Columbia Journalism Review
A week after the publication of James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty kicked off a frenzied news cycle, a quartet of political books out today offer additional fodder for political junkies. The books are Amy Chozick’s Chasing Hillary, a memoir of her decade covering two Clinton campaigns; Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace, his look at the changing face of American diplomacy; Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West, an effort by the conservative writer to account for the problems facing western societies; and Jake Tapper’s The Hellfire Club, a fictional account of a deadly conspiracy set in 1954 Washington, DC, with echoes in the present. Farrow (#27), Goldberg (#57), and Chozick (#73) are all in the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon as of this morning (Comey’s remains in the top spot).
Given the endless interest in the 2016 election, Chozick’s memoir of her time on the trail with Hillary Clinton will likely make the most news. Chozick served as The New York Times’s lead reporter on the Clinton campaign, and also covered her 2008 effort during the Democratic primaries. The Washington Post’s book critic Carlos Lozada describes Chasing Hillary as “a buffet-style book—media criticism here, trail reminiscences there, political analysis and assorted recollections from Chozick’s own past tossed throughout.” Media watchers over the weekend quickly picked out Chozick’s reckoning with the role her own paper’s coverage of Clinton’s email scandal played in the closing month of the most recent campaign. She expresses regret for focusing on emails hacked from John Podesta’s account, allowing, in her view, Times reporters to become “puppets in Vladimir Putin’s master plan.” Chozick’s colleague Nick Confessore, who shared a byline with her on several of those stories, pushed back against that idea on Twitter.
The other books out today offer broader perspectives on the current political environment. Farrow, fresh off a Pulitzer win for his Harvey Weinstein bombshell, is promoting his look at the State Department in a time of waning influence and budget cuts. He tells NPR that the crisis didn’t start under Trump: “It’s not unprecedented. This is something that has been a long time coming.” Goldberg, a mainstay at National Review, earned plaudits from The New York Times’s David Brooks, who calls Suicide of the West a “debate-shifting book.” Tapper’s fictional effort is a departure from his role as a CNN anchor, but BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith writes that his thriller “has the best qualities of this sort of historical fiction, which include the winking perspective of the present.”
None of these books will have the impact of Comey’s look back at his time in the FBI and interactions with Donald Trump, but each offers a window into the state of politics in an era in which interest has never been higher. Below, excerpts from the books that offer a peak at their contents.
- Chasing Hillary: The New York Times published an adaptation from Chozick’s book with the provocative headline, ““They were never going to let me be president.”
- War on Peace: In The New Yorker, Farrow looks at the final days of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
- Suicide of the West: National Review published an excerpt from Goldberg’s book laying out his thesis of society at the precipice.
- The Hellfire Club: Entertainment Weekly has the first chapter of Tapper’s thriller.
Other notable stories
- Journalists at the Toronto Star are providing blanket coverage of a tragedy in the city after a van plowed through pedestrians yesterday, killing 10 and injuring 15.
- Vanity Fair announced this morning that it is launching a metered paywall. Editor Radhika Jones writes that readers will get four free articles per month, after which they’ll be offered the opportunity to subscribe, with the first three months free.
- The Des Moines Register’s Mike Killen profiles rural Iowa’s “Trump translator,” radio reporter Bob Leonard. Leonard, himself no fan of Trump, credits his ability to listen to Iowans’ views to his time driving a cab over a decade ago. He now spends his time reporting for KNIA/KRLS radio, and interpreting Iowans’ continued support for the president to a wider audience through columns at larger publications like the Kansas City Star and New York Times. Killen writes that Leonard has “railed against the blanket stereotypes of dull hicks on the prairie who often spilled from the pens of big media but later tried to understand what his conservative friends saw in Trump.”
- For CJR, Ryan Bell writes that AM radio is making a comeback in Puerto Rico. The damage from Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico’s already struggling media industry in shambles, but radio is filling the void, Bell writes. “Maria served as a moment of contraction in the news industry,” WORA-TV production manager Carolina Rodriguez Plaza tells him. “Meanwhile, AM radio emerged even stronger. Young people in the under-35 demographic are listening to radio news for the first time in their lives. Radios are at the center of a culture shift. Neighbors sit together drinking coffee and listening to the news.”
