon Valley, where investors are quick to jump on board to support buzzy companies without necessarily doing their due diligence. This is true in many industries but particularly accelerated in the tech space, where investors often don’t fully understand the core products of such companies, said Stanford economics professor Nicholas A Bloom. The phenomenon was “turbo-charged” in the past year as the climate for interest rates left investors desperate for returns, pushing them into quick deals, he added.

“It is like buying a house sight unseen in a hot market – you can get a good deal and you can get a lemon,” he said. “If investors had done proper diligence they would have discovered the issues, but crypto was seen as hot so investors rushed in while they could. Turns out it was a lemon.”

Fraud, cons and Ponzi schemes: did Sam Bankman-Fried use Madoff tactics?
By Edward Helmore

Diana Henriques, a financial historian and the author of The Wizard of Lies, a book delving into Madoff’s $64bn (£53bn) scheme, says the similarities between Bankman-Fried – or SBF as he is known – and the Wall Street investment manager are “striking”.

“The similarities between what we know of Madoff and what we know of Bankman-Fried is striking,” she said. “They are vastly different characters, but what is similar is this deliberate, eye-crossing complexity that would cause the average investor to just glaze over and say, ‘Well, I trust Bernie.’

“I see that same dynamic in how the client base viewed FTX. They really didn’t have a lot of solid evidence to support their trust, so it was – as with Bernie – a leap of faith. You trust the central character and that short-circuits a lot of the steps that, in hindsight, are the obvious due diligence you would do, and that is amazing[ly] similar.”

“The most essential gift of a con man is that they can inspire trust that never wavers, even in the face of red flags and worrisome details. You can’t look at FTX as anything but a massive leap of faith by a lot of people who should have known better,” Henriques said.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s Power Was Contingent on Belief
By Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein

Public companies based in the United States must regularly open their books to investors, but private ones have no such obligation — especially ones based offshore, as FTX was. Private wealth has soared over the past 20 years, and so has the number of private companies, leading one S.E.C. official to warn recently that a rapidly increasing portion of the economy is “going dark.” This can enable dangerous carelessness or fraud. John Jay Ray III, the man brought in to clean up after Bankman-Fried — the man tasked with the same job in the Enron bankruptcy — said he’d never before seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information.” On one hand, those outside the firm may have failed to do their due diligence; on the other, it would have been impossible had they tried.

All this opacity can scramble our ability to tell accurate stories, allowing for only two speeds: full throttle and roadside car fire. What little people did know about FTX supported, in a very real way, the tale the company was telling; people really did entrust Bankman-Fried with billions, and that really did give him newsworthy power and influence. It was when the public no longer bought this story that the money rushed out. His power was contingent on belief, an all-or-nothing proposition that media coverage feebly reflected.

Scoop: ProPublica to return SBF funds
By Sara Fischer

ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative news outlet, will return the $1.6 million in funds it received from Sam Bankman-Fried’s family foundation, according to a staff memo obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The crumbling of Bankman-Fried’s empire as he faces criminal charges is putting various media companies that have taken his money in a bind.

The big picture: Several news outlets, including Semafor, Vox Media and The Intercept, have all taken money from Bankman-Fried, and they now need to decide what to do with the cash.

What to watch: Documents reported by the Financial Times and seen by Axios show that Bankman-Fried’s investments in media and publishing companies are far-reaching.

  1. In addition to funding several U.S.-based news outlets, Bankman-Fried, through his trading firm Alameda Research, also gave $3.56 million to BlockBeats News, valuing the company at $12 million, in November 2021.
  2. It gave $5 million to Odaily News, a Chinese cryptocurrency media site, valuing it at $20 million the same month.

Why Didn’t More Reporters See This Coming?
By Shawn McCreesh

One of the crucial prongs of Sam Bankman-Fried’s big con was his co-opting of the press, which turned out to be very easy for him. Manipulating journalists was a cinch — so few of us actually know how to write about anything having to do with crypto — and he threw money all over an industry that’s notoriously cash starved. Now, any members of the mendicant media who have ties to him or helped launder his phony philosophies are acting sheepish, pointing fingers, or insisting they barely knew the guy.

Reporters covering crypto were desperate for someone in that world who was not a craven scammer. “People in the media wanted this to be the guy in crypto who is actually doing the right thing, and he was supposedly allied with regulators, supposedly on the right side of this,” says Davis Richardson, a Web3 media consultant, “but he’s actually doing the same shit that everybody else is doing in the industry.”

And SBF was different from Elizabeth Holmes. She used the legacy media and her flashy connections to con people into giving her money for something that didn’t exist. He made his money first, through real trades, then used it to score flashy connections and legacy-media praise. One media person who took an investment from SBFsays, “If you were raising money for anything in the first half of 2022, you would obviously talk to him.”

Zack Seward, a contributing editor at CoinDesk—the industry publication that first brought the house down on SBF with Ian Allison’s report exposing the lunacy of SBF’s balance sheets—said that, above all, SBF simply “craved mainstream legitimacy through whatever means necessary.” Others who knew him tell me he became obsessed with the press and the shiny image of himself it reflected back to him. One top media executive who regularly did business with SBF put it this way: “This is a very young person who, up until two years ago, had never had any interaction with the press, no notoriety, didn’t understand what it meant to be a public figure. Then he went on this big personal publicity tour, and he fell for it. But he didn’t understand the cardinal rule—that which the press builds up, the press tears down.”

Of all the failures enabling Sam Bankman-Fried, the media’s was the most deplorable
By John Naughton

Some interviewers confessed apologetically that they knew nothing about the complex businesses he had run and allowed themselves to be bemused by the incomprehensible bullshit he was emitting. Often, they seemed hypnotised, as many otherwise sensible people had been before the crash, by this tech wunderkind with big hair and baggy shorts who had, until recently, been promising to give away his phenomenal wealth to good causes, while in fact he had seemingly been presiding over the vaporisation of billions of dollars of other people’s savings.

But this embarrassing failure of mainstream media was really just the encore to an even bigger failure – their wilful blindness to what had been going on while SBF was in his prime. It turned out that earlier in the year the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had written to FTX seeking to determine if the company was as flaky as some observers (mainly on the web) had suspected. As Cory Doctorow pointed out, the SEC never got an answer, because eight US lawmakers – four Republicans and four Democrats – wrote a letter to the SEC chairman demanding that he back off. And five of these eight, according to Doctorow, had received substantial case donations from SBF, his employees, affiliated businesses or political action committees.

There was a real story here, in other words, long before FTX imploded. But it wasn’t told because the mainstream media were so invested in the founder-worship that is the curse of the tech industry, not to mention some of those who cover it. The thought that “the poster child for the libertarian ethos that crypto profits accrued to those most capable”, as one commentator described SBF, might be as politically manipulative as any oil mogul or tobacco executive never occurred to the poor dears.

Why No One in Politics Wants to Talk About the Sam Bankman-Fried Scandal
By Blake Hounshell

Back in May, months before Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange imploded seemingly overnight, he suggested that he might be willing to spend as much as $1 billion in political donations during the 2024 presidential election.

It was an astronomical sum to throw around — Bankman-Fried later called it “a dumb quote on my part” — but at the time, the crypto kingpin was still an object of curiosity rather than ridicule.

Billboards with his frizzy-haired visage popped up in Manhattan; journalists examined his growing political empire and his “schlubby” personal style. Endless articles were written about “effective altruism,” his utilitarian-tinged philanthropic philosophy. At one point, Forbes pegged his net worth as high as $26.5 billion; Fortune ran a cover, cringe-inducing in hindsight, asking, “The Next Warren Buffett?”

In 2022, Bankman-Fried donated about $40 million to various candidates and political committees, overwhelmingly to Democrats. Those donations were “mostly for pandemic prevention,” Bankman-Fried has insisted. But a less lofty aim of his influence-peddling, clearly, was to shape federal regulations in his company’s favor.

Before his arrest, Bankman-Fried told Tiffany Fong, a YouTube journalist, that he had also donated about the same amount to Republicans in ways, he suggested, that would not necessarily pop up in federal campaign finance reports.

“All my Republican donations were dark,” Bankman-Fried said. He did it, he explained, because reporters are “all secretly liberal” and would “freak” if he donated to Republicans in his own name.

For the Democrats who are embarrassed by taking dirty money, perhaps the only blessing of this scandal might be that it’s a bipartisan one.

That might be why, as Michael Schaffer noted in an astute column for Politico written before Bankman-Fried’s indictment, the two parties aren’t firing at each other in Washington. The city’s “polarized political-media ecosystem can’t do much with a potential scandal,” he wrote, “if there’s no partisan advantage to drive it.”

I chatted with Ken Vogel, an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau of The Times, about the widening scandal. Here is our conversation:

You’ve been covering money in politics for a long time. Have you ever seen anything like this?

This one stands out. I can’t think of another example of a small group of people who so rapidly accrued such a huge amount of cash — legally or otherwise — and then almost immediately started spreading it so widely around the political system in an effort to achieve specific policy goals. Usually, ascendant companies and their executives take a few years to start working Washington in such a concerted way.

Now that Bankman-Fried has been indicted, there’s a scramble to return his donations. Is there any legitimate reason that groups that took his money would need to wait for legal guidance, or are they really just stalling for time?

Some campaigns and committees, or their lawyers, say they are waiting for the Justice Department to set up or endorse some kind of fund through which restitution could be paid to FTX customers who lost their shirts as a result of the company’s alleged fraud.

While donating money to charity in amounts equivalent to FTX-linked contributions might provide a nice talking point for a campaign or political action committee, it doesn’t necessarily help FTX’s victims.

Another reason some groups might be waiting: They received big checks from FTX executives, but don’t have that much in the bank to return, because they spent most of their cash in the run-up to the midterms. For instance, House Majority PAC, a group close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, received $6 million from Bankman-Fried, but the group ended last month with less than $500,000 in the bank.

Congressmembers Tried to Stop the SEC’s Inquiry Into FTX
By David Dayen

The Securities and Exchange Commission was seeking information from collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX earlier this year, the Prospect has confirmed, bringing a new perspective to an effort by a bipartisan group of congressmembers to slow down that investigation.

The March letter from eight House members—four Democrats and four Republicans—questioned the SEC’s authority to make informal inquiries to crypto and blockchain companies, and intimated that the requests violated federal law.

THE UNORTHODOX LETTER IS ANALOGOUS to the 1987 “Keating Five” scandal. Then, five senators (including a young Arizona Republican named John McCain) pressured the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) into shutting down an investigation into Lincoln Savings and Loan and its chair Charles Keating Jr. Keating was a donor to all five senators, giving $1.3 million over the years.

The FHLBB did close its investigation into Keating and Lincoln Savings and Loan, right before it failed, costing the federal government $3.4 billion as part of the $125 billion S&L bailout. Keating was convicted of fraud and served jail time. The Senate Ethics Committee found that three members improperly interfered with a federal investigation; McCain was cleared while being found to exercise “poor judgment.”

The aftermath of the letter has also mirrored the Keating Five situation. While the SEC did conduct its informal inquiry, it did not uncover the potentially fraudulent activity at FTX. It’s at least possible that the pressure from members of Congress deterred the SEC from probing further. Then, like Lincoln Savings, FTX imploded, leaving depositors high and dry.

Celebrity Crypto-Hawkers Should Get a Close Look
By John Reed Stark

What really stings is that the exploited victims of crypto are too often those who cannot afford to lose what they have invested. That’s in part because promoters argued that crypto is a revolutionary equalizer for the unbanked. I believe crypto is actually the opposite and just another example of what scholars have called “predatory inclusion” — in other words, disadvantaged and disaffected communities get access under the auspices of inclusion, but that access can make their situations worse.

Last year, a University of Chicago study found that 44 percent of Americans who owned and were trading crypto were people of color. To make matters worse, a J.P. Morgan Chase study released this month found that people with lower incomes very likely made their crypto purchases when prices were elevated when compared to higher earners and have therefore suffered disproportionately.

And just as payday lender storefronts are often concentrated in Black or Hispanic communities, the same seems to be happening with crypto A.T.M.s (which are also notorious for charging fees that can range from 7 percent to 20 percent per transaction).

When crypto firms like FTX go bankrupt, their customers too often find themselves designated as unsecured creditors, last in line for restitution, with little chance of any recovery. And when regulators and prosecutors conduct the archaeological dig to figure out who is responsible, fame should not provide anyone with a “get out of jail free” card.

Access Journalism Must Die
By Libby Watson

Access journalism isn’t just promising a subject a puff piece in return for access. It can be much more subtle than that. If you’re really good at it, your subjects won’t even have to ask if your piece will be gentle with them because they know it will. Access journalism, as Leah Finnegan wrote in the Outline, is also “not only believing people in power, but protecting their identities even when they are wrong or lying”; it’s not even asking the question because you know it might disrupt future coverage; it’s going to off-the-record parties with sources, chumming it up, and posting your selfies with them on Instagram.

For comfortable D.C. journalists—the sort who might go from the Ivy League to a Buckley Fellowship at the National Review and then to a more prestigious magazine and a CNN gig—the material effects of politics are much less likely to reach you. Politics is, as Chris Hooks wrote in 2016, “the way we distribute pain”—it’s “how we determine who gets medication and who dies young, who learns in a class of twenty kids and who learns in a class of thirty.” But what is politics if you’re privileged enough to insulate yourself from that pain? How do you view politics if you can pay for private schools? If you have good, employer-sponsored healthcare? It’s unlikely you’ll ever have to deal with Medicaid work requirements or skip taking the meds you need to make rent. You don’t have to choose between feeding your kids and buying their birthday gifts. So the import of politics isn’t “will I be able to eat” or “will I be deported,” it’s “are they nice chaps?”

Power, precarity and white-hot anger: what I learned in a decade in journalism
By Hamilton Nolan

There exists in journalism a discernible divide between those who see it as a cause, and those who see it as a career that might enable them to hang out with important people and get a hefty book deal one day. Some journalists will tell you what they want to write about, and others will tell you where they want to work. It is the latter, unfortunately, who get most of the jobs. The most esteemed positions in media are often held by people whose greatest talent is “getting good jobs”. The world is full of excellent writers and reporters who are barely getting by, because they make the mistake of pouring their efforts into stories rather than into career-building. A less self-pitying way to say this is: there are scores of people capable of filling every decent job in journalism. The New York Times could turn over its entire staff 20 times without suffering a loss in quality. This means, in fairness, that we should hold the work of the people at the top of the profession to high standards, because there are a hundred writers standing behind them who could do their jobs just as well. Everyone who has been around for a while has come to understand this. It is what drives the white-hot anger at every half-assed Ivy Leaguer who lands a plum columnist job.

The rage of the creative underclass burns brightly just below the surface of the media. That is why the most meaningful legacy that Gawker left behind may not be any of its big scoops, but rather its role in setting off the wave of unionization that is still sweeping through America’s newsrooms to this day. Unions took off in media because journalists have, if nothing else, enough common sense to see that the people in charge make more money and have more power but are clearly not any smarter than us.

Three Big Questions That the American Establishment Got Wrong
By Michael Lind

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” Upton Sinclair observed, “when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Between the late 1990s and the 2010s, it was prudent for Americans who wanted a career in public policy, politics, or prestige journalism in Washington and New York to pretend to be persuaded by illogical, unsupported, and often openly preposterous arguments, because those were the arguments of the bipartisan establishment. Sensing, perhaps, how weak their claims about American global hegemony, the globalized knowledge economy of the future, and the alleged looming crisis of Social Security were, the adherents of orthodoxy for the most part refused to debate at all, stigmatizing critics and skeptics as silly ignoramuses, or else as dangerous extremists beyond the pale of serious discourse.

High-handed, sweeping dismissals of those who disagreed with any part of the consensus became the hallmark of the establishment retainer and PR class, a sign of their intellectual and moral nobility and the corresponding unfitness of those who dared to question received wisdom—no matter how shoddy it appeared. If you wondered about the possible downsides of expanding NATO right up to the borders of post-Soviet Russia you were an “isolationist,” even if you favored a U.S. global alliance system in other respects. If you pointed out that U.S. trading partners Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan cheated in various ways to help their exporters at the expense of America’s, you were a “Buchananite protectionist” who failed to understand that the Smoot-Hawley tariffs passed by the U.S. Congress in 1930 had somehow caused World War II. If you suggested in the 2000s that excessive private debt might cause a global recession in the next few years, the other person might stare at you uncomprehendingly while thinking, Is this an acceptable opinion? Will it hurt my career? For two decades, at most of the “high-level” discussions with CEOs, think tankers, prestige journalists, K Street lobbyists, and public officials I attended, no matter the ostensible topic, someone would say gravely, “I’m really worried about getting entitlement spending under control.” At that point a shiver of approval would ripple through the hoity-toity crowd. We think that, too!

