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Things We Saw Today: Elizabeth Warren Proves an Important Point About Fake News on Facebook

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Elizabeth Warren stands against a marble wall looking charming and presidential.

Fake news? Liz has a plan for that.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is stepping up the fight against fake news in a brilliant way. Last week Warren’s campaign ran a paid advertisement on Facebook which states that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has endorsed Donal Trump for president. Although Zuckerberg is terrified of Warren, it’s not true that he endorses Trump. Warren lied in her ad and that’s the whole point.

Elizabeth Warren's deliberately false facebook ad

Facebook has no policy preventing candidates from lying in advertisements – and that’s very very bad. The point Warren is brilliantly making is that Facebook has become a for-profit free-for-all platform for lies and disinformation because it allows political ads that make completely untrue claims to run on the site. (Among other things).

Facebook is a massively powerful tool for spreading content and information – odds are a few of you readers got to this page via our facebook. It’s ubiquitous and an especially powerful tool for reaching older, and possibly more gullible voters that believe everything they read. Warren tweeted about the ad:

This is a bold stunt, but it’s a great way of showing what candidates can do and alerting folks to the power social media has. Even so, we wouldn’t be surprised to see our crazy uncle posting clickbait “Warren lies on facebook!” links on their feed. But hopefully now that the liea are about him, Zukerberg will actually do something…but we’re not holding our breath.

Elsewhere on the interwebs this fine Saturday:

  • A sweet coming out day twitter thread about AOL downlaods, Beefcakes, and blaming mom. (via Grant Ginder)
  • An advent calendar…for cats! (via Mental Floss)
  • Warren wasn’t the only candidate owning a Trump this week:

  • We’re terrified but we’re also really excited to see Parasite. (via LA Times).
  • Looks like Jared Padalecki won’t be leaving the CW any time soon as they just agreed to make his Walker, Texas Ranger pilot. (via Deadline)
  • Here’s a quote that will make you want to scream: “Occasionally, while on the phone with foreign heads of state, Trump has handed the receiver to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, so she can talk with the leader, according to this individual.” (Via AP)
  • It’s nine + months until San Diego Comic Con but tickets for returning attendees are already sold out. (Via SDCC Unofficial Blog)
  • To cleanse you palette of that, here’s a little video that kept us laughing for at least five minutes. (Warning: Monkey balls).

  • We love this Skin Care reading list from Sara Benincasa. (via Longreads)
  • And I used to think I was nuts about getting prepared for winter:

  • And finaly, our favorite Webtoon, Lore Olympus is being developed into an animated series by the Jim Henson Company. (via Deadline)

What things did you see today?

(Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Anime Limited Acquires ‘Promare’ Rights

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The May 24th, 2019 release of the Promare film from Studio Trigger in Japan went over well and a new international partner has checked in. Anime Limited has picked up the rights to the film with plans for a UK and Ireland release on November 26th with the subtitled version and November 28th in the […]
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Flacks and Figures | Corey Atad

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I’m getting paid $1,000 for this article. Last year, I made roughly $50,000 between a 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. freelance gig writing celebrity news and publishing some one-off articles. I grew up middle class, though my divorced father eventually worked his way well into the upper-middle class. Financially speaking, I’m fine, though I live alone in Toronto, and I likely won’t be able to afford a house unless my parents die or my dad provides the cash for a down payment. You probably don’t need to know these details, but it may color what I say next: it is my opinion that wealthy journalists should disclose their wealth when matters of finance, taxation, or any public policy they report on will affect their bottom line.

Back in January, Anderson Cooper, scion of the Vanderbilt family, conducted a one-on-one 60 Minutes interview with the newly sworn-in congressional representative from New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The splashy interview generated its biggest moment when Cooper suggested that Ocasio-Cortez’s policy agenda of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal was “radical,” asking her, “Do you call yourself a radical?” “Yeah. You know, if that’s what radical means, call me a radical,” she responded, defiantly.

Less viral but more telling was the exchange leading up to that moment, with Cooper pressing Ocasio-Cortez about the revenue needed to pay for her programs. “This would require, though, raising taxes,” he said, as though the very notion were absurd. When Ocasio-Cortez agreed that “people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes,” Cooper pressed her again, almost annoyed: “Do you have a specific on the tax rate?” This gave the first-year congresswoman space to explain top marginal tax rates because Cooper and the 60 Minutes producers evidently had no interest in doing so themselves. Which gets to what was so clarifying about the back-and-forth: not Cooper’s questions about how a politician intended to pay for her agenda, but his disbelief verging on indignation at the prospect of a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans. It’s an idea with broad popular support, though perhaps not among the Vanderbilts.

