• Major Errors by Major Networks

    For anyone who cares about accurate reporting, the past week was truly disastrous.

    Since democracy depends on transparency and some measure of justified trust in our basic institutions, these journalistic failures are damaging to the country.

    The misreporting comes on top of well-documented sexual harassment and abuse allegations that led to Matt Lauer’s firing and raise questions about how much his bosses knew and covered up over the years. One, Andrew Lack, is still at NBC. The other, Jeff Zucker, runs CNN.

    We also heard Cokie Roberts, long-time reporter for ABC News, say on the air that female reporters knew not to get into elevators alone with some Congressmen and Senators. She didn’t seem to notice that neither she nor anyone else considered that worthy of investigating or reporting.

    As for last week’s errors, Glenn Greenwald cites chapter and verse here:

    The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened (The Intercept)

    CNN also illustrates how these organizations offered only lame apologies for BIG errors:

    Misreporting the date, which both CNN and ABC did, was not a minor matter. It went to the heart of charges that candidate Trump worked with Russia and Russian-backed organizations to win the election. In fact, the accurate dates were after Trump was elected.

    Some people have attributed the errors to sloppy reporting, others to deliberate efforts (presumably by the leakers) to harm either Trump or the networks that reported.

    There is no doubt the reporting was sloppy, the retractions mealy-mouthed.

    But I have an additional observation, albeit purely speculative. First, note that the leaks came from classified settings, such as the House Intel Committee. Second, we know that the Department of Justice has established a high-priority task force to identify the sources of classified leaks. So, I speculate, could DOJ (working with US intel agencies) given specific people some documents seeded with misinformation to see if that identifiable info was leaked? If it was, then the source would be obvious to DOJ or the CIA.

    That technique is a familiar one. Intelligence agencies sometimes alter each document slightly for each individual recipient. That way, if some portion ends up in the newspaper, it might be possible to identify which recipient leaked it. I wonder if that’s what happened here? The fact that two sources confirmed CNN’s erroneous story makes me wonder if a Congressman or two received a deliberately altered document.

  • The Next Stage in the National Harassment Story? The Executives Who Knew and Did Nothing

    The latest episode, broken by New York Magazine’s The Cut, involves harassment allegations against now-retired NPR personality, John Hockenberry. (Link here)

    What happens next shows the Ghost of Christmas Future.

    There is outrage that Hockenberry’s employer did so little after being told of the initial allegations. She admits knowing of the allegations for months–and NPR contributors are not happy.

    Calls for public radio president Laura Walker to resign after ‘cowardly’ response to sex harassment claims–Fox News

    If, as I expect, the story expands from “who did it” to “who covered it up,” then a lot of executives will be in deep trouble.

    It’s one thing for Hollywood stars and producers to know about Harvey Weinstein and stay silent. That’s morally troubling, but, because they are not his employer, they don’t have an affirmative, legal obligations to act.

    That’s not true for, say, the executives at NBC who employed the immensely-profitable Matt Lauer. They had a responsibility to protect their other employees from his predations and to create a safe workplace. Instead, they allowed the installation of a “lock-the-door” button in his office so he could drop his pants.

    Who is in the line of here? The executives who worked most closely with Lauer over the years. High on that list are NBC’s Andrew Lack and Jeff Zucker, formerly at NBC, now at CNN.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, November 7

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Trump in South Korea: What’s on the agenda? 

    Comment: Mostly North Korea but also some trade issues. The goal is to get South Korea’s leftist president to side more closely with the US, less with China.

    A separate ZipDialog post, with more analysis, is here.