In each of these three cases, the policy adopted by the establishment inevitably collided with reality. It is no defense of Vladimir Putin’s tyranny and murderous aggression to point out that realist critics of NATO expansion to Russia’s borders like George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, and John Mearsheimer were entirely correct to warn of the danger that it would lead to conflict with Russia. America’s post-9/11 war in Afghanistan resulted in complete U.S. humiliation and the triumph of the Taliban, while the unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the U.S. wars of regime change that followed have left Bashar Assad in power in Syria, while pulverizing post-Qaddafi Libya into anarchic fragments ruled by warlords and infested by jihadists. Globalization? Mexico is now one of the major auto parts producers of the world, while Detroit is a wasteland, in which some abandoned neighborhoods are literally reverting to wilderness.

Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, various countries adopted policies of “lustration,” requiring public exposure of former communist officials and sometimes their confessions. No similar process can be expected in the United States, where continuing to defend disastrously wrong decisions appears to be a precondition for keeping one’s place at the bipartisan buffet table. Yet the same establishment figures who now lament the disintegration and radicalization of once-mainstream political parties, inveigh against popular mistrust of “experts,” and blame America’s social woes on “Russian disinformation” in fact need look no further than their own record of being wildly wrong on a series of big, world-shaping questions, to which better answers were available all along.

Too Smart to Fail
By Thomas Frank

… what happens when the experts are fools? What happens when their professions are corrupted, their jargon has become a shield against outside scrutiny, their process of peer review has been transformed into a device by which a professional faction can commandeer the discipline, excommunicate rivals, and give members of the “us” group endless pardons for their endless failures?

The economist James K. Galbraith, who was right about many of the disasters of our age but who is neither “mainstream” nor “Wall Street,” once wrote that something very much like this had happened to his discipline:

Leading active members of today’s economics profession . . . have formed themselves into a kind of Politburo for correct economic thinking. As a general rule—as one might generally expect from a gentleman’s club—this has placed them on the wrong side of every important policy issue, and not just recently but for decades. They predict disaster where none occurs. They deny the possibility of events that then happen. . . . No one loses face, in this club, for having been wrong. No one is dis-invited from presenting papers at later annual meetings. And still less is anyone from the outside invited in.

… if economists—and journalists, and bankers, and bond analysts, and accountants—don’t pay some price for egregious and repeated misrepresentations of reality, then markets aren’t efficient after all. Either the gentlemen of the consensus must go, or their cherished hypothesis must be abandoned. The world isn’t gullible enough to believe both of them any longer.

The Long 20th Century Comes to a Shuddering End
By Brad DeLong

Who back in 1870, poor as humanity was then, would have thought that by 2010 humanity would have the ability to provide each person with more material resources than could have been imagined in 1870?

Back at the beginning of the long 20th century, novelist Edward Bellamy had thought that the power to dial up any one of four live orchestras and put it on the speakerphone would carry us to “the limit of human felicity.” There was only one person in Britain in the early 1600s who could watch a theatrical entertainment about witches in his home: King James I—and that was only if Shakespeare and company currently had Macbeth in repertory. There was one thing that Nathan Mayer Rothschild, the richest man in the first half of the 1800s, wanted in 1836: a dose of antibiotics, so that he would not die in his 50s of an infected abscess. Today, we not only can produce the sorts of things that were produced in 1870 with remarkably less human effort but can easily produce conveniences (that we now regard as necessities), former luxuries (that we now regard as conveniences), and things that previously could not have been produced at any price.

Driving it all, always in the background and often in the foreground, were the industrial research labs discovering and developing things, the large corporations developing and deploying them, and the globalized market economy coordinating it all. But in some ways the market economy was more problem than solution.

Column: How did America get addicted to a policy that fails everyone but the rich?
By Michael Hiltzik

By bringing to the middle class and working class the recognition of their shared interest in a more inclusive economy, the Depression produced a drive for social insurance and social justice. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal recognized those interests by creating programs such as Social Security and pro-labor policies through the National Labor Relations Act.

This was the era of social democracy, reflecting the views of Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi, who rejected the conservative view that the market had to be permitted to function without interference, even if it produced unjust outcomes.

“Polanyi’s counter was that whether saying the market can do it all or that it’s all we can have, people will not stand for it,” DeLong told me during a lengthy conversation about his book. “You will get a large group of people wanting to elect someone who will do something about the system.”

In the post-Depression era, it became understood that “not only shouldn’t the market be left to do it all,” DeLong says, “it can’t do it all or very much unless it is properly primed and aided and guided.”

“So you need things like the GI Bill to produce a money flow into education, and things like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac [the government-sponsored housing finance agencies], because otherwise funding homeownership expansion on the scale that America needed would be all but impossible.”

Social democracy, in DeLong’s telling, encompassed a vast array of programs not normally thought of as core economic ventures — airport construction, the National Park Service, government-funded research in health, Head Start in education.

However one defines it, social democracy worked, ushering in what DeLong calls “thirty glorious years” of prosperity (actually 1938-1973 — the phrase was coined by a French economist, referring to the postwar French economy of 1939-1979). The developed economies grew by an annual average of 3% during those years.

The very breadth of economic expansion made the public highly receptive to all these programs, including the social safety net. As president, Dwight Eisenhower warned that tampering with, much less abolishing, Social Security, unemployment insurance and other social programs would mean the extinction of the Republican Party.

But then it all came apart. It would have been hard to sustain annual growth of 3% under any circumstances, but the 1970s brought the oil shocks, which tripled the price of oil, produced high inflation and provoked a sharp economic slowdown.

To some extent, social democracy foundered on an outbreak of bad luck.

“With no Iranian revolution, no tripling of world oil prices, Jimmy Carter wins reelection and you get a reconfiguration of social democracy with more respect for the role of a market economy with the right adjustments and the right distribution of income,” DeLong says.

“So it was just bad luck that landed us with Reagan and Thatcher, who had very little idea about how to actually accelerate growth, and who wound up doing nothing constructive except greatly increasing income and wealth inequality and then entrenching the ability of inequality to put its thumb on the scale of elections.”

It’s proper to acknowledge, as DeLong does, that even amid rising inequality the average American’s living standards have improved markedly, in part thanks to the fall in prices of technology: Households with home air-conditioning have risen from 55% in 1979 to 90% in 2010; microwave ovens from 5% to 92% of households; computers from 0% to 70%.

Yet DeLong points out that the features of a middle-class life that used to be within reach have receded, such as a detached house in a good neighborhood, the ability to pay for a good college without borrowing, health insurance that doesn’t leave one bankrupt after a heart attack.

American life expectancy is now at its lowest in nearly two decades
By Yuki Noguchi

The average life expectancy for Americans shortened by over seven months last year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That decrease follows an already big decline of 1.8 years in 2020. As a result, the expected life span of someone born in the U.S. is now 76.4 years — the shortest it has been in nearly two decades.

The two reports, released by the CDC on Thursday, show deaths from COVID-19 and drug overdoses, most notably synthetic opioids like fentanyl, were the primary drivers of the drop in life expectancy.

Preliminary data from 2022 so far indicate deaths from COVID-19 are on the decline, but Kochanek says that doesn’t mean life expectancy will rebound quickly in years to come, because COVID-19 was, by no means, the only contributor to the higher death toll in 2021.

Deaths by suicide and from liver disease, or cirrhosis, caused by alcohol also increased — shortening the average American life span.

“The majority of those deaths are to younger people, and deaths to younger people affect the overall life expectancy more than deaths to the elderly,” Kochanek says.

U.S. Life Expectancy Falls Again in ‘Historic’ Setback
By Roni Caryn Rabin

Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, characterized the diminution of life expectancy in the United States as “historic.”

While other high-income countries were also hard hit in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, most had begun to recover by last year, he said.

“None of them experienced a continuing fall in life expectancy like the U.S. did, and a good number of them saw life expectancy start inching back to normal,” Dr. Woolf said.

Those countries had more successful vaccination campaigns and populations that were more willing to take behavioral measures to prevent infections, such as wearing masks, he said, adding: “The U.S. is clearly an outlier.”

It was the largest reduction in life expectancy in the United States over the course of a two-year period since the early 1920s, when life expectancy fell to 57.2 in 1923. That drop-off may have been related to high unemployment and suicide rates during an earlier recession, as well as a steep increase in mortality among nonwhite men and women.

Although the U.S. health care system is among the best in the world, Americans suffer from what experts have called “the U.S. health disadvantage,” an amalgam of influences that erode well-being, Dr. Woolf said.

These include a fragmented, profit-driven health care system; poor diet and a lack of physical activity; and pervasive risk factors such as smoking, widespread access to guns, poverty and pollution. The problems are compounded for marginalized groups by racism and segregation, he added.

The result is a high disease burden among Americans, and shorter life expectancy compared with that in comparable high-income nations over the last two decades, Dr. Woolf said.

How the neoliberal order triumphed — and why it’s now crumbling
By Mario Del Pero

The conditions for the rise of a new order had been prepared in the 1960s and ’70s, when an anti-New Deal counter-establishment began to lay the ground for a radical turn. Its “constituent parts” — “the capitalist donors, the intellectuals, the think tanks, the politicians, the media, and the personal networks linking them together” — were visible and influential well before Reagan’s election in 1980. Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, ran on a promise to drastically reduce the number of federal agencies and tested some of the policies that these neoliberal thinkers were advocating; think airline deregulation and the adoption of aggressive monetary policies, which empowered the Federal Reserve as never before.

But it was not until Reagan that neoliberalism actively shaped the policy agenda of the federal government. Deregulation became the mantra of the decade, its most visible manifestation being the assault on collective bargaining and the further weakening of already struggling unions. Progressive taxation was contested ideologically and dismantled politically: When Reagan was elected, the income tax system was structured in 15 different brackets, with the highest reaching 70 percent; after his presidency, the country was left with just two brackets, 15 and 28 percent.

To facilitate these changes and make them unassailable, key institutions were drastically reconfigured — beginning with the judiciary, with the appointments of numerous conservative, “originalist” judges. Order and stability, enforced through quasi-authoritarian tools, such as an aggressive, zero-tolerance policy against crime, provided the structure within which these changes could take place. “Neoliberals,” Gerstle writes, “had long argued for the need to ringfence free markets, limiting participation to those who could handle its rigors.” Now they also embraced a religiously imbued neo-Victorian moral code, setting themselves in opposition to the permissiveness and moral relativism of the 1960s and 1970s. The race-biased mass incarceration of an “underclass” — regarded as unfit to handle those rigors — seemed to offer the ultimate solution. Liberation and repression, freedom and order, were not incompatible; in the neoliberal equation they were strictly interdependent.

Under Clinton — “America’s neoliberal president par excellence,” Gerstle writes — the project was perfected. Cosmopolitanism and diversity did reverse some of the conservative neoliberal cultural trends of the previous decade. But the neoliberal order was consolidated. Further deregulation followed, from finance to telecommunication; the compromise between labor and capital collapsed; inequality skyrocketed along with an increasingly finance-centered economy; tough anti-crime legislation was passed; free trade flourished, if to the detriment of workers’ rights. All of this happened on Clinton’s watch.

But the ascent and ultimate triumph of the neoliberal order was short-lived. Some of its inner fragilities and contradictions were all too visible. George W. Bush’s hubristic, inept policies aggravated them and accelerated the downfall of the post-1970s order. Disastrous foreign policy choices, epitomized by the Iraq fiasco, reckless financial deregulation, the speculative frenzy feeding the stock market bubble and the intensification of income inequality, collaborated to delegitimize the neoliberal order, eroding its ideological foundations and discrediting its political promises. In 2008, the chickens finally came home to roost. The economic crash affected millions of Americans and shattered the global economy.

In the last, more impressionistic part of the book, Gerstle examines Barack Obama’s response to the almost impossible challenges of the post-2008 years as well as the unexpected rise of Donald Trump. The ethno-nationalism of the Trump era, Gerstle rightly stresses, was a response to the delegitimization of the post-1970s neoliberal order. It was just one of the many byproducts of a crisis — of democracy, globalization, cosmopolitanism — whose long shadow still hovers over the United States and the rest of the world.

The Damning Legacy of Clintonism
By Joshua Leifer

In the 1970s, a new kind of Democrat began to appear on the scene. For a while, they went by different names. At first, they were the “Watergate Babies,” a misnomer because their primary opponent was not the Republican Party of Nixon, but their own. Then, as the 1980s came into view, they became the “Atari Democrats.” Young and elite-educated, they promised to make the postindustrial economy grow by encouraging entrepreneurship, investing in the burgeoning tech sector, and giving the market freer rein. Writing in 1982, Charles Peters of the Washington Monthly called them “neoliberals.” In 1984, when they decided to form an organization, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)—following the brief, meteoric rise of one of their own, Colorado Senator Gary Hart, in that year’s Democratic presidential primary—they embraced the label “New Democrats.”

With the nomination and subsequent election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the New Democrats took control of the party, then the White House. Their ascendance to power, and what they did once they obtained it, is the subject of Lily Geismer’s new book, Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality.

Clinton and the DLC, Geismer argues, sincerely believed that market-based micro-solutions—like community development banks, microenterprises, empowerment zones, and charter schools—could address macroeconomic problems. They were not cynical, at least not at first, nor were their proposals mere “triangulation” (that coinage, by pollster Dick Morris, became Clinton’s modus operandi as part of his campaign for a second term). Rather, Geismer shows, it was Clinton’s relentless optimism—a product of the 1990s economic boom—that blinded him and the officials in his administration to the inadequacy of their constructive initiatives and the destructiveness of their reforms. Nevertheless, this optimism was contagious. It shaped a new sensibility that ignored any contradiction between the accumulation of exorbitant wealth and the desire “to do good”; it furnished our culture with a new vocabulary of entrepreneurialism, the hucksterism of Silicon Valley, which remains with us today.

JL: While the book focuses on politics and policy, it can also be read as a cultural history of how a certain set of ideas about the relationship between personal behavior, the state, and the market becomes hegemonic in America’s political class. The phrase “doing well by doing good” is how you characterize this view that markets can solve social problems, and that personal enrichment can be reconciled with civic contribution. To what extent is this still the way the political class thinks about the economy and redistribution?

LG: That dimension of the book comes in part from personal experience, watching people around me in college in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then later my own students, going to work in the private sector, in investment banking, but still remaining Democrats. I was struck by how these people were so invested in the faith that the market could do good. I wanted to figure out where that logic came from. What I found is that its roots are in the 1990s, when this idea is starting to be sold, and that the broader worldview takes shape in the 2000s. Recently, however, I have noticed a shift. There are still students going to work in the private sector, but not with the same kind of optimism and enthusiasm, not with the belief that the private sector could solve major societal problems. The 2016 election, and certainly the Democratic primary, played a role in catalyzing that. And of course, before that, there was Occupy.

JL: How does the trajectory of Silicon Valley fit into this story, both in terms of the policies that tech entrepreneurs sought to promote, and in terms of what Silicon Valley came to represent?

LG: Silicon Valley gloms onto the Democrats and the Democrats glom on to them. There is this mutual understanding of shared goals. And, of course, while there has been a shift in the public perception of Silicon Valley, tech executives have more money and more power than before; they’re just not selling their solutions in quite the same way that they did. But in the 1990s there are all these striking examples. Take Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, who is also a major champion of charter schools. He genuinely believes in using market-based ideas to change the way government works; he’s a Democrat. We tend to think of charter schools as a Republican solution—but it was very much initiated by the Democratic Party, which first promoted the idea through an alliance with Silicon Valley, billing it as a way to make schooling more efficient.

I wanted to challenge the common view that the story of US politics after 1968 is solely about the rise of the right, and that the Democrats adopted the policies that they did as a way of playing electoral defense. That misses the fact that much of the promotion of market-based thinking—not just on welfare reform but also financial deregulation—by the Democrats happened because Democrats genuinely believed in them. The DLC had an explicit, affirmative project; it was not just a defensive reaction or an attempt to outflank the right. Of course, there is always an element of strategy: charter schools were the Democrats’ answer to school choice, which the Republicans were pushing.

JL: By the end of your book, the picture of the Clinton administration’s legacy is damning. Reagan has come to stand in for the collapse of the New Deal order and the rise of neoliberalism. But in many ways, it seems like Clinton was able to do what Reagan—because he lacked sufficient support in Congress—could not, and dismantle much of the welfare state?

LG: The major changes that people associate with Reagan actually happened under Clinton. When that story is told, however, it’s often about how Clinton did what he did because he was ideologically indistinguishable from right-wing neoliberals, or because he feared losing elections. But he really believed that micro-solutions could make major changes, that by giving people responsibility, an important key word for Clinton and the DLC, the mechanisms of welfare would work better. And on the flip side, that transforming the regulatory state would encourage competition, which would bring economic growth, and which in turn would help people out of poverty. Clinton had a belief in the government’s duty to help people that was missing from the Reagan moment. And it was not just Clinton. Robert Rubin—Clinton’s first treasury secretary, a former Goldman Sachs banker and later Citigroup executive—was also a believer; he wanted to help poor people, but through market mechanisms. So while the Clinton administration’s policies might have been cruel in their outcomes, they were not cruel in intent. And it is really important to understand that intent, because that is how the DLC and Clinton were so successful in selling their political vision.

