Tag: Journalism

Called It

Not Life as We Know It

Last September, I noted that further examination of the detection of the chemical phosphine on Venus was likely not the result of the chemistry of life, and that further scientific scrutiny would show this.

Said scientific scrutiny has occurred, and while the original authors say that the presence of the chemical points to existence of life, they admit that they overstated the amounts of phosphine detected:

In September of last year, a paper announced a startling finding: evidence that a highly unstable chemical is present in the atmosphere of Venus. Since the chemical is expected to be destroyed rather quickly in the Venusian environment, its presence seems to imply that there was a steady source of the chemical, somehow feeding it into the atmosphere of the planet. Looking over the components of that atmosphere, the researchers concluded there’s no obvious way of producing it, which creates a mystery.

Since the chemical, called phosphine (PH3), had already been suggested as a possible sign of living things, speculation immediately began about the possibility of this being evidence of something alive in the clouds of Venus.


The original report had two key portions. One of them was a look at the possible chemical pathways that could be active under the conditions found in Venus’ atmosphere. This failed to come up with any ideas as to what, other than life, could be making phosphine. There still could be potential issues here, but none has surfaced so far. Instead, critiques of the original analysis have focused on the second portion of the September paper: the evidence that phosphine is in the atmosphere of Venus. This was obtained by using telescopes to look at a point in the electromagnetic spectrum where phosphine absorbs light, creating a signature of its presence.

Overall, this evidence seemed fairly robust. It was based on data from two telescopes, so hardware seemed unlikely to be a complication. The researchers processed the data using two independently developed software pipelines, suggesting the math behind the analysis was also likely to be solid. The big complication is the presence of another chemical, sulfur dioxide, that we know is in the atmosphere of Venus. Sulfur dioxide has a spectral signature line near the location of the signal created by phosphine.

But the researchers looked for other spectral signatures of sulfur dioxide, and they didn’t see any. So, they concluded it was rare or absent at the altitude where they were looking for phosphine (just above the planet’s clouds).


In this case, the calibration had some issues, and the data was reprocessed before being placed in a public archive. So, the researchers went back and redid their analysis using the updated ALMA data. While they say the signal’s still there, it’s not as prominent. Originally, the researchers had suggested that phosphine levels were in the neighborhood of 20 parts-per-billion. With the recalibrated data, this drops to somewhere between one and four parts-per-billion.

The researchers still indicate that the detection is “reasonably secure,” but the reduced levels make it easier for other sources of noise to swamp.


As mentioned above, the researchers developed two different software pipelines to process the data to search for the spectral signal of phosphine. That makes it less likely that the detection was an artifact hidden in the details of the processing. But “less likely” is not the same as “impossible.”

Two manuscripts have been posted that use yet other approaches to process the same data and look for spectral signatures. The first of these finds that the method used by the original paper artificially suppresses background noise, thus enhancing the apparent significance of any signals. When the researchers redo the analysis to handle this issue, the find the phosphine signal is still there, but it drops below the usual standards for statistical significance, since there’s more noise around it.

The second document simply tries a variety of statistical fits to the data and finds that most of them don’t produce a significant phosphine signal. So, it also concludes there’s no significant signal there.


But at least two manuscripts have appeared at the arXiv that suggest the data comes not from the cloud tops but instead from a region of the upper atmosphere called the mesosphere. The first manuscript simply explores whether the signal might actually be sulfur dioxide after all. It concludes that sulfur dioxide in the mesosphere can produce a signal that’s indistinguishable from the ones seen in the original report. For good measure, the draft also performs its own recalibration of the ALMA data and sees the phosphine signal drop to below one part-per-billion.

In the second paper, the authors use a system that models what absorption spectra will look like given different atmospheric concentrations of sulfur dioxide and phosphine. They also find that having sulfur dioxide in the mesosphere produces a signal that’s indistinguishable from the one the original research assigns to phosphine. And the conditions in the mesosphere would also suppress the other signals of sulfur dioxide that the first report had used to argue it wasn’t present.

