“”The end of the long inquiry into whether Donald Trump was colluding with Russia came in July 2019, when Robert Mueller III, the special counsel, took seven, sometimes painful, hours to essentially say no,” former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth writes at the beginning of his detailed analysis. His old employer was at the center of the frenzy and its editors still defend their efforts, he adds. “But outside of the Times’ own bubble, the damage to the credibility of the Times and its peers persists, three years on, and is likely to take on new energy as the nation faces yet another election season animated by antagonism toward the press. At its root was an undeclared war between an entrenched media, and a new kind of disruptive presidency, with its own hyperbolic version of the truth.””
“It’s really hard to get to any sort of truth if you bypass accuracy.
“My main conclusion is that journalism’s primary missions, informing the public and holding powerful interests accountable, have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and the media’s own lack of transparency about its work,” Gerth writes in the afterword to his Russiagate post mortem. “One traditional journalistic standard that wasn’t always followed in the Trump-Russia coverage is the need to report facts that run counter to the prevailing narrative.””
“Klobuchar modeled her bill on Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, which through a compulsory negotiation and arbitration set-up forces Google and Facebook to pay qualifying Australian news organizations (from both print and broadcast) about $150 million a year. The rationale behind the Australian shakedown and the proposed American one goes like this: News headlines and snippets on Google and Facebook have enabled the companies to convene mass audiences and abscond with billions in advertising revenues that were once the news industry’s near-exclusive franchise. This shift in advertiser preference from newspapers and TV to Google and Facebook has led to financial pain for many (but not all) news vendors. Given journalism’s high value as a public good, Google and Facebook must pay for the damage they’ve caused and help steer the news industry back to something close to the status quo ante.”
“the Klobuchar bill unjustly punishes the tech giants by making it prop up an industry that has largely failed to address its business problems and has been decaying for decades. It’s not clear whether these subsidies will restore the news business to health, and it appears likely that the act would serve as a prelude to direct government subsidies to save the news — another bad idea. Finally, the bill resembles a reparations package, which is unfair because the tech giants didn’t cause the news industry’s decline. They only contributed to it.
It would be nice to blame all of the news industry’s problems on the tech behemoths, but the undoing of the newspaper industry began well before the web’s advent. Newspaper circulation’s per capita decline started in the post-WWII era, as did the industry’s share of ad spending, thanks to competition from radio and TV. Total advertising revenue peaked in 2005. Some savvy newspaper investors, like Warren Buffett, predicted the industry’s coming decline in 1992, a good half-decade before the commercial Internet was a thing. The newspaper audience and ad buyers had already begun migrating to other mediums, like TV and cable.
One enduring myth of the Internet’s rise is that it caught the news industry by surprise. But that just isn’t so. The historical record shows that starting in the 1970s, they invested deeply and experimented widely on the electronic delivery of news and ads to homes (Viewtron, QUBE, Extravision, Gateway, Interchange, and many other systems) in hopes of inventing something like the web. What prevented them from dominating the electronic space was that the emerging, off-the-shelf technology and the open architecture of the Internet allowed open entry into the news and advertising market — no government licenses or big newsprint presses were required. Winning in this arena meant competing with all comers, and the news business proved to be a bad competitor. Google, which was founded in 1998, had the best ideas on how to sell ads in the space, and by 2012 its ad revenue surpassed that of the entire U.S. newspaper industry.
The rise of Google and then Facebook did parallel the decline of newspaper revenues, but it would be a mistake to say one caused the other. As analyst Kamil Franek points out, Google and Facebook did not build their success by “stealing” newspaper advertising. They did it by disrupting the advertising universe with systems that allowed for more efficient and cheaper ways to attract prospective customers. For better than a century, the ad business had followed the dictum attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Internet advertising deflated Wanamaker’s wisdom by making it knowable which half was wasted. Web advertisers could finally measure the successes of their campaigns and refine where to advertise next. The web also proved to be a bargain for advertisers, as better and better ad performance became cheaper and cheaper: Total advertising as a percentage of GDP dropped 25 percent between the 1990s and the aughts. Google also created new places to advertise, such as on games and on smartphones. Benedict Evans, another analyst, holds that somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of Google and Facebook’s ad business came from companies that had placed no print advertising outside of the Yellow Pages.”
“The New York Times published a story that quotes emails from a laptop that Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, abandoned at a computer repair shop in Delaware. The messages reinforce the impression that Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that reportedly paid the younger Biden $50,000 a month to serve on its board, expected him to use his influence with his father for the company’s benefit”
“None of this necessarily means that Joe Biden himself did anything improper or illegal. While Trump alleged that Biden was doing Burisma’s bidding when he demanded the dismissal of Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, for example, Biden plausibly maintained that the motivation was widely shared concerns about Shokin’s corruption.
Nor does Hunter Biden’s unseemly relationship with Burisma mean that Trump was justified in seeking to discredit the Democrat he expected to face in the presidential election by pressuring the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of the matter. But it surely was a legitimate issue to raise during the presidential campaign, as Guthrie and other journalists unconnected to the Post recognized. The question is why the Times did not, and the answer clearly has more to do with partisan sympathies than the journalistic standards the paper claimed to be defending.”
