The liar’s dividend, and other challenges of deep-fake news

Paul Chadwick writes:

Do the notes taken by the interpreters at the recent Helsinki summit include the words “Snowden” and “swap”? We could ask the Russians to check their (assumed) audio recording and let us all know whether Presidents Trump and Putin discussed such a prospect during their long private chat. Trump wrong-footing his own country’s intelligence community by delivering their most-wanted, Edward Snowden, seems precisely the trolling that Putin would enjoy.

What else might leak soon, in the form of audio of the authentic voices of two familiar public figures speaking to each other through the only other people in the room, the US interpreter and her Russian counterpart? What other mischief could be coming in this dawning era of astonishingly realistic “deep fakes”?

Artificial intelligence is becoming more proficient at using genuine audio and video to help create fake audio and video in which people appear to say or do what they have not said or done. Celebrities seeming to read aloud their own tweets and fake video of Barack Obama are two examples. Some developers indicate awareness of the ethical implications.

The issues are analysed in a new draft paper, Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy and National Security, by two US law professors. Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron unflinchingly yet constructively explain the potential harms to individuals and societies – for example to reputations, elections, commerce, security, diplomacy and journalism – and suggest ways the problem can be ameliorated, through technology, law, government action and market initiatives. The paper reflects and respects both experience and scholarship, a style familiar from the Lawfare blog that Chesney co-founded. The specifics in the paper are mostly American but its relevance is global. Deep fakes are aided by the quick, many-to-many spread of information, especially in social media, and by human traits such as biases, attraction to what’s novel and negative, and our comfort in our filter bubbles. [Continue reading…]

The media’s failure to connect the dots on climate change

Emily Atkin writes:

A record-breaking heat wave killed 65 people in Japan this week, just weeks after record flooding there killed more than 200. Record-breaking heat is also wreaking havoc in California, where the wildfire season is already worse than usual. In Greece, fast-moving fires have killed at least 80 people, and Sweden is struggling to contain more than 50 fires amid its worst drought in 74 years. Both countries have experienced all-time record-breaking temperatures this summer, as has most of the rest of the world.

Is this climate change, or merely Mother Nature? The science is clear: Heat-trapping greenhouse gases have artificially increased the average temperature across the globe, making extreme heat events more likely. This has also increased the risk of frequent and more devastating wildfires, as prolonged heat dries soil and turns vegetation into tinder.

And yet, despite these facts, there’s no climate connection to be found in much news coverage of extreme weather events across the globe—even in historically climate-conscious outlets like NPR and The New York Times. These omissions, critics say, can affect how Americans view global warming and its impact on their lives.

Major broadcast TV networks are the most glaring offenders. Media Matters reviewed 127 segments on the global heat wave that aired on ABC, CBS, and NBC this summer, and found that only one, on CBS This Morning, mentioned the connection between climate change and extreme heat. This fits a long-running pattern. As Media Matters noted, its latest annual study of broadcast coverage found that “during the height of hurricane season in 2017, neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes.” [Continue reading…]

The Capital Gazette shooting and the true value of local newspapers

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes:

On Thursday afternoon, a thirty-eight-year-old man named Jarrod Ramos killed five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper, in Annapolis, Maryland. He fired a gun into the newsroom, then stopped, reloaded—members of the staff now cowering under their desks—and then started firing again. After a mass shooting, there is usually both sadness and a sense of dread, as the country waits to discover the shooter’s identity and the nature of his grievance. But in this case the staff of the Capital Gazette already knew all about Ramos. He had been the subject of a story in the paper in 2011 that detailed how he had stalked a high-school classmate on Facebook. Ever since, he had mounted a relentless campaign of harassment and menace against the paper and its editors. Ramos sued the Capital Gazette for defamation, and lost; he maintained a Twitter feed exclusively devoted to ranting against the paper. He threatened the paper often, and some of his threats “indicated violence,” the local police chief said Thursday. Tom Marquardt, who had been the newspaper’s publisher and editor until 2012, told the Los Angeles Times last night that, “if it’s him, I’m gonna feel responsible for this. I pray it’s not him.” It was. This time there was no mystery about the killer’s motivation, no chance for opportunistic politics to creep in. His story was already laid out in the memory of the local reporters and in their newspaper’s archives.

On Thursday evening, after Ramos was in custody, I read the article about Ramos and the woman from his high school, published on Sunday, July 31, 2011—the one that set off the unravelling. The story, written by a columnist named Eric Thomas Hartley, is a small masterpiece, one that shows exactly what local newspapers can do. Its tone is terse and alarmed; no paragraph is more than three sentences. Its subject is an outwardly unexceptional criminal case in Anne Arundel Court, in which Ramos pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment. The headline, ominous and artful, was “Jarrod Wants to be Your Friend.” [Continue reading…]

Fox News once gave Trump a perch. Now it’s his bullhorn

The New York Times reports:

In 2011, Fox News announced that a new guest would appear weekly on “Fox & Friends,” its chummy morning show. “Bold, brash, and never bashful,” a network ad declared. “The Donald now makes his voice loud and clear, every Monday on Fox.”