Phosphine in the mesosphere could produce a similar signal, but the researchers calculate that the different environment there means that a typical phosphine molecule would have a half-life of one second. To produce enough phosphine to keep the mesosphere supplied, it would have to be made at a rate higher than the production of oxygen by all the photosynthetic organisms on Earth. Given that’s just a tiny bit unlikely, the authors suggest we’re just looking at sulfur dioxide.


None of these actually eliminate the possibility that phosphine is present at some level, although that level would have to be lower than the one reported by the original research. What they do collectively accomplish is indicating that there are several possible explanations for the signal seen by the authors, and all of them involve the presence of a chemical that we already know is in Venus’ atmosphere. So that has to be considered the primary explanation for what we’ve observed so far.


So, overall, this seems like a case of science operating as it really should. Even if the end result turns out to be the death of an exciting result, seeing the process work properly helps provide more confidence in those results that do survive a careful reanalysis.

This is how science is supposed to work.

I would also note that this is how science journalism doesn’t work.

When a Prank Goes Awry


A coupole of podcasters decided that it would be fun to put an OAN tags on their microphones, and do interviews of people who they would later mock.

Instead, they found themselves in the middle of a violent lynch mob

Vloggers Walter Masterson and J.P. Scattini went undercover at the StopTheSteal rally to make what they thought was a comedy video, but it soon turned far darker and scarier in real time.

They put an OAN marker on their microphone, donned a Trump flag, Trump hats and flag masks, and started interviewing people. It didn’t take them long to realize they were on the edge of an angry, misinformed mob. By the time that mob had broken into the Capitol, they realized this was no ordinary rally, there wasn’t anything funny about it, and they needed to get the hell out of there.

They started off doing Borat, and they finished up doing Marie Catherine Colvin.

Giants Used to Walk Among Us

Neil Sheehan, who covered the Vietnam war almost from the beginning, got Daniel Ellsberg to leak him the Pentagon Papers, and then wrote a searing book on the Vietnam war, A Bright and Shining Lie, has died at age 84:

Neil Sheehan, the Vietnam War correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who obtained the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times, leading the government for the first time in American history to get a judge to block publication of an article on grounds of national security, died on Thursday at his home in Washington. He was 84.


Mr. Sheehan, who covered the war from 1962 to 1966 for United Press International and The Times, was also the author of “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,” which won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer in 1989. Reviewing it in the Times, Ronald Steel wrote, “If there is one book that captures the Vietnam War in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it.”

Intense and driven, Mr. Sheehan arrived in Vietnam at age 25, a believer in the American mission. He left, four years later, disillusioned and anguished. He later spent what he described as a grim and monastic 16 years on “A Bright Shining Lie,” in the hope that the book would move Americans finally to come to grips with the war.

“I simply cannot help worrying that, in the process of waging this war, we are corrupting ourselves,” he wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1966. “I wonder, when I look at the bombed-out peasant hamlets, the orphans begging and stealing on the streets of Saigon and the women and children with napalm burns lying on the hospital cots, whether the United States or any nation has the right to inflict this suffering and degradation on another people for its own ends.”

Mr. Sheehan’s readiness to entertain the notion that Americans might have committed war crimes prompted Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst who had turned against the war, to leak the Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of American decision-making on Vietnam, to him in 1971. The papers revealed that successive administrations had expanded U.S. involvement in the war and intensified attacks on North Vietnam while obscuring their doubts about the likelihood of success.

You don’t find reporters like this at the Times any more, or at the mainstream media.

It’s all stenography now.

Sock and Awe

 12 years ago today:

12 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/g2W14AywFm

— Bhaskar Sunkara (@sunraysunray) December 14, 2020

A tip of the hat to Muntadhar al-Zaidi, a journalist’s journalist. 

Unfortunately, I could not find any games that came from this meme that still worked.  They were all done in Flash, which uninstalled itself from my computer a few months ago.

And yes, the “Sock and Awe” title is my own joke.

