The Onion’s brutal Israel commentary goes beyond satire

Vice News reports:

On Monday, as the United States celebrated moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thousands of Palestinian protesters were shot by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at the border fence separating Israel and Gaza. At least 60 Palestinians died as a result, and the seemingly never-ending conflict between Israel and Palestine was once again at the top of the international news. On May 16, the front page of the New York Times displayed a poignant image of the Gaza landscape, the sky a striking yellow with blue smoke surrounding the border fence. Beneath, the headline read, “Israelis Reflect: ‘I Hope at Least That Each Bullet Was Justified.’”

Supporters of Palestinians were outraged. “Even as #Palestinians are massacred NYTimes finds a way to humanize the #Israelis,” James J. Zogby, the founder of the Arab American Institute, wrote on Twitter. “Completely disgusting,” commented Jacobin’s Alex Press. “The NYT soft on the criminal Israeli shooters and has no heart for Palestinian victims in Gaza,” another Twitter user remarked.

Meanwhile, on The Onion, the nation’s other paper of record, this was the headline:

“IDF Soldier Recounts Harrowing, Heroic War Story Of Killing 8-Month-Old Child.”

This was a shockingly brutal joke, but it fits with the satirical website’s tone when it comes to Israel. In April, The Onion published “Teen On Birthright Trip Hadn’t Expected To See So Many Dead Palestinians.” On May 10, as the conflict between Israel and Iran heated up, the paper wrote a story headlined “Netanyahu Begins Calling For Israeli Return To Ancient Homeland Of Iran,” presumably a follow up to its May 1 article, “Netanyahu Provides Stunning New Evidence That Iranians Planned Sacking Of Babylon In 539 B.C.” [Continue reading…]

The fake news Russians hear at home

Anne Applebaum writes:

Because it touches us, because it involves the U.S. president, and because it has produced a lot of headlines, the strategy and tactics of Russian government disinformation in the West have lately been big news. Because it’s far away, and because it happens in a different language, we’ve thought a lot less about Russian government propaganda in Russia. But it will eventually matter to us — maybe sooner than we think.

The transformation of Russian media hasn’t happened overnight. Back in 2010, the Internet in Russia was a relatively vibrant place, where people with different kinds of ideas argued things out, at least some of the time. Independent media had some traction, and independent voices were heard. There were negative stories about the Western world, but positive ones, too. Eight years later — following Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, and a sharp change in government information policy — the situation is different.

This isn’t because Russia has become the Soviet Union, or a totalitarian state with one newspaper. Russia now has multiple sources of information: different television channels, many with high-quality entertainment programs; a range of newspapers, some very professional; both highbrow and lowbrow magazines and websites. But the appearance of variety is deceptive. Though the styles are very different, the vast majority of media is owned by the state or state-linked companies, and the stories are often remarkably alike. On television, which is where most Russians get their news, much of what they see about the West is overwhelmingly dark and negative. [Continue reading…]

The deep roots of Trump’s war on the press

Tim Alberta writes:

You couldn’t miss it. Arriving in Cleveland for the 2016 Republican National Convention, visitors found themselves staring at an enormous white billboard, slapped across the top of a tall concrete building in the city’s bustling downtown, screaming a simple directive: “DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!”

The signage—black letters against a white backdrop, save for “LIBERAL MEDIA” in bloody red—was ample around town the week of Donald Trump’s coronation in Cleveland. It was carried on top of taxicabs; projected with lights onto a sleepy city building; and held on posters behind live cable news broadcasts throughout the week. The message paired splendidly with Trump’s remarks in accepting the GOP nomination. “Remember, all of the people telling you that you can’t have the country you want are the same people telling you that I wouldn’t be standing here tonight,” he said. “No longer can we rely on those elites in media and politics who will say anything to keep a rigged system in place.”

But the displays in downtown Cleveland weren’t paid for by Trump’s campaign, or the Republican National Committee, or an affiliated super PAC. They were a victory lap of sorts for conservative activist Brent Bozell and his advocacy group, the Media Research Center—one of the most active and best-funded, and yet least known, arms of the modern conservative movement. It was as if the billboard was announcing that the right’s decadeslong jihad against the mainstream press had reach its apogee in Trump, a candidate who made vicious rhetorical attacks on journalists a staple of his raucous campaign events, railed about the “crooked” and “lying media” in nearly every debate, and even went after individual reporters by name.