Imagine, for a moment, if, at the top of the segment, Cooper had told his audience—reminded them—that he is a multimillionaire. That he is the primetime anchor at one of the country’s biggest cable news outlets. Though CNN and CBS don’t disclose the value of their contracts with on-air talent, pegging Cooper’s earnings in the tens of millions isn’t a stretch. Take a look at Megyn Kelly’s $30 million exit package from NBC News—after being fired for being racist, no less!—and you’ll get a good sense of the exorbitant salaries networks pay their top anchors. So, imagine it. Cooper, before launching into a loaded line of questioning about Ocasio-Cortez’s tax policy, openly states to the audience, “In the interest of full-disclosure: I, Anderson Cooper, heir to a vast fortune, currently make more money per year than you plebs at home could dream of, and I would be directly affected by Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed 70 percent marginal tax on incomes over $10 million.” Would he then have had the gall to highlight the tax increase? And would any reasonable viewer have bought into his bullshit?

Avoiding conflicts of interest is basic ethical practice for journalists. Check any news organization or journalism school’s handbook on ethics, and you’ll find the concept is central to maintaining credibility in journalism. “Any personal or professional interests that conflict with [our allegiance to the public], whether in appearance or in reality, risk compromising our credibility,” explains NPR’s Ethics Handbook. “We are vigilant in disclosing to both our supervisors and the public any circumstances where our loyalties may be divided—extending to the interests of spouses and other family members—and when necessary, we recuse ourselves from related coverage.”

Watching for potential conflicts, understanding them, acknowledging and disclosing them, publicly where necessary, are among the core jobs of any journalist with a shred of self-respect. Consumers of journalism, meanwhile, are already accustomed to such disclosures, which often come in the form of “so-and-so company is owned by our parent company.” When spouses or family members are involved, a recusal is usually in order, but it’s not unheard of for a journalist or news anchor to state that one of the subjects in a story is a friend. This is all a matter of simple honesty, though it’s not always adhered to in the strictest terms. Still, the prejudicial effects of a journalist’s net worth never enter into the equation at all.

Searching through various publications’ codes of ethics, from the Washington Post to the New York Times, directly named conflicts of interest tend to fall into categories of familial relation, partisan work, direct financial entanglements, work outside the organization, and the accepting of gifts, travel, or direct payment. Listed nowhere is the matter of salary or wealth. Given a few moments’ thought, it’s staggering to consider all of the effort that went into the New York Times’ eleven-thousand-word “Ethical Journalism” handbook without its writers ever considering, at least on the page, their salaries or inherited wealth as potential conflicts. Then again, the paper that employs Bari Weiss to garner hate-clicks may not be the ideal place to search for structural critiques of capitalism.

Soothslayers

Standing for freedom of the press, John Thadeus Delane, editor of the Times UK, responded to criticism of his paper by the government in 1852 with two famous editorials that outlined the emerging philosophy of journalistic integrity.

Imagine if, at the top of the segment, Cooper had told his audience that he is a multimillionaire.

“The first duty of the press is to obtain the earliest and most correct intelligence of the events of the time and instantly by disclosing them to make them common property of the nation. . . . The press lives by disclosures,” he wrote, adding in the following day’s editorial that “the duty of the journalist is the same as the historian—to seek out truth, above all things, and to present to his readers, not such things as statecraft would wish them to know, but the truth as near as he can attain it.”

In setting the interests of the press apart and even in opposition to the interests of the government, Delane was outlining the principles of independence that would go on to form the backbone of our modern understanding of journalism as ethically bound and in the interests of the people. So we got the Fourth Estate, which adheres to notions of accuracy, impartiality, honesty, accountability, and transparency. These are principles so ingrained in the public consciousness that even a propaganda outlet like Fox News for years kept the motto “Fair and Balanced,” ditching it only in 2016 for the more disturbingly accurate “Most Watched, Most Trusted.” As Fox regularly proves, those principles can easily be used, abused, and perverted by powerful interests. How else to explain, for example, why CNN was in court last year, fighting, as part of a larger defamation lawsuit, to keep their internal news standards guide, presumably detailing their commitment to factual reporting and transparency, out of the public eye?