Hunter S. Thompson Prophesied the Spite Voter

On a number of occasions, I have referenced Mark Ames seminal essay, “Spite the vote,” in which he posits that the hoi polloi (οἱ πολλοί) are not mindless zombies brainwashed by Fox News and Karl Rove (this was written in 2004), and realized that they literally had no place in the future envisioned by liberals, and so tried to pull everything down around the heads.

This sounds even more relevant 16 years later, but I think that using the word seminal may have been an overstatement, because before Mark Ames, there was Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote about this same phenomenon in his breakthrough book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966:

In late March, Donald Trump opened a rally in Wisconsin by mocking the state’s governor, Scott Walker, who had just endorsed his Republican opponent, Ted Cruz. “He came in on his Harley,” Trump said of Walker, “but he doesn’t look like a motorcycle guy.”

“The motorcycle guys,” he added, “like Trump.”

It has been 50 years since Hunter S. Thompson published the definitive book on motorcycle guys: Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It grew out of a piece first published in The Nation one year earlier. My grandfather, Carey McWilliams, editor of the magazine from 1955 to 1975, commissioned the piece from Thompson—it was the gonzo journalist’s first big break, and the beginning of a friendship between the two men that would last until my grandfather died in 1980. Because of that family connection, I had long known that Hell’s Angels was a political book. Even so, I was surprised, when I finally picked it up a few years ago, by how prophetic Thompson is and how eerily he anticipates 21st-century American politics. This year, when people asked me what I thought of the election, I kept telling them to read Hell’s Angels.

Most people read Hell’s Angels for the lurid stories of sex and drugs. But that misses the point entirely. What’s truly shocking about reading the book today is how well Thompson foresaw the retaliatory, right-wing politics that now goes by the name of Trumpism. After following the motorcycle guys around for months, Thompson concluded that the most striking thing about them was not their hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been counted out and left behind. Thompson saw the appeal of that retaliatory ethic. He claimed that a small part of every human being longs to burn it all down, especially when faced with great and impersonal powers that seem hostile to your very existence. In the United States, a place of ever greater and more impersonal powers, the ethic of total retaliation was likely to catch on.

What made that outcome almost certain, Thompson thought, was the obliviousness of Berkeley, California, types who, from the safety of their cocktail parties, imagined that they understood and represented the downtrodden. The Berkeley types, Thompson thought, were not going to realize how presumptuous they had been until the downtrodden broke into one of those cocktail parties and embarked on a campaign of rape, pillage, and slaughter. For Thompson, the Angels weren’t important because they heralded a new movement of cultural hedonism, but because they were the advance guard for a new kind of right-wing politics. As Thompson presciently wrote in the Nation piece he later expanded on in Hell’s Angels, that kind of politics is “nearly impossible to deal with” using reason or empathy or awareness-raising or any of the other favorite tools of the left.


Thompson would want us to see this: These are men and women who know that, by all intellectual and economic standards, they cannot win the game. So whether it be out of self-protection or an overcompensation for their own profound sense of shame, they lash out at politicians, judges, scientists, teachers, Wall Street, universities, the media, legislatures—even at elections. They are not interested in contemplating serious reforms to the system; they are either too pessimistic or too disappointed to believe that is possible. So the best they can do is adopt a position of total irreverence: to show they hate the players and the game. 

Understood in those terms, the idea that Trumpism is “populist” seems misplaced. Populism is a belief in the right of ordinary people, rather than political insiders, to rule. Trumpism, by contrast, operates on the presumption that ordinary people aren’t going to get any chance to rule no matter what they do, so they might as well piss off the political insiders using the only tool left available to them: the vote. 

54 Years ago, and it sounds like today.

It’s telling that this awareness seems to flow down dynastic lines, Susan McWilliams’ grandfather gave Thompson the assignment to cover the motorcycle gang, and her current position as a tenured professor at an expensive and respected private liberal arts college, (Pomona) certainly as a results of advantages that came from who her parents (and grandparents) were.

Far too many people who have won the birth lottery, and so were born on third base think that they hit a triple.