It remains something of a myth that Vietnam and Watergate shattered Americans’ innocence and launched an era of institutional mistrust. As of 1986, Gallup was finding that 65 percent of Americans still felt a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the press. The next year, inside a rickety townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, the Media Research Center—or MRC—was born. Its mission was simple: Highlight examples of alleged bias from the nation’s major news organizations and hold them accountable. Bozell, born into right-wing royalty—the nephew of National Review founder William F. Buckley, and son of Brent Bozell Jr., Barry Goldwater’s speechwriter and the ghost-writer of his book, Conscience of a Conservative—had not yet distinguished himself in the conservative movement. That would soon change. Over the ensuing decades, with the assistance of tens of millions of dollars from prominent Republican donors, the MRC moved to the front lines of America’s culture wars, relentlessly assailing what it viewed as a godless, condescending, out-of-touch national media—and systematically chipping away at its credibility in the minds of voters. The results were manifest: 30 years after that 1986 survey, as Trump steamrolled his way into the White House, Gallup released new numbers showing confidence in the press at all-time low of 32 percent. Among Republicans, it was just 14 percent. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. falls to 45th on press freedom index, Trump labeled ‘media-bashing enthusiast’

The Hill reports:

Reporters Without Borders has dropped the United States to No. 45 in its annual ranking of press freedom for 180 countries around the world.

In the report released Wednesday, the United States received a “fairly good” rating, which falls below the category of “good,” in which only 9 percent of countries rated were placed.

The ranking continues a downward trend for the U.S. in recent years. The country finished No. 43 in 2017 and No. 41 in 2016. [Continue reading…]

The Independent reports:

The UK is one of the worst countries in western Europe for press freedom because of new media-muzzling laws and a climate of hostility towards journalists, a new report has found.

The country ranked 40 out of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, a report compiled by influential non-profit organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF). It dropped to that position last year.

The position marks a “staggering” decline for the UK of 18 places since the index began in 2002, RSF said. [Continue reading…]

She tried to report on climate change but Sinclair told her to be more ‘balanced’

BuzzFeed reports:

Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.

Her account, detailed in company documents she provided to BuzzFeed News, offers a glimpse at the inner workings of a media giant that has sought to both ingratiate itself to President Donald Trump and cast itself as an apolitical local news provider — a position the documents undermine.

In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”

In recent months, Sinclair has garnered intense national attention for forcing stations across the country to carry pro-Trump “must run” segments and instructing anchors to read statements touting conservative talking points. Sinclair, which owns local TV stations “affiliated” with name-brand networks like Fox or ABC, has defended the segments and noted they are a small part of its stations’ overall coverage — but Crowe’s experience as a general assignment reporter demonstrates how the parent company’s ideology can permeate throughout local news reporting. [Continue reading…]

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Journalist who exposed Russia’s secret mercenaries in Syria mysteriously fell to his death

Vice News reports:

In February, Russian investigative journalist Maxim Borodin published a series of bombshell reports about the secret, substantial presence of Russian mercenary forces in Syria. On Sunday, he died, following a mysterious fall from his fifth-floor balcony.

Now, a journalists’ advocacy group is calling for an investigation into his “suspicious” death — even though his own editor-in-chief has said there’s not yet any hard evidence of foul play.

Local police said they’re investigating “several versions” of the death of Borodin, 32, who worked for an outlet called Novy Den in the city of Yekaterinburg. The cops said in a statement they “haven’t ruled out that it was an accident.”

“All hypotheses should be considered, including the possibility that he was murdered in connection with his investigative reporting,” Reporters Without Borders said in a press release Monday.

Borodin had helped shed light on Russia’s “shadow army,” the thousands of Russian military contractors secretly fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Keeping stories alive when journalists are under threat

Laurent Richard writes:

You killed the messenger. But you won’t kill the message.

Over the past six months 45 journalists from 15 different countries have been working in secret to complete and publish investigations by the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed on 16 October 2017.

