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A Pragmatist's Take

By Douglas Moran

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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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This time we're not lying. HONEST! No, really!

Uploaded: Jan 19, 2018
Non-clickbait headline: Highly partisan media, the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect & examples from my history.

Fake news has been big news for over a year. Can this concept can be broken down into distinct, useful categories? First I would change the assessment from being what is in the article itself to what the readers will likely take away from it. Research has long established that relatively few read all the way to the end of the article: Some read only the headline, others read only the first paragraph or two, ... This is why reporters are frequently admonished not to "bury the lead/lede" (and which is being disregarded here).

If you are assessing an article based upon what gets read and the headline is deceptive but the body isn't, does this warrant classifying it as deceptive?

Recognize that "news" is defined not only as something that is unusual or unexpected--the proverbial "Man Bites Dog"--but also as being important and relevant. If a story is proffered as news but is only a triviality, is that a deceptive practice? Is it "fake news" if the story is true but isn't news?

What triggered these thoughts? On Friday January 12, I opened my Google newsfeed to see much of my screen taken up by the first block of "Top Headlines". Its top-most link was:
"Trump touts sale of nonexistent fighter jet" (CNN).
The six "Related Coverage" headlines below it were variants on
"Trump lauded delivery of F-52s to Norway. The planes only exist in 'Call of Duty' " (Washington Post) .
I then clicked on "View full coverage" and got more than a full screen of links to articles with the exact same headlines or trivial variants.

Surely this must be a very important story. Right? However, if you happened to read the article itself, what did it report? The US was selling up to 52 F-35 fighter jets to Norway and Trump misspoke and said that it was 52 "F-52 and F-35" jets. This is a category of verbal stumble people make all the time. Yet a large mass of the mainstream news media chose to use this for ridicule. Yet another example of why Trump's supporters may choose--legitimately--to not believe what the news media says about Trump. Or the message received might have been that if this is the biggest thing that the media can find to criticize Trump for, he must be going a great job as President.

A similar instance occurred on December 26. The Google News "Top Headlines" started with
"Melania Trump Orders Removal of Near-200-Year-Old Tree From White House" (Newsweek).
"Melania Trump Orders Removal of 200-Year-Old Tree From White House Lawn" (Slate).
And many more similar headlines. What would you infer from such headlines? I concluded that I was meant to infer that this removal was an arbitrary and unwarranted decision by Melania Trump. Surprisingly, the headline closest to the actual story came from HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post):
"Melania Trump Orders Large Portion Of Historic White House Tree Removed Due To Decay".
Melania Trump did not order but merely accepted the recommendation of experts: The tree had been in decline for decades and had benefited from extraordinary measures, but it had reached a point where it had become a serious safety hazard.

I chose the above because they are simple, clean (self-contained) recent examples to illustrate an established pattern. And that is deeply disturbing. The big problem is not with any individual misleading headline: Such are inevitable and go way back, and have spawned uncounted jokes. Sometimes they are intentional, in order to attract readers (clickbait and earlier incarnations). Other times the writer hadn't read or understood the story. But that is not the case here: The consistency and sheer volume strongly implies a political agenda shared by a substantial range of news organizations to deceive readers--remember that many readers scan headlines and then read only some of those stories.

As to these high-profile non-news stories being distractions and clutter to obscure the real news, one might wonder if the mainstream media was intentionally trying to convince us that real news doesn't matter. After all, they have already convince most of us that what they are offering as "news" isn't worth paying for.

A non-Trump clean example from last August--the James Damore memo "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber"--was back in the news last week with the filing of a lawsuit against Google. The first batch of news stories last August were based entirely on the text of the memo, which was publicly available in full. Consequently, it was easy to compare the claims of those stories against what was actually in the memo. And the bulk of those stories were a string of falsehoods. Very briefly, the Damore memo stated that he supported diversity as a goal but questioned and criticized some of Google's programs and the assumptions underlying them, citing reputable scientific studies. He also made suggestions about how Google might achieve better results. He as excoriated by much of the mainstream media, (falsely) characterized as "anti-diversity" and as asserting that women were "biologically unsuited" to work in tech.(foot#1)

There are multiple scenarios of how the mainstream media published so many false stories about that memo. Did reporters blindly base their stories not on the memo, but on articles from other publishers (news, opinion and well-known ideological sites)? Reporters synchronizing their stories can be a side-effect of their Twitter use, which is often required by their employers. At the unintentional level, reporters are seeing snippets that preview what each other is planning to write, as well as what a similar collection of others are saying about the events. This is a variant of pack journalism.(foot#2) At the other extreme, tweets could also be used to intentionally settle on a narrative, similar to how airline companies colluded on fares by signaling their intentions by changing the fares for one route and then watching if the other airlines gave similar signals (acknowledgements or counters).

But routine "collaboration" was not created by Twitter--it has been active for some time. Both Republicans and Democrats have associated "institutes" (colloquially "think tanks") that perform major public relations activities for the parties. In the 1990s, a Republican one of these hosted daily conference calls to discuss and set that day's talking points for the invited personalities from a range of media organizations, with the one I remember being David Brooks, then opining on PBS' The News Hour and now columnist for the NY Times. Fox News had a similar morning meeting to set the agenda for all its personalities and shows. Even without having heard this, you could easily infer it. However, the news organizations played along. For example, in 2008 Obama announced that he wouldn't be taking federal campaign funds. I had tuned in to the 3pm broadcast of The News Hour which allowed proxies for both Republicans and Democrats to rattle off the full set of their talking points. Then during the CBS News broadcast, they had the segment covered by the reporter embedded with the McCain campaign and he presented what I easily recognized as the Republican talking points, but as if it were his reporting. Obama's explanation was absent.
Aside: "embedded" jokes are very old and stale, so please resist.

In the case of the stories on the Damore memo, two of the first sites to carry the story have highly ideological publishers (Motherboard of Vice Media and Recode of Vox Media) and that may have set the narrative for the rest of the Liberal media. However, the current news stories about the lawsuit have had plenty of time to get the facts straight, but what I am seeing is that most are largely recapitulating the false narrative from last August.(foot#3) Does this indicate that those reporters are pushing ideology and ignoring facts, or that they have persistent ignorance of the topics they are covering?