How the Third Way Made Neoliberal Politics Seem Inevitable
By Lily Geismer

Al From, the former director of the House Democratic Caucus, helped found the DLC by bringing together a group of white, male, and mostly Southern Democratic politicians who shared the explicit mission of devising a new electoral strategy, policy agenda, and ideology for the nation’s new political economy. The DLC’s goal was to introduce “fresh ideas” that would be distinct from those of both the “Old Guard Democrats and the Republicans,” as the DLC’s literature explained. Within the next decade, the movement’s leaders would dub this approach the “third way.”

In 1990, the DLC issued the New Orleans Declaration, a key component of the group’s bid to stage a “bloodless revolution” within the Democratic Party. Their strategy was to present a political program that would appeal to swing voters who had been drifting away from the Democrats ever since Reagan’s first campaign.

The declaration did not mince words. “The fundamental mission of the Democratic Party,” the document declared, “is to expand opportunity, not government,” because “economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone.” From there, it followed that the “free market, regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.”

The declaration laid out other key departures from liberal orthodoxy as the DLC understood it. It endorsed “equal opportunity, not equal outcomes”—a not-so-subtle rejection of affirmative action. It called for implementing social welfare programs that “bring the poor into the nation’s economic mainstream, not maintain them in dependence”—a clear swipe at general welfare programs like Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which conservative critics claimed discouraged work and saving. It argued that the purpose of the criminal justice system should be “preventing crime and punishing criminals, not explaining away their behavior”—a repudiation of the liberal plea to address the “root causes” of crime in material deprivation. The declaration also spoke of reinventing government by eliminating bureaucracy, empowering people, and increasing accountability—all phrases that would become watchwords of Clintonian policy-making.

The New Democrats’ appropriation of the term “progressive” was part of this strategy as well. In the late 1990s, From began calling the third way the “worldwide brand name for progressive politics for the Information Age.” By describing the third way as “progressive,” the New Democrats ensured that the left lacked a key term to define its own politics. It meant that groups on the left had little room to create meaningful dissent from the third way or the agenda it represented. Robert Reich, who was freer to speak his mind after resigning as Clinton’s labor secretary, observed in an interview with The Nation’s David Corn that if the third way did not gain more substance, it would “leave the progressive left in tatters and do little to rectify the social injustices experienced by modern capitalism.” An even bigger skeptic might think that was the strategy all along.

What the New Democrats’ Mistakes Taught Us About Fighting Inequality
By James North

For me, Lily Geismer’s impressive, readable new book on the history of the New Democrats has a personal angle. In Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality, she describes how a new generation of younger Democratic politicians in the late 1970s turned away from direct government intervention as the way to tackle poverty and inequality and instead advocated a much larger role for private business. One of their models was ShoreBank, in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, which had deployed an innovative lending strategy to help restore a deteriorating neighborhood. Bill and Hillary Clinton, among others, said the bank should inspire similar institutions nationwide.

I come from South Shore, and my mother lived there until 1994. (Michelle Robinson Obama grew up two blocks away, and attended the same elementary school I did nine years after me.) I also had an account at ShoreBank—until it failed after the 2008 financial crisis.

ShoreBank certainly did give the New Democrats reason for optimism. South Shore, originally an all-white middle- and working-class neighborhood, transformed in the 1960s and ’70s, as hardworking Black families, like Michelle Obama’s, moved in. Our traditional bank stopped making home improvement loans, and the buildings, especially the major apartment blocks, began to deteriorate. Then a new band of young idealists took over the bank and started lending to the new owners. We could see the community revive before our eyes.

In the end, the fate of ShoreBank helps explain where the New Democrats went wrong. First, the bank’s original success was somewhat misrepresented. Banks need money—deposits—to be able to lend, and the South Shore community by itself was not well off enough to generate enough of them. So ShoreBank’s leaders solicited deposits from the Ford Foundation and others. These deposits were not, strictly speaking, charity—the bank did pay interest—but you can see why spreading ShoreBanks across the country was an illusion; there simply weren’t enough foundations willing to move their deposits out of traditional banks.

Far more important, though, was the massive 2008 financial crash. ShoreBank itself apparently did nothing wrong, but the upheaval crushed it anyway. In 2010, we account holders were mailed notices explaining that the bank had failed, but that we were protected by federal deposit insurance. (This was a legacy of the New Deal; it was not a “public/private partnership” that rescued us.) Federal regulators moved our accounts into a more traditional bank elsewhere in the city. Soon, parts of my old neighborhood started deteriorating again.

What went wrong? During the Clinton era, the biggest banks lobbied successfully to reduce government regulations. In 1999, they succeeded in abolishing the Glass-Steagall Act, a New Deal law that had prevented investment banks and commercial banks from joining together. Once Glass-Steagall was gone, an immediate wave of mergers created the vulnerable, poorly supervised giants that were major culprits in the 2008 disaster. Bill Clinton may have made speeches extolling ShoreBank, but his administration lit the fuse that allowed Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers to trigger the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. After the explosion, the government bailed out Citibank and the other giants. But it let ShoreBank die.

Democrats to Iowa: Get Lost! (And They Wonder Why They Struggle in Rural America.)
By Art Cullen

The old brick factory haunts along the mighty Mississippi River are dark, thanks to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and everyone else who sold us out for “free trade.” Keokuk, the gate city to the river, was once a bustling industrial and shipping hub but recently lost its hospital. Your best hope in rural Jefferson was to land a casino to save the town. You essentially can’t haul a load of hogs to the packinghouse in a pickup anymore: You need a contract and a semi. The sale barn and open markets are quaint memories. John Deere tractor cabs will be made in Mexico, not Waterloo. Our rivers are rank with manure. It tends to frustrate those left behind, and the resentment builds to the point of insurrection when it is apparent that the government is not here to help you.

After Neoliberalism
By Rana Foroohar

For most of the last 40 years, U.S. policymakers acted as if the world were flat. Steeped in the dominant strain of neoliberal economic thinking, they assumed that capital, goods, and people would go wherever they would be the most productive for everyone. If companies created jobs overseas, where it was cheapest to do so, domestic employment losses would be outweighed by consumer benefits. And if governments lowered trade barriers and deregulated capital markets, money would flow where it was needed most. Policymakers didn’t have to take geography into account, since the invisible hand was at work everywhere. Place, in other words, didn’t matter.

By some measures, the results of these policies were tremendously beneficial: American consumers in particular enjoyed the fruits of cheap foreign manufacturing while billions of people were lifted out of poverty, especially in developing countries. As emerging markets joined the free-market system, global inequality declined, and a new global middle class was born. How free it was politically, of course, depended on the country.

But neoliberal policies also created immense inequalities within countries and led to sometimes destabilizing capital flows between them. Money can move much faster than goods or people, which invites risky financial speculation. (The number of financial crises has grown substantially since the 1980s.) What is more, neoliberal policies caused the global economy to become dangerously untethered from national politics. Through much of the 1990s, these tectonic shifts were partly obscured in the United States by falling prices, increased consumer debt, and low interest rates. By the year 2000, however, the regional inequalities wrought by neoliberalism had become impossible to ignore. While coastal U.S. cities prospered, many parts of the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South were experiencing catastrophic job losses. Average incomes among U.S. states began to diverge, having converged throughout the 1990s.

From the work of Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman to that of Raj Chetty and Thomas Philippon, there is now a consensus among scholars that geographically specific factors such as the quality of public health, education, and drinking water have important economic implications. That might seem intuitive or even obvious to most people, but it has only recently gained broad acceptance among mainstream economists. As Peter Orszag, who served as President Barack Obama’s budget director, told me, “If you ask a normal human being, ‘Does it matter where you are?’ they would start from the presumption that ‘Yes, where you live and where you work and who you’re surrounded by matters a ton.’ It’s like Econ 101 has just gone off the path for the last 40 to 50 years, and we’re all little islands atomized into perfectly rational calculating machines. And policy has just drifted along with this thinking.” He added, “The Economics 101 approach, which is place-agnostic, has clearly failed.”

Has Neoliberalism Really Come to an End?
By Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins

Gary Gerstle: Neoliberalism is a creed that prizes free trade and the free movement of capital, people, and information. It celebrates deregulation as an economic good that results when governments are removed from interfering with markets. It valorizes cosmopolitanism as a cultural achievement, the product of open borders and the consequent voluntary mixing of large numbers of diverse people. It hails globalization as a win-win proposition that both enriches the West and brings an unprecedented level of prosperity to the rest of the world. It tolerates economic inequality and justifies the weakening of labor movements, welfare policies, and other “impediments” to free market capitalism in the name of economic growth robust enough to lift all boats. These core principles deeply shaped American politics across the last 50 years.

We now know (from the excellent work of a generation of historians and political scientists) that governments were as necessary to construct and supervise markets in the 19th century (the era of classical liberalism) as they are today. Markets may emerge from what Adam Smith once described as the propensity of people to “truck, barter, and exchange,” but they can only flourish within a context of government-enforced rules. “Laissez-faire” is a political and economic project, not a condition of nature. It has always been thus.

GG: … Few accounts of neoliberalism treat the fall of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 or the collapse of communism as capitalism’s chief global antagonist as seminal events. But they were.

One consequence of communism’s fall is obvious: It opened a large part of the world—Russia and eastern Europe—to capitalist penetration. It also dramatically widened the willingness of China (still nominally a communist state) to experiment with capitalist economics. Capitalism became global in the 1990s in a way it had not been since prior to the First World War. The globalized and capitalistic world that dominated international affairs in the 1990s and 2000s is unimaginable apart from communism’s collapse.

Another consequence of communism’s fall may be less obvious but is of equal importance: It removed what had been an imperative in America (and in Europe and elsewhere) for compromise between elites and the working classes. A nation once “lost” to communism would never be regained for the capitalist world (or so it was thought). The specter of communist advance impelled capitalist elites in advanced industrial countries, including the United States, to compromise with their class antagonists in ways they would not otherwise have done. A fear of communism made possible the class compromise between capital and labor that underwrote the New Deal order. American labor was strongest when the threat of global communism was greatest. The apogee of America’s welfare state, with all its limitations, was coterminous with the height of the Cold War. After 1991, the year of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, the pressure on capitalist elites and their supporters to compromise with the working class vanished. The dismantling of the welfare state and the labor movement marched in tandem with communism’s collapse.

To argue for communism’s importance is not meant to rehabilitate it as a political movement. Communism was an indefensible system of tyranny. Rather, it is meant to help us to understand the role that communism played in the century when it was a feared force, and then to call on us to reckon with the effects of its sudden and complete disappearance from international and national affairs.

The fall of communism manifested itself not just in the collapse of the Soviet Union but also in the erosion of the emancipatory dreams that had animated leftist movements for 200 years, since the days of the French Revolution. How could one sustain one’s belief in revolution when the greatest experiment in socialist transformation had failed so spectacularly?

Some answered this question by moving away from socialist politics and pouring their emancipatory energies into liberation movements for women, for people of color, for gays. This was not true of leftists writing about neoliberalism, however, for whom capitalism and its evils were always front and center. But the full import of communism’s collapse was not easy for anyone on the left to absorb or analyze.

GG: The phrase “political order” is meant to connote a constellation of ideologies, policies, and constituencies that shape American politics in ways that endure beyond the two-, four-, and six-year election cycles. In the last hundred years, America has had two political orders: the New Deal order that arose in the 1930s and 1940s, crested in the 1950s and 1960s, and fell in the 1970s; and the neoliberal order that arose in the 1970s and 1980s, crested in the 1990s and 2000s, and fell in the 2010s.

At the heart of each of these two political orders stood a distinctive program of political economy. The New Deal order was founded on the conviction that capitalism left to its own devices spelled economic disaster. It had to be managed by a strong central state capable of governing the economy in the public interest. The neoliberal order, by contrast, was grounded in the belief that market forces had to be liberated from government controls that were stymieing growth, innovation, and freedom.

Establishing a political order demands far more than winning an election or two. It requires deep-pocketed donors to invest in promising candidates over the long term, the establishment of think tanks and policy networks to turn political ideas into actionable programs, a political party able to win over multiple electoral constituencies on a consistent basis, a capacity to shape political opinion both at the highest levels (the Supreme Court) and across popular and print media, and a moral perspective able to inspire voters with a vision of the good life. Political orders, in other words, are complex projects that require advances across a broad front.

A key attribute of a political order is the ability of its ideologically dominant party to bend the opposition party to its will. Thus, the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower acquiesced to the core principles of the New Deal order in the 1950s, and the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton accepted the central principles of the neoliberal order in the 1990s. Acceptance is never complete; there are always points of tension and vulnerability in a polity as fissiparous as the American one. And yet, the success of a political order depends on its proficiency in shaping what broad majorities of elected officials and voters on both sides of the partisan divide regard as politically possible and desirable.

By the same token, losing the capacity to exercise ideological hegemony signals a political order’s demise. In these moments of decline, political ideas and programs formerly regarded as radical, heterodox, or unworkable are able to move from the margins into the mainstream. This happened in the 1970s, when the breakup of the New Deal order allowed long scorned neoliberal ideas for reorganizing the economy to take root; and it happened again in the 2010s, when the coming apart of the neoliberal order opened up space for Trump-style authoritarianism and Sanders-style socialism to flourish.

GG: The election of Barack Obama in 2008 unleashed all kinds of hopes for the country’s future. Fourteen years later, we have the advantage of historical perspective. That perspective tells us (or me, in any case), that Obama is best seen as the last president of the neoliberal order, not the first president of a post-racial, progressive age.

To handle the economic crisis, Obama turned to a team of advisors, including Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Peter Orszag, and Michael Froman, quite similar in policy orientation to the Rubin team that had overseen the Democratic Party’s assent to the neoliberal order in the 1990s. They decided not to punish the large banks whose misdeeds had brought on the crisis but to focus instead on restoring them to financial health and security as quickly as possible. Thus, no banks were nationalized or broken up, and no bankers were sent to jail for their misdeeds. There was not even a public shaming that would have occurred had banking executives been forced to run the gauntlet of congressional hearings.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans were losing their jobs and their homes. The gap between rich and poor widened during Obama’s first term, with the income of the top 1 percent of American income earners increasing by more than 30 percent while the bottom 99 percent had to settle for a raise too small to matter. Main Street Americans noticed that elites had been restored to financial health and security while they had not.

GG: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were inconsequential political figures during the order’s 1990s heyday. That the two became in the 2010s the two most dynamic forces in American political life provides the best evidence that the neoliberal order was losing its hold. It was no longer constraining political choice.

Other evidence for the neoliberal order’s fracturing can be gleaned from a brief look at the erosion of support for four key planks of the neoliberal “freedom” agenda: the free movement of goods, people, information, and capital.

On the free movement of goods: During the neoliberal heyday, protectionism was a dirty word, not to be uttered by those pursuing high political office. Now it is favored by many on the right as well as on the left.

On the free movement of people: Thirty-five million people came to America between the 1960s and 2000s. Now the talk is all about walls and borders.

On the free movement of information: The instantaneous transmission of vast amounts of data and opinion to every corner of the world had been crucial to neoliberalism’s globalizing project. Now China, Russia, Turkey, and other countries are seeking to insulate their information systems from international “contamination.”

On the free movement of capital: This freedom has been the one most resistant to controls. But the actions recently taken by Western governments against Russia as well as against its oligarchs living abroad—freeing or seizing assets, denying the state and its people the opportunity to move money from one country to another or to convert their funds from one currency to another—constitute a major strike against that freedom.

The United States may also be in the midst of an extended period of dysfunction that will forestall the establishment of a new political order, left or right. But one thing is clear: the neoliberal heyday has passed. In the 1990s and 2000s, America was unabashed in its celebration of free markets, of a globalizing world without borders, and of an era of personal freedom powered by the IT revolution. We no longer live in that world.

Are US politics starting to turn towards a more hopeful future?
By Gary Gerstle

The industrial policies being promoted by the Biden administration won’t lead to nationalization; they focus instead on incentivizing the private sector to pursue broadly agreed upon economic aims. Two of the three aforementioned bills – the Chips Act and the Infrastructure Act – passed the Senate with significant Republican support. Quietly, Biden has delivered on his promise to open a new pathway to bipartisanship. There will be opportunities to broaden this bipartisanship, especially in regard to breaking up or regulating the monopoly power of the giant social media companies. Strong support for doing so exists on both sides of the Senate aisle. One key question is whether this incipient senatorial cross-party collaboration can soften the country’s paralyzing political polarization and persuade a few House Republicans to support upper chamber initiatives. Another is whether the Democrats can use their new program of political economy to sell a broad swath of the electorate – including constituencies currently lying beyond Democratic redoubts – on the party’s vision of the good life.