- Kanye West’s return to Twitter has earned him new fans in the pro-Trump media. Following tweets praising right-wing personalities Candace Owens and Scott Adams, Fox’s Jesse Watters called West a “modern-day philosopher.” The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani has a nice explanation of what’s going on with Kanye.
- CJR’s Meg Dalton reports on a legal case that could have far-reaching implications for defamation suits against writers. Freelancer Ryan Goldberg is potentially being sued by Las Vegas oddsmaker RJ Bell over a story he wrote for Deadspin in 2016. Bell is being represented by Charles Harder, who served as Hulk Hogan’s lawyer in the suit that forced Gawker into bankruptcy.
Coverage of the Trump presidency has continuously focused on palace intrigue and controversies surrounding aides and cabinet members, turning people in positions that don’t traditionally draw much attention into household names. But the past week has seen the lens turn to a Trump advisor outside the White House who needs no introduction.
Sean Hannity, already facing scrutiny for his public cheerleading and private consultations with President Trump, was revealed in court last week as a client of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer. Criticized for a lack of transparency, the Fox News host defended his public support for Cohen by arguing that he had merely asked Cohen’s advice on real estate matters. The Guardian’s Jon Swaine investigated Hannity’s real estate holdings, finding records that “link Hannity to a group of shell companies that spent at least $90m on more than 870 homes in seven states over the past decade.” Swaine also found that Hannity “amassed part of his property collection with support from the US Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a fact he did not disclose when praising Ben Carson, the Hud secretary, on his television show last year.”
Update: After publication of this newsletter, Fox News PR emailed a statement from Sean Hannity: “It is ironic that I am being attacked for investing my personal money in communities that badly need such investment and in which, I am sure, those attacking me have not invested their money. The fact is, these are investments that I do not individually select, control, or know the details about; except that obviously I believe in putting my money to work in communities that otherwise struggle to receive such support.
“I have never discussed with anybody at HUD the original loans that were obtained in the Obama years, nor the subsequent refinance of such loans, as they are a private matter. I had no role in, or responsibility for, any HUD involvement in any of these investments. I can say that every rigorous process and strict standard of improvement requirements were followed; all were met, fulfilled and inspected.”
The intensifying spotlight on Hannity places Fox News in the difficult position of backing a host with ties to a man at the center of a probe stretching from law offices in New York all the way to the West Wing. Cohen, of course, saw his office and hotel room raided by federal agents earlier this month after receiving a referral from the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller. Hannity’s bellicose criticism of that action takes on a new dimension with the revelation of his ties to Cohen.
At one point on Sunday morning, CNN and Fox were running simultaneous chyrons on Hannity’s problems. “Should Hannity be worried about seized Cohen docs?” read the script under Brian Stelter’s interview with Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels. On Fox, Howard Kurtz spoke with The Wall Street Journal’s Shelby Holiday above a banner proclaiming “Hannity vs Mainstream Media.” Avenatti told Stelter that “the relationship [with Cohen] is going to be far more extensive than Mr. Hannity has led people to believe.”
Hannity’s value to Fox News is hard to overstate. In the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s exit last year, he has become the face of the network’s evening opinion programming, and has emerged as Donald Trump’s chief television defender. Long criticized by journalists for his conspiracy-mongering and open cheerleading, he has built a huge following that includes his daily radio show. Last week, Fox said that Hannity had the network’s full support, but as the case against Cohen unfolds, Hannity’s relationship with Trump and his embattled fixer are sure to remain a focus on media interest.
Below, more on Hannity’s deepening problems.
- A lack of transparency: New York’s Margaret Hartmann focuses on the role that HUD played in helping Hannity build his real estate empire, arguing that the host’s lack of transparency deserves more scrutiny, but that Fox probably won’t provide it.
