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Fake news is not the sole province of slimeball digital practitioners in faraway lands enabled by the righteous souls at Facebook and Google. There's also — as has ever been so — the government.
"Police investigating a notorious gang in a city on California's central coast issued a fake press release that the chief credited with saving two men by deceiving gang members who wanted to kill them, but the ruse was criticized by news organizations who reported it as fact." (The Associated Press)
Ralph Martin, the police chief of Santa Maria, California defended the tactic when it was revealed last week by the Santa Maria Sun, a weekly 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
Might this be a case where ends justify the means? Or is it far more complicated?
"If the police thought through their actions, knew that what they were doing was deceptive and misleading to the public and the media, but ultimately decided that the greater good was served by taking the action that they took, then they made an ethical decision," says Jeffrey Seglin, a public policy and ethics expert at Harvard's Kennedy School.
"Of course, as part of that ethical decision they would have had to think through how their actions might result in eroding trust with the media and the public and now have to address those issues. But based on the reporting by The Associated Press, it seems like the police knew they’d have some fallout from their decision but decided that, given all the options they faced, this was what they deemed to be the best action to save the lives they were trying to save."
Especially at a time when there's a quasi-obsession with "fake news," the public and media have lots of reasons to be critical of the action as the cops didn't just deceive the criminals but the public and press.
And in an era of huge mistrust between cops and many communities, does one think this does anything but aggravate matters? Give the cops credit for owning up to their motive to lie, but not much beyond that.
And consider the words of Gary Shapiro, a fabled former 43-year Chicago federal prosecutor — trust me, he's the definition of honorable public servant. He told me Sunday evening:
"I can't imagine doing what the Santa Maria cops are reported to have done."
"While I'm impressed with their good work and praiseworthy motives, the longer term consequences of 'defrauding' the media — even for the best of reasons — profoundly damages law enforcement's credibility in very practical ways."
So Shapiro wonders about what happens the next time cops need the press to put out information regarding a supposedly dangerous fugitive, a missing child, whatever? Or, as does happen in the real world, when law enforcement at levels from small towns to the FBI or CIA ask a news outlet to briefly hold off breaking a story that will likely undermine a sensitive, ongoing investigation?
I've been in those meetings. They can be tough. And, somewhere in the mix, is the critical matter of trust and whether editors or other news executives are willing to trust law enforcement even as they need to keep it at arms-length.
"And, here, to make matters worse, the cops undermined their credibility seemingly for nothing," says Shapiro about the California matter. "The gang's targets were no longer in danger, having already been relocated. And if their families were at risk, then they too could be moved."
"Bottom line: Cops know how to physically protect witnesses and victims without co-opting the press and undercutting a relationship which should be founded on a history of honest-dealing with one another."
Who files the most FOIA suits?
Who's filed the most Freedom of Information Act-related lawsuits, trying to get information out of government? It's short of exhaustive, but a project at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University suggest that, in descending order since 2001, it's:
The New York Times, Jason Leopold of VICE News, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, The Center for Public Integrity, David Burnham of TRAC, The Associated Press, Tax Analysts, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jeff Stein of Newsweek and Fox News. (Poynter)
A university goes after the student newspaper
It's part of what may be a trend of universities selling out campus media. The University of Kentucky is suing the student paper there after it published far more specifics than the administration desired about a professor who exited amid accusations of groping students. (The New York Times) A report by several academic groups just underscored the seeming growing problem nationally. (Poynter)
If you have 10,000 readers...
Jim VandeHei tweeted, ".@Axios is looking for writers/experts in ANY field w/ 10k+ loyal newsletter subscribers. Cool new platform and monetization await." (Recode)
Remnick and Springsteen
There are no shortages of interviews with Bruce Springsteen during his ongoing book tour. But an October interview at The New Yorker Festival that surfaces on Episode 58 of the magazine's weekly podcast is likely the best. (The New Yorker)
For about 20 years, it's been notable how fewer and fewer member of the American elite have any military connections. When they play the service hymns at the annual A-list Gridiron Dinner in Washington, fewer and fewer member of the corporate and media hierarchy rise in personal pride.
A similar scene will play out at Saturday's Army-Navy game. It was captured over the weekend by the former star newspaper columnist Bob Greene, recalling families encircling a TV to watch the game:
"Service in the armed forces wasn’t purely voluntary back then; if you were an able-bodied male and you didn’t enlist, you’d undoubtedly be drafted, because your country flat-out needed you. This all-but-universal service for men brought a sense of shared sacrifice, and shared experience, that is largely missing today."
"And on those Saturday afternoons in the ’50s, with the soldiers and sailors now back home and raising their young families in a nation whose peace they had won, the Army-Navy game would bring them together — even though they were scattered from one coast to the other — and would remind them of where they had been, and of what their country had asked of them. They may have been rooting for one team to defeat the other, but what mattered more was that they were holding on to something important, something that was already drifting away." (The Wall Street Journal)
The morning babble
CNN's "New Day" segued quickly from the horrendous Oakland, California fire to Trump's phone call with the Taiwan leader and subsequent tweets chiding China. Like the campaign, said co-host Chris Cuomo, "He has doubled down and now has a series of tweets going after China" in a breach of diplomatic protocol that "raises questions on how he will deal with diplomatic disputes."
