Why a creator calls Google News 'shameful and irresponsible' amid Vegas massacre
Good morning. Here's our morning roundup of all the media news you need to know. Want to get this briefing in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.An engineer cuts to the quick
Tracy Chou, a leading Silicon Valley engineer, wrote a few months ago about how "Technology products and services are built by humans who build their biases and flawed thinking right into those products and services — which in turn shapes human behavior and society, sometimes to a frightening degree."
"It’s arguable, for example, that online media’s reliance on clickbait journalism, and Facebook’s role in spreading “fake news” or otherwise sensationalized stories influenced the results of the 2016 US presidential election. This criticism is far from outward-facing; it comes from a place of self-reflection."
It's the self-selection that prompts Krishna Bharat, an engineer central to creating Google News before he split, to now take to Facebook (yes, news about Google News on Facebook) and tag his handiwork "shameful and irresponsible" after Google screwed up big-time on the Las Vegas massacre.
Bharat was moved by the disclosure that Google News passed along crap from 4Chan that had identified the distinctly wrong individual as the shooter.
"Google friends — this is shameful and irresponsible," Bharat writes. "Time to go back to the tried and tested practice of showing vetted sources for fresh queries at the top of web search. This would not have happened on my watch. Google News per se doesn't feature 4chan for a reason. UGC (user-generated content) is unreliable, and anything of value there will ultimately be screened by and surface in mainstream sources. Why not wait to be sure? You have a responsibility to get it right. This section is called 'Top Stories' not 'Rumors.'"
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a longtime media and law observer who's now at Georgetown University Law Center, says, "There is a tendency on the part of the content people to roll their eyes when the engineers try to intercede. Often, these ideas are pretty crazy, because engineers don't always see nuance."
"However, because they focus on core concepts, sometimes the engineers' observations have the virtue of clarity precisely because they hone in on the fundamentals."
On Friday morning, I tracked down journalist-entrepreneur Merrill Brown, a founder of MSNBC.com and recently the dean of the communication school at New Jersey's Montclair State University, who said, "Bharat is certainly right, particularly when it comes to breaking news like the Las Vegas story."
"Google's record is no better than uneven in separating verified sources from random user-generated sources. But it's entirely possible that under his watch this could well have happened in a breaking news setting. They were under-resourced then and now. "
"Even in the post-election setting when there's growing recognition of the editorial responsibilities of the big technology companies they are still moving too slowly in fulfilling their responsibility to hire news and media professionals to manage the professional and ethical issues that both their journalism and advertising products require."
The Times and Harvey Weinstein
The New York Times may be the first major outlet with a de facto Sexual Harassment by Powerful Males beat. Last year, it delved into Donald Trump's outrageous behavior with women. This year it helped to fell King of Cable Bill O'Reilly as it uncovered a mountain of harassment settlements involving him. Now it's detailed decades of disgusting behavior by Hollywood powerhouse Harvey Weinstein.
When folks who cover an industry daily concede you kicked their butt, you've hit the mark. Thus, there was Claudia Eller, co -editor of Variety, who tweeted, "Bravo to the NYT reporters for publishing the story we all tried to get for decades."
She later added, "Asked Harvey yesterday if he was lawyering up to defend himself against coming NYT article, he said he had no idea what I was talking about." That was obviously b.s. But not the damning impact of this saga (Variety itself later asked, "Is Harvey Weinstein Done in Hollywood?" though his Miramax is private company and not subject to the same pressures as a public one). He's says he's going to therapists (plural) to deal with all this, while the Times extracted this astonishing and incriminating line from one Lisa Bloom:
"Ms. Bloom, who has been advising Mr. Weinstein over the last year on gender and power dynamics, called him 'an old dinosaur learning new ways.' She said she had 'explained to him that due to the power difference between a major studio head like him and most others in the industry, whatever his motives, some of his words and behaviors can be perceived as inappropriate, even intimidating.'"
Oh, Weinstein has now threatened a lawsuit against the Times. He's hired Hulk Hogan's attorney, Charles Harder. Please, guys, do it. You might have an easier time defending North Korea's missile program than your low-flying personal life. But, please, go ahead and force TMZ to go live around-the-clock.