- From Fox host’s lips to Trump’s ears: CNN producer Lee Alexander put together a compilation of President Trump echoing arguments presented by Fox hosts. There’s plenty of Hannity in the clip.
- Hannity and Cohen: The New York Times’s Michael Gold looked at Hannity’s public defense of Cohen before their ties were revealed. Copious use of Trump’s favorite phrase, “witch hunt,” highlights those remarks. Meanwhile, Gold’s colleagues Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin reported on Fox’s backing of the host, which they write signifies “the new realities at Trump-era Fox News.”
- Focus on Fox: Even before The Guardian revealed the extent of Hannity’s real estate holdings, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple argued that Fox News should be facing more pressure to investigate its host. “As important as Hannity’s explanations may be, the word of his employer matters far more,” Wemple writes.
- Too big to fail?: The Guardian’s Swaine and Dominic Rushe write that Hannity’s omission concerning his relationship to Cohen “just doesn’t matter to Fox.” Earlier this month, I looked at Fox’s continued ratings dominance even as controversy continues to dog some of the network’s personalities. Fox executives downplayed the tension between opinionators like Hannity and the hard news side of the company, but recent news surely won’t help mend that divide.
Remembering Joan Konner
Friends and family gathered on Friday to celebrate the life of Joan Konner, an essential friend and supporter of CJR. Konner was a former dean of the Columbia Journalism School, as well as a former publisher of CJR, where she remained on the Board of Overseers. She arrived at Columbia after a storied career in broadcasting. She is the winner of 13 Emmy awards and was executive producer of Bill Moyers Journal. Speaking at the memorial service, Moyers remembered Konner as both a pioneer—she was the first woman documentary producer at NBC News—and as a defender of core journalistic values. “Good journalists look for the right questions,” Moyers said, in describing her view of the craft. “People respond overwhelmingly when what we cover illuminates their lives.” Konner is the author of three books, including The Book of I: An Illustrious Collection of Self Reflections, and is survived by her husband, Al Perlmutter and her daughter, Rosemary Steinbaum.
Other notable stories
- Donald Trump’s most effective messengers aren’t on Fox News; they’re on Christian television, writes Ruth Graham for Politico Magazine. “In the past two years, largely out of view of the coastal media and the Washington establishment, a transformation has taken place,” Graham writes. “As Christian networks have become more comfortable with politics, the Trump administration has turned them into a new pipeline for its message.”
- Former Sinclair journalist Suri Crowe tells BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg about her battles with management over “balance” in her reporting. She provides documents to back up her claims, including an example of pushback she received on a story about climate change that was criticized for lacking context from “the side that questions the science behind such claims.”
- CJR’s Kelsey Ables has a great piece on Columbia Journalism School student Mariel Padilla, who found out she had won a Pulitzer while sitting in class. Padilla was an intern for The Cincinnati Enquirer last summer, tasked with visiting the county jail each morning to sort through hundreds of paper arrest slips and flag opioid mentions. When the Enquirer won the local reporting prize, Padilla began receiving texts. “I was in shock,” she told Ables. “My eyes just went so wide and I’m pretty sure my mouth was open. Obviously, I couldn’t make noise or anything because my professor was still talking.”
- For Denver Post journalists who recently lost their jobs in another round of layoffs, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project is offering a lifeline. CJR’s Corey Hutchins reports that the journalism nonprofit focused on income inequality is setting up a $10,000 fund specifically for ex-Denver Post journalists.
- Back in January, CJR’s Jon Allsop predicted that new tariffs on Canadian newsprint could impact the bottom line at papers around the US. Now, CNN’s Jill Disis writes, those fears have become reality. She focuses on the Tampa Bay Times, where 50 jobs are being cut in response to increased expenses due to the tariffs. “In some cases tariffs are supposed to protect American jobs,” Times Publisher Paul Tash tells Disis. “In this case, not only at our company but around the American newspaper business, I believe these tariffs will cost jobs.”