The election of Donald Trump and his attendant attacks on the media have clarified the need to reform how the mainstream press conducts itself. The October 29, 2016, front page of the New York Times, from the day after James Comey’s letter announced the reopened investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, is a perfect encapsulation of the worst habits of a press that fails to understand its role in presenting and, more important, contextualizing information for a public constantly bombarded by political propaganda—sorry, sorry, spin. Outlets like the Times and CNN have doubled down on facts—yes, CNN, an apple is not a banana, we know—but facts cannot and do not exist in a vacuum. Reporters run away from bias and toward some Platonic ideal of facts and figures, but the presence of bias is literally unavoidable, and as with everything else in our system, money undergirds all of it. Money is the original conflict of interest, infecting impartiality, honesty, accountability, even transparency itself. The corrective is daylight.

You’ll never see that corrective at Fox News, where Trump’s buddy Sean Hannity rails against the left while pulling in up to $36 million dollars annually. Then there’s Tucker Carlson, who’s recently taken up the mantle of economic populism to warn his viewers about the dangers of wealth inequality; his presumably elephantine salary is a secret. Maybe, if he were honest, his viewers could see through his cynical attempts to play both sides. When Dutch historian Rutger Bregman went on Carlson’s show to argue that most of the people on Fox News had been “bought by the billionaire class,” the host declined to air the interview, presumably after much hissing and spitting. So much for transparency from the “Most Trusted” cable news channel.

Fool Disclosure

Fox is an easy target, though. The other major networks are just as culpable. In a recent CNN interview, Bernie Sanders reiterated his views about the immiseration of the American working class by the top 1 percent and the entitlement of all people to a living wage. Host Erin Burnett appeared irritated; she’d heard his spiel before, and it wasn’t news-making. She had attempted to goad Sanders into a fight with Elizabeth Warren by asking whether he thinks there’s a “cap on support from the progressive left” with two progressive candidates in the field. A “fair question,” Sanders admitted, but fair and good are two very different things. Sharing the clip on Twitter, twenty-two-year-old Google employee and tech entrepreneur Michael Sayman wondered, “How many folks are aware that the journalist in this interview is worth over $12 million and has an annual salary of $3 million? To put [it] into perspective, Bernie’s entire life-long net worth at 77 years old is less than half of her annual salary at CNN.” While the accuracy of those figures, from a quick Google search, is debatable, Burnett, with her 7 p.m. slot, is no doubt one of CNN’s bigger earners.

Sayman, of course, would be attuned to the difference between Burnett and Sanders. Despite being a Silicon Valley star, he grew up marked by the 2008 financial crash. In 2012, when he was only a teenager, his family lost their home to foreclosure. He ended up becoming their provider, keeping them afloat by creating apps for Apple’s App Store. He went on to work for Facebook before Google. Regardless of his more recent success, however, the precariousness of Sayman’s early years allows him to see the state of inequality in the world for what it is. Maybe Sayman should have Burnett’s job, bringing CNN’s audience one perspective closer to those who would benefit from the policies offered by Sanders, instead of those in the thrall of multimillion-dollar paydays.

Back in February, UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich, responding to a column by Farhad Manjoo titled “Abolish Billionaires,” tweeted, “Anyone who has a billion dollars either exploited a monopoly that should have been broken up, got inside information unavailable to other investors, bribed some politicians, or inherited the money from their parents (who did one of the above).” A cheeky tweet, surely, but where is the lie? Quick to take the bait was MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, who tweeted, “This is not true and it hurts the brand of the democratic party. There is a difference btw a monopoly & winner take all.” She proceeded to list a series of “good” billionaires: Oprah Winfrey, Sam Walton, Warren Buffett, Phil Knight, Marc Benioff, Pierre Omidyar, Thomas Monaghan. When Winners Take All author Anand Giridharadas responded that the “tycoons of our age don’t need greater advocacy,” Ruhle remained firm. “It also [is] not our jobs to spread falsehoods that every billionaire has achieved that wealth through nefarious means,” she wrote.

Money is the original conflict of interest. The corrective is daylight.

Why an MSNBC reporter would feel the need to defend the honor of a media mogul, a famous investor, and the founders of Walmart, Nike, Salesforce, eBay, and Domino’s Pizza, respectively, is a curious question—one easily answered the moment you dive into Ruhle’s biography. Before working at MSNBC, Ruhle was a host on Bloomberg Television. Before that? She spent fourteen years working in finance as an investment banker for Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, following an early internship at Merrill Lynch. A 2018 profile of Ruhle for InStyle lays it all out:

She loved her job, was well-regarded in her field, and felt like a role model for her kids. Oh, and she was making bank. “One of the things that’s great about the financial industry is, it’s really financially rewarding,” Ruhle says without hesitation. “That helps us be our badass selves because you have more options in the world.”