Judging by the midterms’ voting patterns alone, one might be tempted to say no. But there are reasons to think otherwise. For one, economic circumstances will be different in 2024 than they are now. Inflation will probably have moderated and thus may have faded as a political flashpoint. The recession that the Fed seems so determined to trigger will have occurred, and a recovery will be under way. Additionally, by 2024, corporate America (as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act) will be more deeply invested in green technology. The conversion to post-fossil fuel economy will have correspondingly accelerated, as America’s robust private sector glimpses the profits to be made in the clean energy revolution. Moreover, by 2024, the first new infrastructural projects should be nearing completion, yielding visible improvements in America’s creaking system of bridges, roads, and transportation hubs and networks. All this investment and building should generate jobs and, perhaps, the promise of a better life for many long denied it. A somnolent US labor movement is reawakening, a development that, if it continues, will help to ensure that future jobs carry with them decent wages.

‘New York Times’ editors hustle to prepare stories for newsroom strike
By David Folkenflik

More than 1,100 unionized New York Times staffers are intending to embark on a 24-hour strike today, leaving editors at the newspaper scrambling to put out a credible digital report for the day and print editions for the days following.

The paper’s journalists have not had a working contract since March 2021. Negotiations between the paper’s management and the Times Guild have broken down mainly over pay.

“From my point of view, this is an absolutely necessary shot across the bow,” says guild member Michael Powell, a veteran reporter who covers free speech matters for the New York Times national desk. “We’ve seen our salaries – almost all of us – go straight backward, over the years. That’s not acceptable.”

“Each month that goes by,” Powell says, “they’re taking more money out of our pocket.”

“Our salaries have gone steadily, year by year, backwards against inflation [for decades],” says Powell, the reporter. “It’s just reached the point where folks are saying enough.

“We’re lucky to be working for a paper that’s making money and that’s doing well,” he says. “We are some of the reason that it’s doing well.”

Just What Did the Times Walkout Change?
By Shawn McCreesh

Nikole Hannah-Jones, their star magazine correspondent and the intellectual force behind “The 1619 Project,” stood next to Scabby the giant inflatable rat and spoke into a microphone: “Let me tell you, I know what it’s like to work at a newspaper and not make enough to pay your bills. I worked two jobs until I was 30 years old. I reported at my local newspaper and then I had to sell mattresses on nights and weekends just to make ends meet. I loved my job, but we shouldn’t have to struggle financially to work at a place like the New York Times, no matter what position we hold.”

Donald McNeil was there, wearing an old union T-shirt and a brown leather coat with a shearling collar. He was ousted from the paper last year, and Hannah-Jones had played a minor role in that, but he’d always been a dedicated union man. He nodded along while she spoke. “I thought she was great,” he told me.

The labor unrest has united all sorts of factions within the paper.

Ultimately, the staff just wants more money, and management has budged very little on that. I went on Brian Lehrer’s radio show earlier this week to discuss this subject and a bunch of them began jamming up the phone lines, calling in to give union talking points. Their rage is metastasizing to find new targets beyond the usual suspects of Sulzberger and his CEO. This week, everyone was fuming at Jacqueline Welch, the human-resources boss who joined the paper last year and was compensated with nearly $1.5 million. It was Welch who notified them all that anyone participating in today’s strike would be docked a day’s pay, as opposed to the company counting it as a sick or vacation day.

What’s Wrong at the Times
By Steven Greenhouse

The business side of The New York Times has a lot to crow about. Consider the following and forgive me for throwing all these numbers at you, dear reader.

  1. After having an operating profit of $176 million in 2020, the Times estimates that its operating profit will jump to around $325 million this year, a very impressive 84 percent increase.
  2. Digital subscriptions have soared to eight million (not including The Athletic), five times as many as the 1.6 million in 2016.
  3. The Times has increased its dividend per share by 33 percent from two years ago and more than doubled its dividend from four years ago.
  4. In February, the Times announced a $150 million stock buyback plan for this year, a move designed to please investors by boosting the company’s stock price.

Beyond that, total compensation for the Times’ publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, jumped by 49 percent last year, to $3.6 million, while compensation for the company’s CEO, Meredith Kopit Levien, climbed by 31.6 percent to $5.75 million, a nearly $1.4 million increase over 2020.

As Larry David would say, that’s pretty, pretty good.

All this raises an obvious question of fairness: Why should Times management shower money gained from improved performance on investors and executives but not on the journalists who have risked their lives covering the war in Ukraine and other wars, the journalists who often work until midnight on big projects, the journalists who have won 122 Pulitzer Prizes, far more than any other news organization? Why shower money from the Times’ increased profits on investors who might have bought Times stock two months ago instead of on loyal, hardworking employees who have worked at the Times for two decades?

Everybody Wants a Raise at the New York Times
By Shawn McCreesh

Timesfolk who stuck by the paper through the post-crash dark days are especially restive now that it’s back on top. Ken Belson, a sports reporter and 21-year veteran, joined colleagues in bombarding the brass with emails. “One year, we took pay cuts to help the company through financial rough waters,” he wrote. “During this time, many friends — some of the most talented reporters and editors in the newsroom — left The Times because they could not afford to stay. It’s time for you — the leadership of the paper — to tell the negotiating committee to reply to our wage proposals and stop being hypocritical. Enough already.”

“It’s history repeating itself,” says Jill Abramson. “The staff has been working without a contract for years. Inflation is terrible. Of course they’re angry. I think the order to come back to the office is just one ingredient in their unhappiness. Their wages haven’t kept apace. That’s the real problem.” She became executive editor in 2011 in the midst of bitter labor negotiations. The staff walked out of the building for an hour, but the worst was averted. “The Times relies on an infamous union-busting law firm, Proskauer Rose, for labor advice, which, over the years, has made relations worse,” says Abramson.

Just as the company is taking its sweet time to come up with a contract for its largest and highest-profile group, an activist investor called ValueAct has burrowed inside the Times, buying up a 7 percent stake in the company last month. ValueAct figures the revenues should be higher and is going to pressure the management to bundle up the new properties and wring more out of subscribers. That said, ValueAct doesn’t pose a very serious threat because of the way the company is structured; the Ochs-Sulzberger trust elects approximately 70 percent of the board.

But ValueAct can make noise if it doesn’t like the way Sulzberger and Kopit Levien are doing business. “Then it’s all about creating bad publicity to the controlling family, who, in order to keep their reputation, might do some stuff even though they are not obligated to,” says Zohar Goshen, a professor at Columbia Law and an expert on corporate governance.

New York Times Settles Case Claiming It Silenced Pro-Union Staff
By Josh Eidelson

The New York Times Co. agreed to stop restricting technology workers who oversee interns from expressing support for a union, settling a case brought by federal labor officials.

The Times “agreed with the National Labor Relations Board that nonsupervisory product design employees acting as temporary intern managers have the right to show support for a union, including through display of union insignia,” spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said Thursday in an email.

In a December complaint, the board accused the Times of illegally interfering with workers’ organizing rights by telling those designated as “intern managers” that they were prohibited from showing they backed unionization. The board action stemmed from claims brought by the Communications Workers of America’s NewsGuild, which said management had ordered tech employees to stop using pro-union avatars and backgrounds in online services such as Slack and Google Meet.

Times employees such as engineers and product managers recently voted overwhelmingly to join the guild, expanding the union’s footprint at the publishing company and advancing the broader movement to organize U.S. tech workers.

Why the Media Loves Labor Now
By Ben Smith

Steven Greenhouse, a former labor reporter for The New York Times, told me that for a time in the 2000s, he was the “the only full-time daily labor reporter.” Now, there are at least a dozen at legacy outlets and digital ones like Vice and HuffPost.

The change is also evident in how some of the biggest economic stories are covered. Reports on companies ranging from Amazon to Uber are not as likely to fall under the boosterish genre of gee-whiz technology stories these days. And the tales of heroic entrepreneurs have given way to coverage focused on their employees — stories documenting the complex and sometimes damaging effects of the digital transformation on warehouse workers, taxi drivers, delivery workers and white-collar employees.

The shift was spurred, many journalists believe, by the growing labor movement inside American newsrooms, which has made reporters “more knowledgeable and sympathetic to labor issues,” said Kim Kelly, a freelance journalist who has written a labor column for Teen Vogue since 2018. “An entire generation of journalists has been turned into labor activists.”

Not everyone sees it that way. Jon Schleuss, the president of the NewsGuild, a union representing newsroom employees at The Times and other news outlets across the country, told me that the effect is “not necessarily sympathy, but a deeper understanding.”

The labor media surge has come with some eye rolls from the journalists who were working the beat before it was cool. “It’s both an exciting and an immensely frustrating time to be a labor reporter,” Sarah Jaffe, the host of the podcast “Belabored,” said in an email. She said she regularly sees “rookie mistakes” in the newcomers’ union coverage, including confusion about the intricacies of labor law and impatience with the granular details of contract negotiations.

But union leaders say the media attention is part of a larger comeback for the labor movement.

Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants (whose appearance on the cover of Fast Company this summer was its own labor milestone), said sympathetic coverage of unions can fill strike funds, put pressure on companies and bolster workers’ morale.

“I can’t tell you how much that coverage means to people in the middle of a strike,” she said.

Wordle players break streaks to support New York Times union walkout
By Riley MacLeod

On Thursday, the Times Guild, a union representing a variety of employees at the New York Times, staged a one-day walkout as part of a high-profile contract bargaining process in which the union and the newspaper’s management have been unable to come to agreement on issues such as compensation, remote work and health care. The union asked readers to avoid interacting with Times content on that day — including avoiding the Times’ mega-popular word game, Wordle. For Wordle players, skipping a day could mean breaking their winning streak, a sacrifice some were willing to make.

How the 1962-63 Newspaper Strike Crippled a Newspaper Town
By Scott Sherman

A little more than two hours after midnight on December 8, 1962, hundreds of printers walked away from their clattering Linotype machines and their rumbling presses and departed en masse from *The New York Times’*s block-long composing room, on West 43rd Street. … The printers, most of them second-generation Irish, Italian, and Jewish men in their 40s, belonged to Local No. 6 of the International Typographical Union (I.T.U.), a confederation better known by its historic nickname, “Big Six.” The Times was shut down, and within hours so was every other major newspaper in New York City.

The showdown of 1962–63 pitted around 17,000 newspaper employees—pressmen, photoengravers, paper handlers, reporters, elevator operators, office boys—against the owners and publishers of seven New York City newspapers, who were determined to curtail the influence of Big Six and nine other clamorous unions. Over the next 114 days, 600 million newspapers would go unprinted; newspaper-obsessed New Yorkers would be forced to navigate their metropolis without them.

At its core, the New York newspaper strike was a battle over technology. The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of computerized typesetting systems that would revolutionize the newspaper composing room. Newspapers that prohibited unions, such as the Los Angeles Times, rushed to install cutting-edge computers such as the RCA 301. Newspapers with union contracts, including those in New York City, faced tempestuous resistance from labor leaders, who could easily see that automation would cost jobs.

The disappearance of newspapers reverberated widely.

Three hundred and fifty blind, crippled, and elderly newsdealers were forced out of business; 5,000 hotel and restaurant workers were discharged; welfare agencies reported that, without the ads they placed in newspapers, offers to take in orphaned and needy children dropped from roughly 100 per month to zero; charity balls were canceled. Without printed obituaries, attendance at wakes and funerals declined, and flower shops suffered. “A lot of people just don’t know when their friends die,” a florist told Newsweek. Promotion, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and as Christmas approached, improvisation filled the void. In the windows of Stern’s Department Store, attractive models scrawled daily specials on blackboards. On Madison Avenue, employees from a P.R. firm held up signs with the latest news and gossip about their clients.

A city without newspapers was a city in which civic activity was impeded, as two out-of-work Times reporters hired by the Columbia Journalism Review soon documented. Without the daily papers, the Health Department’s campaign against venereal disease was “seriously impaired.” So was the fight against slumlords: “There’s a distinct difference,” the city’s building commissioner said, “between a $500 fine and a $500 fine plus a story in the Times.” The New York chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality discovered that, without newspaper attention, its boycott of the Sealtest Milk Company was considerably undermined. The newspaper strike, the C.J.R. study concluded, had “deprived the public of its watchdog.”

Is the Press Too Big to Fail?
By Todd Gitlin

Who can avoid the obvious, if little covered question: Is the press too big to fail? Or was it failing long before it began to falter financially?

In the previous century, there was a brief Golden Age of American journalism, though what glittered like gold leaf sometimes turned out to be tinsel. Then came regression to the mean. Since 2000, we have seen the titans of the news presuming that Bush was the victor over Gore, hustling us into war with Iraq, obscuring climate change, and turning blind eyes to derivatives, mortgage-based securities, collateralized debt obligations, and the other flimsy creations with which a vast, showy, ramshackle international financial house of cards was built. When you think about the crisis of journalism, including the loss of advertising and the shriveled newsrooms — there were fewer newsroom employees in 2010 than in 1978, when records were first kept — also think of anesthetized watchdogs snoring on Wall Street while the Arctic ice cap melts.

Don’t be fooled, though, by any inflated talk about the early days of American journalism. In the beginning, there was no Golden Age. To be sure, a remark Thomas Jefferson made in 1787 is often quoted admiringly (especially in newspapers): “If it were left to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.”

Protected by the First Amendment, however, the press of the early republic was unbridled, scurrilous, vicious, and flagrantly partisan. In 1807, then-President Jefferson, with much more experience under his belt, wrote, “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”

If there was a Golden Age for the American press, it came in a two-decade period during the Cold War, when total per capita daily newspaper circulation kept rising, even as television scooped up eyeballs and eardrums. Admittedly, most of the time, even then, elites in Washington or elsewhere enjoyed the journalistic glad hand. Still, from 1954 to 1974, some watchdogs did bark. Civil rights coverage, for example, did help bring down white supremacy, while Vietnam and Watergate reportage helped topple two sitting presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Of course, press watchdogs also licked the hands of the perpetrators when Washington overthrew democratic governments in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and when it helped out in Chile in 1973. As for Vietnam, it wasn’t as simple a tale of journalistic triumph as we now imagine. For years, in manifold ways, reporters deferred to official positions on the war’s “progress,” so much so that today their reports read like sheaves of Pentagon press releases. Typically, all but one source quoted in New York Times coverage of the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incidents, which precipitated a major U.S. escalation of the war, were White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials (and they were lying). In the war’s early years, at least one network, NBC, even asked the Pentagon to institute censorship.

After Watergate, whatever hard-won, truth-bound independence the mainstream press had wrested from its own history failed to hold. In the run-up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for example, most Washington journalism once again collapsed into deference, and so, too, did the financial press on its own front. Washington’s war-making might and Wall Street’s financial maneuvers were both deemed too mighty, too smart, too hypermodern to fail.

Although the New York Times and the Washington Post later acknowledged flaws in their Iraq reporting, neither paper nor other major outlets have owned up to the negligence that led up to the great global economic meltdown of 2007-2008. We are far from grasping how fully business journalism played cheerleader and pedestal-builder for the titans of finance as they erected a fantastical Tower of Derivatives, which grew way too tall to fail without wrecking the global economy.

Start to finish, financial journalism was breathless about the market thrills that led to the 2007-2008 crash: the financialization of the global economy, the metastasis of derivatives, and especially the deregulation underway since the late 1970s that culminated in the 1999 congressional repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (with President Bill Clinton blithely signing off on it). That repeal paved the way for commercial and investment banks, as well as insurance companies, to merge into “too-big-to-fail” corporations, unleashed with low capital requirements and soon enough piled high with the potential for collapse.

On February 24, 2002, as the scandal of the derivative-soaked Enron Corporation unfolded, the New York Times’s Daniel Altman did distinguish himself with a page-one business section report headlined “Contracts So Complex They Imperil The System.” He wrote: “The veil of complexity, whose weave is tightening as sophisticated derivatives evolve and proliferate, poses subtle risks to the financial system — risks that are impossible to quantify, sometimes even to identify.” He stood almost alone in those years in such coverage.

On March 23, 2008, as the bubble was finally bursting, Times reporters Nelson Schwartz and Julie Creswell noted that “during the late 1990s, Wall Street fought bitterly against any attempt to regulate the emerging derivatives market.” They went on:

“A milestone in the deregulation effort came in the fall of 2000, when a lame-duck session of Congress passed a little-noticed piece of legislation called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. The bill effectively kept much of the market for derivatives and other exotic instruments off-limits to agencies that regulate more conventional assets like stocks, bonds and futures contracts.”

“Little-noticed” indeed. According to Lexis-Nexis, not a single substantive mention of this law appeared in the Times that year. On October 1, 2000, Washington Post writer Jerry Knight did note ruefully, “What’s fascinating about the policy debate is the agreement on the guiding principle: The government should not stand in the way of financial innovation.”

Or in those years consider how the New York Times covered the exotic derivatives called “collateralized debt obligations,” among the principal cards of which the era’s entire international financial house was built. These tricky arcana, marketed as little miracles of risk management, multiplied from an estimated $20 billion in 2004 to more than $180 billion by 2007. The Times’s Floyd Norris drily mentioned them in a 2001 front-page business section article about American Express headlined “They Sold the Derivative, but They Didn’t Understand It.” He quoted the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank this way: “There are all kinds of transactions going on out there where one party doesn’t understand it.” From then on, no substantial Times front-page business section article so much as mentioned collateralized debt obligations for almost four years.

