June 18, 2024

For years — going all the way back to the 1960s — there has been a surgeon general’s warning on tobacco products. You’ve seen them, with wording such as “Smoking causes lung cancer” and so forth.

Now the U.S. surgeon general wants another similar type of warning, this time on social media platforms, pointing out the mental health risks for young people who use apps such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and others.

In a guest essay for The New York Times, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy wrote, “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor.”

He added, “It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents. A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe.”

Murthy pointed to various studies that show adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media double their risk of anxiety and depression symptoms. In addition, nearly half of adolescents say social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.

A Gallup study last year found that teens spend an average of 4.8 hours daily on social media.

Murthy also called out social media companies, writing, “Additionally, companies must be required to share all of their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public — currently they do not — and allow independent safety audits. While the platforms claim they are making their products safer, Americans need more than words. We need proof.”

In an interview with The New York Times’ Ellen Barry and Cecilia Kang, Murthy said, “I don’t think we can solely rely on the hope that the platforms can fix this problem on their own. They’ve had 20 years.”

Could this actually happen? As Murthy notes, it would require congressional action, and there does seem to be bipartisan support for such warnings.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a joint statement, “We are pleased that the Surgeon General — America’s top doctor — continues to bring attention to the harmful impact that social media has on our children.”

But tech companies would almost certainly fight it.

Adam Kovacevich, CEO of the tech industry policy group Chamber of Progress, told The Associated Press’ Michelle Chapman, “Putting a warning label on online speech isn’t just scientifically unsound, it’s at odds with the constitutional right to free speech. It’s surprising to see the U.S. Surgeon General attacking social media when teens themselves say it provides an important outlet for social connection.”

The Times wrote, “Technology companies are likely to argue that the science on the harmful effects of social media is not settled. They will also invoke free speech law, arguing that the government cannot force companies to carry a product warning, which is sometimes described as ‘compelled speech.’”

Kovacevich told the Times, “Legally speaking, it’s no different from a Trump administration surgeon general declaring there needs to be a warning label on mainstream media because he deems it to be fake news. It’s all the same abuse of government’s power to infringe on speech.”

Murthy, however, fights on, writing, “The moral test of any society is how well it protects its children. … We have the expertise, resources and tools to make social media safe for our kids. Now is the time to summon the will to act. Our children’s well-being is at stake.”

Inside the building

More and more disturbing stories about Washington Post publisher and CEO Will Lewis and incoming editor Robert Winnett seem to pop up every day and, to its credit, the Post is among the leaders in digging into the journalistic ethics of Lewis and Winnett.

The Post’s latest story, published Sunday and written by Isaac Stanley-Becker, Sarah Ellison, Greg Miller and Aaron C. Davis: “Incoming Post editor tied to self-described ‘thief’ who claimed role in his reporting.”

The gist of the story is a little complicated to sum up here completely, so I encourage you to read it. But at its heart, the Post reporters write that the latest claims “raise questions about Winnett’s journalistic record months before he is to assume a top position at The Post. His appointment has increased focus on the different ways journalism is practiced in the United States and Britain.”

The Post has been a mess the past two weeks, ever since Sally Buzbee abruptly resigned as the Post’s executive editor. After her resignation, there were stories that Lewis was not happy that the Post was reporting on his involvement in a British phone hacking scandal years ago, and that he conveyed his concerns to Buzbee.

Buzbee was reportedly bothered by the conversation with Lewis, although the primary reason for her resignation is believed to be because she was unhappy with what her role would be following a shakeup in Post leadership.

It should be pointed out that the Post has, all along, continued to publish stories about Lewis, his past in journalism, and the mess going on right now at the paper. In other words, Lewis, as far as we know, hasn’t stopped the publication of any story.

However, you can imagine the awkwardness of this situation. So the Post is addressing that, too.

It has brought back Cameron Barr, who stepped down as Washington Post managing editor last year, to oversee coverage of Lewis and Post leadership.

A Post spokesperson said in a statement, “We cover The Washington Post independently, rigorously and fairly. Given perceived and potential conflicts, we have asked former senior managing editor Cameron Barr, who stepped down from that position in 2023 and now has a contractual relationship as a senior associate editor, to oversee this coverage. The executive editor and relevant masthead editors review and provide input, with Cameron’s concurrence, to ensure that our work meets our highest standards. The publisher has no involvement in or influence on our reporting.”

The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson wrote Monday that Matt Murray, who is currently overseeing the newsroom through the November election, “tried to rally Post editors during a (Monday) morning meeting. He praised the paper’s article about Mr. Winnett and encouraged them to remain focused on the journalism, according to two people familiar with his remarks.”

Trial date set for Gershkovich

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, shown here in a Russian courtroom last October. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Russia has set a date for the beginning of the trial for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The first hearing will take place in secret on June 26.