Abominable.

I don’t know how much Ruhle makes currently—it’s privileged information. But it shouldn’t be. Ruhle may think billionaires are capable of being good people, but it’s hard to imagine her views aren’t clouded by her background and potentially her current salary. At the very least, her audience should be informed of the conflict of interest inherent in Ruhle, a wealthy person, makes statements defending the power and corruption of wealthy people.

Days after her defense of billionaires, Ruhle once again stood atop her Twitter soapbox when Amazon announced they’d no longer be building a headquarters in Queens. She hit back at, who else, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Tech IS the future of business[.] Wall St. is the past & the biggest earners in finance are moving their tax dollars to big houses in small-taxation states,” she wrote, pitting Ocasio-Cortez’s activism against the billions in tax giveaways Amazon would have received. Ruhle later added, in response to pushback, “It does seem CRAZY and unfair that Amazon would pay NO federal taxes (while banking $11.2bn in profits)[.] BUT that does not mean they would destroy Queens.” I suppose in her view, the residents of Queens who fought against the massive force for inequality that is Amazon were simply standing in the way of becoming their “badass selves.”

The Facts of Life (Are All about You)

Journalism must surely take some of the blame for the crisis of declining public trust in the press. Journalists’ ability to imagine themselves above the fray, incapable of being swayed, is antithetical to journalism. Disclosure must be more consistent, and more expansive, bringing audiences not just the facts of the news, but the context in which they’re receiving them. This includes a reporter’s wealth. Millionaires on TV interviewing politicians who aim to tax them is more than adversarial; it’s a conflict of interest. The same is true when high-salaried journalists extol the moral virtues of the rich or make the case for kindly (or unfettered) capitalism to an audience of millions.

In their lack of transparency, wealthy journalists safeguard the bastions of power in which their riches are stored. They spread an untruth about a world where the influence of money is benign. It’s time, instead, for journalists to disclose what we’re worth. Show us your tax returns, Cooper.

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A renowned scientist searched for his mystery angel for 30 years. Case closed. - The Washington Post

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Jimmy Dorsey turned to his wife with a weird story about his day.

“He asked me if I had some money in my wallet,” Elaine Dorsey said, remembering that evening in 1990 when her generous husband — the guy who was a volunteer firefighter and football coach, who always had a buck for a panhandler or helped pay someone’s grocery bill — explained that he’d given some stranger $80 at work that day.

He told her he’d fudged a few things at his travel office for the stranger — buying him an extra ticket and changing his return dates on an existing one. And he was nervous it could cost him his job.

Elaine Dorsey shook her head and let it go. He was always doing something nice for others. And she didn’t think he’d get fired for it.

Jimmy Dorsey didn’t get fired, but he did change the course of an entire family’s life — and maybe even an entire field of science — thanks to his generosity that day.

The stranger was Mahmoud Ghannoum, a renowned scientist who is now known as the world’s leading microbiome researcher. (Whenever you read about gut bacteria or probiotics? That’s Ghannoum’s work.)

Ghannoum was in Washington for a scientific conference in 1990, and he was in trouble.

His country, Kuwait, had just been invaded by Saddam Hussein. His city was in scorched-earth ruin, and his young family was squatting in a dorm room in England while he tried to find work and a way to get them all to the United States.

But the people who could help him find work wouldn’t be in the District until the next weekend. He had neither the money to stay there, nor the means to change his plane ticket.

So he ducked into a travel agency and told his story.

The travel agent in charge that day listened to this story from this Muslim man with a mustache, a thick accent and a brown suit.

And he didn’t turn him away.

He found a way for Ghannoum to be in D.C. the following weekend, with some keyboard clicks and a new plane ticket. And then he opened his wallet and gave him $80 cash. “So you have some spending money,” he told him.

Ghannoum interviewed like a boss and got two job offers.

He told the story about America’s open arms for 30 years as he wrote papers, made discoveries and became a force in American science.

But he also never got to thank the man. The travel agency began laying off employees and closed for good not long after Ghannoum settled in America, during the 1991 recession.

So last month, Ghannoum and his son posted something on Facebook, hoping to find their mystery man with little to go on: an African American travel agent in downtown D.C.

I wrote a story about the search.

