What if fact-checkers picked out the fake news in your personal life?
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Imagine if Snopes, PolitiFact and The Associated Press fact-checked our holiday cards and letters — or many of our daily declarations — for the truth.
Facebook, of course, just announced it would team with PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, the Associated Press, ABC News and Snopes to curb the distribution of hoaxes. It's a needed, even if a Sisyphean task, given both the new digital industry of deceit creation and the related impotence of most media gatekeepers.
But now comes the droll notion of what would happen if we really dissected the truth of even the holiday cheer all Americans dispense. It's in McSweeney's "Snopes Investigates the Anderson Family's Holiday Letter" and, in its satirical way, Allen Rein offers a reminder of endemic hyperbole in our lives — and the challenge of turning the media's escalating righteousness into effective surveillance of the fraudulent. (McSweeney's)
"To our dearest friends and family..."
"FALSE. While this letter was indeed sent to dear friends and family, it has been confirmed that the recipient list also included immediate neighbors, members of the PTO board and Beth from work."
"We hope this little note finds you well and that you’re enjoying the holiday season. We’ve already had our share of snow here in upstate New York, and we’ve spent much of the last month digging out Tom’s beloved BMW!"
"MOSTLY TRUE. It did snow a ton in upstate New York, and Tom’s car therefore required frequent digging out. However, the use of 'beloved' is undoubtedly a sarcastic jab from Rachel, who is not known to be particularly fond of the BMW, having been heard on multiple occasions to refer to it as, 'Tom’s dick.'"
"It’s been a wonderful year for all four of us."
"Connor finished eighth grade with flying colors. He continues to follow in his father’s footsteps, fervently pursuing basketball and excelling in his science class, especially in the areas of chemistry and physics."
"TRUE. Connor, like his father before him, is playing basketball because of intense paternal pressure. Connor shares his dad’s hatred for the sport and has already secretly vowed to make his future son play, as well. Also true is Connor’s love for science. He experiments with Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill (chemistry) on a regular basis from the roof (physics)."
"Chloe wrapped up tenth grade with a beautiful presentation on the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She spent much of her summer at an outdoors camp and has hit the ground running this school year. She has even found a new love for art! Who knows what she’ll come up with next?"
"FALSE. Except for the part about Chloe finishing tenth grade, this paragraph appears to be entirely fabricated. One could argue that Chloe has, in fact, found a new love for art, but one would have to be talking about her ankle tattoo of a spider on fire. Interestingly, Chloe did go to an outdoors camp three summers prior to this holiday letter. We believe this to be a copy-and-paste error of either the computer or cerebral variety."
"Tom had his busiest year yet at the law firm. His client base has been expanding, and he’s found himself traveling all over the country to handle various contracts negotiations. He was even out of town for the big snowfall, which left quite a bit of shoveling for Rachel. She sure expanded her vocabulary that day!"
"TRUE. Tom was on the road constantly throughout the year, because work is more important to him than key life moments, like Connor’s first basketball game, the fight over Chloe’s tattoo, and, yes, that incredible snowstorm. Rachel is still out-of-her-mind pissed."
"In closing, friends, we wish for you what we wish for ourselves: to have a safe and happy holiday and a peaceful start to the New Year."
Trump, Vanity Fair and food
"President-elect Donald Trump has beaten all challengers in 2016, triumphing over Republicans, Hillary Clinton, the media and facts. Now he faces his toughest opposition yet: Yelpers. Trump Grill, the Trump Tower restaurant that just might be the worst in America, is seeing its Yelp rating plummet." (Eater.com)
"Though, many of the recent reviews cite problems with food, drink, and service, perhaps in an attempt to feign legitimacy. The timing would suggest they are responding to Trump’s feud with Vanity Fair magazine, which on Wednesday published a scathing review of the restaurant." If you missed it, Alec Baldwin's Trump referenced his Vanity Fair chagrin on "Saturday Night Live." (SNL)
"What Verizon might do if it cancels the Yahoo deal — Yelp or Twitter could also bolster ad business." (Fortune)
Fore in Hawaii
This item is totally gratuitous and composed out of unadulterated jealousy. No sooner was he on vacation in Hawaii than President Obama played what Mark Knoller, CBS White House correspondent with encyclopedic files on presidents, tells me was his 327th round as president.
If Obama were to play at a hacker's usual five-hour pace, that would be 1,635 hours, or 68 days, or nearly 10 weeks of golf, largely at our expense. Those of us — at least those not on the PGA Tour — can only wish.
Nomenclature surprise (not)
"Flatiron Books announced that — yaaas kween — Oprah Winfrey named her publishing imprint, 'An Oprah Book.'" Hope it does better than her channel. "That is a silly name, but I will still read those books." (Book Riot)
"Americans believe Trump will bring change; disagree on what kind." (The Wall Street Journal) Presumably they also believe there will be weather next week, just not quite sure whether good or bad.
The origin of lies fed to media?