The formula was simple and straightforward: the business press served the market movers and shakers. It was a reputation-making machine, a publicity apparatus for the industry. In other words, the job of financial reporters in those years was to remain fast asleep as the most flagrantly abusive part of the mortgage industry, subprime mortgages, was integrated into routine banking.

Meanwhile, thanks to that same financial press, a culture of celebrity enveloped the big names of finance: CEOs of major banks, Wall Street investors, operators of hedge funds. They were repeatedly portrayed not just as fabulously successful tycoons doing their best for the society, but as fabulously giving philanthropists, their names engraved into the walls of university buildings, museums, symphony halls, and opera houses. They weren’t just bringers of liquidity to markets, but wise men, too. In an all-enveloping media atmosphere in which the press indulged without a blink, they were held to be not only creators of wealth but moral exemplars. Indeed, the two were essentially interchangeable: they were moral exemplars because they were creators of wealth.

If it is held unfair, or naïve, or both, to ask faltering news organizations to take up the slack left by our corrupt, self-dealing, shortsighted institutions, then it remains for start-up efforts to embarrass the established journals.

But tens of millions of readers still rely on the old media, either directly or via the snippets that stream through Google, Yahoo, and other aggregator sites. Given the stakes, we dare not settle for nostalgia or restoration, or pray that the remedy is new technology. Polishing up the old medals will not avail. Reruns of His Girl Friday, All the President’s Men, and Broadcast News may be entertaining, but it’s more important to keep in mind that the good old days were not so good after all. The press was never too great to fail. Missing the story is a tradition. So now the question is: Who is going to bring us the news of all the institutions, from City Hall to Congress, from Wall Street to the White House, that fail us?

Trust in media is low worldwide. Are media outlets reaching out to the wrong people?
By Rick Edmonds

It has become an article of faith among editors and reporters that they need to come up with strategic efforts to build reader trust. However, a report late last year from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford offers a sobering caution:

Few efforts to build reader trust have reached beyond existing readers and likely subscribers to the truly skeptical.

Right now, those incentives turn out to be foremost retaining subscribers or broadcast audiences, often paired with adding a new paid digital base, according to the report. That means “few individual news organizations have clear incentives for investing in building trust with indifferent, skeptical, or outright hostile parts of the public.”

The Partisan Ghost In The Media Machine
By David Sirota

For news consumers, the problem becomes self-reinforcing. When journalism that embarrasses Democratic politicians is promoted by Fox News — and ghosted by MSNBC — liberals either never see the reporting, or they get to eyeroll and smugly laugh at it, insisting the verifiable facts must be false just because they happen to be amplified by Rupert Murdoch rather than by Rachel Maddow. The converse is also true: When facts embarrassing Republicans are reported by MSNBC — and ignored by Fox News — most conservatives never even see them, and those who do get to brush it off as “fake news” from “liberal media.”

This dynamic is a big part of the democracy crisis in America. It has created two throngs of zombie partisans fighting a never-ending war of attrition from behind screens that tell them only what they want to hear, and censor facts that might alter their thinking.

In sowing such mass ignorance, this system ultimately shields public officials from accountability. Those in government now know that their negligence, corruption, and malfeasance — if reported at all — probably will not be reported to their own party’s voters, or at least it will not be reported in a hard-hitting way that might make those voters perk up and demand justice.

We saw this dynamic during a financial crisis when both sides’ media gave a pass to their respective party members in the Bush and Obama administrations who let Wall Street criminals off the hook. We saw it during the Iraq War, when the Republicans and Democrats who lied us into the conflict were almost never held accountable, and were instead rewarded with permanent media platforms.

With the media ecosystem only selectively informing partisan tribes about government malfeasance, regulators like Buttigieg know they rarely have to fear sustained, broad-based, transpartisan political consequences for failure. Consequently, CEOs know that those insulated regulators will rarely be forced to impose harsh sanctions when companies abuse millions of consumers.

Fixing this nightmare requires the kind of media that Joseph Pulitzer envisioned — a media that will “never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong.”

I’m a Rail Worker, and Biden Screwed Us
By John Tormey

Democratic action is not limited to voting in municipal, state, and federal elections every few years. Democracy also occurs in workplaces, as when a majority of workers come together and vote to engage in a strike after three years of working without a ratified contract with no raises, 10 years of cuts to the workforce through firings or layoffs or furloughs or attrition, and a brutal scheduling regime that forces some workers to choose between health, familial obligations, and unemployment.

When the rail carriers, Congress, and the president swiftly came together to force railroad workers to eat another shitty contract, they subverted democracy to do so. All the excuse-making and promises to make good at some undetermined point in the future can’t change that fact. And it won’t change the fact that the carriers will continue to roll in profits, like hogs in mud; that the politicians will continue to speak out of both sides of their mouths from the safety of their offices; or that workers, who keep the freight moving, will go on doing their jobs while having their lives outside of work ground into dust.

Wake up with a high fever and puking your guts out? Take the day off, and you can be fired. Your wife goes into early labor? Take the day off, and you can be fired. An elderly parent slips on some ice and needs help around the house? Take the day off, and you can be fired. When the operating directive is to maintain a functioning system with the fewest workers possible, then unscheduled time away from work, paid or not, is treated as a direct attack on company profits.

I’m not some big-shot labor historian or anything, but I’ve read enough to know railroad strikes have scared the shit out of the ruling elite since the beginnings of industrial capitalism. The primary weapons against the democratic will of the workers has been the legal and military power of the federal government. The Great Upheaval of 1877 began as a strike by railroad workers in West Virginia and quickly spread to Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Illinois, and Missouri. National Guardsmen gunned down scores of strikers while strikers burned down rolling-stock and rail-yard buildings. The movement of freight and passengers ground to a halt, and railroad barons lost a lot of money.

It wasn’t until President Rutherford B. Hayes heeded the demands of capital and deployed federal troops that the strike was ended. Less than 20 years later, federal troops were once again used to violently break the Pullman Strike in Washington State, and the federal courts intervened to jail Eugene Debs, the leader of the fledgling American Railroad Union. It was a federal injunction by the Warren G. Harding administration, along with National Guard troops aligned with company-employed militia in several states, that ended the nationwide railroad strike of 1922, and during the cross-industry, 5 million-worker-strong postwar strike wave of 1946, President Harry Truman was so desperate to compel striking railroad workers back on the job that he asked the US Congress for the power to draft those railroad workers into the military and use his authority as commander in chief to order them back to work. Congress eventually denied Truman this request, but by then the strike was over.

What just happened lacked the shock of violent clashes, disrupted service, and lost revenue that marked the conflict between railroad workers and carriers in the past. But the result was no different. Instead of rifles in the hands of National Guardsmen, the weapons this time were the Railroad Labor Act and the president’s request for an act of Congress. In 2022, as in 1877 and 1922, the federal government intervened in a disagreement between railroad workers and railroad bosses, and did so on behalf of the bosses who will continue to operate as they have. They know that no matter how incompetent or outright evil their actions, the federal government will always save them from suffering any consequences. The freight will move from one point to the next, and the profits will keep piling up.

Why America’s Railroads Refuse to Give Their Workers Paid Leave
By Eric Levitz

Why would a company have no problem handing out 24 percent raises, $1,000 bonuses, and caps on health-care premiums but draw the line on providing a benefit as standard and ubiquitous throughout modern industry as paid sick days?

The answer, in short, is “P.S.R.” — or precision-scheduled railroading.

P.S.R. is an operational strategy that aims to minimize the ratio between railroads’ operating costs and their revenues through various cost-cutting and (ostensibly) efficiency-increasing measures. The basic idea is to transport more freight using fewer workers and railcars.

Over the past six years, America’s major freight carriers have shed 30 percent of their employees. To compensate for this lost staffing, remaining workers must tolerate irregular schedules and little time off since the railroads don’t have much spare labor capacity left.

Last year, the seven dominant North American railways had a combined net income of $27 billion, nearly twice their margin a decade ago. In the interim, the railways have collectively doled out $146 billion in dividends and stock buybacks while investing only $116 billion into their businesses.

The typical railcar requires maintenance at predictable intervals and does not require an unanticipated day off to see a doctor about an unexplained pain or to visit a loved one in the hospital. But workers often do.

Liberals Have Been So Busy Not Losing, They’ve Forgotten How to Win
By Thomas Frank

Recall, briefly, where the modern Democratic Party comes from. It was born, essentially, in a centrist backlash against a traditional left party that (it was said) foolishly talked the populist language of class conflict. What had to happen, party reformers declared, was a move to the “vital center,” outreach to Republicans, a voyage to a place beyond politics where everyone agreed about free trade, innovation and balanced budgets.

When Democrats did those things, strategists and party leaders argued, affluent professionals — members of the well-educated “learning class” — would flock to the big tent. There would be consensus. Electoral victories. Affluence (for some) in the coming knowledge economy.

That was the plan. And it succeeded. The “New Democrats” won the war inside the Democratic Party, defeating the traditionalists. They were given many chances to rule. They triangulated and sought grand bargains. Today we live in the future to which they built their celebrated bridge, with a deregulated Wall Street, a devitalized heartland and college diplomas held up as the answer to all problems. Turning their backs on the populism they loathed, our future-minded, new-style Democrats declined to take the opportunity offered by the 2008-09 financial crisis to remake the financial system. Instead, some of them came to identify with that system.

In some ways, liberalism from the top down has worked out as intended. The highly educated are now solidly Democratic, and the wealthy are moving rapidly our way. Today the party’s candidates often raise more money than Republicans. Despite President Biden’s intermittent blue-collar sympathies — and despite the party’s ramped-up language about conquering racism and defending democracy itself — the strategy of the 1990s still seems to be the strategy of today: courting the learning class, winning the affluent suburbanites, talking about how innovation will save us, reaching out to Republicans like Liz Cheney. And despite inspiring victories like John Fetterman’s in Pennsylvania, according to exit polls, the party continues to hemorrhage working-class votes.

The combination of high net worth and high moral virtue that the Democrats offer is a richly satisfying blend for some voters, a perfect summary of how they see themselves. For party leaders, it has meant something even better: lucrative second careers at Silicon Valley behemoths, compounds on Martha’s Vineyard and presidential libraries that surpass those of the Republicans in soaring monumentalism. If perpetual stalemate is the price the country must pay for such things, maybe it’s a bargain.

Sizable majorities of Americans desperately want traditional liberal measures like universal health care and economic fairness. But actually, existing liberalism, with its air of upper-crust contempt and its top-down moralism, rubs this deeply democratic nation exactly the wrong way.

If I have learned one thing from the experience of the past few decades, it is that America cannot expect genuine reform to come from Democratic Party leadership or enlightened technocrats in Washington; it must come from the bottom up. It must be demanded by ordinary people, in solidarity, coming together by the millions in a social movement capable of sweeping all before it. Unfortunately, liberals don’t build such movements these days: What we do is purge them, police the unruly public via social media and write off wayward voters as sinful or beyond redemption.

The new class war
By Jonathan Rutherford

JR: Your comment about the necessity for a “common identity” suggests you reject the idea of multiculturalism.
ML: Multiculturalism is relevant in societies such as Switzerland or Canada (with its Anglophone and Francophone communities) in which two or more ethnocultural nations permanently retain their distinctness and there is little intermarriage.

The alternative is the “melting pot” model, in which two or more groups amalgamate culturally and – via marriage – demographically. We are constantly being told by the establishment that the melting-pot model has been replaced by the salad bowl metaphor, in which the ingredients retain their distinctness. But that is not the case in the US, where the descendants of immigrants of all backgrounds tend to share American culture and American English. Rising rates of marriage across the arbitrary lines of “race” are blurring lines among so-called non-Hispanic whites, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans in the US, making these categories increasingly useless. The UK has become a melting-pot nation – the Prime Minister is British of Indian ancestry.

If Western societies are becoming transracial melting pots, not multicultural salad bowls, why are government, corporate, academic and media elites doubling down on policies such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) based on the false idea that gaps among racial and ethnic groups are permanent or even increasing? The answer is that constant emphasis on racial and ethnic disparities diverts public attention from the growing class divide in the West between the college-educated overclass and the working class, whose members of all races have more in common with each other than with elite members of their own “race”, when it comes to wages, worker power and access to education and health care.

Breaking Unions With the Language of Diversity and Social Justice
By Lee Fang

Across the country, particularly in highly educated workplaces, employee activism has centered on demands that go beyond the bread and butter of higher salaries and better retirement benefits. YouTube and Facebook employees have demanded that management take a greater role in censoring content viewed as sexist or racist. Amazon corporate headquarters workers this month staged a protest to demand that the company restrict the sales of books that are perceived by some activist groups as anti-trans. The union that represents workers at NPR has demanded that the media outlet develop demographic tools to track the race and gender of every source that appears in stories.

In the new environment, businesses facing worker uprisings are attempting to co-opt the language of social justice movements and embrace trends around self-growth and positive lifestyles to counter demands for unionization — a far cry from the old days of union prevention, a history that featured employers routinely threatening workers with private guards and violent clashes on the picket lines.

So-called union avoidance consultants, also known as persuaders, work in a specialty profession that has been honed in recent decades. They are hired by corporations to train managers to spot union sympathies or to lead “captive audience” lectures — where attendance is mandatory — to pressure workers against voting for a union.

These seminars can involve threats of retaliation, warnings that a union will force the company to close down, and claims that union dues will negate any benefit of a union contract. But the most important aspect of these meetings, experts say, can be collecting information to identify union supporters within a workplace so that they may be sidelined or fired before they gain influence with their co-workers.

“There’s kind of a jiujitsu, to get employees thinking about racial justice issues, at least superficially, as a way to deflect labor and collective bargaining,” said Michael C. Duff, a law professor at the University of Wyoming. Duff attended law school after union organizing cost him his job working for an airline. He understands why the diversity, equity, and inclusion field has become an asset for companies hoping to skirt unionization — particularly at a time when employee interest in both is rising rapidly.

“Labor consultant folks converting into DEI folks,” added Duff. “It’s really a wonderful kind of psyops, right, because these people are supposed to be close to employees.”

The approach is on display in some of the most high-profile union battles going on now. One example is Starbucks, which has faced growing unionization pressure as over 100 stores have voted to join a union. The company, in response, launched an anti-union website earlier this year. Among the reasons not to join a union? The Starbucks website says the firm already provides an “inclusive” environment and maintains a strong commitment to diverse hiring practices.

So far, the approach has mostly backfired for the company. “Starbucks claims to be a progressive company, and they’re using this social justice language, but people see past that,” said Joseph Thompson, a student barista who organized two Starbucks locations in Santa Cruz, California.

Thompson has corresponded with other baristas seeking to form unions around the country as far away as Idaho. Many have voiced frustration at the company’s union-busting tactics in contrast to its purported values, he said.

Despite the rosy image of inclusiveness and activism touted in Starbucks press releases, the company has been accused of over 200 violations of federal labor laws, and over 20 baristas say they have been illegally fired in retaliation for attempting to form a union.

“It’s a brutal anti-union campaign, but also one that tries to appeal to the sort of progressive sensibilities of the kinds of people who work at Starbucks,” said John Logan, professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

Medium, the publishing website launched by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, countered a union organizing drive with a promise to increase spending on diversity and inclusion efforts, according to McEnany. After the union vote failed by one vote, Medium liquidated its primary editorial division.

One of the most insidious tactics have been the use of supposed employee resource groups, also known as affinity groups or ERGs, to undermine labor activism. Many companies offer specific ERGs for Asian, Black, Latino, or LGBTQ+ individuals, among other identity-based suborganizations as part of a larger diversity and inclusion program.

The management-sanctioned groups are attempts to create safe spaces for historically marginalized identities to voice shared concerns and create a sense of community within the workplace. According to a study published last year by McKinsey & Co. that surveyed 423 organizations employing 12 million people, close to 35 percent of firms have added or expanded ERGs since 2020.

Supporters of these initiatives say these groups provide a useful channel to improve communications and spotlight company practices that might be shaped by racial biases or lack of sensitivity to minority cultures.

These lofty goals, however, at times run parallel to or even in conjunction with anti-union measures at some firms. IRI Consultants, a union avoidance firm, noted in one publication that unions in some industries, particularly high tech, have drifted toward capitalizing on demands that employers do a better job of hiring diverse talent. One way to “union-proof your business,” IRI claims, is to develop “effective leadership, consistent employee training, and diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives that address challenges like unconscious bias in the human resources (HR) process.”

“When people feel powerless, resentment festers until someone comes along, like a union representative saying, ‘You have a right to be heard. We can help you get a voice in your workplace, and your employer will have to listen,’” IRI noted in another publication.