I Have the World’s Smallest Violin

It turns out that the Wall Street Journal is having a bit of an existential crisis as its audience dies off.

It appears that there are not enough younger than me who are willing to tolerate their worst-in-the-nation editorial page, particularly given the internet options for near real-time financial news.

Additionally, there are increasing tensions between not just the news and the editorial sides, where frequently the new stories have contradicted the OP/ED narrative, but between the reporters and the editors in the news division.

I am amused:

A brutal internal Wall Street Journal report obtained by BuzzFeed News reveals how the 130-year-old broadsheet is struggling mightily in the current digital and cultural age — such as not covering racial issues because reporters are afraid to mention them to editors, playing to the limited interests of its aging core audience, at times losing more subscribers than it takes in, and favoring “a print edition that lands in the recycling bin.”

The crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch’s media company has weathered months of strife between its news and opinion sections. In July, the same month the report is dated, more than 280 staffers at the Journal and sister newsroom Dow Jones signed a letter to its publisher calling for clearer distinctions between the opinion and news. “Opinion’s lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources,” the letter said.

This week, the Journal’s news division ran a reported piece that knocked down claims published in an opinion section piece just hours earlier. The opinion piece was trying to connect the dots on a smear alleging corruption by former vice president Joe Biden just days before the presidential election.

This has happened routinely since well before Murdoch bought the paper.

The opinion section has always been dishonest and insane.

The report, which one person at the Journal said was sent to some editors but not the whole newsroom, argues that many of the Wall Street Journal’s editors do not understand the internet and its readers — focusing its content instead on its long-term older male subscribers, rather than on a growing younger audience key to its survival. (Read the report here.)


“This is a months-old draft that contains outdated and inaccurate information,” Journal Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray said in a statement, without detailing which elements he considers inaccurate. “The Wall Street Journal is experiencing tremendous digital growth in audience, advertising and subscriptions, in fact has hit new records, and we are more excited than ever about our future. We of course regularly discuss and explore what we are doing, and where we should be going. We have a strong foundation as the best source of business, markets and economics news in the world, and we are incredibly proud to serve all of our readers. Our imperative is to make that service even better, and make it available to ever more people around the world. And we will.”


The key recommendations include major changes to what the paper covers, how it covers topics, and a rethinking of how it ignores some audiences.

One damning example of how the wider newsroom’s failed to listen to Black readers and its own digital-forward staff came from a spring 2020 project with the National Bar Association, the largest organization for Black legal professionals in the country. New audiences chief Ebony Reed shared WSJ articles with the group and asked them what questions they wanted the outlet to answer. Stories sparked from readers’ questions during COVID-19 gained wide audiences and traffic, the report states.

When National Bar Association members responded, she shared those questions with other newsroom editors as possible story ideas. “Story ideas ranged from Black Americans dying at a higher rate from coronavirus to questions about how vaping would affect those who contracted COVID-19,” weeks before similar stories appeared in other publications. “None were acted on,” the report states.

Ignoring Black folk is a feature, not a bug of the Wall Street Journal.


To address those appetites, the report recommends beats that focus on the environment, career issues, consumer products, drug addiction, racism, healthcare affordability, income inequality, and violent crime. It acknowledges that such a shift may be jarring to many of the paper’s reporters and editors, who put a high priority on traditional coverage that they feel are core to the paper’s brand.

The first step is to start applying basic fact checking on the editorial page.

Once you do that, you will find that the entire paper will become more adventurous.

Of Course This Drops Just Before Kol Nidre

The New York Times has gotten its hands on more than 20 years of Donald Trump’s income tax returns, and it appears that this is the real deal*, revealing a pattern of massive losses and next nothing in taxes paid.

I’m about to eat, and then fast, so I have barely had a chance to glance at the article.

The nickel tour appears to indicate that he’s a money loser who cheats on his taxes. 

This raises the question:  How has the Trump Org continued to be a going concern over all of these years?