Cooperation is without a doubt the best protection. What is the point of killing a journalist if 10, 20 or 30 others are waiting to carry on their work? Whether you’re a dictator, the leader of a drug cartel or a corrupt businessman, exposure of your crimes is your biggest fear. Journalists are the enemy of the corrupt ecosystem that you have constructed. But what if this exposure becomes global, and the message amplified? Wherever you go, you will be questioned by the world’s press. Whatever you are trying to hide will be magnified.

And this is the mission of our new international platform, Forbidden Stories: a network of journalists who are ready to take over whenever a journalist is imprisoned or assassinated. The idea is to ensure the survival of stories. [Continue reading…]

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Department of Homeland Security to create massive database to classify and track journalists and bloggers

Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English. [Continue reading…]

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As Malaysia moves to ban ‘fake news,’ worries about who decides the truth

The New York Times reports:

In highway billboards and radio announcements, the government of Malaysia is warning of a new enemy: “fake news.”

On Monday, the lower house of Parliament passed a bill outlawing fake news, the first measure of its kind in the world. The proposal, which allows for up to six years in prison for publishing or circulating misleading information, is expected to pass the Senate this week and to come into effect soon after.

The legislation would punish not only those who are behind fake news but also anyone who maliciously spreads such material. Online service providers would be responsible for third-party content, and anyone could lodge a complaint. As long as Malaysia or Malaysians are affected, fake news generated outside the country is also subject to prosecution.

What qualifies as fake news, however, is ill defined. Ultimately, the government would be given broad latitude to decide what constitutes fact in Malaysia.

“Fake news has become a global phenomenon, but Malaysia is at the tip of the spear in trying to fight it with an anti-fake news law,” said Fadhlullah Suhaimi Abdul Malek, a senior official with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. “When the American president made ‘fake news’ into a buzzword, the world woke up.”

But members of Malaysia’s political opposition say the legislation is intended to stifle free speech ahead of elections that are widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been tainted by a scandal involving billions of dollars that were diverted from Malaysia’s state investment fund.

“Instead of a proper investigation into what happened, we have a ministry of truth being created,” said Nurul Izzah Anwar, a lawmaker from the People’s Justice Party and the daughter of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. [Continue reading…]

How to learn more about the news by spending less time following the news

Farhad Manjoo writes:

I first got news of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., via an alert on my watch. Even though I had turned off news notifications months ago, the biggest news still somehow finds a way to slip through.

But for much of the next 24 hours after that alert, I heard almost nothing about the shooting.

There was a lot I was glad to miss. For instance, I didn’t see the false claims — possibly amplified by propaganda bots — that the killer was a leftist, an anarchist, a member of ISIS and perhaps just one of multiple shooters. I missed the Fox News report tying him to Syrian resistance groups even before his name had been released. I also didn’t see the claim circulated by many news outlets (including The New York Times) as well as by Senator Bernie Sanders and other liberals on Twitter that the massacre had been the 18th school shooting of the year, which wasn’t true.

Instead, the day after the shooting, a friendly person I’ve never met dropped off three newspapers at my front door. That morning, I spent maybe 40 minutes poring over the horror of the shooting and a million other things the newspapers had to tell me.

Not only had I spent less time with the story than if I had followed along as it unfolded online, I was better informed, too. Because I had avoided the innocent mistakes — and the more malicious misdirection — that had pervaded the first hours after the shooting, my first experience of the news was an accurate account of the actual events of the day.

This has been my life for nearly two months. In January, after the breaking-newsiest year in recent memory, I decided to travel back in time. I turned off my digital news notifications, unplugged from Twitter and other social networks, and subscribed to home delivery of three print newspapers — The Times, The Wall Street Journal and my local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle — plus a weekly newsmagazine, The Economist. [Continue reading…]

The Verge reports:

Untruthful news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true news, according to new research — and bots may not be to blame.

In a paper published today in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the spread of all the stories verified (as either true or false) by six fact-checking organizations from 2006 to 2017. The analysis shows that false political news spreads more quickly than any other kind, like news about natural disasters or terrorism, and predictably, it spikes during events like the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections. (The researchers deliberately use the term “false news” because “fake news” is too politicized, they write.) Though the Twitter accounts that spread untruthful stories were likely to have fewer followers and tweet less than those sharing real news, false news still spreads quickly because it is seen as novel, the study says. [Continue reading…]

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