In response, IRI suggests the creation of ERGs within a workplace. “If you don’t give today’s employees a voice, the workforce is likely to have a low engagement level, and the union is going to see an opportunity,” warns IRI.

When Google, notably, hired IRI Consultants to suppress union activism within the tech giant, the decision, recent court documents show, was made by the then-chief diversity officer, Danielle Brown, who previously led the firm’s ERG programs.

“The ERG is essentially the company’s union. It’s engaged in this way: ‘Oh, you’re from a marginalized identity group, you have a place to speak,’” said McEnany, the organizer. “But if you talk to a lot of workers interested in real change, they see this as a way to throw money for a party. It’s more about surveillance, about keeping an eye on workers.”

In the late 19th and early 20th century, in the early days of the U.S. labor movement, corporations facing labor activism would often create fake union organizations controlled by management. These so-called company unions would provide a false sense of worker empowerment, with some fringe benefits like a pool hall or recreation center, while keeping wage and benefit decisions controlled by corporate leaders.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, which enshrined federal labor union rights, expressly outlawed the formation of company unions. Corporations cannot form worker organizations that claim to negotiate on behalf of employees.

“Company unions were a major concern of Sen. [Robert F.] Wagner because it’s very easy for a working person to mistake these groups as third parties,” said Duff, the University of Wyoming law professor.

The movement to create ERGs at a time when workers demand better conditions could be a violation of labor law, Duff argued.

“It’s a distraction. The idea is, ‘We’re going to siphon off energy that might be devoted to creating your own arms-length groups that would be adversarial,’” he added.

Google Hires Firm Known for Anti-Union Efforts
By Noam Scheiber and Daisuke Wakabayashi

Google has hired an anti-union consulting firm to advise management as it deals with widespread worker unrest, including accusations that it has retaliated against organizers of a global walkout and cracked down on dissent inside the company.

The firm, IRI Consultants, appears to work frequently for hospitals and other health care organizations. Its website advertises “union vulnerability assessments” and boasts about IRI’s success in helping a large national health care company persuade employees to avoid a union election despite the unions’ “dedicating millions of dollars to their organizing campaigns.”

Google’s work with IRI is the latest evidence of escalation in a feud between a group of activist workers at Google and management that has tested the limits of the company’s traditionally transparent, worker-friendly culture.

Google employees stumbled upon the company’s relationship with IRI in October, according to two employees familiar with the discovery, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the fear of retaliation. They unearthed internal calendar entries indicating that Google had hired IRI, according to screenshots shared with The New York Times.

At the time of the discovery, Google had recently installed a tool on employees’ web browsers that would flag internal calendar events requiring more than 10 meeting rooms or 100 participants.

Many employees believed that the so-called browser extension, which was first reported by Bloomberg, was a surveillance tool designed to crack down on organizing among workers. The company said at the time that it simply wanted to reduce internal spam and that the tool did not collect personally identifiable information.

To learn more about the extension and a calendar policy change that the tool would reinforce, employees began to search the calendar of the Google human resources official who had requested the policy change, according to the two employees knowledgeable about the situation.

While searching that official’s calendar, which was open to other Google employees at the time, these employees discovered that she had been part of a group of Google human resources, legal and communications officials who for months had been invited to meetings with officials from IRI, according to the two employees.

They noticed that the group had a meeting scheduled only a few hours before the human resources official requested the change in calendar policy. The Times obtained screenshots of portions of the official’s calendar and two posts on an internal ticketing system discussing the change.

In August, the company handed down new “community guidelines” that prohibited employees from insulting one another on internal forums and “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story.” Many employees saw it as a way to stifle the internal debate that had long defined the company.

Then, this month, two Google employees were placed on administrative leave over possible violations of company rules. According to a memo circulated internally and obtained by CNBC, some employees believed the administrative leave was a form of retaliation because the two suspended workers had engaged in activism at the company.

Google said one of the employees had searched for, gained access to and shared sensitive documents, though other employees have questioned the documents’ sensitivity. The company said the second suspended employee had set up email alerts to track the calendars of several Google officials, which made them feel unsafe, but did not say that setting up such alerts broke company rules.

Google fired an engineer who built a tool that notified employees of their labor rights. She’s the 5th employee this month to accuse the company of illegal retaliation.
By Rob Price

A former Google engineer has filed a complaint against her former employer with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after she was terminated for building a tool that automatically reminded other Google employees of their rights when they visited certain websites.

Kathryn Spiers, a former security engineer at the California search giant, had modified a feature in the employee-only version of the web browser Chrome that displayed a pop-up notification telling employees that they “have the right to participate in protected concerted activities” when they visited the website of a labor-consulting firm hired by Google and some other websites.

The tool was originally designed to present Google employees with security-related notifications as they browse the web, and Google suspended Spiers within hours of her change. She was subsequently fired over what the company said was a violation of its policy.

On Monday, the Communications Workers of America union filed a charge with the NLRB, a US federal agency overseeing labor issues, alleging that Spiers’ dismissal was illegal retaliation for engaging in protected activity, according to a copy of the complaint shared with Business Insider.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson defended the firing: “We dismissed an employee who abused privileged access to modify an internal security tool. This was a serious violation.”

Google has been racked with labor issues for months, with activist employees staging protests and walkouts over numerous issues, from payouts made to executives accused of sexual harassment to the company’s now shelved plans to build a censored search engine to operate in China.

In November, it fired four employees — who have become known as the “Thanksgiving Four” — for what it said were violations of its data-security policies. They alleged they were retaliated against for trying to organize workers.

Google settles with six employees who worked on unionization efforts.
By Daisuke Wakabayashi

Google has agreed to settle a National Labor Relations Board case filed by six former and current employees who said the company had illegally fired or disciplined them because of their unionization efforts.

As part of the settlement, which was agreed upon on Friday, the former and current Google employees also agreed to dismiss a related court case in California. The settlement terms are bound by a nondisclosure agreement, said Laurie M. Burgess, a lawyer representing the former and current employees.

The settlement was reached after a ruling in the labor board case forced Google to hand over more documents. The complaint, which the labor agency brought in December 2020, said the search giant had illegally dismissed or disciplined and surveilled employees who were active in labor organizing.

New Facebook Tool Allows Employers to Suppress “Unionize” in Workplace Chat
By Lee Fang

On Facebook Workplace, employees see a stream of content similar to a news feed, with automatically generated trending topics based on what people are posting about. One of the new tools debuted by Facebook allows administrators to remove and block certain trending topics among employees.

The presentation discussed the “benefits” of “content control.” And it offered one example of a topic employers might find it useful to blacklist: the word “unionize.”

The following day, the company presentation was taken down. But on Thursday afternoon, after the presentation had been deleted, Karandeep Anand, a product manager for Facebook Workplace, weighed in on an internal company board. Anand apologized for the “unionize” example, noting that “censoring users is not the purpose of this feature and Workplace’s ambition is to give everyone a voice, while maintaining a respectful work environment.” He added that the “oversight” was likely “lack of context versus bad intent from anyone on the team.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Facebook said, “While these kinds of content moderation tools are useful for companies, this example was poorly chosen and should never have been used. The feature was only in early development and we’ve pulled any plans to roll it out while we think through next steps.”

One Facebook employee who spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity said he saw the blacklisting feature, with a suggested use case around unionization, as a clear effort to give employers the ability to exert control over employees.

That Facebook is marketing Workplace as having built-in labor union suppression tools comes at a time when more and more Americans are likely using Facebook to organize.

A recent memo to employers, first reported by The Intercept, warned that the coronavirus pandemic has sparked widespread support for labor unions, and that online networking tools have become a powerful vector for organizing campaigns.

Employers have long attempted to stifle lawful workplace organizing by monitoring social media. One study of the phenomenon found that between June 2009 and April 2011, the National Labor Relations Board received about 100 charges that employees had been fired or disciplined due to online posts, largely on Facebook, around labor organizing.

Labor’s Lost
By Michael Lind

According to Gallup, 71% of the public approves of labor unions—the highest percentage since 1965—with 90% support among Democrats, 66% among independents, and 47% among Republicans. But because of partisanship and class interests, these views are not translated by the Democratic and Republican parties into support for organized labor. This is largely a result of the increasingly elitist nature of American politics. Both parties have superrich donors who are more or less libertarian—socially liberal and economically libertarian. The Silicon Valley and Hollywood elites who fund the Democrats are as hostile to organized labor as Republican-leaning agribusiness and logistics industries.

The social base of the Democrats now consists of upscale, mostly white, college-educated voters for whom abortion, subsidized solar and wind power, and the imposition of race and gender quotas in all areas of American society are more urgent priorities than organizing warehouse workers or raising the minimum wage, even if cultural progressives pay lip service to organized labor. Meanwhile, even though most Republican voters of all races are working class, the most influential group within the GOP is the mostly affluent minority of the population—fewer than 10% of Americans—who are self-employed owners of small businesses that hire workers. Portraying themselves as victims squeezed between big business above and the working class below, most small business owners are and always have been ferociously hostile to any reform that increases the ability of their employees to bargain for higher wages, benefits, or better working conditions.

Thanks to the indifference of Democrats and the hostility of Republicans, union membership among private sector workers in the U.S. has collapsed from around a third of the population in the 1950s to around 6% today—lower than it was during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, before Franklin Roosevelt’s pro-labor New Deal.

For more than half a century, American employers have used a variety of methods to annihilate organized labor in the American private sector. One method has been geographic labor arbitrage—transferring production from unionized sites in pro-labor states to nonunion workforces in anti-labor, right-to-work states in the American South or West, or to countries with poor and repressed workers like Mexico and China. The flip side of geographic labor arbitrage is immigration arbitrage, replacing unionized workers with immigrants who are not unionized and, in the case of illegal immigrants and guest workers, are easily bullied and exploited by employers. The outsourcing of jobs formerly done in the firm by unionized workers to nonunion contractors is another tool used by corporate America to crush private sector worker power in the U.S.

Not content with annihilating collective bargaining, lobbyists for American employers and their political allies have weakened the power of individual, nonunionized workers using legal devices like noncompete contracts, by which workers sign away their right to work for rivals of their employer if they quit, no-poaching/no-hiring agreements among firms in the same industry, and other unethical but sometimes legal anti-worker schemes.

The marginal revenue product (MRP) theory of compensation holds that in a free market, workers will be paid on the basis of their exact contribution to the profitable enterprise (which—surprise!—just happens to be what any particular employer prefers to pay). According to this extreme theory, any government interventions in the U.S. labor market, including minimum wages and limits on immigration of workers from other countries, in addition to pro-union laws, can only backfire to the detriment of consumers—the one group that matters.

Most of the champions of the free market who make these arguments in public derive their income not from selling goods or services in the marketplace but from the gifts of donors as professors, think tank fellows, or journalists at money-losing publications subsidized by rich libertarians.

A majority of Americans in the private sector work for firms with more than 500 employees, notwithstanding nonsense about small business being the backbone of America. The inconsistent ideologues of the free market right tell us that it is perfectly acceptable for the numerous managers and shareholders running these large companies to combine and act as a single unit in negotiating wages with employees, and yet somehow it is unacceptable for workers to team up and bargain as a unit on the other side of the table. The idea that a janitor can somehow bargain with the pooled, collective force of the managers and owners of a large corporation is so absurd that only libertarians or academic economists could believe it.

Millions of Americans—particularly in low-wage service sectors like fast food and house-cleaning—are paid too little to live on as individuals, much less to provide for their families. Because most Americans are not libertarian sociopaths, our society will not allow great numbers of American workers to starve to death or go without medical care. To make up the gap between the poverty wage paid by employers and a minimally decent income and access to benefits, American taxpayers—generous to a fault—subsidize a variety of welfare programs, from the Earned Income Tax Credit (a cash subsidy for underpaid workers) to food stamps, housing vouchers, and Medicaid. These are benefits not just for those who are unemployed for various reasons but for millions of Americans who work full time but are still poor because their employers pay so little. This low-wage/high-welfare system succeeds in eliminating extreme poverty—but at the price of shifting the burden of paying the costs of survival for low-wage workers from their employers, and the consumers of the goods and services they produce, to taxpayers. Much of the American welfare state functions as an indirect subsidy to cheap-labor employees in fast-food restaurants, warehouses, and agricultural plants.

Suppose that the U.S., like Switzerland, had federal referendums. Suppose that a referendum asked, “Should every employer be required to pay a wage sufficient to keep workers and their families out of poverty, with no need for them to rely on welfare programs?” The hypothetical referendum would probably pass by an overwhelming majority.

But as we have seen, both national parties in the U.S. are controlled by different factions of the overclass. The progressive professionals of the left-overclass benefit from low wages for household servants and urban service workers, with the taxpayers picking up the rest of the tab. At the same time, many small business owners on the Republican right can pay poverty wages to their workers, knowing that the workers and their children won’t starve thanks to the generosity of government safety nets. The professionals of the left and the small business owners of the right furthermore agree with each other, and disagree with most Americans of all races, that immigration is too low in the U.S. The overclass left wants an immigration-fed buyer’s market in low-wage, nonunion maids and nannies and gardeners and the overclass right wants an immigration-fed buyer’s market of low-wage, nonunion factory and field workers.

Both the elite left and the elite right prefer the hysterics of the culture war to the politics of class war. Identity politics allows progressives to feel good about demanding more nonwhite and female and nonbinary representation on corporate boards, even as they quietly pay their illegal immigrant maids and nannies off the books. Culture war politics allows conservatives to pose as champions of the working class by defending working-class social values, even as conservative politicians oppose any attempt to improve the wages or benefits or workplace bargaining power of working-class voters.

The bad news is that the power of the American working class in the private sector is lower than it has been since before the New Deal. The good news is that, having hit bottom, worker power in the U.S. has nowhere to go but up.

It took half a century for organized business to destroy organized labor in the American private sector. It will take at least that long to rebuild worker power in America. The sooner we begin, the sooner we can replace class war in the United States with class peace.

When Class Disappears
By Thomas Frank

The labor movement may be waking up from its Cold War coma, but in terms of the nation’s official myths, it might just as well have gone on sleeping forever. In the millennial dreaming of the businessman’s republic, labor’s critique, with all its intimations about social class and workplace democracy, no longer makes sense. For contemporary American media-makers, complacent with an almost unprecedented world-historical self-assurance, the market is the only appropriate matrix for understanding human affairs. Business is life; management is government; markets are democracy; entrepreneurs are artists. And the more directly these principles are stated the better. Using a style only slightly less propagandistic than the official art of Stalinist Russia, serious journalists join with TV commercials to lead us in worship of the great executives. It is speculators, mutual-fund managers, and Federal Express, we are told, who create wealth, and the business pages teem with tales of wise blue-collar investors who have accepted the market for the universal-prosperity machine that it is and transferred their faith from union to broker.

But most importantly, we’ve got an enormous segment of corporate America that has declared its “radicalism” and is busily inventing all sorts of colorful new products that will free us from mass society.

It’s this last point that’s most important. The culture war is a contest largely fought out between square corporate ideologues and hip corporate ideologues. According to legend, labor proved its unfriendliness to the lifestyle cause back in the Sixties and removed itself treasonably from the struggle to found irony nation. The result, 30 years later, is that our serious cultural conversation looks a lot like our daily newspaper strike coverage: Labor is just not in the picture; the culture war never leaves the confines of the free-market faith. Its more far-sighted partisans, like Richard Goldstein of the Village Voice, have given up the pretense altogether, correctly understanding the cozy cultural combat of recent years as little more than the victory dance of American capitalism. Where the business order goes, the culture war follows. Like the fight between Coke and Pepsi, the culture war is the American Way, extending its noisy battles over whatever local concerns are this year’s target of the new global order and transforming dissent into yet another prerogative of affluence.

Lifestyle capitalism comes complete with its own social justice and its own “revolution.”

In the Thirties, the steel industry promulgated what it called “the Mohawk Valley Formula” to discredit and suppress organizing efforts. A PR campaign of the old school, the scheme combined a barrage of anti-union propaganda (emphasizing words like “agitators” and “law and order”) with fantasies of “Citizens Committees” and loyal, prosperity-minded workers, and an overwhelming display of private police power. Today’s equivalent might be called, in honor of Nike, the Beaverton Formula: First, move your tennis-shoe manufacturing operation to the union-free and largely invisible Third World, where you can enjoy maximum “flexibility” and pay your compliant menials starvation wages courtesy of the most barbaric of all possible regimes. Second, hire the hippest of all possible advertising agencies to fetishize your products as tools of “empowerment” and “revolution” and thus make them appealing to exactly those Americans whose world has been shattered by the departure of operations like yours to the union-free South and Third World. Third (optional), build mini-museums to your seamless, self-feeding marketing vision, equating your company with human civilization generally …

Although the ideology of the culture trust insists that these are the most democratic times of all (since there’s entertainment available now for every conceivable demographic), we seem to have lost altogether the sense of democratic possibility that animates unionism. Even those who are sympathetic to the victims of downsizing (and, hey, who isn’t?) understand workers as victims, not as historical actors capable of reversing the whole thing. Things that happen to us are accidental; things that happen in the economy as a whole are inevitable. Wages are stagnating even while the economy grows? Well … the market works in mysterious ways. Economics is something we complain about; the power to change our lives is a role we reserve exclusively for business.

