July 19, 2017

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Twitter will surely never ban President Trump from tweeting. Should it? Wired magazine makes the case it’s totally justified – and falls short.

It writes, “The case for banning Trump from Twitter goes something like this: He consistently violates the site’s terms of service, up to and including the incitement of violence. Simple enough.”

Tuesday night he tweeted “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is ‘sick.'” That’s relatively benign and Wired offers lots of examples, including that stupid video of him wrestling the CNN logo. “In isolation, the video seems mostly meaningless if not harmless. But taken in context of Trump’s ongoing war with the media, his history of calling for violence against those he finds issue with, and the recent physical assault of a Guardian reporter, the tweet arguably constitutes a promotion of violence. And as Twitter itself says in its Hateful Conduct Policy, ‘context matters.'”

The magazine thus argues that he should be banned, as were “Milo Yiannopoulos, right-wing troll Chuck Johnson, and self-declared ‘anti-feminist’ writer Robert Stacy McCain for abusive behavior.”

The case is unconvincing.

As University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone notes, Twitter is a private entity and can bar whom it desires. And if you use it to commit crimes, you can be held liable. And it can exclude specific messages, whether or not they are unlawful.

“The more it does that, though, the more it begins to resemble a newspaper, which picks and chooses what it will publish. Going in that direction is risky because unlike The New York Times, which can itself be held liable for deciding to publish certain messages, Twitter currently cannot be held liable for allowing people to publish unlawful or otherwise actionable messages – precisely because it isn’t picking and choosing.”

The more it picks and chooses, the more potential legal peril it could find. That’s not close to happening but “If Twitter wants to ban Trump, it can do so legally, but the more it goes down that road the more likely it is that it will be treated like a newspaper.”

Should it exclude him? Wired argues yes. The answer is no. Even the reasons Wired gives, citing Twitter policy, aren’t especially convincing. “Everything he says is newsworthy, even if it’s moronic,” says Stone.

Adds Michael Dorf, a Chicago lawyer who teaches First Amendment law, there’s the irony of the Knight First Amendment Institute suing Trump to unblock Twitter followers – on the grounds that Twitter is a public forum – and, on the other hand, the argument in Wired that Twitter should block Trump from that same forum. The latter contention is also made by the likes of Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman and the Democratic National Committee deputy chairman.

“For whatever we think of Trump, he has harnessed a means of mass communications in a way as innovative as FDR did with radio and JFK with television. We who were Obama supporters would have been thrilled to see this type of influence from our man,” says Dorf, who represented Obama on election law matters.

“With respect to the content of the tweets, if he’s yelling fire in a crowded theater, the First Amendment doesn’t protect him from the consequences. It does protect him from prior restraint, i.e. censorship, before the fact.”

Another cable deal

They tried and failed in 2014 but, once again, “Discovery Communications Inc. is in talks to combine with Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., people familiar with the situation said, a deal that would unite two media companies trying to chart a course in a cable-TV industry being upended by digital consumption.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Questioning Netflix bonuses

“Netflix executives are hitting bonus targets with almost uncanny accuracy, raising questions among investors and tax experts over whether they are a fait accompli.” (Financial Times)

Why is that relevant? “Whether the awards are truly performance-based is important for Netflix’s compliance with the US tax code, which allows bonuses for highly paid executives to be deducted from corporate taxes –
but only if ‘the outcome is substantially uncertain.'”

A guide to unnamed sources

“The various investigations into the Trump administration and its alleged ties to Russia are hard to follow. The allegations are sometimes muddled, the probes are still ongoing, and all sides in the dispute are leaking information that favors their points of view.”

Thus, FiveThirtyEight offers a “guide to unnamed sources in government/politics/Washington stories – who they are, how reporters use them, and how to tell if you should trust what they say.”

Can you spot a fake photo?