----The (Murray) Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect----

People want to be able to believe what they read in the news media, otherwise, why would they be reading it? Yet what happens when they encounter an article that they know to be fundamentally wrong--either from their knowledge of the topic or basic critical thinking? Typically that doesn't raise their skepticism of other articles from the same source, including the articles read immediately afterwards.(foot#4) And those of us who do know not to trust the articles still cite them when we don't have better alternatives.

----Free Speech and a Free Press----

The ability to debate issues is essential to democracy, and legitimate, fair and productive discussions and decision-making require shared facts ("Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts." - many variations and many attributions). A free press is an important part of that debate--it provides a virtual platform for the many ideas to be made broadly known and critiqued. However, when the protection of a free press was written into the Bill of Rights, the situation was very different from now. I have heard multiple researchers of American history say that one of the things in their early careers that surprised them most was that, into the early 1900s, many small towns not only had a newspaper, but at least two.(foot#5) In discussions of current expectations of news media, people inevitably point out how partisan and vitriolic papers were in those days. What they tend to skip over is that a rough balance could result from having competing newspapers, with political parties, factions within the parties and other interests having their own (although I prefer a journalism ethic of trying to provide fair and balanced reportage). Plus, even in the hinterlands, people didn't have to rely on their local newspapers--they had access to the papers from the big cities and specialized publishers via the US Postal Service. One of the goals for the Postal Service was binding together an expanding, thinly populated country, including having postage for newspapers be inexpensive.(foot#6)

The Internet played a significant role in the demise of many established newspapers, although it was often more a case of assisted suicides. However, it also allowed the rise of many alternative news sites. The virtual printing presses--such as blogs and websites--are incredibly inexpensive and the network allowed access to a humongous potential audience. What can be expensive and difficult is connecting with the target audience: them finding you and you making yourself known to them. This is analogous to the former distribution network: paper carriers, stores, USPS mail. And therein lies a current and growing danger. This distribution is controlled by an oligopoly of three highly politicized companies sharing the same orientation: Google/YouTube,(foot#7) Twitter and Facebook.
Note: Focusing on the dangers doesn't mean that I don't recognize that there are many significant advantages of this distribution system. For example, being able to see written and video coverage from the locale where the news is happening, rather than getting versions that have been filtered and delayed by intermediaries.

Why do I regard these companies as monopolistic? Most of their income comes from advertising attached to free content produced by others, often at significant expense to those creators.(foot#8) If they didn't have monopolistic power, dissatisfied creators (and advertisers) would move to competitors. Significant categories of Twitter and YouTube creators are angry enough and worried about the future that they are seeking out alternatives. However, the reports from those who tried are that the potential competitors have too small a network effect to be viable choices.

The reasons that creators and others think that Google/YouTube and Twitter are censoring "wrongthink", and the methods used, are too complex to explain here. Although there is a very disturbing pattern, the sample size of the evidence is minuscule relative to the user base. However, if you scan the filing of the class action lawsuit by Damore against Google, the cited messages are alarming, especially since many of them were posted to discussion groups by higher-level managers. They show an intolerance for viewpoints outside their political orthodoxy and a willingness to use the power of Google to pursue those ends.(foot#9) Note: Google has not yet replied to this filing.

These messages also caused me to take a much harsher interpretation of the memo from Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Damore's firing. I had been inclined to see it as the PR strategy of "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."(foot#10) But now it seems that he was so embedded in the echo chamber cited in the title of Damore's memo that he could not provide a competent representation of Damore's memo.(foot#11)

----Why am I so skeptical and critical of the news media? Experience----

I got a jumpstart from the local paper where I grew up. It was routinely referred to as The misLeader because of errors big and small. In my introduction to another city, I was warned about the newspaper to not be surprised if I finished reading a news article knowing less than when I started.(foot#12)

The publisher of The Leader was also a leader of the county's political party (Republican; Democrats were essentially a fringe party). This was quite common in that area. I saw how news could be biased not just by what was said, but what was not included or ignored. This instilled in me an appreciation of the importance of alternate (non-Establishment) news sources.

My graduate studies were in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Fortune magazine would periodically publish an overview of the field, but most of the mentions and quotes went to the heads of departments and laboratories, not to those doing the research, from Full Professors down to PhD students. This sensitized me to reporters passing over available primary sources in favor of more prominent people, even though they could be multiple steps removed. Although sometimes this resulted from the reporter resorting to his Rolodex to find a source (Rolodex: archaic term. A then-popular product whose name came to be applied to many forms of contact lists). However, I had multiple experiences of taking a tech story to a reporter and working with him for hours only to have the published article feature quotes that were platitudes and generalities because the cited prominent person had zero knowledge of the specific situation. These were not isolated examples--I have heard the same from others. The big issue here is first that of uninformed quotes wasting valuable space in the article, and second that of those quotes changing what the reader takes away from the story: false inferences, wrong focus, ...

One example of this occurred in 1993, when I had moved partially into Computer Security. I had captured code for a new, very effective, automated attack on most of the servers on the Internet, including ones crucial to the operation of the Internet itself. I created a program to detect infected computers and a patch to protect them. I handed this over to a federal contractor charged with doing a synchronized distribution to all affected configurations of computers (I had access to only portion of these). They sat on it for months, including after the problem exploded into public view. I had also alerted and worked with the FBI to try to find the source, but best I could tell, they made a half-hearted, inept effort. So, would you think that these failings were an important story? The New York Times didn't--it produced a story that could have been written by someone who had barely scanned related articles that didn't have this information.

I was president of the graduate student employees labor union, and did many interviews with multiple papers. It was good experience, but not a good experience. It dramatically lowered my expectations. I regarded an interview as successful when the article had half of my quotes be recognizable and rendered in something resembling the context in which they were given. These were not off-the-cuff interviews, but ones I had prepared for, including having quotable statements of 6-10 words. I learned to have at least one witness to each interview to back me up (audio recordings were not reliably of adequate quality).