If Biden Is Really Pro-Union, He Has One Chance to Prove It
By Binyamin Appelbaum

The power of a union is the power to say no. Unions can improve the lives of their members and increase the output of the economy — and they do so by threatening to reduce that output by disrupting economic activity. Unions hold the same power over management that management holds over workers: Deal with us, or everyone suffers. The unhappiness of a single worker is negligible; a collective must be reckoned with.

The case for stripping the railroad unions of that power rests on the same calculus that has dictated much of the nation’s economic policy for the past several decades: The government is sacrificing the interests of a relatively small number of workers for the benefit of consumers. And in the short term, keeping the trains running will undoubtedly be better for the economy than allowing strikers to disrupt the movement of goods during the holiday shopping season.

But all the little decisions to squeeze workers have pernicious effects in the aggregate. Constraining unions empowers corporations, which is a driver of economic inequality. And those inequalities are contributing to the nation’s political instability.

Corporations Are Not “We the People”
By Geoffrey R. Stone

As a result of Citizens United, corporations were able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in 2012 to shape both national and state elections. And, of course, those corporate expenditures have increased exponentially over the past decade.

As Justice John Paul Stevens observed in his dissenting opinion in Citizens United, the justices in the majority, unlike justices in the past, had simply ignored both the reality and the appearance of corruption in our political process.

Indeed, Stevens observe that the Court had long recognized that to deny Congress the power to safeguard our nation against “the improper use of money to influence the results of our elections” is to deny to the nation a vital and essential ability to protect and preserve our democracy.

Citing the Court’s decision in Austin, Stevens maintained that the majority’s decision failed to recognize the dangers of the corporate form and opened the door to the potentially distorting influence of a dominant funding source. Corporations, he wrote, are not “We the People” for whom our Constitution was established.

As Stevens pointed out, although corporations “make enormous contributions to our society, they are not, and were never intended to be, actual members of it.” Indeed, he noted, “they cannot run for office and they cannot vote.”

“Our lawmakers,” he observed, “have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”

Survey Highlights Backlash to Increasingly Political Corporate America
By Brooke Fox

A recent poll shows that 71% of Americans view large companies negatively. The change has been driven by Republicans who dislike the rise of political participation of corporations.

Of the 5,098 respondents Pew polled from October 10th-16th, 71% said that large corporations had a negative impact on the way things are going in the country.

The change has come primarily from Republicans, who dislike “woke” companies and their interventions into politics. Republicans’ positive views of large corporations fell 52% from 2019 to 2022 according to the poll. A 2021 Gallup poll on the same topic corroborated the steep drop among Republican views toward big business. A 2021 New York Times poll indicated that 78% of Republicans think corporations have too much power.

As Professors Matilde Bombardini and Geoff Stone recently argued in ProMarket, Citizens United gave corporations the right to unlimited political donations and have transformed them into political entities that the founding fathers never envisioned. The recent change in Republican views toward big business may be due to the seeming rise in woke business, but it in many ways reflects the ostensible political influence the Supreme Court handed corporations in 2010.

This has brought the debate over the power and purpose of corporations together in a new way: as companies continue to concentrate markets while simultaneously entrenching themselves into democracy, it is likely that they will continue to face scrutiny from the public that is parallel to their newfound positions as political power players.

This is evidenced by the fact that it’s not only Republicans who have negative views of large companies: only 25% of Democrats held positive views of large corporations in the recent Pew poll.

Corporate CEOs Have Transformed From Company Stewards Into Untouchable Demigods. And for What?
By Mark Jannot

There was a time when CEOs were paid generously but at a pretty consistent level from year to year, decade to decade, a time when the bulk of the chief executive’s compensation came in the form of a salary, and probably cash bonuses tied to reaching certain key performance measures, but generally did not come in the form of grants of stock or stock options, the instruments that have, during a series of extended bull markets, tended to drive CEO pay into the stratosphere, regardless of whether or not it can be said that the CEO had anything materially to do with his company’s stock price rising. That time came to an end pretty much as the sun was setting on the 1970s.

The theory goes that it was the grinding to a halt of the dominance of the American industrial economy after two decades of postwar boom that created the conditions for its overthrow. U.S. infrastructure was essentially untouched by World War II and so we had it easy for a generation, until seemingly out of the blue Japan was a rising power and Western Europe was beginning to be competitive again. America is stagnating! Something needs to be done! So out goes Peter Drucker, out goes “We take care of our workers, our workers take care of our customers, our customers take care of us.” And in comes something called “agency theory,” promulgated by a business-school professor then at the University of Rochester named Michael C. Jensen. “Jensen gave academic credibility to this idea, but if we had been prospering and kicking everybody’s butt economically while taking care of our workers the way we had been for 20 years, I don’t think it would have landed,” says Michael Dorff, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, whose relevance to this conversation relates to his authorship of a book called Indispensable and Other Myths: Why the CEO Pay Experiment Failed and How to Fix It, published in 2014. “It was only because the underlying conventional wisdom was shaken by the fact that we were not performing well. People were looking for an explanation and that really took off and now it’s really hard to shake.”

Jensen’s agency theory postulated that business was stagnating because the interests of the owners (i.e., the shareholders) were out of synch with those of their agents, the executives, who were sacrificing growth and profitability (and, ultimately, stock price) on the altar of stability. (Because why not? They didn’t get any benefit from taking risks.) The solution? Tie the boss’s pay to the company’s performance! Give the CEO stock—or, even more motivationally, stock options, which have value only when the stock price rises—so that his (or her, but, let’s face it, mostly his) interests are pulled into alignment with those of his ultimate bosses, the investors.

At first, hard as this may be to believe in retrospect, CEOs weren’t all that keen on this new theory of corporate management and compensation, probably because it explicitly put the onus for success—and the blame for failure—squarely at the feet of the chief executive. But then, in late 1982, a historic bull market began (which, with a few short blips along the way, has stampeded forward for another four decades) and the wisdom of the program became manifest to its primary beneficiaries. The EPI, which calculates its figures based on “realized pay”—that is, the money that ends up in a person’s pocket once those options have been exercised and sold, after a run-up in the stock market has inflated their value far beyond what the board anticipated when the options were granted—notes that CEO pay has risen since 1978 by 1,460 percent after accounting for inflation. By comparison, compensation for the typical worker grew by just 18.1 percent during that time.

“Every CEO looks like they’re doing a great job because all boats rise in a rising sea,” says Frank Dobbin, chair of the sociology department at Harvard. “Pay for performance was not really pay for performance, it was pay for ‘The sea is rising and I happen to be a boat on the sea.’” Dobbin comes at this from the perspective of having co-authored a paper back in 2010 called “The Misapplication of Mr. Michael Jensen,” in which he compellingly made the case that a selective adoption of agency theory’s core recommendations—tie executive pay to performance; break up conglomerates; use debt rather than profits to finance expansion—“heightened corporate risk-taking without imposing constraints” and thus led more or less directly to the recession in 2001 and the Great Recession at the end of that decade. And he’s concerned that not much of importance has changed to mitigate that risk. “The incentive system is still the same for executives, in essence; CEOs and top management teams generally have a lot of variable pay,” he says. “Most of their pay does not come from salary, it comes from bonus and options, which are some kind of function of the performance of the firm, and the performance of the firm is about share price. As a consequence, I feel like the dynamic that we saw before 2008 is still there—still encouraging firms to pursue short-term growth and income strategies that might be pretty risky in even the medium term.”

Hyper-efficiency is bad business
By Rana Foroohar

Why pour money into updating technology systems, when you could do more share buybacks instead? Wall Street rewards companies far more for downsizing people and distributing profits to investors than it does for capital expenditures that may not pay off fully for years.

Consider the rise and fall of Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric who turned the manufacturing company into a too-big-to-fail financial institution. Or the cost-cutting that led to crises such as the Boeing 737 Max crash, Pacific Gas & Electric equipment which caused wildfires in California, and the General Motors ignition switch recall. All of which had some link to the balance sheet-focused form of management: being lean and mean, cutting all excess costs and treating human beings as metrics to be squeezed.

Jack Welch’s toxic legacy
By Helaine Olen

Welch popularized the concept known as “shareholder value,” the idea that the primary duty of a company’s management is to increase its stock price for the benefit of shareholders. In pursuit of this goal, he bought and sold companies, shedding huge numbers of employees along the way. GE’s share prices soared. For this, Welch was celebrated: imitated by competitors and lionized by the fawning business press.

Never mind the fact Welch routinely closed GE’s Rust Belt factories and moved the jobs to Third World locales, where workers labored for less — much, much less — than the former GE employees. Never mind the fact that he cut funding for research and development, something that can undermine a company’s long-term health. And never mind the fact that the humane postwar arrangement between corporations and their employees — give us your loyalty and we’ll take care of you as best we can — ended in part because of Welch. He made money for shareholders, and that was the important thing.

By the time Welch exited his position in 2001, GE earned a large chunk of its profits not from its traditional industrial strengths but as a financial services company. This turned out to be a major cause of the company’s undoing — it all but blew up in 2008, and Welch’s successors are still trying to put the company back together again. A share of GE is worth an astonishing 80 percent less than it was valued 20 years ago. So much for shareholder value.

In 2009, Welch actually had the chutzpah to call shareholder value “a dumb idea,” adding, incredibly, “Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your product.” Somewhere, the more than 100,000 former GE employees Welch downsized over the years laughed through their tears.

How Corporate Takeovers Enthroned the Gospel of Shareholder Value
By Jonathan Levy

There was and is no hard law that says that US corporations must be motivated to maximize short-term profit. Most postwar industrial corporations, focused on long-term growth metrics and the maintenance of “organizational slack,” had not even tried. With the shareholder value revolution of the 1980s, the present stock market price of corporate shares newly became the metric of corporate success.

What enthroned shareholder value was a wave of sometimes hostile corporate takeovers. The movement began in the late 1970s, when oilmen flush with cash from the high prices of the oil shock came to believe that the stocks of large, diversified energy companies were trading below the value of their physical assets. During his 1983 bid to take over Gulf Oil, the Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens declared in The Wall Street Journal, “We are dedicated to the goal of enhancing shareholder value.” That was one of the earliest uses of the phrase. Pickens tried to convince the majority of Gulf Oil shareholders to convey the corporation into Pickens’s “royalty trust.” Then he would sell off assets unrelated to the oil business, returning cash to the owners. After that, he would offer the stripped-down oil company back to the public, hoping it would fetch a high value. Pickens never acquired majority control of Gulf Oil, but management paid him “greenmail.” That is, they bought back the shares that Pickens and his allies had accumulated at a price above the going market rate—far above what Pickens’s group had originally paid. Boone, Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt, Jr., and New Yorker Carl Icahn, among other corporate “raiders,” followed this strategy successfully. Icahn even “greenmailed” US Steel.

Corporate raiders could never have pulled off the shareholder revolution by themselves. They needed help in the capital markets. Joining corporate raiders were institutional investors, especially public and private pension funds. In other words, accumulations of capital that were the result of the postwar politics of pay funded changes in corporate governance that, ironically enough, undermined the politics of pay. The critical economic site shifted from income to property. If working people began to use debt to compensate for flagging pay and to sustain consumption, then leveraged buyouts demonstrated how property owners could use debt to leverage up their profits from their investments. In all, relative income growth shifted away from labor to capital.

In 1984 Texaco paid $55 million in “greenmail” to the Texas Bass family, at $55 a share when the market price was $35. The trustees of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest US public pension fund and one of the largest shareholders of Texaco, wondered why CalPERS got nothing. CalPERS led the Council of Institutional Investors (1985) and joined the chorus demanding greater corporate focus on shareholder value. At all costs, the managers must focus on company stock price.

“Shareholder value” was the rallying cry for a wave of leveraged corporate buyouts and associated mergers and acquisitions. In 1982, in the midst of a revolution in antitrust law, Reagan’s Justice Department changed its “merger guidelines.” No longer was the goal, as stated in 1968, to “preserve and promote market structures conducive to competition.” The new standard in assessing a merger was only whether its outcome would or would not “maintain prices above competitive levels.” This reflected the spreading influence of the Chicago Law and Economics movement, which argued that the only relevant standard for antitrust enforcement was “consumer welfare,” or lower prices—not market structure or barriers to entry. Judges stripped antitrust prescriptions against vertical and horizontal mergers out of the law. Between 1985 and 1989, there were thousands of leveraged buyouts, valued in excess of $250 billion.

Thus publicly traded companies became privately owned. But the company then had to raise cash to meet the debt payments. That normally meant selling physical assets, as well as cutting operating costs—including labor costs. Spectacularly, employee pension funds, to compensate for their employees’ flat compensation growth, sought yields by participating in leveraged buyouts, which then led newly indebted corporations to slash wages and eliminate jobs—so they could meet their debt obligations. Commonly, conglomerates were broken into parts, with many divisions sold off. It was a vertical and horizontal disintegration of the postwar multidivisional industrial corporation—more purging of fixed capital, more hemorrhaging of blue-collar jobs.

The Standoff Between Workers and Their Bosses Is Set To Heat Up in 2023
By Alana Semuels

It’s been more than a year and a half since waves of labor unrest started sweeping through the country. Thousands of workers have walked off the job for better conditions, and long shot campaigns—like organizing workers at Starbucks coffee shops—have snowballed, leading to a surge of union elections.

Now, the strong labor market that emboldened workers is softening. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% in November—it had gone as low as 3.5%—–and high-profile tech and media companies have recently cut their payrolls through steep layoffs. But that doesn’t mean workers are losing the upper hand, says Thomas Kochan, a professor of employment research at the MIT Sloan School for Management. If anything, the current economic conditions mean labor strife may accelerate next year.

“I expect what we’ll see is more conflict, more strikes, and more contract rejections,” Kochan says. Workers are still focused on companies’ profits during boom years, he notes, while companies are starting to trim costs to prepare for an economic downturn. “It’s that difference in expectations,” he says, “that creates a higher probability of conflicts and strikes.”

“There’s been a sense among members and among labor in general that we’ve had this pattern of unions making concessions in downturns to help employers weather the storm, and then workers don’t benefit when we get to the next period of growth,” says Todd Vachon, a labor professor at Rutgers.

What’s different now than in past downturns is the changing demographics that are leaving employers short-staffed. Baby Boomers who had stayed in the workforce until the pandemic have left en masse in recent years, while the immigration rate slowed in 2020 and has not recovered. Between 2026 and 2036, the U.S. will see its workforce shrink by 3.2%, which means “workers will have more power to demand changes,” according to a recent report on workplace trends by economists from Indeed and Glassdoor.

Lack of control over their schedule—specifically inability to take sick days when they needed them— was also what motivated four freight rail unions in November to vote down a contract brokered with their employers.

That’s also a point of contention among many UPS drivers, like Antoine Andrews, who has worked for UPS for 26 years. Andrews, a Teamster who drives a package truck in Brooklyn, says he’s sick of getting “harassed” by managers for not finishing his route quickly enough. When he started working at UPS, he says, fellow drivers told him that theirs was a job with a start time but not a finish time—they’d be home whenever all the packages were delivered. The pandemic helped him realize that workers in other fields didn’t sacrifice their family time for their jobs.

“We want to be able to balance work and enjoy our families,” he says. “There are people employed with UPS who didn’t have the opportunity to see their kids grow up.”

The last UPS strike, in 1997, was widely seen as a victory for workers, says Joseph McCartin, a professor of labor history at Georgetown University. Now, the stakes are even higher. Since 1979, he says, workers have gotten more productive but their compensation has not kept pace as investors push public companies for more efficiencies.

The Forces That Are Killing the American Dream
By David Leonhardt

The investors of the 1950s and ’60s were largely passive. By the late ’70s, they were becoming restless. Theorists like Michael Jensen, the economist whose twisting life story is a subplot here, were arguing that corporations were not sufficiently focused on their own profits. These theorists made some legitimate points: American business had become slow-moving and vulnerable to Japanese and European competitors.

In the service of maximizing shareholder value, investors and their allies dismantled the corporate and government edifices that had done so much good — high wages, company research labs, rigorous regulation and redistributive taxation. Institutions were out. Transactions were in.

The ‘Organization Man’ of the mid-20th century gave way to the ‘Transaction Man,’ and the latter’s rise explains the decline of the American Dream
By Nicholas Lemann

The Organization Man dutifully followed orders at the serene, secure big corporation that was his lifetime employer. Transaction Man is often in the business of breaking corporations apart and rearranging them in ways that have made it just about impossible for anybody these days to be an Organization Man. The idea of a corporation, or any other institution, providing generous guaranteed benefits and career-long job security is at odds with the way Transaction Man thinks the world should work.