Gershkovich is being charged with espionage, a charge the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny. The U.S. considers Gershkovich to be “wrongfully detained.” Gershkovich was arrested and has been held in Russia since March 2023.

The Wall Street Journal said Monday in a statement that the “latest development means a sham trial is imminent.”

The Journal added, “We expect that all parties will work to bring Evan home now. Time is of the essence. As we’ve said, the Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime, and Evan’s case is an assault on free press.”

Gershkovich is being charged with gathering information for the CIA about a defense contractor in Russia, but the Russian government has not presented any evidence.

The Wall Street Journal’s Ann M. Simmons and Georgi Kantchev wrote, “Gershkovich is expected to be transferred from Moscow to Yekaterinburg for the June 26 court hearing. At a trial, Gershkovich would receive little, if any, of the due process he would be afforded in the U.S. or other countries. It isn’t known how long the reporter’s trial will last.”

If convicted, Gershkovich could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

Ramaswamy’s plans for BuzzFeed

After his failed Republican presidential run, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy set his sights on something else: BuzzFeed. Ramaswamy recently bought an 8% stake in the company and immediately called for massive changes. They include cutting staff, adding three board seats and bringing in polarizing voices such as Tucker Carlson, Candace Owens and Aaron Rodgers.

Last week, he told Semafor’s new podcast, “Mixed Signals,” hosted by Ben Smith, that he isn’t doing all this as a stunt. He also believes that because of financial issues within the company, CEO and founder Jonah Peretti will have to go along with his plans.

He told Smith, “This is a company that has more debt than cash. That debt comes due this December. So anybody who thinks that Jonah Peretti is the person in control of this business because some piece of paper says he has voting rights over the shares is delusional.”

The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin previously reported that “Mr. Peretti owns a special class of voting stock that gives him an effective veto over any drastic remaking of the company or its board.”

Ramaswamy told Smith, “(The dynamic of dual class stock) changes completely when you have debt that comes due that’s deeply underwater from its conversion price, and that comes due at a moment where the company has less cash than debt is losing money on a growing basis. I think somebody who has basic intuitions of how those situations play out would maybe rethink the idea that Jonah actually has full control of this company.”

This story seems long from over.

Latest from The Daily Beast

TheWrap’s Natalie Korach reports major news at The Daily Beast: Nearly 70% of unionized staff — 25 people, to be exact — have applied for the buyout package the company recently negotiated with The Daily Beast Union.

Those who applied account for almost all of The Daily Beast’s senior staffers, according to Korach, including media reporter Justin Baragona, political investigations reporter Jose Pagliery, senior national reporter Pilar Melendez, and senior reporter Emily Shugerman. Those who applied have seven days to either accept the buyout or rescind their application.

Korach also reports nonunion members are expecting another round of layoffs at the end of the month.

In a statement to TheWrap, a Daily Beast spokesperson said, “With such a generous severance offer, we anticipated a large number of employees would take the voluntary buyout. We are not at all surprised. These numbers allow us to move forward with our plan to secure the financial future of the Beast and rebuild a newsroom that will thrive in the current landscape. It’s always difficult when dedicated employees choose to step away. We thank them and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

The union put out a statement that said it won “job security for unit members who chose to stay with the Company. Because we expect to exceed $1.5 million in payroll savings through the buyouts, unit members will be protected from any layoffs through Dec. 31, 2024.”

In addition, the union has negotiated a tentative two-year collective bargaining agreement with management.

Memorable anniversaries

Al Cowlings, with O.J. Simpson hiding, drives a white Ford Bronco as they lead police on a two-county chase along the northbound 405 Freeway on  June 17, 1994, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lois Bernstein)

Monday was June 17. Most people may know that June 17 was one of the most famous days ever involving sports. It was so famous — or, as you might know, infamous — that ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series produced a film called “June 17, 1994.”

On June 17, 1994, soccer’s World Cup got underway for the first time ever in the United States. The New York Rangers celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 54 years with a ticker-tape parade down Broadway. And the New York Knicks played the Houston Rockets in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

But the Knicks-Rockets game was interrupted on TV by an incredible scene going on in California. Football legend O.J. Simpson was chased by police while riding in a white Bronco in Los Angeles. Police considered him a fugitive as it was trying to question him following the murder of his wife and her friend just days earlier.

Of course, we remember how that day, and the subsequent trial of Simpson, played out.

June 17 also was another famous anniversary in journalism history. On June 17, 1972, a group of so-called “plumbers” were arrested as they attempted to burglarize and plant surveillance bugs in the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Building Complex in Washington, D.C.

That led to some remarkable reporting, most famously led by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and the ultimate resignation of President Richard Nixon.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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