"Trump and his talking heads didn’t create this world. It is a result of a decades-long strategy devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress. Trump emulated some of these disinformation techniques, gleaned from big business, during his campaign." (The Washington Post)
The lies fed to media and investors
"It's worth remembering that financial markets have been dealing with hoaxes, frauds and fake news for a long time. The wrong response can be costly. Back in the bad old days, faxes and message boards were used to defraud investors." (Bloomberg)
This recalls a bogus press release that prompted one stock to plunge 60 percent. "PairGain Technologies Inc., Lucent Inc. and other companies were also victims of fake releases posted on message boards. The list goes on and on: Avon Products Inc., Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Inc., Tower Group International Ltd., Sina Corp., Local Corp., Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc. and General Mills Inc. were targets of similar scams."
"Last year, Twitter’s price spiked after an article from a hoax domain that looked like a Bloomberg News site trumpeted a phony $31 billion takeover offer." The point: As pundits harrumph about the whole business of "fake news," a bit of historical knowledge might help a journalist or three.
Gymnastic pedophile on the loose
Depressingly, here's about all you need to know in a strong, continuing newspaper investigation: "He could have been stopped: How one pedophile kept coaching gymnastics: An Indystar investigation traced the path of former coach Ray Adams across a dozen gyms in four states." (Indianapolis Star)
PC Mag's tech obituaries
It's not just celebrities who died in 2016. There were also technologies. Here are 15: The VCR, Google Nexus, Blackberry phones, vines, Meerkat live streaming app, Pebble crowdfunding, iPhone headphone jacks, Google's Project Ara modular phone, Microsoft's Band fitness tracker, Thunderbolt external display, Galaxy Note 7, Google's Picasa image library, Microsoft's Twitter-based TayTweets, Samsung NX cameras and, yes, Gawker. (PC Mag)
"The 50 Best Podcasts of 2016" (The Atlantic), "Best Photos of 2016" (Time), "Top 100 Movies of 2016" (Rotten Tomatoes), "The 10 Best Apps of 2016" (Fast Company), "The Best Space Photos of 2016" (Time), "The 10 Best Boardgames of 2016" (Paste) and "The Best Video Game Surprises of 2016" (Kotaku).
Enough of all the upbeat stuff. Here's one you can use for the holidays: "The 20 Worst Films of 2016" (A.V. Club)
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" opened with little ambiguity: "President-elect Donald Trump is on his way to making America great again. More than 500 electors voting today to certify his victory," said substitute co-host Heather Nauert. Piped in Steve Doocy, self-designated scourge of "mainstream media": "And despite the fact that he won the election fair or square, the mainstream media is urging those electors to do anything but vote for Donald Trump. PLEASE, they say!"
CNN's "New Day" co-host Alisyn Camerota opened on same topic, if predictably less declarative: "Is there a chance something nutty happens today?" Responded Maggie Haberman, a New York Times reporter: "We should never say never." But really, “no” was essentially her response. Actually, "The chances are slim....It seems like a lot of frustration building a head of steam."
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" zeroed in on Hillary Clinton grousing about FBI Director James Comey's involvement in the election and hacking overseen by Vladimir Putin. As Mike Barnicle demurred, her campaign came down to the phrase, 'It's my turn." He's correct, even if you stipulate that Comey's late letter on her emails was probably awful judgment by him (though not evidence of institutional bias). But it didn't sink her.
It also offered an annotation of President Obama's generally impressive Friday press conference while correctly underscoring his persistent failure to fashion real bonds with his own party on Capitol Hill (Obama did concede failing to revive his presidential constituency during congressional mid-terms). Check a tape of Obama and just ask if Trump could exhibit such analytical dexterity on most any topic. (C-SPAN)
Very fine work
There is a world beyond Trump, as The New York Times reminds with two fine efforts. First, there was an excellent piece by Somini Sengupta on climate change and hunger creating an African "road of fire" for the impoverished paying huge sums to slimy smugglers to get out "across the merciless Sahara." Then, Jeffrey Gettleman exhibited his African expertise with a tale on how Congo's leader just won't leave office as he is "trapped in a 'labyrinth of his own making.'"
Common interviews Serena Williams
If was an effusive and mutually admiring encounter, but the rapper Common did a good job last night interviewing Serena Williams on an ESPN special produced by The Undefeated. This was a perfect example of the latter's attempt to meld culture, race, politics and sports, with the most notable moment being Williams discarding the veneer of modesty and saying that she'd have been considered among the greatest athletes ever (perhaps the greatest) long before now if she were a man. (The Undefeated)
The New York Times obituary of Zsa Zsa Gabor — "...the Hungarian actress whose self-parodying glamour and revolving-door marriages to millionaires put a luster of American celebrity on a long but only modestly successful career in movies and television" — is by a king of rewrite, the estimable Robert McFadden, 79.
The White Helmets
CBS "60 Minutes" profiled The Syrian Self-Defense, or so-called "White Helmets," in Aleppo. (CBS News) The story's been done quite well previously, including by Time magazine and The Guardian, as well as in a Netflix documentary, but it was a good look at the courageous volunteer group.