The funniest and saddest occurred when the opposing lawyer made a factually outrageous claim and a reporter asked for a response. I didn't expect to be treated fairly because the reporter's paper had been consistently hostile to us. So I replied that it was "beneath contempt". Lesson 1: Even a common idiom wasn't beyond being misquoted: Lots of people asked me what I meant by "beside contempt". Lesson 2: Many people, including friends, assumed that that was what I had said rather than assuming I was misquoted.

Dealing with science and technology writers was only a bit better. In the early-1980s, I was leading a project that was part of a much larger effort by the US Navy. The Navy had recognized that their long-distance communication system was too inefficient and inflexible to timely deliver the greatly increased amount of information available, and they were looking to transition to an Internet-style technology. For internal politics, the sponsors need applications that high-level officers would say "I want it! I need it!" but that the old system couldn't support. My demo app was audio-visual conferencing that included spoken language queries to a sanitized Navy database with the results being added to the shared display. A reporter wanted an interview and the company pointed him at me. The other senior researcher and I gave over an hour to the reporter, with the demo scenario centered on tasking and positioning of ships in the Indian Ocean in response to a Soviet deployment. So how did he describe our work? "Doug Moran, sitting in his office in Menlo Park, spying on the Russians in the Indian Ocean".

Just before the article went to press, the reporter telephoned me and asked what the Navy's interest was. I replied that I couldn't speak for them, but my sense was that it was "To get better information to commanders faster so that they could fight smarter" (13 words, a bit long).(foot#13) This was rendered as "to make smarter soldiers", transforming info tech into either education or bio tech (drugs or genetic modification). And Navy commanders became (Army) soldiers--the Navy is sensitive about that. Who was responsible for this? Unknown, because, understandably, reporters don't reveal who inside their organization did what. The changes could have been made after by an editor or other rewrite person after the reporter had handed off the story.

I have heard many similar stories from scientists and engineers, with many more saying that if/when they have to deal with reporters, it is only with through a written document handled by the organization's PR people. Bigger than the problem of misleading and false information in the stories that do appear is the problem of the stories that don't appear because people are reluctant to talk to reporters. I face this problem with my blog: There are issues that I don't cover because the people who have the relevant expertise refuse to be cited, or discuss the matter in such a tangled manner that I am not confident that I can appropriately represent it.

I have been through multiple versions of corporate media training at very different employers. They each had a significant amount of time was devoted to minimizing the misrepresentations in the resulting article.

A study in the 1980s of articles in the business section of major newspapers found that the large majority of them (70-80% ?) were essentially minor rewrites of corporate press releases. Can you say "free advertising or propaganda"? I found a similar situation in the reporting on science: Press releases about research projects would be posted to various Internet news groups and it was easy to compare them to what appeared in the local newspaper. These days you can use Google News, or similar, to get a collection of articles on the same announcement and see how little they differ, typically only in what details were omitted. The only challenge for the press release's author is how to discreetly point the reporter to someone who will give a good quote for the requisite "person not affiliated with this project".

I think that it is not a case of reporters, especially science reporters, being lazy, but rather that their required output is so high that they don't have time for proper diligence. However, the description "A reporter's job is to explain things he doesn't understand" can lead to a culture of reporters simply and credulously repackaging the information provided.

In the early 2000s, I became a co-chair of Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN), the umbrella group for Palo Alto's neighborhood and residents associations. One article in the Mercury News came out with lots of person-in-the-street reactions, but none of the points I had indicated as being important. The reporter told me that the evaluations of her articles were a variant of a scoring scheme from Stanford (it also appeared to be being used at Palo Alto High). Since it is difficult to rate an article for accuracy and informativeness if you aren't familiar with the issue, those aspects were not part of the scheme. Instead, what was important included the designated identities of the people quoted or mentioned: race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ... At first, I was irritated, but then I realized that it was freeing. Since the slot for a middle-aged White male was likely to be allocated to an Establishment spokesperson, I didn't have to be as guarded talking on-background or off-the-record. What I was saying I hoped would be used by the reporter to ask more informed questions of the sources who would be included in the article. This worked out nicely because my goal was getting information to the public, not seeing my name in print.

Before the arrival of the Internet, most coverage of local issues and politics was reporting of what had been decided. Even if there was notice of an upcoming decision, it often didn't give residents enough time to organize or otherwise have any meaningful input to the process. Online discussion groups changed this. They provided reporters with a sense of the community perspectives and demonstrated to publishers that there was an appetite for those types of stories.(foot#14)


This is the section where I should be exhorting you to take specific actions. But I don't know of any, nor have I heard of any that I find credible in the short-term. I hope that you see this as an important enough topic that you pay attention to developments, and that you pass on these concerns to others so that when an opportunity arises, there is enough awareness and support to make something happen.

I have been a news junkie from way back, but I am weaning myself off it (with relapses). However, I don't hold much hope for the corporate media going forward. It seems to have committed itself to business plans of stoking or provoking outrage or being totally bland.(foot#15) I have read multiple analyses claiming that increased partisanship in the news media preceded the increased partisanship in the electorate. It wasn't the media following the audience, but the media playing a role in increasing overall partisanship. I have some skepticism about the studies I have seen because my sense is that the Conservative/Republican media was aggressively partisan before the Liberal/Democratic media, and thus worry about what should be distinct datasets being mushed together.

1. Links to news articles on Damore's memo:
A sample of these can be found in the footnotes of my blog " 'Google memo' : a lesson on not trusting news media" (2017-08-09).

2. Pack Journalism: The term Pack Journalism describes when reporters from many organizations travel together (the pack), see events from the same perspective, talk to the same people, and interact with each other in a way that produces group-think. The term itself originated in 1973, but the practice goes back much further. For example, the Congressional press corps was complicit in the persistence of McCarthyism. It wasn't because they supported McCarthy's agenda, but rather than he served up front-page stories and, reputedly, good whiskey. Edward R. Murrow's famous take-down was a belated outlier. Similarly, in Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein weren't even outliers--they were outsiders. Similarly, in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, the pack, especially the NY Times and the Washington Post, promoted the Bush Administration's narrative, while it was second- and third-tier news organizations, most notably Knight-Ridder (now defunct), that were pointing out contrary information and contradictions.