    Texas Church Massacre: what we know

    From police reports, three basic facts are emerging:

    • The shooter was angry, uncontrolled, and mentally unstable
    • Several different bureaucracies knew about the problems–the US military, a mental institution from which he escaped, and local officials who knew about violence and cruelty
    • The bureaucracies did not inform each other, so none had a full picture of the lethal danger he posed.
      • Some of this information might have blocked gun purchases

    Comment: As we learned after 9/11, you can’t connect the dots if bureaucracies don’t share information. In the 9/11 case, the failure was the predictable consequence of laws blocking such sharing between the FBI (focused on domestic crime prosecution) and the CIA/NSA (focused on foreign issues, not crime, and prohibited from domestic spying). Terrorists exploited those “stovepipes” by moving across borders.

    In the Texas case, it was simply the military’s failure to enter info in shared databases. In the case of the shooter’s escape from a mental hospital, we don’t know why that information was not entered into shared databases, where it could have blocked gun purchases.

    Even if the information is available, there is so much of it that local law enforcement may not be able to sort through it and use it effectively.

     Very tight governor’s race in today’s Virginia election:

    UPDATE: Democrat Wins

    The state has been trending Democratic for some years, fueled by population growth in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia.

    Hillary won the state by 5 points and Trump’s unpopularity in North Virginia is why he didn’t campaign for the Republican, the first Presidential no-show in half a century.

    That’s why the Democrat tried to make it a “national” election while the Republican tried to make it “local.”

    Beyond the usual impact on policy, the winner will influence Virginia’s redistricting after the 2020 Census.

    Harvey Weinstein: Two developments

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, November 3

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Bowe Bergdahl, Army deserter held by Taliban, avoids prison sentence (Washington Post)

    Comment: This outcome is shocking. US soldiers died looking for this creep. Others were injured. Lots of resources devoted to finding a soldier who voluntarily abandoned his post and planned for weeks to do so.

    Pres. Trump immediately weighed in, via Twitter. My guess is that Trump’s position will be very popular on this issue. He’s implicitly daring the Democrats to come out on the other side, as many of them did (to their cost) on the NFL kneeling.

    More good economic news: Unemployment down to 4.1%, the lowest rate since 2000.

    Less good: Wage growth slow (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Best news of all: Strong Productivity Growth. (CNBC)

    Comments: Productivity growth is crucial. It is the underlying source of real wage growth.

    The biggest problem for the economy now is the misfit between the skilled jobs available and the unskilled workers who are unemployed.

    Tax Bill, next phase: We will find new details (none good, otherwise they wouldn’t be hidden), and gored oxen will come out to save themselves

    Example of hidden details:

    House Republicans claim the tax plan they introduced Thursday keeps the top individual rate unchanged at 39.6 percent—the level at which it’s been capped for much of the past quarter-century. But a little-noticed provision effectively creates a new band in which income is taxed at over 45 percent.

    Thanks to a quirky proposed surcharge, Americans who earn more than $1 million in taxable income would trigger an extra 6 percent tax on the next $200,000 they earn—a complicated change that effectively creates a new, unannounced tax bracket of 45.6 percent. –Politico

    Example of gored oxen:  Republican Tax Proposal Gets Failing Grade From Higher-Ed Groups (Chronicle of Higher Education)

    The House tax-reform proposal released today would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and under secretary of education in the Obama administration, in a written statement.

    In broad terms, the bill would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education for individuals and companies, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 for tuition, a credit for student-loan interest, and a $5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans. –Chronicle of Higher Education

    Comment: There is also tremendous pushback on the limitations on deducting state and local taxes, led by Republicans in high-tax states.

    These issues will be fought out over the next month, first in House committee, then on the floor in both chambers, then in reconciliation.

     Spain issues arrest warrant for Catalonia’s leader, who has fled the country (BBC)

    ◆ Mainstream media ignore bombshell, documented revelation that Hillary and DNC rigged primaries

    All three major TV news networks completely skip the story (Fox News)

    NYT: nothing

    Comment: It’s not surprising that most Democratic politicians are silent. But the story is a significant one, and it’s omission by mainstream outlets is bias, pure and simple.