My answer is that he’s been laundering money for the mob, whether it is US, or, as is more likely, foreign organized crime.

To quote Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

*As opposed to Rachel Maddow’s widely mocked expose of a handful of Trump’s tax documents in 2017.

First Reform the Police Need: End Impunity for Lying

Warning: Violence

Josie Huang, an NPR reporter was brutalized and arrested by LA Sheriffs, who then claimed that she was interfering with their actions and did not declare that she was a member of the press.

Unfortunately for them, she caught it all on tape, as her Twitter thread shows:

As Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies tackled Josie Huang to the street on Saturday night, the reporter for NPR affiliate KPCC screamed repeatedly she was a journalist. Deputies arrested her anyway, leaving her with scrapes, bruises, a five-hour stay in custody — and an obstruction charge that carries up to a year in jail.

Police claimed Huang, who also reports for LAist, didn’t have credentials and ignored demands to leave the area.

But those claims are contradicted by video Huang shared on Sunday showing her quickly backing away from police when ordered to do so and repeatedly identifying herself as a journalist. Huang said she also had a press badge around her neck.

NPR executives and reporters groups condemned Huang’s arrest, demanding her charges be dropped and the sheriff’s department explain why officers forcefully tackled her.

“We hold the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department accountable to provide answers for the excessive use of force in the detainment of our colleague,” the Asian American Journalists Association said in a statement. “The Los Angeles chapter of AAJA demands an investigation and apology for her arrest.”

An independent monitor who oversees investigations into the sheriff’s department also launched a probe into her arrest. “What surprises me the most is that once she was identified as a reporter that they transported her, that they cited her,” L.A. County Inspector Gen. Max Huntsman told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.


Huang said that is precisely what happened to her on Saturday.

Like dozens of other reporters, she had gone to a news conference outside St. Francis Medical Center, where doctors were treating two officers who had been shot in the head in an ambush earlier that night. Afterward, she was typing notes in her car in a parking garage when she heard a commotion in the street, Huang recounted in a Twitter thread on Sunday.

She ventured outside, with her press ID hanging around her neck, and found a few men waving flags and taunting deputies. As the police chased one man and then tackled him, she followed at a distance, filming the incident with her camera’s zoom function.

Suddenly, as seen in a video she shot, one deputy yelled, “Back up.” In her next video, Huang backed quickly away as a number of officers marched toward her, and then knocked the phone from her hand and took her to the ground.

“I’m a reporter,” she yelled. “I’m with KPCC!”

Her phone continued recording during her arrest, capturing her telling officers that they were hurting her and yelling yet again that she is a journalist. Another bystander’s video shows Huang being roughly pulled to the ground while a number of officers piled on top of her.


Early on Sunday morning, the sheriff’s office told a different story in recounting her arrest. The department said that as officers were struggling to arrest a protester, “a female adult ran towards the deputies, ignored repeated commands to stay back as they struggled with the male and interfered with the arrest.”

Huang “did not identify herself as press,” the department claimed, “and later admitted she did not have proper press credentials on her person.”


“Her arrest is the latest in a series of troubling interactions between our reporters and some local law enforcement officers,” Herb Scannell, chief executive of Southern California Public Radio, said in a statement to the Times. “Journalists provide an essential service, providing fair, accurate and timely journalism and without them, our democracy is at risk.”

The first step of fixing the police is to make sure that when they lie in the course of their official duties, they need to be fired, charged with a felony, and have their guns taken away forever.

Today in Prosecutorial Cluelessness

In response to stories noting irregularities at the now shuttered German credit card transaction firm Wirecard, regulators went to Prosecutors initiated an investigation ……… of the journalists.

Now that the firm has collapsed in an orgy of fraud, prosecutors are calling backsies:

The Munich prosecutor has dropped its investigation into two Financial Times journalists, who were accused by the German financial watchdog of potential market manipulation over their reports about accounting irregularities at payments processor Wirecard.

The criminal prosecution office in Munich said on Thursday it had “suspended the investigative proceedings” against the two FT journalists after they “did not reveal sufficient evidence to support the suspicious facts” raised by BaFin, the German watchdog.