“As when Haugen first came forward—providing information that formed the basis of a series of Wall Street Journal reports—the real takeaway is that Facebook has been struggling to attract the young users it wants, faces robust competition, and generates apoplectic denunciation from mainstream journalists mostly because they resent the social media giant for shaking up the news industry.
There are, to be clear, some decent reasons in here to criticize Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The Washington Post reports that he was intimately involved with the company’s decision to comply with the Vietnamese government’s demand for greater censorship of political dissidents. Though even then, it’s debatable what Zuckerberg should do when authoritarian governments demand content moderation. Should Facebook pull out of Vietnam, depriving the country of the site entirely? Is a censored version of Facebook worse than no Facebook at all?”
“A 60 Minutes story on Florida’s vaccine rollout accused Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor, of making a corrupt deal with Publix to distribute the vaccine. CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi noted that the grocery chain donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ election campaign and suggested the lucrative vaccination contract was a “pay-to-play” scheme.
It’s an accusation that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny: For one thing, Publix—like many large corporations—gives money to both Republicans and Democrats. But more importantly, the decision to have Publix coordinate vaccination was not even made by the governor’s office. According to Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, it was his offices that recommended Publix. Moskowitz, a Democrat, has said that Publix was the best store for the job, since it has more than 800 locations across the state.
Indeed, when Alfonsi cornered DeSantis at a press conference and asked him about Publix, he gave a lengthy explanation that largely undercut her claims. He pointed out, for instance, that it wasn’t true that Publix got the vaccines first: CVS and Walgreens had already been contracted to coordinate vaccination for long-term care facilities.”
“Remarkably, CBS cut this portion of DeSantis’ response. In fact, the 60 Minutes story reduced his two-minute answer to just a few seconds.”
“This was not a case of a journalist condensing the essence of what a source told her: Alfonsi blatantly ignored the part of the governor’s statement that clashed with her narrative, and instead included a brief comment that made it sound like he became combative with her for no reason.”
“Analyzing Pew polls conducted from October of last year through June 2020, the center found that “those who rely most on social media for political news stand apart from other news consumers in a number of ways. These U.S. adults, for instance, tend to be less likely than other news consumers to closely follow major news stories, such as the coronavirus outbreak and the 2020 presidential election. And, perhaps tied to that, this group also tends to be less knowledgeable about these topics.””
“Consider this Axios tweet stating that “Biden’s presence on the list could turn it into an election year issue, though the document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing.” But Biden’s name on a document is only an election issue if the press treats it like one. And if the “document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing,” why the hell are we talking about it? Again, we’re talking about it because Trump talked about it and now it’s a legitimized “story.”
This is the latest example of zone-flooding, a phenomenon I described at length back in February. The strategy was best articulated (in America, at least) by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump, who in 2018 reportedly said: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
This is a new form of propaganda tailored to the digital age and it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t possible. And it’s all the more difficult because even the most scrupulous, well-intentioned coverage can easily fall into the trap of flooding the zone.
My concern in February was that zone-flooding had created a media environment in which the facts of Trump’s impeachment trial would be utterly meaningless. No matter how the trial played out, no matter what was uncovered, no single version of the truth would be accepted. And that, sadly, is how it played out.”
“The media, then, is caught in a loop. Trump — or one of his supporters — says something we all know is absurd and false. The rest of the right-wing media and members of the GOP establishment add to the cacophony. And then we dignify the absurdity with coverage that treats it as worthy of rebuke. And in the process, we amplify the false narrative we’re debunking and flood the zone with more and more shit. That leaves people confused and exhausted, unable to discern fact from fiction and inclined to disengage altogether or, even worse, retreat further into partisan bubbles.
The press has always sought to conquer lies by exposing them. But that doesn’t work anymore. There is too much misinformation, too many claims to refute, too many competing narratives. And because the decision to cover something is almost always a decision to amplify it, the root problem is our very concept of “news” — what counts and what doesn’t.”
” Obamagate is another example of this systemic failure. Here we have — and I can’t say this enough — a complete non-scandal. There’s no “there” there. It’s pure misinformation. But we’re still talking about it. And I’m writing this piece about it. This is a massive problem. Even though I’m trying to point up a flaw in our system, I’m still somehow participating in the mess I’m hoping to clean up. This is the paradox we’re all up against.”
“Three years after Kellyanne Conway introduced the doctrine of ‘alternative facts’ on his own program, a light went on for Chuck Todd,” Jay Rosen wrote. “Republican strategy, he now realized, was to make stuff up, spread it on social media, repeat it in your answers to journalists — even when you know it’s a lie with crumbs of truth mixed in — and then convert whatever controversy arises into go-get-em points with the base, while pocketing for the party a juicy dividend: additional mistrust of the news media to help insulate President Trump among loyalists when his increasingly brazen actions are reported as news.”