     Pressure builds on AG Jeff Sessions, accused of false or misleading statements to Congress. The issue: what he knew Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russia 

    The Atlantic magazine calls it: “Jeff Sessions’ Selective Memory

     

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Robert Pahre for the Chronicle of Higher Education story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, October 19

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ US consulting firm with ties to the Clintons lobbied on behalf of Russia’s nuclear giant (Circa)

    A Russian nuclear executive, whose company was the target of an FBI investigation and who admitted to corrupt payments to influence the awarding of contracts with the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation, paid millions of dollars in consulting fees to an American firm in 2009 and 2010 to lobby the U.S. regulatory agencies and assist the Russian’s who were then attempting to acquire twenty percent of American uranium, according to court documents, a former FBI informant and extensive interviews with law enforcement sources.

    Roughly $3 million in payments from 2010 to 2011 were made to APCO Worldwide Inc., which is described on their website as the second largest lobbying firm in the United States. The firm also provided in kind pro-bono services to Bill Clinton’s foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, services they begin 2007, according to APCO officials who spoke with Circa

    and press releases from the company. It was during the same time that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was part of the Obama administration board that would eventually approve the sale of the U.S. uranium to Russia. –Sara A. Carter at Circa

    ◆ Great News about the US Economy: Lowest jobless claims since 1973 (Bloomberg)

    Comment: One-month data contains random effects, but the trend is great.

    Head of NBC News dined with Harvey Weinstein, then spiked the well-sourced exposé from Ronan Farrow. Pressure to resign–but he’s still on the job. (Fox News)

    NBC says they are not investigating.

    NBC News is coming under increasing criticism for its failure to investigate why its embattled president, Noah Oppenheim, spiked a bombshell story that would have been the first to expose Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator.

    An NBC spokesperson says the network is not investigating the matter, despite new revelations that Oppenheim sat at small table with Weinstein at an exclusive New York gala in April, when Oppenheim reportedly already knew that his reporter, celebrity scion Ronan Farrow, had obtained damning audio recordings in which Weinstein admitted groping the breasts of an Italian model. –Fox News (link here)

     Screenwriter close to Weinstein highlights Hollywood’s code of omertà: “Everybody f**king knew” (Mashable)

    Scott Rosenberg worked with Weinstein and company for almost a decade:

    “Everybody fucking knew,” he wrote (not once, not twice, but three times) in a lyrical, near novella-length Facebook response to those shrinking away from responsibility in enabling Weinstein’s behavior.

    Hollywood’s general unwillingness to face the music of personal accountability for the rot in their own industry added insult to injury in the onslaught of allegations. Because those (seemingly) well-meaning yet spineless responses only ensure one thing: that this will keep happening. –Mashable

    Comment: Mr. Rosenberg’s choice of words is certainly apt.

    I just hope this little unpleasantness doesn’t keep Hollywood from preaching to the rest of us.

    ◆ John Kelly speaks eloquently about his son’s combat death, says he was “stunned” by a Congresswoman’s criticism of Pres. Trump’s condolence call

    NYT gives it a straightforward headline: Kelly Speaks About Son’s Death and Criticizes Congresswoman Wilson

    CNN gives it an ugly spin: John Kelly’s stirring but incomplete attempt to clean up for Donald Trump

    Comment: CNN’s spin, presented as hard news, is shameful.

    ◆ FUSION GPS:  Founders of the firm behind Trump-Russia dossier take the Fifth (Business Insider)

    Won’t talk to House Intel Committee. Refuse to say who paid for the smear job.

    Comment: The now-discredited dossier is important because then-director of the FBI, James Comey, used it as the basis for an investigation of the Trump campaign.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tom Elia for the Mashable “everybody knew” story.

  • Trump threatens network licenses over “fake news”

    False news is bad and fake news is ever worse.

    But, in this case, Pres. Trump’s counterpunch against NBC crosses a line.

    It’s a line we need to uphold to ensure powerful state actors squelch a free press.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Why is Pres. Trump’s tweet so objectionable?