3. Damore Lawsuit Coverage:
The LA Times continues the false narrative: "James Damore sues Google, alleging discrimination against whites and men" (2018-01-08).
The NY Times slightly backs off the narrative: "Google Memo Author Sues, Claiming Bias Against White Conservative Men" (2018-01-08). The introductory paragraph, while technically not false, seems intended to encourage a false inference: "... memo ... criticized the company's diversity efforts and argued that the low number of women in engineering positions was a result of biological differences."

4. (Murray) Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect:
"Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward--reversing cause and effect. I call these the 'wet streets cause rain' stories. Paper's full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story--and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know." - from Why Speculate by Michael Crichton (2002-04-26) via Wikiquote.

5. Multiple newspapers in a small town:
In the 1800s and into the 1900s, a town's size was a poor estimation of the potential readership: There often were substantial populations in the rural areas surrounding a small town.

6. US Postal Service: Binding the nation together:
Nice summary in video: "How the Post Office Made America" (10:56) - Wendover Productions.
This is from the book "How the Post Office Created America: A History" by Winifred Gallagher (2016). I didn't find a suitable short written summary that was an adequate alternative to the video (nor can I make a recommendation on the book--I haven't read it).

7. Google/YouTube:
YouTube is a subsidiary of Google (which is part of Alphabet). I include its name as a reminder of the connection.

8. Costs for Twitter and YouTube creators:
While the cost of a single tweet is small, the cost of producing an ongoing stream of tweets to gain and maintain 20,000 followers is expensive. For example, it is common to read reporters complaining that it onerous and saying that it substantially reduces the time they have to spend on reporting.
Similarly on YouTube where a channel is required to have 4000 viewing hours per month to retain basic benefits (including being allowed to stage fund-raising drives via the super chat feature). Consider a scenario where you create a new video every business day, and you need to have it tightly scripted and edited to 2 minutes each to maintain audience attention and repeat visits. The viewing requirement is equivalent to 6000 full views (240,000 viewing minutes/month / 20 business days / 2 minutes each). Since not all of your subscribers will view each video and there will be some incomplete viewings, you probably need 10-20,000 subscribers. As a point of reference, another YouTube partnership requirement is that a channel have at least 1000 subscribers, a threshold reached by only an estimated 5% of channels.
Recognize that YouTube is more than just cat videos and the like: news, educational (technology, history ...) ... News and related channels with analysis, commentary and opinion cover a wide range of perspectives and many categories of events that are under-represented or missing in the corporate media. The cost of these videos includes script-writing, equipment and crew to do the recording, editing, travel expenses, ...

9. Text of Damore vs. Google Class Action Lawsuit:
"James Damore vs. Google: Class Action Lawsuit", 2018-01-08. This filing is long because it is full of examples from internal Google communications.

10. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend:
A good-enough explanation of the origin of this counsel can be found in the next-to-last paragraph on the Plot summary on this Wikipedia page for the movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance".
Video Clip

11. Google CEO Pichai on firing of Damore:
Recognize that Pichai's memo addressed a high-profile news story and thus it should be expected to have been very carefully vetted.
The third paragraph of the Pichai memo (2017-08-08) is:
"The memo has clearly impacted our co-workers, some of whom are hurting and feel judged based on their gender. Our co-workers shouldn't have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being 'agreeable' rather than 'assertive,' showing a 'lower stress tolerance,' or being 'neurotic.' " These quoted words come from page 4 of the Damore memo (PDF) in the section Personality differences which begins with "Women, on average, have more". Are we to believe that the CEO of Google is unable to understand the difference between the average of a statistical distribution and the values of individual points (not everybody is average)? Recognize that he is an engineer and heads a company whose core technology is very sophisticated use of statistics. The CEO of YouTube participated in the firing decision and her memo is based on a similar (intentional?) misunderstanding of basic statistics.
Next note that Damore used the word "neuroticism" not "neurotic" (as Pichai claims). Despite appearances, the later is not a mere lexical variant of the former. Neuroticism is a basic technical term in the field of Psychology--one of the five top-level personality traits. Was the firing decision made without input from someone with a knowledge of the psychological topics and research that were fundamental to Damore's memo? Or are we to believe that Pichai doesn't respect the precision of language? And the integrity of quotes?
Damore's use of "neuroticism" included "This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist..." (emphasis added).

12. Bad newspapers:
"The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, in as much as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors." - Thomas Jefferson (circa 1808)
He was both the target of scurrilous newspaper stories, and the purveyor of them through newspapers he had influence over.

13. Inspiration for quote:
"... get there first with the most men" which was popularized as "Git thar fustest with the mostest" and attributed to Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (disputed).

14. Online discussion groups:
My favorite tribute to the rising influence of residents through the Internet came from the opposition in the 2003 State of the City speech by then-Mayor Dena Mossar: "Neighborhood associations have banded together to create large and small e-mail communication networks that have changed the lobbying landscape significantly from the days--but six years ago--when a neighborhood typically fought its battles in solo mode. The business community, in an attempt to level the playing field, is trying to find an effective way to respond."
Note: "business community" is taken to be a euphemism for developers and allied interests.

15. Bland Journalism
"I've decided 'gerbilism' is a pretty good word for what's been going on in the news media these days. Gerbilism is an apt term for something that's soft and warm and cuddly, safe and timid, with no sharp teeth and no bite whatsoever. Gerbilism, I've decided, is partly responsible for a lot of our nation's problems today." from Commencement Address to the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, 2009 June 13 by Doug Bates, published in The Oregonian.

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 20, 2018 at 8:36 am

As someone who has been reprimanded by you before while trying to comment on your topic, I am warily trying again because this topic interests me.