BaFin said on Thursday that it had “no objection” to the prosecutor dropping its investigation into the FT journalists. It added that its parallel criminal complaint against short-sellers alleging market manipulation on Wirecard shares was still ongoing.

The move comes 10 weeks after Wirecard declared insolvency, having admitted that about €1.9bn in cash was missing from its accounts. Its collapse, which has turned into one of Germany’s biggest financial scandals, followed years of reports by the FT that Wirecard’s accounts were misleading.

The Munich prosecutor said its investigations found that the FT’s reports “are basically correct and at least from the point of view of the information available at the time, it was neither false nor misleading. There were no direct, concrete contacts with short-sellers.”

The criminal complaint against Dan McCrum and Stefania Palma was filed by BaFin in April 2019 after the FT published articles by the two earlier that year alleging that Wirecard had been inflating its revenues by using forged and backdated contracts that raised questions over the company’s accounting.

In case your are wondering, bank fraud, and regulatory capture are not exclusive to the “Anglo-Saxon” nations.

Took Them Long Enough

About 3 months ago, I wrote about how Gilead Pharmaceuticals, the company that is trying to sell Remdesivir as a Covid-19 cure, was suppressing another drug that is cheaper to make, and appears to have lower toxicity because it has less time left on its patent.

Well, the news is now beginning to hit the mainstream, if this story from ABC News is a part of a trend:

After initial excitement about the discovery of a promising treatment for some coronavirus patients, executives with Gilead Sciences are now facing harsh criticism over the initial business decisions they’ve made in the midst of a pandemic.

In recent days, state leaders and a government watchdog group have leveled complaints against the company for the price point it set for its antiviral drug remdesivir, a promising treatment shown to diminish recovery time in hospitalized coronavirus patients, and for allegedly not more quickly pursing a potentially cheaper alternative. Gilead holds exclusive manufacturing rights for remdesivir.

“Gilead, on the one hand, has a product that helps people” said Dr. Erin Fox, the senior pharmacy director at the University of Utah. “But on the other hand, it does feel like they’re taking advantage of the situation.”

Seriously, Dr. Fox, taking advantage of the situation is a core business strategy of rat-f%$#s like Gliead.

In a letter to Gilead executives and federal health officials last week, government watchdog group Public Citizen encouraged the company to investigate whether another of its patented antivirals, called GS-441524, could serve as a viable and less expensive substitute to remdesivir, even though it may make the company less money.

The health research experts at Public Citizen, joined in signing the letter by two cancer medicine experts at University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, argue that the cheaper drug “is very similar in chemical structure and activity to remdesivir” — and may even “offer significant advantages over remdesivir.” The watchdog group posits that Gilead may be withholding it because its patent expires five years sooner than does remdesivir’s, the company would stand to profit more if remdesivir remained the only available treatment.

“It is unclear why Gilead and federal scientists have not been pursuing GS-441524 as aggressively as remdesivir,” the letter continues, “but we cannot help but note that there are significant financial incentives tied to Gilead’s current patent holdings.”

I would note that there is a thriving black market for GS-441524, because it has been shown to be remarkably effective against an almost universally fatal condition in cats called Feline Infectious Peritonitis, which is caused by a ……… wait for it ……… a corona virus.

Gilead decided not to market GS-441524 to veterinarians because they were looking at human applications, and side-effects on cats might interfere with more lucrative human applications.

Let’s be clear:  Gilead wants to murder your cats.


A group of free press organizations have signed a letter calling for the immediate release of Julian Assange, because his actions are archetypal examples of journalism:

Press freedom groups and journalist organisations are among 40 groups to today call for the British Government to release Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on his 49th birthday.

The International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Pen International and the National Union of Journalists are among those to sign the letter.


The co-signers write: “This [indictment] is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the ‘enemy of the people’.

“Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher. ”


Full list of the groups calling for Julian Assange’s release

Nathan Fuller, Executive Director, Courage Foundation

Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Adil Soz, International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Archie Law, Chair Sydney Peace Foundation
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne
Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN
Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President, PEN Norway
Lasantha De Silva, Freed Media Movement
Marcus Strom, President, MEAA Media, Australia
Mark Isaacs, President of PEN International Sydney
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)
Mousa Rimawi, Director, MADA – the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Naomi Colvin, UK/Ireland Programme Director, Blueprint for Free Speech
Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Ralf Nestmeyer, Vice President, German PEN
Rev Tim Costello AO, Director of Ethical Voice
Robert Wood, Chair, PEN Perth
Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship
Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19
Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch
William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bytes for All (B4A)
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR)
The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)
Free Media Movement Sri Lanka
Freedom Forum Nepal
IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
International Press Centre (IPC)
The International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Foundation for West Africa
Mediacentar Sarajevo
National Lawyers Guild International Committee
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Meanwhile, the journalists who actually worked with him to break the story are studiously silent.

Stating the Obvious

The folks at the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) are shocked to discover that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook will lie to the press without compunction.

Well, duh:

One day in July 2016, Casey Newton, a tech reporter for The Verge, sat down at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park for the biggest interview of his career. Across from him was Mark Zuckerberg. With his characteristic geeky excitement, Zuckerberg described the promising initial test flight of Aquila, a drone with a wingspan larger than a 737 jet that was part of his plan to provide internet connectivity all over the world.

Though Newton hadn’t witnessed the test flight in Yuma, Arizona—no members of the press were invited—he believed Zuckerberg’s account of it. When his article was published, it reported that Aquila “was so stable that they kept it in the air for 90 minutes before landing it safely.”

Months later, however, a Bloomberg story revealed that the flight hadn’t gone so smoothly after all—Aquila had crashed. While the craft had indeed stayed aloft for longer than intended, high winds tore a chunk out of a wing, leading to a crash landing.


Newton is still in touch with executives at Facebook—some of them are subscribers to his newsletter—but he’s since focused his attention on the company’s abuses of low-level employees and third-party contractors. He no longer trusts Facebook like he once did.


In conversations with more than fifteen journalists and industry observers, I tried to understand what it is like to cover Facebook. What I found was troublesome: operating with the secrecy of an intelligence agency and the authority of a state government, Facebook has arrogated to itself vast powers while enjoying, until recently, limited journalistic scrutiny. (Some journalists, like The Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, have done important work linking Facebook data to political corruption in the UK and elsewhere.) Media organizations have stepped up their game, but they suffer from a lack of access, among other power asymmetries.


The 2016 presidential election changed everything. After Donald Trump’s ascent, greased by the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the embedding of Facebook staff in the Trump campaign’s digital operation, tech was seen as a political force unto itself. Journalists began digging into Facebook in a way few had before.

The company responded by closing itself off. “People have described it to me as a bunker mentality,” says Charlie Warzel, a New York Times opinion writer who covers technology, media, and politics. “The relationship is just naturally strained by the fact that they’re dealing with a crisis pretty much weekly, if not more frequently.”



Michael Nuñez, a technology journalist who has worked at Forbes and Gizmodo and has broken several notable stories on Facebook, is more blunt in his assessment of Facebook’s comms operation. In his experience, he says, Facebook has been “willing to lie on the record.” Nuñez recalled reporting on an internal poll in which Facebook employees asked Zuckerberg whether the company should do something to try to stop Donald Trump from becoming president. When he asked a Facebook flack about it, they denied the poll existed. “I remember begging this person: ‘I’m not asking you to confirm the validity of this,’ ” Nuñez said. “ ‘I’m looking at [a screenshot of] it. I’m just here asking you for a comment.’ ”

In Nuñez’s eyes, Facebook is not a trustworthy interlocutor. “The company seems to be pretty comfortable with obfuscating the truth, and that’s why people don’t trust Facebook anymore,” he says. “They’ve had the chance to be honest and transparent plenty of times, and time and time again, you see that the company has been misleading either by choice or by willful ignorance.”