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Seven years later, the symbiosis between Donald J. Trump and his favorite cable network has only deepened. Fox News, whose commentators resolutely defend the president’s agenda, has seen ratings and revenues rise. President Trump views the network as a convenient safe space where he can express himself with little criticism from eager-to-please hosts.

Now, the line between the network’s studios and Mr. Trump’s White House is blurring further. Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president who helped create the look and feel of the channel’s conservative programming, is expected to be hired as the president’s new deputy chief of staff, overseeing communications.

He was recommended to Mr. Trump by a mutual friend: Sean Hannity, the Fox News star who has become a confidant of the president and promoter of the administration’s message to his average nightly audience of about 3.4 million viewers, the biggest in cable news. [Continue reading…]

The escalating hatred faced by journalists

Julie Beck writes:

The majority of Americans do not trust the news media. There are many complex reasons why, and there’s enough blame to go around to many different parties, journalists included. So it’s hardly surprising that they get some rude messages. “But I’m not talking about the rudeness. I’m talking about intimidation,” says Elana Newman, a psychologist who works with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. “I’ve been working for the Dart Center for 20 years in some capacity, and when we used to ask people what the most stressful parts of journalism are, they would talk about the hours, or getting it right. They would talk about all sorts of things. Now what comes up is really this kind of stuff.”

According to research by the psychologist Kelsey Parker in 2015, 63 percent of journalists from several English-speaking countries said they had experienced occupational intimidation in the past 12 months. Globally, almost two-thirds of female journalists “experienced acts of ‘intimidation, threats and abuse’ in relation to their work,” a report from the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute found. Another study, of Swedish journalists, found that a third had experienced a threat in the past year. A far greater number—74 percent—had received “abusive comments which are unpleasant but do not involve any direct threat.”

Journalists have had their families harassed, had their addresses and other personal information published (a practice known as doxxing), and had SWAT teams sent to their houses by trolls.

“Raise your hand if you know (or are) a journalist who has received a death threat in the last year,” Sam Escobar, the deputy director of Allure magazine, tweeted on Thursday after the shooting. The tweet received replies from journalists on every beat imaginable—health, politics, music, gender, tech, beauty—and a cartoonist. [Continue reading…]

News and the forgotten value of waiting

If someone wanted to create a parody of cable news, it would be hard to satirize the form more effectively than to cast Wolf Blitzer as the lead character in a goofy show called The Situation Room, where all news all the time is breaking news.

The irony of the fact that CNN’s news show of that name is, on the contrary, meant to be taken seriously, is that it does indeed capture the zeitgeist of the news media environment in which we now live — an environment, driven largely by social media, that maximizes the value of the nowness of news while eviscerating the value of its content.

News nowadays has such a short shelf-life, it’s already stale before it gets packaged.

The obvious explanation for this state of affairs is that while journalism is and always has been a mad race to get there first, the driving forces behind that race now operate outside the control of traditional news organizations.

Yet that dynamic does not, it seems to me, fully account for what’s going on.

The over amplified urgency of news, mirrors a much broader social malaise. People everywhere, but especially in America, have been conditioned to feel that there is no experience in life more intolerable than having to wait.

To wait is to be tortured by a cavity that urgently demands filling.

Waiting destabilizes the nervous system and seemingly the only way most people can prevent an imminent seizure or some other kind of systemic breakdown these days is by clutching the ubiquitous grounding device upon which everyone now depends: their smart phone — a grounding device that helps each user feel connected by disconnecting them from where they are.

In response to a pandemic of impatience, the news media, like Amazon Prime, caters to and cultivates a sense that waiting is one step away from dying and conversely that a life lived to the full is a life in which we never have to wait — for anything. We want everything now.

In truth, as we lose the capacity to wait, we regress to (or never grow out of) a state of infantilism. Our expectation that everything should be available on demand, far from shaping the perfect life, has instead become an unremitting source of stress.

We have become enslaved by our impatience — there is no liberty in this addiction.

Impatience is the incapacity to find ease in the present moment.

Rather than treating the present as a fertile space in which the unexpected can freely emerge, we demand that it conform to our expectations. We struggle to shape what will be while continuously turning away from what is.

In so doing, we are forever struggling to inhabit a world of our designs, while shielding ourselves from the world in which we live.