Fake news depends on whether it is something with which you agree or disagree. It is often something that you have to read before condemning to make sure that you understand what the author is saying and not saying. It may even take more than one reading to discover that. Quite often, a headline says nothing about the true topic of the article, click bait. It is often a method of getting a particular type of reader to read the article and other types to choose not to read the said article.

To take this further into interviews and interviewing techniques, something many of us spend a great deal of our tv time watching, particularly at weekends, there is a great difference between a prepared interviewer and one that is totally unprepared or out of their league.

This viral tv interview of Jordan Peterson being interviewed on Britain's Channel 4 last week is a prime example. Instead of the interviewer making him look a fool, she only managed to show how ineptly she had prepared and to win more fans to Peterson's persona. Web Link It is a very watchable and entertaining 30 minutes. Web Link

[[Blogger: I second the recommendation of that interview. Also, there are many excerpts and commentaries on excerpts available on YouTube if you want a preview. Use YouTube search term "jordan peterson cathy newman" (the latter is the interviewer).
Warning: The current second choice - by "Sargon of Akkad" is twice as long as the interview itself: He lacks the ability to edit himself.

A good commentary is from journalist Tim Pool - Web Link - talks about probing/"fake adversarial" interview technique. His assessment is that the big failing was apparent lack of preparation by the interviewer. I disagree with Pool that Newman wasn't also adversarial.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 20, 2018 at 11:22 am

Always thoughtful, I enjoy reading your commentary.

[[Blogger: The below was originally a single paragraph. I hope my choices on where to break have improved readability.]]

Personally, I think the altruism expressed by a generation of privilege in the Sixties, which initiated quite a few positive changes - like the ecology movement, attention to the plight of migrants, the consequences of over-population, etc. - continued to expand unabated, like Australian rabbits, via increasingly effective mass media producing causes that became somewhat disfigured, over-developed and voraciously self-perpetuating social cancers over the decades and to this very day.

Genuine concern for living conditions of farm workers became the migrant mania we have today where it's not a coming together to right a wrong but everyone must make every possible effort to attract and accommodate. There should be courses taught, grants provided, departments formed, careers created and marches held.

The media quickly recognized that not only did idealism sell, but media made more friends as champion than the dry commentary associated with the actual business of the world, like how do we actually pay for it, which people don't care to read. It's all, of course, vastly more complicated, but in the end you get a fake culture and fake news. Hopefully, its not the end.

Unfortunately good intentions became a what we have now, a terribly split nation with extremely serious challenges and seemingly less and less ability to come together to solve, not blame. Trust comes from people and institutions at all levels who try very hard to tell the truth and with trust, people come to depend on each other and society is much better off. Truth compromised to promote a particular bias or exploit the events of the day leaves abandoned children betrayed, detached, and adrift. The big names in media cause a lot of damage these days.

We've gone from community, which asks how can we solve a problem when a problem surfaces, to routinely sensationalizing problems and then exploiting them in the media for as long as its profitable and for as long as the press can sell it. The business of large media is now much more about finding and spinning the next big wave of victimization than the cultivation of truth.

The business of Facebook and so-called social media is to leverage participation and sell advertising as much as possible, the damages caused are maybe afterthoughts. So far, the vast majority seem to be willing to accept flavors of the truth on platforms jammed with clever code to secretly spy and flash things to sell - who knows what is truth anymore? Thankfully, we still have the Palo Alto Weekly.

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Nice but true, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 20, 2018 at 11:31 am

Very well written, with clear examples that even a hyperpartisan from the other side of your position sh uld understand. But I doubt too Palo Alto folks can understand or even read through your well reseached post. Thank you for this! This is the 2nd gem I found today. The other is Cardinal Conversations. Yay you!

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 20, 2018 at 3:20 pm

I found Resident's comment (the first one above) confusing. Does it really assert that a false or distorted presentation of facts (i.e. fake news) becomes less false or distorted if you happen to like its particular slant? (I thought the essence of demagoguery was to play to people's existing notions or sympathies, which was precisely what "serious news organizations" purported not to do.)

"The difference between an icicle and a red-hot poker is really much slighter than the difference between truth and falsehood or sense and nonsense; yet it is much more immediately noticeable and much more universally noticed. . ." (A. E. Housman)

Anyway, great thought-provoking blog post. Thanks, Doug.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Eileen Wright, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 20, 2018 at 9:15 pm

Trump clearly said “In November we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets." Note the "F-52s AND F-35 ..." He clearly referred to two different types of aircraft, only one of which the WP thinks exists. Trump himself assures us he is much smarter than anybody else around him, and his loyal Americans believe him, therefore who are the nabobs at the Post to contradict him on his special claimed expertise? If Trump talks about F52s they exist. The WP should be trying to get a photo of an F-52 for their badly deficient archives. That's the real story.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 21, 2018 at 2:35 pm

@Former Resident

My point is that "fake" is a label given to news that is not to the liking of the reader. Therefore the definition of fake news changes depending to who is reading and the content of the news.

Interestingly, when Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's new policy of reliable news sources he mentioned that each reader would be surveyed as to which news agencies the reader considered reliable before giving the reliable news media more access on that reader's newsfeed. In other words, Reader A would be given a different selection of news agency reports to Reader B, although the content of the news item may be the same. It seems that the slant or whether it is fake news or legitimate news from a reliable source will be custom selected.

 +   8 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 21, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On the term "fake news": It is defined to be news that is false, and potentially info falsely presented as news. However, it is also used to try to dismiss news that the one doesn't like (as "Resident" said). But note that it is also commonly used in the sense of "false", such as in the discussion of the filtering efforts by Facebook, Google/YouTube and Twitter. So I would encourage commenters to be clear in which sense you are using. Or better, to use some other term, given the potential for confusion.
Aside: "fake news" is a belated flip-side of "truthiness" coined by then-comedian Stephen Colbert in 2005 describing what had become common over the previous decade. That is, "truth" is what you feel it should be. Similarly for "your truth" (vs "the truth") -- the prominent recent use of this was by Oprah in her speech at the Golden Globes.