And what do we call the made-for-TV movie based on the Times' handiwork? "Pulp Fiction?" Oops, he's used that himself. "Sex, Lies and Videotape?" Ah, same problem. "Exotica," "Flirting with Disaster" or "The Hunting Ground?" Darn!
BuzzFeed and Breitbart
Chris Ruddy, head of conservative rival competitor Newsmax, downplays the influence of Breitbart News. But he and others will devour ever word of a BuzzFeed expose based on a lot of documents that have come its way and are focused on self-styled provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (the Right's male Ann Coulter). If you don't have the time, here's the essence:
"These new emails and documents, however, clearly show that Breitbart does more than tolerate the most hate-filled, racist voices of the alt-right. It thrives on them, fueling and being fueled by some of the most toxic beliefs on the political spectrum — and clearing the way for them to enter the American mainstream."
"It’s a relationship illustrated most starkly by a previously unreleased April 2016 video in which Yiannopoulos sings 'America the Beautiful' in a Dallas karaoke bar as admirers, including the white nationalist Richard Spencer, raise their arms in Nazi salutes."
Will Sommer, an editor at The Hill who on on his own time cranks out Right Richter, a newsletter on conservative media, took a look for me and says, "Basically, with a lot of Milo's work you have to read between the lines to catch just glimpses of the anti-Semitism / white nationalist connection — that's why Milo's guide to the alt right is so useful, because it's the closest he gets in writing to that line."
Sommer alluded to Devin Saucier, an editor of an online white nationalist magazine called American Renaissance, and added, "But here in these emails, it's much more stark — he's palling around with this Saucier guy, his email passwords are full of Nazi references, there's the Richard Spencer Nazi salute video. "
"The Death Loop"
From Jon Lovett's intriguingly structured and impactful "The Death Loop" in Crooked:
"Mass shootings are not inevitable. Mass shootings can be stopped. But not without interrupting the routine nearly all of us have settled into. That would require examining whether the ways we in the media cover and sensationalize mass shootings is encouraging copycats. That means learning from the successes that U.S. states and other countries have had reducing gun violence through restrictions on sales, background checks, waiting periods, and a regime of training, permitting, and registration. That means that we must be as committed to winning the fight over guns as our opponents — we must be willing to fight in primaries and elections on this issue. And as we demand the removal of weapons of war from our streets, we can concede to Republicans: This is about more than guns. The minds of these men are broken. Our culture is broken. And we have to face that too."
"We have to face all of it. We have to break the death loop. There is a simple question that every single candidate should have to answer in order to get our votes: What is your plan to prevent mass shootings?"
"If we refuse to ask and answer that question, then we’re stuck with this."
In friendly hands
"Trump & Friends" displayed true professional courage in deciding that Jon Huntsman, President Trump's pick to be ambassador to Russia, should be interviewed by Ted Koppel. Oh, wait, not Koppel, it was Abby, his daughter. There were questions like, "Why do you want to do this?" Meanwhile, "Morning Joe" did a piece on Joe Biden receiving an award that honors co-host Mika Brzezinski's father, the eminent foreign policy maven, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
I turned to CNN, sort of hoping that "New Day" co-host Chris Cuomo might be sitting down with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. No luck. Maybe another morning.
Ron Klain's dubious outrage
It's either rank hypocrisy, lousy editing or both. But one might do a double-take reading a pro-gun control op-ed in The Washington Post by Ron Klain.
"It requires no intellectual breakthrough to restore the assault weapon ban, ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds, tighten loopholes in the background check system and ban 'bump stocks,' the tools used in Las Vegas to convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic killing machines," he writes.
Great, but might readers have been informed that Klain was Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff in the very period that, as the Post had previously reported, the Obama administration went with an ATF decision that "bump stocks" were no big deal and in no need of regulation? Sheesh, Ron. Sheesh, op-ed editors.
Maybe he can append a note online about what exactly he knew, or didn't know, back when the ATF was mulling the matter and he was working in the West Wing. And if he struggles to recall some of the relevant history about Obama and guns — it includes an important role of then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who wanted to stay a million miles from the issues of gun control — is needed, I included it near the bottom of this piece yesterday.