Since so much of what passes for news describes circumstances in which people have died, it is strange that questions about life and death somehow fall outside the purview of most journalists — as though cold facts are all that matter.

The shooting at the offices of The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, yesterday afternoon illustrate how thinly sliced a story becomes when reduced to a short string of facts — the names of the gunman and his victims, statements from law enforcement, gleanings from social media, and then a robotic presidential response.

Jarrod Warren Ramos will have his day in court, while his random victims have been deprived of theirs. Maybe he’ll dispute the suggestion that his killing spree was random. Strangely, the local police, while emphasizing that their investigation would be slow and thorough, nevertheless went out of their way to dampen speculation that this might be a random attack on journalists incited by Donald Trump and the alt right — as though by describing Ramos’ attack as “targeted,” they had sealed off the crime scene from the media-hostile environment in which it took place.

There may come a day when the full story is told, yet the faster the spinning top of news coverage turns, the smaller the space in which patient storytelling can unfurl.

In our eagerness to consume the news as fast as it comes, like a snake eating itself, we consume our capacity to digest information, ruminate on its meaning and engage the world thoughtfully with reflective minds and open hearts.

The ignorant do not have a right to an audience

Bryan W. Van Norden writes:

What harm is there in people hearing obvious falsehoods and specious argumentation if any sane and minimally educated person can see through them? The problem, though, is that humans are not rational in the way [the English philosopher John Stuart] Mill assumes [in, On Liberty]. I wish it were self-evident to everyone that we should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but the current vice president of the United States does not agree. I wish everyone knew that it is irrational to deny the evidence that there was a mass shooting in Sandy Hook, but a syndicated radio talk show host can make a career out of arguing for the contrary.

Historically, Millian arguments have had some good practical effects. Mill followed Alexis de Tocqueville in identifying “the tyranny of the majority” as an ever-present danger in democracies. As an advocate of women’s rights and an opponent of slavery, Mill knew that many people then regarded even the discussion of these issues as offensive. He hoped that by making freedom of speech a near absolute right he could guarantee a hearing for opinions that were true but unpopular among most of his contemporaries.

However, our situation is very different from that of Mill. We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority. [Continue reading…]

It’s time for the press to suspend normal relations with the Trump presidency

Jay Rosen writes:

It sometimes happens in diplomacy that one country has to say to another: “This is extreme. We cannot accept this. You have gone too far.” And so it suspends diplomatic relations.

In 2012 the government of Canada announced that it would suspend diplomatic relations with Iran. “Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” said the foreign minister.

Journalists charged with covering him should suspend normal relations with the presidency of Donald Trump, which is the most significant live threat to a well-informed public in the United States today.

That is my recommendation. [Continue reading…]

Dear journalists: Stop being loudspeakers for liars

Dan Gillmor writes:

An open letter to my friends and colleagues in journalism:

Please, just stop.

Please stop giving live airtime to liars. Stop publishing their lies.

Please examine what you’re doing. You are letting liars use your traditional norms — which made sense in different times and situations — to turn you into amplifiers of deceit. You know you are doing this, and sometimes you even defend it.

Please stop.

But but but but, you say, he’s the president and we have to publish what he says, because by definition what the president says is news. We have to put Kellyanne Conway on our programs, and quote her in our tweets and stories, because she has the president’s ear and knows what’s going on inside the White House.

No, you don’t. And what’s more, you shouldn’t. [Continue reading…]

The press needs to sandwich Trump’s lies between thick slices of reality

Margaret Sullivan writes:

Last week was a particularly rough one for journalists and truth-seeking citizens.

President Trump declared the news media the nation’s worst enemy. And time after shocking time, his acolytes demeaned or threatened reporters for doing one of their most basic jobs: asking questions of those in power.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a reporter in North Korea that it was “insulting and ridiculous and ludicrous” for him to be asked about details of the verification process for the vaunted denuclearization.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale suggested taking a CNN reporter’s credentials away after he shouted a question at the president.

It was ugly. Even uglier than usual.

And the president’s anti-media campaign is convincing at least some citizens that journalists have no worth.

Enter George Lakoff. An author, cognitive scientist and linguist who has long studied how propaganda works, he believes it’s long past time for the reality-based news media to stop kowtowing to the emperor.

“Trump needs the media, and the media help him by repeating what he says,” Lakoff said.

That would be okay under normal circumstances, he told me, but “this situation is not normal — you have a sustained attack on the democracy and the news media.”

Unlike those who insist that what the president says is news and therefore must be reported, Lakoff proposes a radical reimagining of how the news media reports on Trump.

Instead of treating the president’s every tweet and utterance — true or false — as newsworthy (and then perhaps fact-checking it later), Lakoff urges the use of what he calls a “truth sandwich.” [Continue reading…]