- Campbell Brown, the head of news partnerships at Facebook, gets a Sunday Business section front-page profile in The New York Times. The Times’s Nellie Bowles writes that Brown “has long had to grapple with questions about whether she really has influence at the social network,” but that she has emerged “as a fiery negotiator for her vision of Facebook as a publishing platform.” In other Facebook news, the Times’s Amanda Taub and Max Fisher report from Sri Lanka, where “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing” in recent violence in the country.
Nearly two weeks ago, Hungary’s far-right governing party, Fidesz, won a crushing victory in national elections, further strengthening Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s tight grip on power. Orbán has gradually eroded Hungary’s independent press since he took office in 2010. His latest win is all but a death knell.
Orbán accelerated a longstanding anti-media campaign a few years back, going on TV to encourage key allies to buy or begin news outlets. In late 2016, then Austrian-owned company Mediaworks shuttered the country’s largest opposition daily, then sold its remaining properties to government-friendly owners. Since this month’s election, other critical voices have fallen silent. When the English-language Budapest Beacon closed last week, its managing editor lamented that pro-Orbán consolidation has made it impossible to source reliable information in Hungary. The country’s last remaining opposition daily, Magyar Nemzet, and Lanchid radio station also both shut down after their owner Lajos Simicska—a tycoon who fell out with Orbán in 2015—decided he would no longer finance them.
Speaking with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, former Magyar Nemzet reporter Flora Garamvolgyi blamed the government’s monopoly on advertising for squeezing them out. “What happened is obviously a personal tragedy because I lost my job,” she added. “But people have been made to consume racist, xenophobic, anti-immigration propaganda all over the news, like, daily. So it’s a much bigger issue than just a newspaper shutting down.”
Orbán’s recent election campaign was predicated on extreme rhetoric on immigration, intertwined with relentless attacks on Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. Soros is a worldwide lightning rod for fringe anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing, but in Hungary, attacking him has a more mainstream resonance. Escalating a familiar smear campaign, pro-Orbán paper Figyelo last week published a list of more than 200 pro-Soros “speculators,” including staffers with Amnesty International and other NGOs, and investigative journalists like Andras Petho.
— andras petho (@andraspe) April 12, 2018
Orbán has launched a full-court press against his country’s media, chipping away at independent ownership, publicly attacking critical journalists, and channeling his agenda through friendly outlets—whistleblowers at the state-funded MTVA network told The Guardian last week that editors parrot nativist propaganda dictated by the government. Hungary is a European Union country, and so, at least in theory, is tied to minimum standards of democracy and press freedom. And yet EU leaders have too often been timid in holding Orbán to account. They should now—along with the international community at large—rally urgently to save Hungary’s free press. There’s a chance they’re already too late.
Below, more on the crisis gripping Hungarian journalism:
- Meet the puppetmaster: Before the election, Politico’s Lili Bayer and Joanna Plucinska profiled Orbán media fixer Antal Rogán. (The piece also contains a useful graphic mapping Orbán’s personal ties to major media owners.)
- “Would you like the guards to escort you out of the room?”: In a short film and accompanying first-person essay, Al Jazeera’s Dan Nolan digs into Orbán’s war on the press, and describes the threat he felt when he questioned it.
- More-than-creeping authoritarianism: The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project calls for the international community to support Hungarian journalism, denouncing “an attempt to intimidate independent voices [that] mimics similar attacks by other fascist or extreme governments who have created lists of ‘enemies of the state.’”
- Some international context: You can read Reporters Without Borders’s Hungary fact file here. In 2017, it ranked 71st out of 180 countries worldwide for press freedom.
Other notable stories:
- CJR’s Brendan Fitzgerald reports that local media in Charlottesville, Virginia, failed to contextualize coverage of an online survey to change two Confederacy-linked local park names. “Anyone with internet access—from local residents to Confederate apologists and white supremacists around the country—had a chance to choose what names they desired for [the] parks,” Fitzgerald writes. “With few exceptions, it was impossible to tell who had voted for what name, and where those votes might have come from.”