"Fox & Friends" found the hand-wringing as a predictable liberal reflex, breaking out a "Mainstream Media Meltdown" chyron as Steve Doocy scoffed at these headlines: "How Trump's Calls to World Leaders Are Upsetting Decades of Diplomacy" (The New York Times), "Bull in a ChinaShop: Trump risks diplomatic blow-up in Asia" (Politico), "Did Trump just cause a diplomatic crisis over Taiwan?" (Los Angeles Times) and "China lodges complaint over Trump-Taiwan call" (CNN)
On "Morning Joe" Richard Haass, the camera-craving Council on Foreign Relations chief who's among four (maybe five?) ambitious Republicans in North America not on Trump's expanding Secretary of State list, asked, "Does this give us leverage or rather is Taiwan the one place you don't want to potentially have a confrontation with China, given the geography?" His answer? "This is not the place you want to have a showdown. This is an existential issue. It deals with the unity of the country, and you've also got to look at the geography and the military situation."
Co-host Joe Scarborough declared flatly, "I don't think he gives a damn about Taiwan. I think he cares about North Korea." And, then, came this curious declaration, ambiguous enough to suggest the tactical wisdom of his own bargaining with his employer that has left him with a giant seven-figure haul.
"In my negotiations a lot of times I find the one thing the other person wants that I have absolutely no interest in and that's what I walk in saying I want, and I am not going to walk out of here until you give me that. And then they don't realize that all I actually want is money. And they flip it and you get money."
But maybe he was alluding to negotiations with his landscaper, or a salesman at the local Mattress Firm as they haggle about a new Tempur-Pedic.
A Trump niche
STAT, the great site on the health sciences is now offering, "Trump in 30 seconds: Science and medicine in flux." You can subscribe to a newsletter to his effect on those fields. (STAT)
Fact-check for ESPN
"Bears DE Julius Peppers now has 142.5 sacks, passing Michael Strahan for 5th on the NFL's all-time sack list," ESPN proclaimed on its site yesterday afternoon. Ah, no, that would be Packers DE Julius Peppers. He played for the Bears once, no more.
The unseemly business of fashion
At the Business of Fashion's annual gathering of "big thinkers," this time held in Oxfordshire, England, "Casting director James Scully and others lifted the lid on a system that hires girls when they are little more than children and then disposes of them when they hit puberty in a power game where models are pawns." (Business of Fashion)
During one panel discussion, model Hari Nef argued, "“There needs to be a greater awareness of who wears the clothes. The fashion industry fetishizes diversity. It’s like ‘diversity day’ — but that never means a blue chip campaign or a big contract.”
The Yankees' woes
There's a new collective bargaining agreement for Major League Baseball. But the Yankees continue to grouse that they have been a victim of a system that forces them to pay significant amounts in revenue sharing and luxury taxes to small market team.
For sure, they have paid huge sums for the past decade — somewhere around $100 million last year — but Fangraphs, one of the best data- and and metrics-driven sites argues that it's a crock to blame the team's performances woes on those payments. "Rather, poor spending and failed player development have been the team’s main issues." This makes a very solid case. (Yankees)
Hillary Clinton and privacy
"'Saturday Night Live' poked fun at the 'White people with Facebook' who have managed to get pictures of Clinton "in the wild." While the sketch admittedly plays a little weird (it is comparing Hillary Clinton to mythical monsters like Bigfoot, after all), the heart of it seems to be parodying not Clinton, but anyone with the urge to 'hunt her' for photos during a period when wanting a little alone time is literally the most understandable thing." (Harper's Bazaar)
Here's a media follow-up on Carrier
Now that Donald Trump and Mike Pence have cut that deal to save Hoosier jobs at Carrier, let's see what they can do with this reality detailed by The Times of Northwest Indiana.
"The state's aging water infrastructure needs $2.3 billion in immediate repairs and $815 million a year in additional maintenance spending to protect human health and stem the loss of some 50 billion gallons a year that never make it to a customer." (The Times of Northwest Indiana)
"A new Indiana Finance Authority report, commissioned by the General Assembly, found the state's 554 independent water systems are struggling to maintain quality service as water pipes, mains and other underground assets reach or exceed their useful lives."
Well, since the President-elect did so well with heating and air-conditioning, let's see what he can do with corroded underground pipes.
The judge as shill
"Justice with Judge Jeanine" (Pirro) is fortunately relegated to a Saturday evening Fox News Channel slot, where you need be so totally bored, over-served or, as I was, stuck in a Schererville, Indiana motel amid a kids soccer tournament in nearby Crown Point, to watch for more than nine seconds.
So I got to watch her fawning over Trump and actually declaring, "It's morning in America, again." And then, with Reince Priebus, she was in full gush, concluding her interview — I mean apple-polishing — with this:
"What is the magic of Donald Trump?!...Thank Mr. Trump on behalf of all of us!"
As I said, long weekend in Indiana.