Warzel compares the company’s mentality to that of an intelligence agency. “I have former Facebook sources who will tell me an interesting tip and then lament that they don’t know a single person who could possibly confirm this, even though these people would like to confirm this, because they don’t own a single device that Facebook couldn’t forensically tap into to figure out the source of a leak.”

Zuckerberg has been a liar since the early days of Facebook, which is why, unlike people like the founders of Google and Amazon, there have been repeated lawsuits claiming that he cheated them.

It should be no surprise that that Zuck and Facebook lie to the press, they lie to everyone, and they always have.

Well, Now We Know What Ends Both-Siderism Among Journalists

All you have to do to make them look at the actual facts is to put them in the line of fire.

Then, suddenly the press sees that out of control cops are out of control cops.

It really sucks that the only way to get the press to stop it’s lazy equivalencies is to actually physically harm them.

This is not indicative of people who are good at their job:

The targeting, harassment, shooting and arrest of working journalists by police over the last several days is having a significant — maybe even profound — effect on the coverage of the mass demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.

It’s a shift from watching the protests through the eyes of the police to watching the police through the eyes of the protesters.

It’s a shift from seeing the police primarily as sources and protectors to seeing them as subjects and aggressors.

Exhibit A is the lead story in the New York Times print edition on Monday morning, which, instead of dutifully reporting on the official version of clashes around the nation, boldly addressed the reality that police around the country have been responding to protests against their aggression with yet more of the same, and have themselves been inciting more violence.


The authors also wrote that shows of force by highly-militarized police weren’t bringing calm. “Instead, some people said, it was escalating tensions and serving as a reminder of the regular use of military equipment and tactics by local police forces.”


This sentence struck me as both incredibly naïve and – at the same time – nothing short of revolutionary:

Now, some are questioning whether tough police tactics against demonstrators are actually making the violence worse rather than quelling it.


Slate collected a number of social media clips and very effectively aggregated them under the headline: “Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide.”

So, it’s clear how you get journalists to start reporting, and stop cultivating sources:  You just need to make sure that someone beats the crap out of them.

It’s a hell of a state of affairs.

Well, That’s a Mature Way to Handle This

In response to stories revealing that Liberty University had called its students back to campus, risking a Covid-19 outbreak, the educational [sic] institution has sworn out arrest warrants against the journalists revealing their reckless behavior.

Here is the Christo-Fascist right in a nutshell:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. on Wednesday said that arrest warrants had been issued for reporters from The New York Times and ProPublica after both publications wrote stories criticizing his decision last month to partially reopen his Virginia-based college.

Photos of the arrest warrants for New York Times freelance photographer Julia Rendleman and ProPublica reporter Alec MacGillis were published on the website of conservative radio host Todd Starnes. The warrant alleges each committed misdemeanor trespassing on campus while gathering information for their respective stories.

Falwell’s decision on March 24 to reopen the private evangelical Christian university campus came nearly two weeks after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) issued a state of emergency.

The university said that some students couldn’t return home in an effort to protect elderly family members living under the same roof, while roughly 750 students were international students who couldn’t return to their home countries.

Five days after the campus reopened, The New York Times reported that, according to the school’s director of student health services, nearly a dozen students had reported symptoms similar to those experienced in positive coronavirus cases.


The university said that the reporters committed “trespassing on posted property.”

“The arrest warrants are issued by a magistrate based on information derived from an investigation conducted by Liberty University Police Department, the police agency with primary jurisdiction, based on reports of criminal trespassing on posted property made by Liberty University,” the university told The Hill in an email.

The New York Times and ProPublica have each stood by their reporting.

“Our freelance photographer was engaged in the most routine form of news gathering: taking a picture of a person who was interviewed for a news story,” said a Times spokesperson in an email to The Hill. “We are disappointed that Liberty University would decide to make that into a criminal case and go after a freelance journalist because its officials were unhappy with press coverage of the university’s decision to convene classes in the midst of the pandemic.”