    Because it threatens to use the state’s vast powers against his political opponents.

    That threat is the antithesis of constitutional, democratic governance.

    That was the essence of the charge against the IRS during the Obama years: weaponize the IRS.

    That’s the essence of the charges against the Deep State.

    And that is what Trump is doing now (Fox News)

    It is perfectly fine for him to say the news report about his wanting more nuclear weapons is completely wrong. (Link to NBC story here.)

    • The story certainly appears to be false. Gen. Mattis has backed up the President on that point. Mattis’ word is good enough for me.
    • By Wednesday evening, NBC News had not corrected or withdrawn its “exclusive report.”

    It is fine for the President to call this report and others “fake news,” although his repeated use of the term and his broad brush raise troubling questions, both about Trump and about the media.

    But, unless there is direct evidence that the media have knowingly falsified news reports to damage their political foes, the President should never threaten them with loss of their license.

    That’s an abuse of executive power.

    Threats like that from the powerful perch of the Oval Office should be called out for what they are: threats to an open, democratic, constitutional government of laws.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, October 11

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ The devastation–human and material–keeps growing from California wildfires

     

    Stand and Deliver: Goodell send letter telling NFL players he wants them to stand during anthem(ESPN)

    No specifics on how the league plans to ensure it or act toward players who do not stand.

    Comment #1: ESPN broke into their political coverage to cover this sports story.

    Comment #2 re Trump vs NFL kneelers: ZipDialog predicted

    (a) the league would cave after seeing the fans’ and advertisers’ reactions,
    (b) Trump was politically smart to make this an issue; most people respect the flag, and ALL his base does; and
    (c) when Trump won on this issue, he wouldn’t be shy about saying so.

     Horny Harvey and Hollywood Hypocrisy

    Harvey Weinstein’s Behavior Was ‘Worst Kept Secret in Hollywood,” says actor (Fox News)

    Comment: Now that he has been destroyed, the powerful people and institutions will finally speak.

    I completely understand why the weak and vulnerable kept quiet; they are victims. But the powerful and well-entrenched who knew about this have no such excuses.

     The next phases of the Weinstein story, as I see it

    Comment: Here are some obvious angles. The question is whether the media wants to investigate, given that they are directly implicated, along with their powerful friends:

    • Democrats who were close to him will have to defend themselves and offer stories about their ignorance (some true, some false)
      • Many are now saying they are “shocked, shocked” to find out this about Mr. Weinstein. Gimme a break.
      • Why did Hillary, Barack, and all the others wait five days after the NYT broke the story before commenting?
      • Why did all the late-night comedians (except John Oliver) maintain radio silence, as Saturday Night Live did? They will jump on Weinstein’s figurative corpse now, but where were they after the story broke?
    • The media will be all over the Weinstein story but they will downplay or ignore the media’s complicity or the Democrats role in it (just as the conservative media will harp on it)
      • The NYT, the most MSM of MSM outlets, deserves lots of credit for breaking the story. But they need to explain why they didn’t dig further a decade ago, when they first had the story. Lots of women were harmed in the intervening years.
    • What about the media outlets, like the NYT and NBC, that had the story and didn’t run it?  What about the gossip sites like TMZ? Why didn’t they investigate this well-known rumor?
    • What about the others sexual harassment and exploitation in Hollywood? Will the media investigate or wait for Gloria Allred? There have been rumors for years about pedophilia, but no real reporting.

    Henry Kissinger meets with Trump. What’s that about?

    Comment: Kissinger  has made one of the most sensible and serious proposals about working with China to resolve the North Korean crisis. He is also the most trusted intermediary to broker a deal between Beijing and Washington and to carry back-channel messages between the two. (Kissinger’s proposal was contained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, subscription)

    My guess: Trump listened to Kissinger, said “great, if Xi is willing to do it. But if he won’t or it doesn’t work, tell him the US will act unilaterally in a wide variety of ways that the Chinese won’t like.”