Tips came in and I made lots of calls, checking in with Ghannoum and striking out each time.

Then I heard from Christine Lehnhoff.

“Ms Dvorak, I worked as a travel agent in D.C. during that time. My boss, Jimmy Dorsey, was a black man, and our office was near Farragut Square,” she wrote, after reading the story. She remembered he was a firefighter.

So I found a James Dorsey who worked at the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company and was a veteran of the Vietnam War.

I sent Ghannoum the photo of 2019 Dorsey. But he wasn’t so sure it was his angel. Squinting, he said “maybe 30 years ago. But I’m not so sure.”

And I worried we would never know.

Dorsey died in February at 69, just seven months before Ghannoum, who is also 69, began his search.

I left a message for his widow, Elaine. And so did Ghannoum’s son, Afif Ghannoum.

She remembered that night her husband came home short of cash with some crazy story about a guy who needed help.

“It wasn’t out of the norm for him to do something like this,” she told me, after she connected all the dots, talked with Afif and was convinced her husband was Ghannoum’s good Samaritan.

But there was still the matter of the photos. Ghannoum didn’t recognize the salt-and-pepper-bearded Dorsey of 2019, the man who had been fighting liver and lung cancer for a decade. They were both 39 on that travel agency day.

So Elaine sent the family older pictures of Dorsey, young and fit in Vietnam, with his postwar Afro and white suit in the 1970s, with his close-cropped hair and coach clothes in the 1990s.

“Oh my God, it’s him,” Ghannoum said. “It’s him, 100 percent. I’ll never forget him.”

The Dorseys and the Ghannoums have been on the phone all week, planning to meet next month. They each told me they have a surprise for the other. (I’ll stay mum on that for now, but we’ll be back with details when they meet.)

Yes, it’s bittersweet that the men will never get to shake hands or hug, that a man-to-man thank you will never happen.

But Elaine said she’s satisfied that the story will live on, that her sweet husband’s impulsive act of kindness produced good in the world.

And that it may inspire others to be kind.

We all thank you, Jimmy Dorsey.

Twitter: @petulad

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Jane Fonda Arrested at U.S. Capitol During Climate Protest

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The Oscar winner has vowed to protest each Friday for the next 14 weeks.

Continue reading…

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Elizabeth Warren Has a Fantastic Response to a Question About “Old Fashioned” (Read: Bigoted) Views on Marriage

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Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and CNN presidential town hall focused on LGBTQ issues

At a town hall event in Los Angeles Thursday night, Elizabeth Warren gave the perfect response to a question about “old fashioned” views of marriage.

The event was presented by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign, and featured back-to-back interviews with nine candidates, all centered on LGBTQ+ issues. During her time, Warren was asked by HRC’s Board of Directors chair Morgan Cox what she would say if a supporter told her they believe marriage is between one man and one woman, specifically because of their faith.

Warren’s response: “Then just marry one woman.”

“I’m cool with that,” said with a shrug. And once the laughter and applause died down, she added, “Assuming you can find one.” Burn.

Now, to be fair, there are plenty of men and women who hold these kinds of anti-LGBTQ views. But Warren is showing that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on faith and that Christianity doesn’t inherently equal an opposition to LGBTQ rights. She was asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo is there was ever a time she felt differently about same-sex marriage and she said no. She said that’s what she learned in the church she grew up in. (Although she did support that point using a really outdated Bible school song.)

“That was the basis of the faith that I grew up in,” she said. “And it truly is about the preciousness of each and every life. It is about the worth of every human being.” She said she saw that “as a matter of faith,” and that the “hatefulness always really shocked me.”

There were a lot of great moments from the town hall. Candidates spoke about a whole range of issues, including conversion therapy and the dangers LGBTQ immigrants and asylum seekers face.

Trans rights were front and center last night. At one point, protesters interrupted a question for Pete Buttigieg and Anderson Cooper had a great response, reminding the audience that protest has a longstanding and important place in LGBTQ spaces and that it’s welcome.

Julián Castro—who was wearing a ribbon commemorating those murdered at the Pulse nightclub in 2016—criticized the Trump administration and specifically his successor as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for rolling back protections for transgender people.

Kamala Harris talked about how trans people of color are much more likely to be victims of hate crimes.

Warren talked to a nine-year-old transgender child about the importance of a Secretary of Education who cares about both public education and children—two things our current Education Secretary does not care about at all.

The Human Rights Campaign has more clips from the event on their Twitter page.

(image: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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