 +   9 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 21, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Eileen Wright on the "F-52"

For Trump to have referred to a fighter that exists only in the computer game "Call of Duty", he would have had to be aware of that plane, which essentially requires him to be a player of that game (which I doubt). If the reporter doesn't have the evidence to make this linkage, that reference to the F-52 has to be regarded as a verbal slip. This is part of the critical thinking skills that we the reader should expect a professional journalist to have applied to what they report.

 +   7 people like this
Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Jan 21, 2018 at 4:49 pm

Re: RE: Eileen Wright on the "F-52"

I must respectfully but emphatically disagree with your position: "If the reporter doesn't have the evidence to make this linkage, that reference to the F-52 has to be regarded as a verbal slip. This is part of the critical thinking skills that we the reader should expect a professional journalist to have applied to what they report."

If Trump said "F-52" then an ethical journalist is required to report the quote verbatim or not at all. It is highly, highly unethical (not to mention silly) for that journalist to presuppose a president's video game habits and alter the president's words to conform to those suppositions. Leave that sort of faked news sleaze to the likes of Project Veritas.

If Trump did make a verbal slip, then he or his stooges can clarify it later, if they care to.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sheri Furman, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 22, 2018 at 6:40 pm

Sheri Furman is a registered user.

Re: Footnote 14. I well remember Dina's speech. In it (15 years ago) she also said

"We have attracted the attention of others who want to live and work here. As we've welcomed new residents, we've lost residents of moderate income. Our growing residential population has put pressure on our schools, increased traffic and worsened the shortage of affordable housing.

It's hard for us to face these realities; and harder still to imagine our population growing any more. On the one hand, we see a need to provide housing for our teachers and public safety workers. On the other, we're struggling to find a place for it.

There are some who feel more housing is unthinkable. But others are trying to come to grips with the need to provide housing that will help meet our fair share of regional population growth. We're trying to find ways to provide housing that is affordable to both low- and middle-income families. We want to be able to house those on whom we rely to provide our personal and business services."

How little has changed. And as a current PAN co-chair, I'm happy to say the group at 20 years old is still active and relevant.

 +   12 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 22, 2018 at 8:59 pm

@ Eileen Wright:

A person can be highly intelligent and still prone to verbal gaffs. Even if President Trump misspoke in regard to the "F-52" (which could be little more than reading a prepared speech or a typo on a teleprompter), how is this any different from candidate-Obama saying that he visited "57 states" and had one left to go.

This doesn't mean that Obama was unintelligent. It could mean that he was tired from a long campaign or that he just had what many people refer to as a "brain fart."

Of course, this didn't prevent Obama's critics from pouncing upon it. Likewise, the anti-Trump zealots have jumped upon some of his gaffs -- but with much more coverage of such gaffs by the media. This actually reinforces the idea of a biased media.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eileen Wright, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:39 pm

Donald Trump said F52. I trust Donald Trump. Unlike you. The biased fake news liberal media you liberals read can not be trusted. The F52 is real.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 23, 2018 at 11:22 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ Eileen Wright - Huh? Obama said 57 states. Do you trust him too?

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 3:00 am

Currently, there is a fever-pitch clashing narrative going on regarding the Mueller probe. If you go to CNN's website, the words and presentation seem to put Trump in a very bad light, as if he is weeks away from being impeached and removed from office... yet if you read the article itself there is little conclusive evidence. Fox News does the exact same thing regarding "bombshell" revelations at the FBI, again with headlines and words designed to get the pulse racing, but in the end, no conclusive evidence.

It seems the mainstream media on both sides has reached a rather depraved level in trying to win the propaganda wars. Thank you for this article, Doug, because I think the behavior of the media giants using their megaphones and once-trusted platforms to polarize the population to such a degree is very disconcerting and must be addressed. We really are under psychological warfare.

Its fascinating how when I can meet people on an everyday basis and, wisely refraining from talking about politics, we are able to completely get along and even appreciate and love one another even though we may secretly be on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Perhaps the only way to stop the media virulence from getting into our system is to simply ignore the "news". at least makes an effort to present both sides, and I try to see it from both perspectives as much as possible in order to protect my mental health!

 +   4 people like this
Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 10:46 am

It may be helpful to view news media as most generically an entertainment industry, not an information industry, despite occasional posturings. This goes deep, and long predates Trump or Obama, because these businesses are rewarded, fundamentally, not for accuracy or information (as for example a professional researcher might be rewarded, or a publisher of reference books), but mainly for attracting readers/viewers/listeners/clicks. Readers who may indeed, in the process, get some information and occasionally even quality, objective information; but quality information is more a fortuitous side effect than the main dynamic, or a priority within these businesses.

This underlying market motivation has little to do even with politics, propaganda, or "psychological warfare" except inasmuch as the demographic segments that a particular firm chooses to pursue fit the personal politics of those directing the content.

Looking at a "news" business via how it's set up to make money explains its behaviors far better than assuming it is in business to inform.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 11:18 am

@ To the Blogger

Thank you for agreeing with me on the interview between Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman, as well as the many YouTube videos analyzing this. (links in the first comment in this blog).

I personally think that this interview will be a watershed moment in journalism. Sadly some of the British media are now reporting online abuse and have called in a security expert (not the Police) even though there is no real evidence of abuse other than strong language in disagreements with the interviewer's preparation. The follow through of this interview is still ongoing and will probably make the two involved more famous than they were before.

News is becoming more and more manipulative and it is getting harder to discover the real facts with the agenda that the source has. It used to be thought of as pleasing the advertisers who pay most of the costs of production of the newspaper/broadcast, but now it is much more likely to be appeasing a political agenda or a certain demographic.

For me, the only way to find out what is really happening is to use several sources and quite often sources from different countries, to get a more accurate view of the overall situation. Unfortunately, that often involves more time than I wish to give.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> Resident: I personally think that this interview will be a watershed moment in journalism.
Sadly some of the British media are now reporting online abuse ... even though there is no real evidence of abuse other than strong language...