Transaction Man is fundamentally skeptical about institutions and organizations, especially long-existing ones. He believes they are stodgy, bureaucratic, stuck in the past, and too beholden to traditions and arrangements that have built up over time. He’d use terms like “innovation,” “disruption,” and “breaking down silos” to describe healthy social processes, and “incumbents” or “rent-seekers” or “special interests” to describe those who are standing in the way of them. He believes there is a rational, efficient solution to every big problem, and that it can usually be achieved by bypassing or even eliminating existing structures and replacing them with something more fluid and unconstrained. Anything that throws sand in the gears, that delays what looks like progress, that involves negotiation and compromise, that gets in the way of the obvious solution — labor unions, local governments, legal constraints, interest groups that make particular claims — is problematic. Transaction Man is suspicious of politics and of provincial concerns; his perspective is global and based on what he regards as universal principles. He likes to do things quickly and forcefully. The idea that bargaining among groups is the way to achieve the best solution strikes him as fundamentally wrongheaded, not to mention boring.

The transactional society has become one where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated, and where public life, rather than being contained inside a narrow band of acceptable thought, is much more fraught with anger and contention. That is because, paradoxically, our suspicion of institutions has brought us a new set of institutions (because institutions are an inescapable part of human life, and the real question is what form they will take) that are fewer, but larger and more dominant, than the set of institutions that preceded them. The most important ones are clustered in a few areas, such as finance and technology, and in a few places geographically, mainly the East and West Coasts. The ecosystem is out of balance: The institutions responsible for maintaining democracy and ensuring a good life for ordinary people are badly outmatched. All over the world, through their political and cultural behavior, people are showing how they feel about that.

Of Course They Gave Up on Democracy
By Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes

The West’s one-sided focus on the struggle for democracy abroad made Western advisers shy away from discussing the ongoing struggle for power within democracies themselves. Liberals who overemphasized individual rights and voluntary market exchange, spoke about “power” only when discussing authoritarianism, genocide or corruption. Otherwise, their message has seemed to be that, if the government does not abuse its authority, the asymmetry of power relations characteristic of every society is of negligible importance.

The Gospel of Deglobalization
By Raghuram G. Rajan

The most recent era of globalization seems to have come to an end. The ratio of global exports of goods and services to world GDP peaked in 2008 and has trended down ever since. According to the World Bank, foreign direct investment peaked in 2007 at 5.3 percent of world GDP and drifted down to 1.3 percent by 2020. The world’s two largest economies, China and the United States, have become increasingly hostile, trying to reduce their dependence on each other for goods and services. They are not the only ones. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, there have been five times as many protectionist measures enacted across the world as there have been liberalizing ones. And, of course, immigration remains an important issue in many countries, with nationalist parties pledging to pull up the drawbridge and keep foreigners out. Deglobalization is well underway.

In a recent speech, Janet Yellen, the U.S. treasury secretary, advocated “friend shoring,” that is, restricting U.S. trade and investment to countries that share U.S. values.

In The Globalization Myth, Shannon O’Neil, a vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations and a scholar of trade and Latin America, claims that there has never been such a thing as unfettered globalization; the United States has always traded more with friendly neighbors than with distant, possibly adversarial regimes. In other words, most U.S. trade is already friendshored. O’Neil insists on the importance of maintaining and strengthening regional trade and investment. Both authors foreclose the notion of a world entirely open and connected by trade: in their view, globalization is passé, and a fragmented future lies ahead.

In Homecoming, Foroohar highlights the flaws of a globalized world increasingly dominated by profit-maximizing multinational corporations, global supply chains focused on efficient production, and large countries such as China that don’t share the United States’ values. Foroohar traverses familiar territory in documenting the decline of traditional manufacturing and the disappearance of middle-income jobs in the United States as a result of either automation or outsourcing. She worries about the consequent rise in income inequality in recent decades as many people without college degrees now have to juggle multiple jobs only to earn a precarious living, while the highly skilled make stratospheric incomes. She blames globalization, financialization, and excessive corporate concentration for the United States’ ailments.

A number of authors have emphasized the need for more local (and thus widely distributed) economic activity to revitalize the United States.

As Foroohar puts it, “More focus on the local is actually crucial to saving what is best about globalization.”

It is surprising, then, that Foroohar is much less supportive of the devolution of political power, apart from an engaging riff on how digitization can engage common people in governance. Yes, competition from global and national markets has undermined the economic basis of local communities. But the disempowerment stemming from the centralization of regulations, standard setting, and dispute resolution that accompanies market integration has also undermined the political basis of communities. For instance, the Brexit battle cry “Take back control” reflected not only British resentment of EU immigration rules but also the United Kingdom’s inability to reject the myriad EU regulations the country had to accept in the interest of a “harmonized” market. The slogan even channeled the antipathy of local communities to obeying the dictates of a globalized London.

Globalization does ride roughshod over the wishes of many people when large corporations push for a seamless uniformity across the countries they operate in. Big firms encourage governments to conclude intrusive global agreements that enforce homogeneity without the direct consent of those who will be governed by these arrangements. For example, many people in developing countries resent the 1994 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement because stronger patent protections raise the costs of essential medicines and pad the bottom lines of multinational pharmaceutical companies. Foroohar is therefore right when she argues that globalization is fundamentally antidemocratic, yet she wants to restrict the power of global and even national corporations but not necessarily rein in global or national governance. Foroohar does not criticize international standard setting and rule-making. Indeed, she calls for more U.S. coordination with Europeans in setting global standards, in part to prevent China from having too much say in the standards of the future. But in the process, she underemphasizes some of the ways that globalization squashes local interests.

Similarly, within a country, the imperative of creating a seamless national market leads to national policies that disempower regional and local governments. Centralized one-size-fits-all programs and regulations are often inappropriate for local conditions.

Foroohar dislikes a global trading system that helps China, which does not share U.S. values and plays by its own rules. The surest path to development in recent years, however, has been export-led growth. Such a strategy has helped not just China but also smaller economies such as those of Poland, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. As globalization fueled their growth, these countries were for the most part governed by authoritarian regimes. Any form of globalization today that insists on shared values would disrupt the growth prospects of poor developing countries, many of which have unstable, undemocratic governments. It may even prevent some of them from becoming more democratic.

The downsides of globalization highlighted in Homecoming, such as the disproportionate burden of adjustment that falls on people who have little capacity to bear it, are very real. But some countries have learned to live with international market forces. Scandinavian countries, for instance, have facilitated extraordinary cooperation among businesses, unions, and governments, ensuring that workers have the skills for new jobs when global competition or automation renders old ones unviable. Contrast such efforts with the feeble attempts in the United States to help workers who have lost their jobs because of trade. Maybe Americans can learn from the successes of others and find that, with globalization, they can actually have their cake and eat it, too.

When U.S. companies build manufacturing facilities abroad, they make cheaper, higher-quality goods and open up foreign markets, both of which have the effect of expanding opportunities and creating jobs in the United States. Of course, these new jobs will not be the same as the jobs that were lost, and they may not be located in the same place. Workers must adjust constantly, a reality that is a source of volatility and anxiety. Unlike many liberal economists, however, O’Neil does not dismiss these costs as something that can be easily taken care of by re­allocating the profits from trade—which rarely happens in reality. The benefits of globalization have been uneven, and many who have suffered the loss of their jobs or the hollowing out of their communities are justifiably angry.

According to O’Neil, these costs are much smaller when trade occurs at a more regional scale. In contrast to the loss of two million or so manufacturing jobs the United States caused by importing goods from China in the first decade of this century, job losses and their adverse effects on community health were far more muted under NAFTA, the 1994 trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

On average, 40 percent of U.S. imports from Mexico are made in the United States, and 25 percent of U.S. imports from Canada are made in the United States. By contrast, on average, only four percent of a product coming from China into the United States is made in the United States, which may explain why trade with China has produced more job losses for American workers than has trade within North America. Of course, these numbers do not account for any jobs created in the United States over the last mile, in transportation, retail, and financing, for instance, to help Chinese-made goods reach U.S. consumers. They also do not account for any jobs created in connection with U.S. goods that China imports (think of Boeing airplanes). But they offer a neat representation of the difference between regional trade and trading at a distance.

A future of friend shoring and regionalization will split the globe into blocs, including a North American bloc centered on the United States, an East Asian bloc centered on China, and a European bloc. Both books highlight the benefits of regionalization to those in the regional blocs. But what happens to the rest of the world?

Deglobalization has many costs, some of which are already evident. They include the higher cost of goods and services as production no longer takes place in the most efficient locations, the loss of scale economies as production becomes fragmented, the increase in the power of domestic oligopolies as global competition is restrained, the decline of learning by doing as multinational corporations no longer spread best practices, and the rise in inflationary pressures as local supply-demand imbalances are no longer tempered by a global market.

Rather than revisiting these, consider a cost that the world can no longer afford to ignore—the way deglobalization into isolated regions might hamper attempts to deal with climate change, the existential global challenge of the age.

Climate action falls into three categories: mitigating harm to the environment by reducing emissions, adapting to changes in the climate, and allowing migration to better climes. The sequence is important, as each category of action bears more of the burden if less is done in the previous ones. For instance, if countries do nothing at all on mitigation and adaptation, expect hundreds of millions of refugees to flee their unlivable tropical native lands for lands farther away from the equator.

It would be myopic for mildly affected regions to assume they will live comfortably behind border walls. They will find it hard to ignore the humanitarian tragedy occurring outside. No matter how deglobalized, decoupled, localized, or regionalized such places wish to remain, desperate climate refugees will climb or break down any wall. Instead, governments should reach global agreements about how to place climate refugees in countries that can absorb them best and how to provide them with job training and language instruction so they can be productive when they do eventually migrate. Once again, such tasks will be better advanced by continued globalization than by regional fragmentation.

From the perspective of those living in the major regional blocs, regionalization is a problem because it hampers climate action. For those outside the major regional blocs, regionalization will be a calamity; once protectionism gets rolling, it can spread in leaps and bounds, and the disastrous retreat into walled regions will proceed apace. Faced with an existential threat, humanity will eventually realize it needs improved globalization, not less globalization—and the sooner, the better.

The Problem With Primacy
By Van Jackson

In decades past, Washington’s economic primacy was rarely contested by other states, and so the actions it took to remain central to Asian trade and financial flows were subtler and less visible. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration asserted control over the region by making sure that burgeoning regional institutions remained informal and were led by the private sector. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration succeeded in opposing a Malaysian-led East Asian Economic Caucus and a Japanese-led Asian Monetary Fund—both of which would have excluded the United States. The George W. Bush administration deliberately marginalized the East Asia Summit, which did not yet include Washington. But times have changed. Today, the United States no longer has a central position in Asian political economy. Its bid to assert greater control from the periphery therefore requires a brusquer approach with a much heavier hand than in the past—including potentially wrecking the economic interdependencies that have helped keep the peace.

If it tuned in, Washington would learn that small states are wary of being forced to take sides in a great-power competition. They are pleading instead for geopolitical openness and strategic pluralism in the spirit of the Non-Aligned Movement: the Cold War era collection of postcolonial states that refused to be subordinated to either the Soviet Union or the United States. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for instance, has repeatedly stated it will not choose between China and the United States. East Timor’s president has made it clear that just because his country seeks China’s help economically does not mean it is “taking sides.” Indonesia as well as some Pacific Island governments have expressed an interest in establishing suppliers’ cartels for valuable raw materials such as nickel, which would give these countries the money and modest political leverage they need for true autonomy. And as Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan declared last September, “Nobody wants to be forced to make invidious choices. Nobody wants to become a vassal state or a cat’s paw.”

The Kindleberger Trap
By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Charles Kindleberger, an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan who later taught at MIT, argued that the disastrous decade of the 1930s was caused when the US replaced Britain as the largest global power but failed to take on Britain’s role in providing global public goods. The result was the collapse of the global system into depression, genocide, and world war. Today, as China’s power grows, will it help provide global public goods?

In domestic politics, governments produce public goods such as policing or a clean environment, from which all citizens can benefit and none are excluded. At the global level, public goods – such as a stable climate, financial stability, or freedom of the seas – are provided by coalitions led by the largest powers.

Small countries have little incentive to pay for such global public goods. Because their small contributions make little difference to whether they benefit or not, it is rational for them to ride for free. But the largest powers can see the effect and feel the benefit of their contributions. So it is rational for the largest countries to lead. When they do not, global public goods are under-produced. When Britain became too weak to play that role after World War I, an isolationist US continued to be a free rider, with disastrous results.

World War I was not simply a case of an established Britain responding to a rising Germany. In addition to the rise of Germany, WWI was caused by the fear in Germany of Russia’s growing power, the fear of rising Slavic nationalism in a declining Austria-Hungary, as well as myriad other factors that differed from ancient Greece.

Even the classical Greek case is not as straightforward as Thucydides made it seem. He claimed that the cause of the second Peloponnesian War was the growth of the power of Athens and the fear it caused in Sparta. But the Yale historian Donald Kagan has shown that Athenian power was in fact not growing. Before the war broke out in 431 BC, the balance of power had begun to stabilize. Athenian policy mistakes made the Spartans think that war might be worth the risk.

Athens’ growth caused the first Peloponnesian War earlier in the century, but then a Thirty-Year Truce doused the fire. Kagan argues that to start the second, disastrous war, a spark needed to land on one of the rare bits of kindling that had not been thoroughly drenched and then continually and vigorously fanned by poor policy choices. In other words, the war was caused not by impersonal forces, but by bad decisions in difficult circumstances.

Globalism Failed to Deliver the Economy We Need
By Rana Foroohar

The term “neoliberalism” was coined in 1938, at a Paris gathering of economists, sociologists, journalists and businessmen who were alarmed by what they viewed as the excessive state control of markets after the Great Depression. For them, the interests of the nation-state and of democracy could pose problems for economic and political stability. The voting public could not be trusted, and thus national interests (or, more particularly, nationalism) should be constrained by international laws and institutions so that markets and society could function properly.

Global institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and later organizations like the World Trade Organization — groups that were essentially about connecting global finance, trade and business across borders — were influenced by these neoliberal philosophies. They vigorously advocated the Washington Consensus, a series of economic principles derived from the tent poles of market liberalization and unfettered globalization. These prescriptions generated more growth than ever before; the four years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis were one of the strongest global growth periods of the past half century. But they also created substantial amounts of inequality within nations.

How? In part because money moves across borders much faster than either goods or people. The “cheap capital for cheap labor” bargain struck between the United States and Asia from the 1980s onward benefited multinational companies and the Chinese state far more than any other entities, academic research shows. The Reagan-Thatcher revolution unleashed global capital by deregulating the financial industry, and global trade was fully unleashed during the Clinton era, with deals like NAFTA and the eventual accession of China into the W.T.O., which tipped the balance of policy interests between domestic job creation and global market integration toward the latter. The idea was that cheaper consumer prices from imported goods would make up for flatter or even falling wages (in real terms for many working people).

But they didn’t. Even before the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the prices of the things that make us middle class — from housing to education and health care — were rising far faster than wages. That’s still the case, even with recent wage inflation. The sense that the global economy has become too unmoored from national interests has helped fuel the political populism, nationalism and even fascism (in the form of Donald Trump and the MAGA movement) that we are grappling with today. It’s a bitter irony that the very philosophies that were meant to tamp down political extremism did just the opposite when taken too far.

The neoliberal philosophy is tapped out not only in the United States but also abroad — witness the backlash in Britain to Prime Minister Liz Truss’s ill-fated experimentation with trickle-down tax cuts. Offshoring to multiple countries was supposed to make manufacturing more productive and business more efficient. But many of those supposed efficiencies collapsed with any sort of global stress, from pandemics to tsunamis, port backups and other unforeseen events.

And complex supply chains resulted in any number of production disasters well before the global crises of the past few years; think about the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, in which a factory making clothes for various global brands (which had no idea about risk in their supply chains) collapsed and killed over 1,100 people. Meanwhile, free trade itself, which was supposed to foster peace between nations, became a system to be gamed by mercantilist nations and state-run autocracies, resulting in deep political divides at home and abroad.

Fortunately, the pendulum of the political economy eventually swings back, and philosophies that have outlived their usefulness give way to new ones. Seismic shifts in the socioeconomic agenda are rare and transformative. We are going through such a shift now. The world is beginning to reset — not to the “normal” of conventional neoliberal economic models but to a new normal. There is a rethink going on in policy circles, business and academia about what the right balance is between global and local.

Trade policy is shifting to better consider labor and environmental standards, with an understanding that cheap isn’t always cheap if products are degrading the environment or being made with a child’s tiny hands. There’s also a rethink of trade in digital services to account for privacy and liberal values. (Do we really want our personal data handed over to big tech or big surveillance states like China?) Supply chains are shortening not only because of geopolitics but also because of new technologies (such as decentralized farming and 3-D printing) that are making it possible to hub production and consumption closer to home.

One of the most persistent neoliberal myths was that the world was flat and national interests would play second fiddle to global markets. The past several years have laid waste to that idea. It’s up to those who care about liberal democracy to craft a new system that better balances local and global interests.

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