Sophie Nightingale, a researcher in cognitive psychology at the University of Warwick in England, tested 700 people and found they could only discern a fake photo 60 percent of the time, “a little better than if they guessed completely at random. And with the correct picks, only 45 percent of participants could pinpoint what had been changed in a photo.” (The Washington Post)

Oh, she also concluded, “Men were slightly more adept at finding the specific change.”

A horrible way to die

The Idaho Statesman headline: “Two men died unthinkable deaths in manure ponds. Are we doing enough to protect farmworkers?”

The thrust of the investigation: “The ponds are common at dairies as a way to store manure to prevent it from polluting waterways. The waste can later be used as fertilizer on crops. Neither dairy had fences or barricades to keep workers from driving the wrong way and into the manure pond in the dark, OSHA found. No signs warned employees they were nearing a deep pit of manure.”

The Impeach-O-Meter

If you’ve missed it, Slate has an Impeach-O-Meter, replete with truth in advertising: “In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.”

A new political reality

A super PAC of then-New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg spent a ton of money on a 2013 South Side Chicago congressional race (seat vacated by the convicted Jesse Jackson Jr.) to help gun control advocate Robin Kelly win. Now back to being a media titan, he is hereby informed that Kelly “led the Illinois delegation in the final tally of this year’s House Democrats’ Member Online All-Star Competition.”

Huh? Her press release indicates that she “added nearly 6,000 new followers to her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube channels.”

Leaving Rotten Tomatoes

“La La Land” played outdoors in Chicago’s Millennium Park last night, so it is appropriate to hereby note that Matt Atchity, editor in chief of Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review site, is leaving to run the Young Turks Network’s programming.

White House photography

Check out the official White House photo stream on Flickr of their Made in America festivities. Guys, let’s upgrade the photography. This looks like a small-town weekly newspaper (circa 1965).

Nice job

In Columbia Journalism Review, David Holmberg profiles former longtime Philadelphia newspaper editor Gar Joseph, 69, who is retired and dealing with cancer. There’s this reference to his involvement in a 2013 Pulitzer on police corruption by the Daily News:

“In a raspy voice, he summarized his own story with an editor’s precision: ‘Thank God the brain cancer waited for the Pulitzer.'”

Even nicer job

Writing in the Nation, Dave Zirin is terrific on why NFL owners seem inclined to give yet another chance to quarterback Johnny Manziel, despite his record of assaulting women and substance abuse, but not to similarly unemployed Colin Kaepernick, who helped bring attention to the police violence issue by not standing for the national anthem.

“When NFL owners look at out-of-work quarterback Johnny Manziel, they see themselves. Or at least they see their ne’er-do-well son or nephew: the one who was raised in cushy wealth, partied too hard, maybe got in a few legal misunderstandings with the girls, but deep down is a ‘good boy’ and always worthy of a second chance. Playing ability isn’t even part of the conversation. They want him in their club.”

“When NFL owners look at out-of-work NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they see a threat. Again, playing ability isn’t even part of the conversation. He is the outsider, the agitator, the one who asks whether black lives really matter to owners and fans; the one who questions how their business can glorify a country that eats its young. He’s their historic nightmare: the one who publicly tells the emperors that they have no clothes.”

The morning babble

“Trump & Friends” was all about bashing those folks who wouldn’t ditch and replace Obamacare. Incisive political analyst (not) and co-host Ainsley Earhardt said, “These moderate Republican senators who are voting against this are starting to look more and more like the Democratic party,” intimating something vaguely unpatriotic.

MSNBC and CNN were all Trump derision, all the time, mostly Russia, but leavened with ridicule over his health care failure. “Morning Joe” saw the undisclosed Vladimir Putin chat at the G-20, which Fox stoutly defended as press hyperbole, in the context of a week of lies about the Donald Trump Jr. meeting and others with Russians.

If President Obama had done this, there would be tons of questions about it, said MSNBC’s Mark Halperin. “Nothing the White House can do to arrest suspicion about what took place.”Joe Scarborough said one can safely assume the worst about the Putin chat, an analysis that by now seems to reflect a certain consensus among some in the elite press about virtually anything done (or not done) by the administration.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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