I am more pessimistic -- I fear that we are far downhill from that watershed moment and gathering momentum. Thus it is likely to be a long climb back up rather than a simple about-face. What I see as evidence that much of the media has chosen to focus the online comments about the interview and ignore its substance. If you prefer to read rather than list, good enough excerpts, with commentary, can be found in the articles
"Why Can't People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?" by Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic, 2018-01-22.
An interesting commentary from independent reporter Tim Pool is this video
Aside: I find Tim Pool interesting because he goes places larger media doesn't, for example deep into demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, both to talk to participants and to record from perspectives that you don't see other than fragmentary smart phone videos, which are typically provided without context.

> "News is becoming more and more manipulative and it is getting harder to discover the real facts with the agenda that the source has."

This video references extensively a poll by the Knight Foundation and Gallup. It can be found via these summary articles:
"American views: Trust, media and democracy: Knight Foundation" (2018-01-15)
"Media Seen as Key to Democracy But Not Supporting It Well" - Gallup News (2018-01-16)
"Americans Struggle to Navigate the Modern Media Landscape" - Gallup News (2018-01-23)

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eileen Wright, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 4:11 pm

[[Deleted. Continued the nonsensical back-and-forth about "F-52" vs "57 states.]]

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 5:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> Resident: ...the only way to find out what is really happening is to use several sources and quite often sources from different countries...

I had this impressed upon me when I was living in Britain for a year in the late 1980s. The British papers carried the Doonesbury comic strip and I often learned of US news (topic, not details) from that strip long before it appeared in the British news (if ever). The big lesson came during the early stages of the Iraq invasion: I had British and French friends and the news from papers "back home" routinely carried news that I deemed important that didn't appear in the US papers, even for high profile stories.

There is interesting news coming from Canada because it is ahead of the US in adopting the Progressive agenda.
One major story line involved Wilfrid Laurier University. The government passed a law - C-16 - that would impose a fine on those who did not use a person's preferred pronouns in referring that person. California recently adopted a similar law, but limited the application to nursing home (presumably as a "camel's nose under the tent"). Jordan Peterson was prominent in opposing the adoption of this law as "compelled speech". A graduate student teaching assistant (TA), Lindsay Shepherd, used a 3-5 minute clip of a debate in a communications studies class. She was "called on the carpet" for not "contextualizing" the video, that is, which positions were right and which were wrong. Although this event tends to be portrayed as one of "free speech" or "academic freedom", I see it as yet another example of how politicized much of the university has become. Rather than education - teaching the students how to better approach issues (thinking...) it is focused on proselytizing (what to believe). A long list of links to stories about this - starting with the reaction to the event and then the substantive back-and-forth reactions, can be found at:
My Cumulative List.

 +   6 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 24, 2018 at 9:08 pm

@ Resident: I agree with your assessment of RealClearPolitics. They do a good job of providing different perspectives for each current issue.

My husband introduced me to that website when we were both in grad school. I like how they gather views from different media outlets under the headline or article title. I do find it interesting that you can often see bias -- right and left -- in each headline itself.

It doesn't take long before you realize that most "news" sources are, for the most part, are either agenda-driven, narrative-controlling or mere op-ed reflections of biased writers.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 11:29 am

Well, if the news media is just entertainment you'd think they ought to drop such pretenses as "speaking truth to power" and "democracy dies in darkness". If they are primarily driven by a business model but pretend to be objective, then there's a major lack of integrity and irresponsibility here that is very toxic and should not be rewarded.

 +   7 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 12:23 pm

I read something once about how the entire "news" industry is owned by just a handful of large companies.

Almost all of the network, cable, sports and even comedy "news" programming in American is owned by just six corporations:

- Disney: ABC, ESPN, A&E, Lifetime, History, Biography, etc.
- Comcast: NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, Golf Channel, Esquire, etc.
- Time Warner: CNN, HBO, Cinemax, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, etc.
- CBS: CBS, half of CW, Showtime, AXS, Smithsonian, CBS Sports, HTV, etc.
- Viacom: MTV, BET, VH1, Comedy Central, Nickelodian, Spike, Logo, TV Land, etc.
- News Corp: Fox News, Fox Business, Fox, FX, Nat Geo, etc.

If you add PBS, then nearly ALL of the television news (including comedy "news") in America is controlled by six massive corporations and PBS.

Sadly, the same is true of print media too. Just a handful of large publishers own most of the newspaper circulation in America. The independent newspapers have largely gone the way of the Dodo and Passenger Pigeon. It is actually refreshing to read from smaller newspaper companies (like the Palo Alto Weekly) that aren't beholden to editorial boards in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Still, this power in the hands of the few extends to the internet too. Search engines are the de facto directory for the flow of news and information. Yet, just a few large corporations (including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple) control nearly all of the flow of information.

Social media is another outlet where people find "news." In fact, social media was the recipient of the initial outcry against "fake news." A handful of social media companies control that flow.

Recently, Twitter workers claimed that the social media network actually "shadow blocks" content from people who have opinions deemed "incorrect." However, the people who post their thoughts have no idea that no one can see them. They simply don't appear on anyone else's feed through such a practice.

Juvenal once asked, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (that is "Who watches the watchmen?"). At some point, we have to ask, "Who watches the individuals with such enormous power and influence over the flow of "news?"

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 12:25 pm

The "free press" just isn't very "free" if it is motivated by politics, profit or both.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 1:45 pm

Resident (Midtown), please note well, I didn't assert above that major news media are "just entertainment," rather something a bit subtler: that a dispassionate look at their business structure and motives identifies them more with entertainment industries (rewarded for popularity) than information industries (rewarded for accuracy and originality). News media make their income by drawing readers/viewers (regarded, inside those firms, as the product) and delivering them to advertisers (regarded as the customer). That's not incompatible with producing quality independent information; my point is that information quality isn't the first task -- delivering eyes to advertisers is.