- David Pecker’s American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer, hasn’t experienced a “Trump Bump.” Despite its relentlessly sycophantic coverage of the president, The Wall Street Journal’s Lukas I. Alpert reports, it’s “weighed down by ballooning debt, falling revenue and shrinking newsstand sales.” Relatedly, AMI freed former Playboy model Karen McDougal from a contract that had prevented her from talking openly about her alleged affair with Trump.
- The latest Time 100 list of influential people is out. Sean Hannity is listed under “leaders,” as are Today show hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb. Freshly minted Pulitzer winners Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow are now also Time “icons” for their work exposing Harvey Weinstein and others. And Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is a “titan,” which likely won’t please our Time–obsessed titan-in-chief.
- For The Hollywood Reporter, Glynnis MacNicol takes on a fraught topic in journalism: the burgeoning generational gap in newsrooms. “While some dismiss them as the ‘woke’ vanguard of creeping political correctness, the new generation of media leaders, few familiar to anyone older than 40, bring with them differing views on transparency, egalitarianism and social justice—and are far more outspoken about their beliefs,” MacNicol writes.
- Under-pressure Trump lawyer Michael Cohen withdrew his lawsuit against BuzzFeed, which he says defamed him when it published the infamous Steele dossier on Trump’s alleged Russia ties last year. Cohen stands by the allegation, but is dropping the suit because of last week’s FBI raid on his premises, according to his attorney.
- Yesterday was a good day all round at BuzzFeed, whose UK investigative team may have solicited one of the all-time great government PR quotes. When it asked British tax authorities if they’d refused to investigate a telecoms firm because it donated money to the governing Conservative party, a senior spokesperson replied, “This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.” The authorities changed their tune after verifying BuzzFeed’s evidence, calling it “regrettable.”
In October 2017, the Maltese blogger and investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia needed to go to the bank. Her account had been blocked after a government minister filed a defamation charge against her. She left her house, got into her car—a Peugeot 108—and set off. Three minutes later, she was dead. The cause? A car bomb, lodged under the driver’s seat.
Two weeks later, the French journalist Laurent Richard launched his project “Forbidden Stories” at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Richard had developed the idea—an encrypted platform allowing endangered journalists to upload their work—as a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan one year earlier. Its intended purpose was twofold: to deter would-be attacks on journalists by backing up their work, and to publicize murders and disappearances of colleagues such as Caruana Galizia.
This week, Forbidden Stories launched “The Daphne Project,” the first results of a secret, months-long collaboration between 45 journalists from 18 outlets around the world, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters, and top papers in France, Italy, and Germany. Together, reporters worked to unpack the circumstances of Caruana Galizia’s murder and expose the web of corruption in Malta that made it possible. Over the coming weeks, they’ll drip out a series of stories based on reporting left unfinished at the time of her death.
“Most of the members have also worked with ICIJ [the organization behind the Panama Papers] or the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, so it’s a group of investigative journalists who believe in collaborative journalism,” Richard told me this morning. “Behind one sentence you can find five journalists… Everyone who decided to come [on board] came ready to avoid competition, ready to share information with the others, for that specific mission: continuing the work of one dead reporter. I’m very impressed by that kind of commitment.”
Ahead of Forbidden Stories’s launch last year, I spoke with Richard and his team about the project. One of his deputies, Jules Giraudat, said, “The idea is to say to the people who would arrest or kill a journalist that if they do so there will be 10, 20, 30, or perhaps 40 journalists who will continue his work, and make sure that the story doesn’t get killed as well, but continues and makes more noise.” At the time, I thought that sounded ambitious. “The Daphne Project” proves they’re only just getting started.
Below, some of the stories from “The Daphne Project” so far:
- It can happen here: The New York Times assesses the political context for the killing, looking into Malta’s deepening corruption problem and the headache it poses for the European Union.
- “It was like a war zone”: This deep-dive multimedia package from Reuters includes a video interview with Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, also an investigative journalist. “The next few days were just….one battle after another,” he says. “There was just no time to grieve.”