Behind Politico's good run
Politico revolutionized (for good and at times not so good) political reporting in Washington. But it's not been in the same league as The New York Times and Washington Post in covering Donald Trump and his government — until recent weeks. A series of terrific exclusives on administration officials' sense of entitlement in using government and private aircraft led to the exit of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Now it offers a look at how it put the Price exclusives together, taking a tip and doing old-fashioned reporting to complete the puzzle of his extravagant ways. If you think you can get great stories merely on the phone and/or staring at your Twitter feed all day, check this out. It risked being an act of self-indulgence, but it works.
A great weekend read
Put aside half an hour to read every word of Caitlin Flanagan's "Death at a Penn State Fraternity" in The Atlantic. It is an almost clinical dissection of the institutional depravity of fraternity hazing; of entitlement, sadism and moral cowardice. Only one individual tried to stand up, albeit too late, to the crowd of his "brothers" and end the debauchery.
Bob Cohn, president of The Atlantic, says they posted the story a few days earlier than planned for competitive reasons. "The story instantly shot to most-read on our site and has stayed there now for 24 hours. We got a big push from social media, and Caitlin is doing 'Morning Edition' on Friday."
"I think the story's been so successful because Caitlin has been on this beat so long and knows this terrain so well. She's written a bunch of stories for us on university life, including the March 2014 cover on The Dark Power of Fraternities, and her reporting is deep and knowledgeable. Not to mention she is one of the great stylists working in magazines today."
Yeah, take a look at doings at the very same university that brought us the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Bring on the crisis communications firms (again) for the upcoming trial.
How Amazon sometimes stumbles
"Where Amazon Is Failing to Dominate: Hollywood. The online retailer’s foray into video is beset by lackluster releases and strained relationships with high-profile producers; ‘a bit of a gong show.’"
It's a Wall Street Journal dissection, and opens with dejected Amazon executives the morning after they were shut out of awards at the Primetime Emmys.
A dumb and sexist comment does not go ignored
During its pre-game coverage of a Patriots-Buccaneers game last night (ugh, ageless Tom Brady wins again), the NFL Network didn't shy from world of Dannon cutting ties with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton after he responded to a question by Jourdan Rodrigue, a female reporter for the Charlotte Observer, by saying, "It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.” The segment was handled by ever-able James Brown, who later broached the top of sexual assault allegations that swirled around Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston during his days at Florida State University.
Race and media start-ups
There's a good New York Times profile of Charles King, a big-time Hollywood agent who quit his well-paying gig and created a media start-up, Macro.
King "announced Macro not simply as a production house but as an entire media company, one whose content would reflect the new demographics of America — solving a problem the media industry only fitfully, grudgingly acknowledges is even real."
His biggest obstacle? It's not necessarily financial. "Perhaps the most formidable obstacle to Macro’s success is a body of perceived wisdom about why the world on our screens looks so different from the real world it ostensibly mirrors — ideas about how films starring black actors don’t do as well in crucial overseas markets, or that Hollywood has no bias against women, or that Asian men can’t be leading men."
Beyond Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida
America-centric reporting on calamities aside, there are stories to be done on an area very much now forgotten in post-storm coverage — namely the Caribbean — and the limited world response. At a briefing for reporters, UN Secretary General António Guterres noted how the entire population of Barbuda (100,000) is homeless. He said UN support to the Caribbean so far includes 18 tons of food; 3 million water purification tablets; 3,000 water tanks; 2,500 tents; 2,000 mosquito nets and school kits; 500 debit cards for cash assistance; and a lot more.
And get this: The UN has made appeals for $114 million to cover short-term humanitarian needs, "But on the whole, I regret to report, the response has been poor. I urge donors to respond more generously in the weeks to come."
Conservatives love beating up on the UN. Maybe some can set aside their animus and write a check or two. There's a need —and stories to be done.
Okay, that's it for the week; thanks for sticking with us. The weekend includes three soccer games, a baseball game, a birthday party, a memorial service and a Steelers game in Pittsburgh (yes). United Airlines, be on time for a change, please. Cheers.