The journalistic mind-set is to tell a good story that attracts readers. (Of course some journalists are very ethical -- all give ethics at least lip service -- but their basic audience is a casual readership.) In contrast for example, the scholarly mind-set is to publish accurate original content, whose readership is smaller and includes peer scholars who can assess the work closely. If a scholar doesn't know a subject's background, or misrepresents sources, or uses titles inconsistent with the subject matter, other scholars rip the work to shreds (often in peer review, before the writing is public) and the writer loses credibility. That's an example where information quality (not just popularity) is rewarded.

Also, journalistic "ethics" becomes an elastic concept when people enter journalism yearning to further an ideological agenda they've bought into emotionally, such that they're disinclined to ever scrutinize its premises and therefore see their flaws. (That's the very essence of an ideology, in the classic definition.) What such journalists sincerely consider "ethical" behavior is colored by unconscious biases; yet if it draws readers, any searching scrutiny that results can be marginalized and popularly dismissed. This isn't new: I've read US journalism from 100 years ago whose Anglo-Saxon writers never questioned premises of gross racism (another classic ideology, and even praised as downright "scientific" at the time). Examples from today's "political correctness" (especially what Jordan Peterson dubs its authoritarian wing, "social justice warriors") will probably seem just as shallow and absurd to everyone, with time's passage.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Eileen Wright, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 2:26 pm

You think the F52 is nonsense but you brought it up to ridicule our President. I thought you were one of us but now I see you are another anti Trump liberal.

[[Blogger: Several readers have correctly flagged this as inappropriate for this blog.
However, I am leaving it because it illustrates a point raised by the blog. For too many people, normal partisanship has supplanted by an extreme level of partisanship commonly referred to as "tribalism" -- if you are 1000% for us, you must be a member of an enemy "tribe".

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 4:45 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Nayeli
> On corporate control:
One should add the Sinclair Broadcasting Group which owns TV stations covering 40% of Americans. They have been able/allowed to get around the laws intended to prevent media concentration, include one recent or pending expansion. This controversy was somewhat covered in "the news". The owners have partisan orientation (conservative) that is reflected in the programming of the station. Recognize that individual stations produce local news programming which gets lots of views and the viewer sees national "news" along with the weather...

> "Twitter workers claimed..."
This refers to a video "HIDDEN CAMERA: Twitter Engineers To 'Ban a Way of Talking' Through 'Shadow Banning' " by James O'Keefe's Project Veritas. This video should be treated with extra skepticism because of O'Keefe's history of selectively editing the videos to present clips out of context to created false impressions.

> "The 'free press' just isn't very 'free' if it is motivated by politics, profit or both."
Historical note: Freedom of the Press is of 18th Century origins. Until recently, the threat was seen as coming from governments with corporations not being dominant enough to be a threat (except via governments).

RE: "Former PA Resident" and "Resident (Midtown)" on overlap of news, entertainment and profit

In a 2016-02-29 Hollywood Reporter article "Leslie Moonves on Donald Trump: 'It May Not Be Good for America, but It's Damn Good for CBS' ", Moonves - the CBS executive chairman and CEO - was also reported as called the campaign for president a "circus" full of "bomb throwing," and hoping it continues. And "Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ... The money's rolling in and this is fun" and "I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going".

Also, the New York Times and other news media saw large subscription increases after Trump's election.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 25, 2018 at 6:42 pm

If interested, the Columbia Journalism Review hosts discussions on these topics as well as up-to-date lists of who own what media:
Link: Web Link

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 26, 2018 at 11:35 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ Mr. Moran: Thanks for the input and links.

I've heard of Sinclair but wasn't sure which channels that they owned. Am I correct in assuming that they primarily operate local affiliate stations? I remember reading something about how Sinclair might be interested in acquiring CNN or ESPN if Time Warner or Disney were to spin them off.

As for Twitter: I agree with concerns over careful editing with Veritas. I don't really follow the various Veritas "sting" operations. However, I do sometimes look at the full videos themselves (without reading the commentary or edits). In this case, my issue with that whole debacle isn't so much the interpretation (or editing) by Veritas but the actual questions and answers from the Twitter engineers.

The idea of "shadow banning" is deeply concerning -- particularly in an industry (social media) that is so enamored by criticisms of "fake news" and "free speech." More importantly, I never found a single response by Twitter in which they claimed that "shadow banning" isn't a thing within the company.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, there were some people who claimed that their tweets weren't being seen by others. One person who posted something for Ted Cruz noticed that her friends could see the tweets but her friends' friends could not. Another person claimed to have posted something (a Bernie Sanders tweet) in response to a tweet by Hillary Clinton but it never could be seen unless they were logged in. If they hadn't logged out, they would have assumed that the tweet appeared because it looked like it from the perspective of their signed-in account.

The Twitter engineers were saying in those videos that it was Twitter's practice for certain employees to inspect content and label some of it to the point of "shadow banning" some of that content or even all content from a specific user profile. Such individuals would be oblivious to it since the content seems "live" from the perspective of their logged-in account.

Some people have alleged that Facebook does the same. In fact, Facebook began the practice of filtering comments. If you look at the comments to a particular "liked" company or news feed, you'll find the terms "TOP COMMENTS." If you click on the arrow and scroll down, you'll find the term "TOP COMMENTS (UNFILTERED)."

While the description makes it seem like those comments are primarily meant for spam, clicking on it will find comments that are obviously not spam. More often than not, the comments that are filtered tend to be comments that are dissent against the article in question. For instance, there was an article on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Facebook news feed for The Economist. The anonymous author of the article took a decidedly pro-Palestine perspective. The filtered comments included individuals pointing out the elements of bias within the article.

By removing dissent, it makes it seem like the "free press" is more about the control of the flow of information and news than it is about allowing people to make up their own minds. If the goal is for a voting population that is easily persuaded (or "unaware and complaint" as per the Podesta emails), then it makes sense for companies with a particular world view to attempt to affect the flow of "news" or opinion.

Whereas the Soviets would make dissidents "disappear," politicos in this new online tech age can simply make dissent "disappear." Moreover, when the information or access to information is limited by a handful of corporations (and when search engine giants control the pipes and faucets), it makes it more difficult to find pure unadulterated information and "news."

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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