- Following the money: Le Monde’s Anne Michel and Jean-Baptiste Chastand picked up Caruana Galizia’s investigation into Pilatus Bank—a secretive Maltese conduit for Azerbaijani government investments across the EU. (Read here in French.)
- Still in danger: The Guardian spoke to Caruana Galizia’s husband, Peter, who lives alone under around-the-clock police protection since security experts said it was too dangerous for his sons to remain in Malta. “It is clear to us that the three men arraigned so far are simply contractors commissioned by a third party,” he says. “My sons and I are not convinced that our government really wants to establish who sent them, for fear such persons are in fact very close to our government.”
Other notable stories:
- For CJR, the Tow Center’s Pete Brown reports that some local publishers’ Facebook posts have seen up to 56 percent less interaction of late, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to boost local sources on the platform: “Facebook, it appears, is already missing the mark on one of its central goals for 2018: giving local news a shot in the arm, at least when judged by its own measure of success, ‘meaningful interactions.’”
- Drama at Harper’s: Editor James Marcus told Publisher’s Lunch that he was fired last week for “opposing the publication of Katie Roiphe’s cover story in the March issue.” Marcus says publisher Rick MacArthur assigned the piece—a widely criticized essay on “Twitter feminism” which led Moira Donegan to out herself as creator of the “shitty media men” list—but Harper’s publicist Giulia Melucci says she actually assigned it, then took a bizarre potshot at Marcus in an interview with The New York Times (“Maybe think about the fact that the publicist had to assign stories because the editor didn’t have ideas? I don’t know — maybe that’s how bad it was”). Confused? Same.
- Reuters reporter Dean Yates has this moving account of his recurring battle with PTSD. “In 2016, I was treated in a psychiatric unit for PTSD after a career spent covering conflict and tragedy,” he writes. “Last July, I was back in Ward 17. It was time to face up to my moral injury and the event that drove me into mental hell.” Last year, CJR’s Chava Gourarie profiled Yates for CJR.
- CJR’s Jonathan Peters interviews Rob Balin, the media lawyer who convinced a judge to out Sean Hannity as Michael Cohen’s client earlier this week. “When it seemed the judge would keep the client’s identity under seal, Balin stood up in the second row of the gallery, apologized for interrupting, introduced himself, and informed the court of a ‘public access issue,’” Peters writes. “Then, with the court’s permission, he approached the podium and argued that the client’s identity should be disclosed publicly.”
- Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell cited Michael Smith and Polly Mosendz’s Bloomberg Businessweek investigation as she introduced legislation to address safety defects in firearms.
- ICYMI yesterday, one of the brothers in charge of Sinclair was found to have maxed out donations to Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, who as a candidate attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs then lied to police about it.
- And finally, I reported in January that new Trump administration tariffs on newsprint coming from Canada could cost jobs at already-cash-strapped US newspapers. Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times confirmed it’s laying off around 50 employees as a direct response to the tariffs.
The news cycle likes to bury long reads and technical research, and, let’s face it, you just don’t have time to read everything.
In a new column for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which I’m calling “TL;DR,” but which could also be called “ICYMI” (or, occasionally, “wtf”), I plan to rescue the underappreciated research and reported stories that will give you an edge in understanding (and reporting on) the complexities of the digital world.
Here’s what I hope you’ll agree is worth your time, or at least the time it takes to read this.
- The Department of Defense has a division called the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) that issues white papers every now and then, and while they tend to focus on weapons technology, a great deal of its latest study, about Chinese influence on American startups, also applies to journalism. According to DIUx, between 10 to 16 percent of all venture capital deals between 2015 and 2017 can claim Chinese investment.These companies will be funding everything on the cutting edge of journalism, from “‘big data’ analytics [and] artificial intelligence,” to augmented and virtual reality. Whatever business decisions they make will certainly trickle down to new forms of journalism, and the ad technology that supports it. DIUx names SPACES, an AR and VR firm already working with American media companies including NBCUniversal, among many others. Of course, it’s worth being skeptical about the Department of Defense’s suggestion that Chinese investment threatens Americans. But DIUx sees the investment strategy as a natural outgrowth of hacking campaigns that include the notorious Office of Personnel Management breach—malevolent or not, money and stolen data can both mean dominance.