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Randy Helm for pointing out that the NYT deserves credit for breaking the story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 28

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Republican Tax Plan: The Essential Features

    The details still need to be worked out through negotiations.

    It is a 9-page framework at this stage, more detailed than previous releases but still not a fleshed-out bill.

    Key features:

    • Lower corporate tax rates: Nominal rates cut significantly–to 20%
      • Whether actual rates for Company X or Company Y are lowered depend on whether previous deductions are eliminated.
    • Fewer personal brackets
    • Much bigger standard deduction for each individual or family
      • Big benefit to lower-income earners
    • Many fewer deductions
    • Keeps big deductions for mortgages, charity, and medical
    • Repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax,
      • Initially meant for a few rich individuals but now affects millions of taxpayers
    • Eliminates the Estate Tax (“death tax”)
    • Repeals deduction for state and local taxes (very contentious)
    • Keeps a special carve-out for hedge fund called “carried interest” (very contentious)

    ◆ The Essential Politics 

    First, the goal is growth, even if it raises projected budget deficits.

    Second, everybody is making hypocritical arguments.

    • The Democrats doubled the country’s debt over the Obama Administration. Now, they are complaining about deficits.
    • The Republicans screamed about debt and deficits during the Obama Administration. Now, most of them say deficits are less important than growth

    Third, the main political arguments are conventional and obvious for both sides.

    • Democrats: “This will only help the rich” (redistribution argument)”
    • Republicans: “Everybody wins when the economy grows faster” (growth argument)

    The New York Times weights in reliably with this analysis headline: Trump Tax Plan Benefits Wealthy, Including Trump. Most analysts agree with this regressive-distribution effect, at least in the initial proposal.

    Big Court Threat to Public Employee Unions (USA Today)

    The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a challenge to the so-called “fair share” fees public employee unions collect from non-members, posing a major threat to organized labor.

    Unlike the past three times the court has considered similar cases, its five-member conservative majority appears poised to rule that workers opposed to union representation cannot be forced to pay for collective bargaining and other benefits. –USA Today

    Comment: The Republicans really want to weaken the public unions, as Scott Walker’s campaign in Wisconsin showed.

    The unions know it and uniformly support Democratic candidates.

    The legal argument by conservative and moderate union members is that so much of what these unions do is inherently political that the members’ free-speech rights are trampled by forcing them to pay union dues as a compulsory aspect of working at, say, a public school or Department of Motor Vehicles.

    My guess: Compulsory union fees will be ruled unconstitutional violations and national membership in public-employee unions will drop significantly, following the Wisconsin pattern.

    The biggest impact will be on K-12 school policy in the states.

    There will be a longer-term impact in other areas since weaker unions cannot stop the rise of autonomous busses or autonomous lawnmowers and floor cleaners, which will give cities and states more service for less money.

    Megyn Kelly: No thanks, say critics and potential guests, after her terrible start (Washington Post)

    Stars now shying away from interviews after Jane Fonda mess

    Megyn Kelly said on the first episode of her new NBC morning show, which aired Monday, that for years she’d “dreamed of hosting an uplifting show.”

    But just three episodes in, her celebrity guests seem to find the show anything but uplifting. Kelly’s penchant for speaking her mind, regardless of how her words might be perceived, caused two of her celebrity guests to speak out against the host after their respective appearances.

    The most recent was Jane Fonda, whom Kelly pressed to discuss her plastic surgery. –Washington Post

    Comment: One problem is that Fox viewers think she “betrayed” her network and thus her “side.”

    A second is that she was always better at hard-news interviews than soft-focus ones. But her new time slot is tailored for morning uplift, not hard news.

    Third, some media critics have said that she is the kind of woman who appeals more to male viewers than female viewers. But the morning audience is heavily female.

    NBC gave her bucket loads of cash and removed a steady program to give her a slot. They must be slashing their wrists.

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