- Has your news organization’s identity been stolen? Michael Tiffany, CEO of security firm WhiteOps, calls attention to an elegant way to thwart would-be ad thieves on his company’s blog. The post is a week or two old but hasn’t caught the attention it deserves: Tiffany recommends simply dropping a text file into your news organization’s homepage folder, listing the companies authorized to sell your business’s ads, as quick way to crack down on ad fraud. This will prevent shady publishers from misrepresenting themselves as authorized sellers of ads on, say, The New York Times, and Tiffany says anybody with a high-profile domain ought to give it a try. Tiffany links to the Times’s; here’s The Guardian‘s and The Washington Post‘s.Most major news sites already list verified ad sellers, but some of the newer sites haven’t gotten there yet—The Outline appears to be one. This means that a scam site claiming to be The Outline could fool you into buying a nonexistent ad. This is called “domain spoofing”—tricking customers into buying ads by pretending to represent a legitimate website and then running those ads on a “banner farm.” Why should you care? For one thing, the damage to the bottom line wreaked by ad fraud is huge: The Association of National Advertisers estimates fraudsters bilked legitimate publishers out of $6.5 billion last year. Then there’s the question of where, exactly, the money is going: A Kremlin cyberwar operation funded its operations with scam ads on Yahoo for erectile dysfunction pills for two years, starting in 2014.
- Philosopher Jason Stanley has written his précis for his influential 2015 book How Propaganda Works in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research; the book is very good, if quite dense, and the journal article is a canapé-sized version of the 376-page entrée. The 2015 book, which came out in paperback just in time for the wave of interest in “fake news” after the 2016 election, deals in part with “legitimation myths”—deep beliefs held about the rightness of established systems by people who benefit from them. For instance, Stanley identifies the idea of “meritocracy”—that society is basically just and, on the whole, people have either earned their place or failed to earn it—as a legitimation myth. Stanley finds these myths interesting and confounding: He spends an outsized portion of the book “trying to make sense out of why some who are economically marginalized may still adopt the ideology of meritocracy, thereby blaming themselves at least in part for their negative social position.”
- Matt Carlson criticizes “measurable journalism,” which is to say analytics and metrics, in the academic journal Digital Journalism. The problem with measurability, Carlson says to MediaShift, is that it privileges that which is easy to measure over that which is hard to measure. If they’re not careful, journalists can end up passively trying to optimize for something they either can’t affect or won’t do them any good. “A concern I have with measurable journalism,” he tells MediaShift, “is when what can be measured takes precedence over what should be measured.”
Other notable stories:
- NPR announcer Carl Kassel has died at 84. The deep-voiced host of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, among many others, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to NPR.
- FBI whistleblower Terry Albury has pled guilty to two counts under the Espionage Act, a seldom-used law that the Obama administration used more than all previous administrations combined; the Trump administration appears to be following his lead in using the law to punish leaks to the press. Trevor Timm has the exclusive on Albury’s guilty plea for CJR.
- Noted misinformer Alex Jones has been sued for defamation by three parents of two 6-year-olds murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, The New York Times reports. Houston lawyer Mark D. Bankston represents the parents, who say they came under vicious attack by conspiracy theorists in the wake of Jones peddling the falsehood that their children had not really been killed. Bankston represents the parents of children killed in the Parkland murders who seek similar claims against Jones.
- Jerry Falwell Jr.’s many, many pro-Trump quotes to the conservative media, especially disreputable enterprises like far-right site Breitbart, have gotten him in hot water with conservative Christian trustees where his allegedly usurious practices at Liberty University Online—meticulously investigated by ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis—have not. Deep in MacGillis’s long profile is a compelling reason for Falwell to bear-hug Trump in the popular press, beyond mere ideology: His controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is rolling back student protections from online degree-providers, of which Liberty Online is the second-largest in the country.